The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database
caption: footnotes
text: 35. Although women have no share in public business and the administration of the village, they still wield a considerable influence on affairs. When Nzemi were being recruited as guerrillas in 1942 for service against the Japanese, the reluctance of the women to allow their husbands to join up was a notable difficulty. In several cases young men who had joined up enthusiastically the day before returned in the morning, very woebegone, to hand in their cherished firearms and explain that their wives would not let them continue to serve. Sometimes the women's influence is even more overt. At the kamarum-ki Feast of Merit in Impoi in 1941 two members of rival kienga quarrelled and began to fight, their supporters joining in. The feast-giver's mother came to the camp to fetch me, with a request that I come and help break up the riot. On arriving in front of the house, we found ourselves unexpectedly at the head of a body of twenty or thirty women, the wives and mothers of Impoi, all armed with stout bamboo staves picked out of the building debris and marching on the house to break up the riot by force. With myself, armed with a walking-stick, as a most unwilling head to the column, the force swept up the slope to the house and in through the front door of the hangseoki. But its mere appearance outside had been enough and the fight had ignominiously fizzled out. The wives of the two original antagonists seized their drunken husbands, one by the arm and the other by the hair and ear, and dragged them home to cool off, to the considerable amusement of the spectators. It should be noted that the male Nzemi speaks of his wife outside the home as something of a lesser being, and ridicules the idea of consulting her on matters of importance. Inside the home he discusses the disposition of rice and other supplies with her as a matter of course, and indeed most other business; if he does not, he may find himself, as did the would-be guerrillas, in unexpected difficulties. While absolute faithfulness is expected of a wife, public opinion allows a man a certain latitude in clandestine affairs, though his wife will probably object to them if she knows. She has no cause for divorce, however, unless such an affair breaks up the home and deprives her and her children of support.