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 nineteen. Dogs, Snakes and Leopards
caption: leopards
medium: books
person: RamgakpaHozekiemba
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
text: (142) Of all our local animals, far and away the most notable was the leopard. What happened when it met the Army, though, must be told in the proper place.
text: It had its lair somewhere in the rocks of the upper gorge, in the deep cleft down behind us. It once mauled Lassu, and we were lucky to get her back. The pigs and dogs of Laisong were its nearest prey; its nightly route to the village lay over the spur, and sooner or later, as the jungle grew up, it took the short cut through the camp itself. When the major incidents occurred, however, I think the beast had been hurt in a Kuki trap and was lying up in the scrub on the spur itself.
text: The first of us to see it was Monsieur Coty, who was the face-powder-coloured kitchen cat. He shot into the lines one right through the cookhouse drain with such a violence that he left fur on the top edge; took a flying leap straight on to the cook's bed; and dived under the clothes with uncatlike noises. The cook, whose close companion he was, immediately realized that he had met a leopard. For all I know, they spent the night shivering together under the bedclothes.
text: The first human contact with the beast was made by Hozekiemba two nights later.
text: It was just growing dark, the hour when all was usually most quiet, when the whole camp was electrified by four shrieks, each one louder and nearer. Then came the most infernal hubbub of lights and voices. Ramgakpa was serving dinner (Namkia was away) and he dumped the dishes and I my spoon and we both leaned out of the windows and called for an explanation. There was a long lag before we even managed to make ourselves heard; and then two or three people answered together : " 'Makao, makao !' " (That means " Something, something ! " If you ever mention a great cat in his hearing, he comes to take you.)
text: We continued to dangle out for a minute or so, waiting to hear the story; and then we saw the staff in a body come over, with all the lamps, spears and daos the lines could muster (144) and poor old Hozekiemba, gasping and stuttering, in their midst.
text: He, it appeared, had gone to the jungle in the course of nature. Though it was almost dark, he was not alarmed when he heard a gentle rustle coming towards him, supposing it merely to be a belated pig. But, to his alarm, the bushes suddenly parted; and out within fifteen feet of him stepped a full-grown leopard, which stopped in some annoyance, and stood there as disconcerted as Hozekiemba himself, for it had apparently mistaken him for a grazing goat. For a few seconds they both stayed still. Then the old man rose and ran shrieking for camp; and the leopard, presumably, slipped back disappointed into cover.
text: The very next evening the cook was taking a breath of air at dusk. There was, beyond the garden, the run and hen- house. Glancing at this, he noticed a village dog, some miserable yellow cur, creeping up belly-flat on robbery bent. He picked up a pebble, and running, flung it as hard as he could at the dim, grey blotch. The blotch stood up as the leopard and walked away.
text: Two nights after this, Ramgakpa was on bodyguard-duty, Namkia being still on leave. As we sat by the fire after dinner, we suddenly heard, in the stillness, a click of gravel outside. Then, quite clearly, came the low, coughing grumble of a leopard talking to itself. Twice round the house it went, close up to the walls, and then we heard it no more. But it wasn't nice to hear. We were alone in the camp. The others were in the village. There wasn't a gun in the place, and very few spears. Nor do well-mannered leopards which mean no harm walk round and round houses and grumble - the odds were that it was a wounded animal, hungry, and with a mind to break in. It wasn't a pleasant thought.
text: A few days later Namkia came back from leave and flatly refused to believe in the leopard at all. I could only hope he'd meet it, and face to face.
text: It wasn't Namkia, though, that the leopard met. (145) One night I, like the gardener, had cause to go down the hill on my affairs. I took the long way round by the front of the house. The path ran level at first, and then turned right, and the small latrine was some yards down the slope. I had reached the turn when I saw, or thought I saw, something ahead. There was a half-moon to confuse the issue, and the slope was dotted with shrubs and tufts of grass. But I was almost sure there was something there, a kind of grey shadow of a shadow, hunched half-way down the path and ten yards from me. I had no torch, and only a hurricane lamp; and as I hesitated, I suddenly saw that the shadow was looking at me with large, green, luminous eyes.
text: " Now," I thought. " If that's the leopard, and it should charge, I've had it. I can't do anything but throw the lamp and scream. If, though, I give a yell and run from a village goat, I'll never live it down. I must have a look."
text: With that, I hove up the light. The two great shining eyes went out like lamps. The shadowy blot swung round. It slid away, with an indefinable, flattened cattiness, along the path to the edge of the bushes. There it turned, stood up to its full height - it was a big leopard - gave me a long, green glare, and went like a ghost.
text: I stood where I was and shouted for Namkia. He was a good way off down the village path, in conversation, and shouted back : " Hold on ! " He came up, strolling gently, some minutes later, and found me still waiting and watching the edge of the scrub.
text: " My sister, what's the matter ? "
text: " I saw green eyes."
text: He stiffened.
text: " One eye, or two ?"
text: " Two."
text: " If it was one eye," he said, with emphasis, " it was a demon. If it was two, then it was a leopard. And either way you're safer in the house ! "
text: Grabbing me by the shoulder, he spun me round, rushed (146) me before him up the stony path, thrust me indoors, barred everything fast behind us, and slept with his spear beside him all that night.
text: It was perhaps three nights later that we had the last alarm. He and I were sitting by the fire, gossiping, when we broke off as though shot. Outside, in the long veranda, we heard the slow, cantering pace of some big beast travelling down the length of it, 'lumpety-bump, lumpety-bump.' He leapt for a spear, and I for the flashlight. It was opposite the bedroom door now. Cloth thrown off, muscles tense, spear ready, he slowly opened the door a fraction, while I stood close behind him and shone the beam through the chink.
text: There, in the circle of white light, was a large rat '(lumpety)' fleeing full speed from a pursuing Coty - '(bump).'