National Geographic : 1955 Feb
The National Geographic Magazine result is what the Nagas regard as a cozy atmosphere, so thick that the eyes smart for many minutes after emerging. (I have been told that this constant eye inflammation leaves its legacy of disease.) The headman offered us some rice beer, a watery, clouded fluid in a bamboo container. We sipped politely and found it acrid to the taste. He was much taken with the shot gun I carried, a fine Parker 16-gauge double barrel, and announced he would like to buy it. I told him the truth: I could not sell the gun because it belonged to my mother. This astounded the headman; I could see the thought in his mind. What a strange place America must be, where women hunt and own guns! From Phakekedzumi the road dwindled to a track. Here again we hired Naga porters and started east. Each day we hired a new crew, since no village people wanted to go more than a day's journey from home. Naked Rengmas Learn About Trousers We now moved into the country of the Eastern Rengmas, the so-called "naked Reng mas," who normally do not bother to wear clothes. A few months before our arrival, however, a Naga mission teacher had arrived in their principal village and begun urging the men to don pants. Already the effect of his teaching was noticeable throughout the land. East again of the Rengmas, we came to the territory of the South Sangtams, just barely within the border of the administered area. Their neighbors to the northeast were the dreaded Kalyo Kengyu people, who are re puted to keep slaves and raid for heads. A stiff all-day climb from the last village took us up Mount Zepuhu, a fine, forested hill 8,408 feet high. We made a clearing near the crest. From here we had a magnificent view of ranges of blue-misted hills reaching to Burma, and just below us a deep valley cradling a small blue lake. With binoculars I could see flights of birds passing back and forth over the water. The Sangtam guides offered to take us to it, al though it was in the territory of a border tribe. We decided to work the mountain first, then try the lake later. A bewildering galaxy of bird species inhab ited our mountain, and our collection mounted day by day. Partridges abounded on Zepuhu, but to my sorrow there were no pheasants. Besides partridges, we found warblers, bul buls, and many species of babblers, a family of birds predominantly found in Asia. In short order we had secured well over 700 specimens. After 10 days of collecting and exploring we decided to move on to the secluded lake. But the day before we were to leave, two ex cited Sangtam headmen appeared in camp. In the babel of languages I caught the signifi cant word panji. Poisoned Splinters Warn: Keep Out! Panjis are sharpened, poison-tipped slivers of bamboo, placed where strangers are likely to step on them. Apparently panjis had been set out on the trail south of us by the neigh boring village across the border. They warned, more plainly than words, "Advance at your peril! No visitors wanted." There was nothing for it but to retrace our steps. It would have taken weeks to arrange a conference with the unfriendly tribesmen to find out what the trouble was. We left the next day on schedule, but back by the trail we had come. We bade farewell sadly to the little gleaming lake below us so tantalizingly close, and to the great gaunt ridge of Mount Saramati looming up not far off. Ten days later we were back in Kohima after a grueling ride from Phakekedzumi in the same two 4-wheel-drive trucks. The next morning early we started back down the Kohima road toward the steaming plains of India, and eventually home. Beside us the sun shone bright on a great bank of scarlet poinsettia. Along the ridge beyond, banked in flowers was a World War II cemetery, the most beautiful of its kind I have ever seen. Sturdy Nagas marched by us as we lurched in low gear around one sharp corner after another. They smiled and waved, and we waved back, full of a new awareness of the place, the hills, the rivers, the jungle, the birds, and, above all, the Naga people them selves. As the clouds rose round us and we reached yet again for our damp jackets and wind breakers, I thought to myself how good it is that this is still a wild frontier country. It is better that way. There can still be forests and wild tribes and mysteries remaining to be solved. Those eastern mountains will beckon enigmatically for years to come.