Tangkhul Naga Funeral at Hunphun Village (1939)

Cultural RitesEnglish

Accounts of Funeral in Photographs by Ursula Graham Bower

 

The graves are hollowed out some seven to eight feet underground. The shaft is large enough to admit a man and a body on a stretcher. This shaft leads to the opening of an underground chamber, into which the body on the stretcher can be passed. These tombs are re-usable. I understand that consideration is had to the date of the last burial; in this case the tomb had not been used for some 30 years. There was natural aversion to rapid re-use of a tomb in which was a still-decaying body, but this was a point on which I found it difficult to get details. After the shaft had opened, the next-of-kin of the man last interred, went down and entered the chamber carrying a cloth, in which he bundled up the bones. These were brought to the surface, where the bones were carefully checked over and washed with rice beer. When it was certain that none were missing, they were repacked in the cloth and returned to a corner of the tomb and the second body was then buried. An old man breaks the dead man’s platter and pours rice beer at the side of the grave to be opened”

Ursula Graham Bower

 

The grave is being hollowed out
The old man begins digging
Younger man takes over digging
Sacrificing pig in porch of dead man’s house
Roasting the pig
Bringing out young buffalo for the funeral sacrifice
Bringing out for sacrifice a big buffalo, belonging to the village headman. The street has been cleared and the buffalo is coming down at full gallop. Half a dozen men are clinging to a rope attached to its hind leg, and the headman is holding a rope on its horns
They pass at full gallop and too fast for the camera

 

Head-rope is fixed to the stake in the centre and the buffalo is dragged round and round by gangs of men in front and behind. Every few minutes there is a halt and a man with a spear stabs the beast in the flank
Head-rope is fixed to the stake in the centre and the buffalo is dragged round and round by gangs of men in front and behind. Every few minutes there is a halt and a man with a spear stabs the beast in the flank
The beast is thrown and stabbed in the throat to dispatch it
The shaft to the vault has been opened. The next-of-kin to the dead man previously interred there is bringing out the skeleton
and collecting the bones in a cloth. The low arched entrance to the vault can just be seen to the left
Old man counting the bones before being brought to the surface
The bones are brought to the surface
The bones are washed with rice beer
The bones of the previous occupant are tied in a cloth and returned to the corner of the vault. Friends of the dead man are laying his body on the bier and covering it with cloths. The newly dead man is then placed, full length, in the vault, and the shaft filled in

 

 

Sources:

Pitt Rivers Museum Archive, Oxford

http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/naga/record/r62271.html

Note: information based on catalogue compiled by photographer unless in square brackets

 

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