The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

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

caption: Chapter eighteen. The First Rains
caption: wrenched knee-cap; divination by ginger
medium: books
person: Hozekiemba
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
text: We were weeding the spinach, Hozekiemba and I, and when we reached the end and I straightened up, my knee went suddenly click. The cap had slipped, an abrupt and complete disaster. With Namkia's help I just reached the bungalow. The knee swelled as I watched it; it hurt like sin. There wasn't a doctor for miles. I strapped it up with elastic plaster to hold it still, and then, in pain and despair, I went to bed.
text: The staff gathered round me in grave concern. They wanted to fetch a skilled Zemi to manipulate it, but I refused. (137) There was nothing else that I myself could do. The only thing left, then, was an appropriate sacrifice.
text: They fetched a dao and a piece of ginger and old Hozekiemba sat down to divine the trouble.
text: Now ginger, the Zemi say, is the one instrument of divination the great healer Herakandingpeo had time to reveal before the spirits killed him; for spirits live by eating the souls of men, and as they eat, so the body wastes with sickness; and Herakandingpeo, by his marvellous skill, was robbing them of every soul they seized. The spirits therefore killed him by a trick and took care that he passed his knowledge to none - only the few words concerning ginger survived, whispered to his youngest son in the last few seconds, when the boy, misled by the spirits before, arrived at last.
text: Old Hozekiemba cut the ginger in half. He laid the two halves carefully on the flat of the dao, and then addressed them.
text: " O ginger ! Tell us the truth and do not lie. Of old, men turned to you for truth, and so do we now. Is it black magic which has attacked our mother ? If so, then come down odd; if not, then even."
text: With that, he tossed the ginger up from the dao. Both halves fell the same way, with the cut side down - that is, they were even. Black magic was eliminated. He took the pieces up and started again. At the end of fifteen minutes of trial and error we learned that an evil spirit had seized on me in the garden, and would, in return for a cock, release its hold.