Published On: Sun, Sep 29th, 2019
OMG | By admin

Naga Folktales: a Brief Survey

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The Naga tribes of Nagaland, India have a diverse body of folktales which were, until the late 1800s – early 1900s, handed down orally from tribal elder to youngster. Each Naga tribe has its own store of stories, myths, sayings, legends and songs that expresses its culture and its particular way of perceiving the world. The usual forum in which the tales used to be exchanged was the traditional girls’ or boys’ dormitory, the morung. Today, these folktales exist mostly in small English-language publications, and in occasional performances at the Hornbill Festival.

Categories of Naga Folktales

Ao (1999) discusses some ways by which a variety of folktales may be arranged. Though Ao’s arrangement applied originally to the tales and myths of the Ao-Naga tribe, it is still applicable to the larger body of Naga folktales.

Why-Stories and How-Stories – These are stories which try to explain observed phenomena in the natural world, or which express man’s understanding of nature, animals and social customs. Examples include “How head-hunting began,” “How tigers began to eat human flesh,” “Why the bats move at night,” and “How Man, God and Tiger went their separate ways.”

Transformation Tales – Here, the stories focus on how human beings are occasionally changed into all kinds of creatures, due to the hand of fate or through evil intent. A woman transforms into a locally-grown flower (in Nagaland) called the Anishe-Kapu in “The beautiful girl who turned into anishe flower.” Neglected by his father and stepmother, a boy slowly regresses into a monkey in “How a boy turned into a monkey.” In “How a woman became the kaku (cuckoo) bird,” a woman is exposed as a cannibal by her husband and she changes into a kaku bird out of remorse and sorrow.

Supernatural Tales – These tales may appear similar to the transformation tales, yet are distinct in that they directly involve beings and figures from the spirit world. The story of “Momola and the river spirit” is a particularly dramatic tale. A river spirit romances Momola, a young girl, but when she discovers what he really is, she breaks off their engagement. In fury, the river spirit threatens to drown her entire village. To avert disaster, her desperate mother throws Momola into the river, and saves the village. A similar tale of tragic love between a human girl and a tree spirit is found in “Nayungsungmo and her mysterious lover.”

Naga Folktales: a Brief Survey

Origin or Creation Stories – Again, these tales may be related to why-stories and how-stories, but they narrate the origin/creation of the world, of mankind, and try to explain the foundations of human culture and social practices. The Ao-Naga tribe has an origin tale about itself as a tribe. In “How man came into being,” the tale goes that the the first Ao forefathers and foremothers each burst out of six rocks and went on to found the first Ao-Naga village, Chungliyimti. Another story explains why the moon is so far away from the earth, while others talk about how man first discovered fire, or how man and animals once lived together as a family.

Animal Tales – A culture’s folktales would not be complete without a set of tales where animals are the main characters, and who behave in ways that echo human ways of relating and living. Some of the themes include a friendship between a deer and a crow, the reason why dogs, and not pigs, live inside a man’s house, how tigers pay tribute to their king, how dogs lost their horns, and how the wild-cat discovered the rooster’s weakness.

The stories mentioned above all come from different Naga tribes, and attest to the diversity of culture, and imaginative storytelling found within Naga folklore in general. Unfortunately, as Ao, Bendangangshi and others have stated, the oral tradition of the Nagas is in danger of being forgotten by the present generation of Nagas.

A culture and a people that forgets its stories may struggle with issues of identity and heritage at a personal and social level. There is a need to translate, preserve and retell these stories and others yet undiscovered, so that Naga culture may be known, not only for its ancient and violent head-hunting past, but also for the wisdom, humour and spiritual beliefs of its ancestors.

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- I am an internet marketing expert with an experience of 8 years.My hobbies are SEO,Content services and reading ebooks.I am founder of SRJ News andTech Preview.

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