Sunday, September 18, 2005

An Afternoon With The Lads

Langmeang is a remote village of about 1,200 people in the Chompang Mountains, at the end of a deeply rutted track that roadbuilders punched through in the 1980s. The arrival of a Tata Sumo jeep with some faraway Nagas and a white man one late afternoon, with a red sun sinking behind the mountains in the west, was a pretty big event.

We were immediately surrounded by about 150 laughing and cheering children, and they escorted us up to the highest ridge in the village, where the main morung stood in the shade of a remnant copse of yunchuk trees and lok trees. In the morung courtyard, an informal gathering of the village elders was underway. The old men sat quietly, with smiles showing through the broad zig-zag tattoos on their faces. They were all seated around an open fire, beside a large obelisk and a stone altar. It was as though we had been expected.

The 32-year-old Angh of Langmeang, Dujai, happened to be seated with the old men. We exchanged greetings through my translator Khrienuo, in Nagamese. Straight away, Dujai said something to a little boy, who ran off and returned a minute later with a flashlight. Then the boy and two of his companions gestured in a way that indicated I should go inside the morung. A cheer went up among the old men.

The dark entranceway into the longhouse was decorated with mithun skulls and stag antlers. There were deeply-sculpted carvings of animals in the roof beams, and in the morung’s huge support posts, but I couldn’t make out what they were. The boys brought me into a small chamber, a sort of an anteroom. In the pitch dark behind a bamboo screen, the flashlight beam illuminated an open sarcophagus filled with human skulls.


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