nl00903b 3

Healing Practices of Angami Nagas: Vibha Joshi

The concepts of health and disease are largely cultural. For the Angami of Nagaland, carrying out the daily routine is an indicator of perfect health. A person who has lost appetite, feels dizzy, is unable to work in the fields or cut wood is considered ill (suo). According to the ethnotheory, the primary causes of illness are, intrusion of foreign bodies (ketsiecha) such as pebbles that are thrown at a person by malevolent spirits when their anger is roused and taking away of soul by the spirit theroma when displeased. The loss of the soul is often fatal. A ‘strong soul’ can however, be restored by means of rituals suggested by the medicine man. Trouble by soul of the dead (kesiama mela), resulting in high palpitations, blood pressure and fever are caused by breach of rule by a family member (mezthurha) as one of taking food from the enemy or killing somebody without sufficient reason.

A Therapy Management Group (TMG) is temporarily built around the sick. This group consults the traditional healer, themumia. The themumia is considered a mediator between the people and the spirits and also between the living and the dead. He cures patients by expelling the foreign bodies, suggesting an appropriate ritual for warding off illness, by divination as well as by administering herbs and herbal medicine. For divination the themumia calls upon his tutelary spirits who answer his queries through the movement of rice grains. From the patterns formed by the rice, he deciphers the message and suggests therapeutic rituals. Alternately, some of them read from the way shavings of the stem of a certain plant fall on the ground. Once the cause has been ascertained, the remedies for a cure often consist of offering iron nails or filings, fowls, eggs, clothes etc. These are placed outside the village gate or a particular spot where the patient had been attacked by an evil spirit.

A recurrent illness such as fever, malaria and stomach ache is attributed to malevolent spirits. In such cases the family tries to identify the location where the spirit could have inflicted the illness through ‘personal divination method’ (mepuo puo keiu uro kechi). For this a gourd mug is filled with water. Few pieces of charcoal taken from the hearth are dropped one by one into the mug. The spot of encounter is determined from the nature of sound produced as the name of probable places (i.g., field, jungle, stream, etc.) are called out. When this is known, the patient’s family members leave a fowl, few pieces of iron, and some shawl threads at the particular spot saying, ‘puo phuyiekezie haha velie di puo bu vitatus’ translated as, ‘this is a peace offering more valuable than the life of the patient. Please take these and let the patient recover’. After the sacrifice the family members come back and tell the patient ‘mhape te karei chu kemesa wat e he waiha tallecia’ which means, ‘now that we have done everything to satisfy the spirits, you will get well.’

The rituals performed by the themumia or prescribed by him may range from the simple offering of an egg or beads, pieces of iron, tassels of shawls to a fowl, a pig or a dog for appeasing the evil spirits. After the sacrifice, the patient’s name is announced three or four times saying, ‘kehoura puotuorei vor lieve’ or ‘wherever you are, come back home.’ The path is cleared for the soul by standing aside and saying, ‘raliecie’, i.e., ‘go ahead’. This is repeated on the way back to the patient’s house. Inside the house, they repeat ‘raliecqie’ before entering it. Here they say, ‘puo ruopfu-u ze havor shu wateho’ (free translation: ‘ now that we have brought the soul of the patient back, he will recover’). While performing this ritual the people do not speak to anybody till they reach home perhaps, to avoid breaking of the spell.
In case the cause of the illness is deciphered as capturing of the soul by the spirit of the dead, the ritual prescribed by the themumia is generally kesiama mela (dead soul’s persistence). For this the family members of the sick take some pieces of iron. They draw a horizontal line known as theraphie on the ground outside the house. Standing on the inner side, they throw the iron pieces beyond this line saying, ‘kesia ruopfu no lutsakhie vo ta di lavor hie cie nza kemoguri sa we lhote we’, (free translation:’ may the dead soul leave and never come beyond this line. We will not deal with it’).

At the time of epidemics, nails, old cloth trimmings and ornaments are strewn on the paths around the village. Sometimes even live chicken are freed to serve as a substitute for human beings. On the outbreak of small-pox epidemic the villagers discard the mundane path of entering through the village gate to fool the ‘spirits of illness’ in making them believe that nobody lives in the village.

Rituals such as these emphasize the spatial orientation of malevolent spirits who reside beyond the village boundaries. Performed outside the home but near the village gate the rituals go a long way in maintaining the thino or village identity as a social and cultural unit.

Newsletter | List of Newsletter ]