A Treasured Legacy – Review of Naga Tales: Dawn
Author: Dr. Achingliu Kamei
Publisher: Pamei & Gaare Publishing
Year of Publication: 2017 (First publication), 2019 (Paperback edition)
Reviewer: Veio Pou, Asst. Professor, SBSC, University of Delhi.
For an oral culture, storytelling is an integral part of life. It forms the knowledge system of the people. It is in the telling that the tradition is passed on and preserved. For a long time, however, the oral tradition of the Nagas have been pushed to take a back seat owing to their pursuit of the written culture that came along with the various forces of change.
It is in this light that Achingliu Kamei’s Naga Tales: Dawn comes as an important book of folktales collection. The set of ten stories presented in the book covers a range of theme. The first story “Chungailiu” is the story of a young village girl, her experiences of growing up and be initiated into the social life of the people. We are introduced to her being in the ‘Kailiu’, the girls dormitory, with her age mates who were all excited to welcome the season when “the forest comes alive with a brilliant burst of colours from the blooming flower trees.” As they venture into the forest to collect wild orchids, they were joined by boys of the village who were also out to gather canes and variety of bamboos.
The story “Rang-dai guan meipu” tells of a boy who was mistreated by the stepmother but kept it hidden from everyone, including his father. However, his girlfriend got to know about this. One day, he transformed himself into a hornbill using the clothes of the girl. To this day, the narrator tells us, “There is also a dance called ‘Rangdai-lam’, hornbill’s dance, that commemorates the dance of the hornbills.” A similar story is that of “Roukaeng” which tells of ill treatment by the stepmother. However, his endurance was richly rewarded when he found respite in the village where his sister married. While such stories seem stereotyping, they also bring the social message, a warning not to ill-treat orphans or that nature rewards them suitably.
The legend of Amang is told in the subsequent four different stories. In the first of the series, “Amang”, we are told that his birth was foretold in his father’s dream. Unfortunately, the parents passed away in quick succession leaving him orphaned with his sister. In “Amang rouhman latat mei”, we are introduced to the grown man Amang who is now married. Once while paying a visit to his aunt’s village he learned the trick of raising mithuns, thus becoming rich overnight. In “Amang kai dai mei”, we are told of the rich Amang who threw the grand feast of merit, the recognised feast that can only be hosted by men who are rich and have achieved social distinction. In continuation to the story of Amang’s feast of merit, “Amang kaidai khou khouring pari” tells us of the participation of all the creatures of the forest in the great feast – “It was the biggest celebration of the people and animals had experienced.”
“Kamangpu” is the story of a tiger who wanted to marry a girl, the youngest among and the most beautiful among the three sisters. But one day the girls tricked him to fetch water from a punctured pot leaving him to ever remain unsuccessful. The story “Rah alu gan” tells of a supernatural union between an earthly man and a daughter of the gods. But human vice caused their separation but the man undertook several feats to win her back. The last story “Mpou alaoliangmai” tells of how the youngest son of a family avenged the death of his brothers and father in the hand of a tiger-man. One can see the close affinity of animal world and the spiritual world with that of the human!
Many of these folktales, as was always the intent of the storytellers of old, comes with some anecdote or moral lessons in the end. While one finds entertainment in reading and listening to such stories, we also need to understand they perform certain social functions. Through these stories, Achingliu helps the reader to understand “the ancient traditions of social norm, beliefs, ethics, and value system found in the Naga society” (“Introduction”, p. 5). She judiciously blends the modern art of storytelling with the traditional nuances of consciously telling each particular story. In that, I think, she is able to accomplish what she sets out to do, “to connect with the younger Naga generation to their roots and identity, and inspire them to take pride in their cultural heritage”, as mentioned in the short introduction to the book.
Folktales, in a good sense, are a treasury of people’s legacy as they form a substantial portion of the traditional knowledge system. By retelling these tales in the English language, the author has widened the scope of their impact by reaching a larger audience. At the same time, even for the different Naga tribes, this effort has enabled them to find a shared heritage because many of these stories are told across tribes though with some variance. Of late, we’ve seen a surge in Nagas retelling their stories and such attempts need to be encouraged before folktales become a lost treasure.
The author Achingliu teaches at ARSD college, University of Delhi, and possess a huge interest in collecting folktales. She has lined up a series of books on folktales of which this is the first. We look forward to reading Morning Blush Naga Tales and Noon Tide Naga Tales which are in the pipeline for publication in the near future! The book in discussion is available on Amazon.