The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

book - 'Naga Path', by Ursula Graham Bower, published John Murray 1950

caption: the Siemi, a former civilization
caption: Chapter sixteen. The Lost Folk
caption: search for the cave, the last retreat of the Siemi
medium: books
person: Perry
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
text: Naturally, ever since the area had been administered the story had attracted the attention of officers. Almost everyone who served there, I think, had tried to find the cave, but without success; either the cave was there, and the Kacharis would not tell the secret; or, as was often claimed, an earthquake had shaken down the cliff and closed the cave for good. But still one kept on wondering - was it there ?
text: In 1945 Mr Perry, then S.D.O. at Haflong, met, on one of his tours in the Kachari country, an elderly villager who said he knew the secret of the cave. It still existed, he said, and he himself had been there as a boy. It was superstitious fear, fear, probably, of the ghosts of the slaughtered Siemi, which had for so long kept its whereabouts a mystery. Indeed, no man had entered it from the day of the massacre.
text: It lay, he said, in the side of a hill to the west of the railway-line, between Haflong and Mahur stations. It was in dense forest, and quite invisible unless one knew the trick. The entrance was some way up from the ground, and concealed by the upper part of a big tree growing in front of it; only by climbing up could the mouth be seen. Once there, it was quite accessible, and there should be no trouble in getting in, were one inclined to do so. He personally had never been farther than the mouth. He had peered in with his two companions (one a Naga) but they had no lights, and were much too scared to enter. He felt, he said, that the old things were now dying. Nobody really cared for the old traditions. However, Perry was a kindly officer and genuinely interested in the old beliefs. These he respected, and he never attempted to remove the relics. Therefore this old villager wanted to show him the cave while there was still time. (129) Perry, in great excitement, let me know. It was the chance of a lifetime. An expedition was prepared, a date was fixed; and just before it the old man fell ill with malaria.
text: There was a postponement. The weeks dragged on. The man was a little better; then he relapsed, and was ill again. Perry went down to see him. There seemed little doubt that his wish to reveal the secret was perfectly genuine. Unable to come himself, he sent his son, and swore that the boy knew the place as well as he. Path-cutters were mobilized, they and the boy were sent out, and with ropes and lamps we stood by for operations as soon as they reported success.
text: But either the cave was in truth lost, or, more probably, the young man would not take the responsibility of telling. It was all right for his father, not long for this world, and more or less exempt from tribal reprisals The first party returned after a mere day's walking, and were chased out again by the indignant Perry. This time they were gone longer; but returned again to say they could not find it. Would not, was, perhaps, the better phrase. And a few days later, the old man, who alone could have settled the matter, quietly died.
text: The problem still remains. Does the cave exist, with the relics of the jungle-people, their weapons, their pots and tools, their beads, and, for the physical anthropologist, their skulls and skeletons ? Or did an earthquake truly bring down the hillside over the cave in the half-century since the old man's boyhood visit ? The facts as we know them fit both theories; and which is the answer only God and the Kacharis know.