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 thirty-five. Finale
caption: crossing the flooded Jiri River
medium: books
location: Jiri R.
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
text: It was already late in May, an unpredictable month, and as we reached Saipimual the weather broke. Out of leaden skies, sheet upon sheet of water fell upon us. The forest streamed, paths gushed like gutters; and when we reached the Makru bridge next day, we scrambled over a footway just awash. The unbridged Jiri lay between us and home. The rain thinned to a drizzle as we neared Maovom, but the hope was vain. In the small hours we heard a downpour thundering on the palm-leaf thatch and we woke in the morning to steady rain and cloud trailing like smoke-wreaths about the hill. The headman reported early that the Jiri could not be crossed and that he had sent men down to start a bridge. If we went down rather later, about mid-morning, there was a hope that it would be over.
text: We started as soon as the rain let up a little. In drifting showers and a few rare hints of sun we clambered, by slow and difficult paths, down through fields towards the upper Jiri. We were now at the narrowest part of the river, opposite Thingje, a mile or more upstream from the usual ford. But, as we reached the lower fields and neared the site of the bridge, somebody said that it was not yet ready; so, the rain increasing a little then, we stacked our baggage under the stilts of a field-house and ourselves climbed up to the platform to eat our lunch. Khutuing, meanwhile, put down the hairy shield he had been carrying and, with Namkia, went off down to the stream to give the bridgers a hand.
text: An hour or so later, tired of waiting, we went down to see. Four or five cold, wet Kukis were sitting about on the bank. There were some stones and a few bamboos; no one and nothing else. Between us and the North Cachar bank the Jiri was coming down as I had never seen it before - rolling, tearing, lashing, whipping; the red water flicking by, flotsam vanishing downstream almost as you saw it. The Kukis said they had started to fell a big tree whose trunk would serve as a bridge. But, as they worked, the river still rose, and as the tree fell the water swelled over it. Two men only managed to dash across, and they had gone to Thingje to fetch help.
text: It began to rain heavily again. We were all cold. We collected brushwood from under the bushes, where it was fairly dry, dragged up a log or two and lit a big fire. The Kukis squatted round it, shivering. Then, pushing through the wood with a load of bamboos, came Khutuing.
text: We stood or squatted there by the fire and watched Khutuing, almost single-handed, bridge seventy-five feet of river. He knew how to make a cantilever span, a Zemi type, and the Kukis did not. The Maovom men pushed, hauled, laid stones and cut lashings under his direction. First the upper bamboos went in, well weighted down by stone revetments rammed against the bank; then the footway, four long, stout bamboos thrust home into the soil and lashed to the upper pieces. They managed to fix one supporting trestle close in to the bank, and after that underpinning was impossible because of the depth and speed of the water.
text: The rain came still heavier now, beating on us with a greater weight. It drummed down over the fields and forest with a dull roar. We were all soaked. The Kukis' wet, coarse clothes clung damply to them; Khutuing's old kilt - he had shed his cloth - was like wet sacking. He took a long, thin, whippy bamboo rod, cut with a piece of the main stem left to form a hook, and walked out slowly with it on the shaking footway.
text: The long bamboos which formed this were wet with rain, slippery and untied. They bounced and leaped under him. Carefully, slowly, he reached up with the hooked bamboo till he caught the overhead span. Then he pulled it down till the upper span began to spring, and, still keeping tension on the bamboo rod, sat down and straddled the footway.
text: Locking his legs below it, he passed the straining bamboo rod under, bent it round, held it, and made it fast, and the first support was complete. The Kukis passed him out another hooked rod; still sitting, he fished for the span on the other side, and repeated the process. He moved up two or three feet and began again.
text: The rain thundered on our backs. Watching the river, we saw it rise. It mounted over the roots, pecked at the bank; the note of the stream deepened, the rocks and boulders grumbled in the bed. The water climbed up over the stone levetment, over the butt-ends of the bridge bamboos, over the end of the footway. Still Khutuing worked. Still the rain came down in a solid wall. It stood like a screen of leaden rods between us and the other bank.
text: Now Khutuing was out at the extreme end. With every move the unsupported footway quivered and jerked. He was twenty feet out from the bank, the Jiri was running twelve knots, and under him red waves jumped and licked and rolled, rushing down feverishly into a long rapid.
text: " If he slips, he hasn't a hope in hell," said Tim.
text: We went on watching. I don't know what would have happened had he gone in. I think we should both have gone in after him, and I doubt whether any of us would have come out.
text: The footway was so glassy with rain, so quaking and unstable, that the Kukis would not venture along it. They passed the necessary bamboos out to Khutuing, who could not even turn round lest the footway tilt. With every movement he bounced and swayed a foot or two up or a foot sideways, the bamboos slewing about and giving unequally. The water lapped up another inch or two, covering the first lashing or so at the bank end of the footway.
text: Then, suddenly, there was a new note in the river, and the Kukis who were at the near end of the bridge broke and ran and fell scrambling outward to the bank, and, branches and limbs looming high over us, a giant tree, the one they had first felled, came rolling down on the flood and right at the bridge and Khutuing.
text: He didn't run. He'd have fallen off if he had. Quietly, calmly, without the least fuss, he walked back. He didn't even bother to make the bank, but stood above the trestle to watch the tree strike. It hit the bridge squarely. The bamboos creaked and snapped, the structure canted. The tree swung, twisted, veered away and was gone, swirling clear of the bridge and into the rapid below. Khutuing went back to his post, testing the footway, mending broken ties, and sat down to his job as though nothing had happened.
text: Then on the far bank bare, brown figures appeared. There were shouts. Bamboos were fetched, an opposite span begun. More and more Zemi bobbed there among the trees, scrambled about and dragged bamboos to the spot. His work done, Khutuing came back to the fire. We made some tea and all drank it from the camp mugs. Thingje, over the way, were working like fiends. Out, and out, their side of the bridge grew. Its footway met ours, the upper spans tapped each other. Thingje ran out other bamboos and covered the gap. Up went side-hooks, under went lashings; at four o'clock the bridging was complete.
text: Khutuing was the first over. He tested the bridge as he went, treading and trying. As he jumped off into the scrub beyond, we and the porters followed. At five o'clock we reached the Thingje camp. It was still raining. Down behind us the Jiri roared.