My brother and I

Leimei Wangnao

Belonging to the Konyak tribe, Nagaland

Delhi Public School Dimapur

“Hello everyone my name is lemei Wangnao, I am from Dimapur Nagaland. Growing up, I always had a hobby for reading. My passion for reading was influenced by my mother and grandfather, who are both such big book lovers. I traveled a lot when I was younger, it was just me and my mom and we have a family tradition where we buy a book from the airport of all the places we visit so that kept the spirit of reading alive in me. Writing was something I as an individual chose to release my stress. The book and pen is my battle field as well as my haven. When I start writing, I escape from the ordinary world around me to world of my own imagination.

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Leimei Wangnao

The cries from the village filled the mountains , and the bodies of the men were scattered outside every household. The warriors had returned after a long day of battle with the neighboring village.  As headhunters we the Konyaks are trained to fight  from the time we learn to walk  and are sent to war once we reach puberty, well this is only in the case of males but as for me and the other women of the tribe we are to prepare feasts for their return. 

The sight of blood and a sack full of chopped heads made me feel nauseous as I grabbed a dao ( sword of the naga people) and fled into the forest . The forest was my haven, the smell of fresh leaves, the sound of water rushing through the stream, and the wild squirrels jumping from one branch to the other was pleasing to me. For my father the squirrels would be a finger licking appetizer. 

Just as I was making myself comfortable a spear came flying across my face and landed right near my foot, it was none other than the Angh’s((village chief) guard. 

“Your father wants you back at the long house(residence of the chief) before they begin with the celebration feast.” 

I hated the long house, it was the last place I ever wanted to visit, however I had no option as the daughter out of the many daughters of the chief I had to live with my father the Angh of the village and his wives. 

Back at the long house my mother was sitting on a mura ( traditional stool) as she braided her hair and pushed porcupine quills on the sides of her ears as an ornament. I could hear gunshots and a big bonfire being lit in front of the community morung( male dormitory) . I had to sit right beside my father as I was the child of the first wife, even though my father married fifteen wives.  My mother was his first wife so she was of utmost importance to him and our village. 

The ceremonies began before the big feast the heads of men from the neighboring village were lined in front of the bonfire, the oldest men of the village were in charge of counting the heads as they began doing so the hairs on my harms spiked up in fear I could not stand to look at it, the sight made my stomach crunch. 

“Look at the sky, it is filled with stars tonight, the God of the skies is happy with our victory as well” 

whispered my brother from behind. 

He could see the fear in my eyes, and tried to distract me before I burst out in tears or escaped because if I do so it would be a disgrace to my father and the family. 

“I have removed all the bad omens my chief, you may now take the heads back to your house” said the person who was performing the ritual. After the feast, my brother snuck me out of the morung before we went back to the long house. 

“You should try to overcome your fears MeiMei, till I am around you need to build your strength” he said in a concerned tone.

 “How will you ever find a groom to fall for you if you look like a stick?” he joked as he fetched a handful of worms from a bamboo stalk. 

I told him how I wished I was not born into the family of the chief and that the life of a commoner seemed to have so much freedom like a free bird soaring high in the sky. 

We burnt the worms in bamboo sticks as we talked about each other’s problems. The worms were my favorite snack and so was his. My brother was from the second wife however he was older than me. 

Let me explain to you this whole family chain, my mother, despite being the first wife, could not bear my father, the chief, a child so my father married another woman and she bore her a son, however my stepmother was not given any importance nor was my step brother as she was a commoner. Four years later my mother gave birth to me, and I was declared as the princess as my mother was the daughter of the chief of the neighboring village of chi (village) ,hence the royal bloodline continued.

My brother and I, despite our royal status, were closer than ever. It was the start of the spring festival of the Konyaks also known as Aoleng, I woke up to the loud sound of the log drum as I peeked from the machang( balcony made up of bamboo straws) men were lined up against the log drum(khum) wearing the traditional attire with wood sticks in each hand. They were beating the drum to a synchronized beat.

 “Anu(mother) I am going down to beat the drum as well, I’ll meet you later” I said in an exciting tone, 

“Meimei you get back here this very second, the log drum(khum) is not to be beaten by anyone or everyone only the men of the morung are allowed to beat it”. 

My excitement fell the moment she uttered those words. The meaning behind the Aoleang festival was to pray for blessings as we sow our crop, for a good harvest throughout the year. Men and women from every household wore the traditional attire of our village from the very tip of the heads down to our feet. 

 A lady who was in charge of the household of the Angh dressed me up, I had necklaces around my neck each carried different weights and designs. Gunshots filled the air as they performed traditional dances on account of the festival, our tribe was known for gun making. After the festivities were over, I went to the fields to catch a breath of fresh air, the evergreen fields meant that there was a good harvest on the way, as I looked up to the sky a pigeon flew right past me but seconds later it landed straight on the ground with an arrow pierced through its body.

 “Now that was a good shot” my brother exclaimed from behind. He had gone hunting, in the fields as well. 

“What is up with that tired face?” he asked me,

 “My neck is about to snap, these necklaces are as heavy as you can imagine” I responded in an angry tone.

“ Why don’t you just take it off then, no one is going to find out we're in the middle of a paddy field” he said. His words persuaded me and the minute I took them off, my neck felt so relieved. We sat in the field as he talked about how much fun he had playing the log drum this morning, as he kept going on about it my anger began to build by the second. 

“You don’t need to go on and on about it! Does it seem fun to you that I cannot beat the log drum but you can?” I shouted in anger.

``Woah! If I had known how much you wanted to beat it, I would have but that’s against the norms of the village I am sorry” he replied. Before I could fight back he grabbed me by the wrist and took me to the morung, where the log drum was kept. 

“Here take this, and beat it according to the beat one two one two one two and three” he said. I grabbed the stick and began to beat it but I kept making mistakes.

“Just follow me and you will be able to play it in no time” he encouraged me. And before we knew it we were beating the drum in a synchronized beat all night long, laughing and singing along. 

Little did we know what was ahead of us, the sound of the drum had echoed throughout the whole village, and the elders were alarmed that another village was on its way to attack us. The drum was played only during special occasions such as during festivals, when another village attacked us or during the death of a chief or his family. We fled from the morung and snuck inside the longhouse (chief’s house). 

The news of the drum had reached the chief and to his anger he sent his men to get ready for war, later the chiefs of the neighboring villages had sent their messengers to convey the message that their men were not interested in war. After days of discussion my father concluded that it must have been trespassers from Burma that had banged the drum. All the villages of our tribe were bordered with Burma, hence there were frequent trespassers. My heart kept beating as fast as a cheetah for several days before they settled with a conclusion. The very next day, a villager who had been to his field, came back with a handful of necklaces and laid it before my father. 

My father knew it was mine as the princess wore different ornaments than the common ladies of the village, 

“Make sure she remains inside the log house till winter” he said with an aggressive tone to my mother. 

Ever since then, I have never gone to see the fields or the forest, which was the only place that felt like home, nor could I meet my brother. I could not wait till winter to tell him how bored I was inside the log house and how much I missed him. 

Just as winter was about to arrive I could smell the roasted sweet potatoes and the cold air tickled my nose. My mom came inside my room and as she braided my hair, she said:

 “Your brother is gearing up for war, he has now reached puberty so it is time for him to join the rest of the men of the village”. I stood up in shock but I knew he was brave and had the strength to slaughter enough men and bring victory. I tried to sneak out to wish him luck, however I failed. 

We waited till dawn preparing a huge feast and dancing around the bonfire, the men returned with some dancing and some injured all over their body. Just then a group of men began to beat the log drum. I had thought  that they were beating the log drum to celebrate the homecoming of the warriors but at that moment one of the men dropped my brother's dao( naga sword) next to fathers feet. 

The moment I saw the dao I immediately recognized it. Everything around me stopped and the sound of the log drum echoed in my head, the last time I heard it was when my brother laughed as we both beat all night long, unaware of what the future had planned for us. 

The scream of my stepmother and the shock in my father’s eyes haunts me till this date. Words were not enough to express my emotions. I ran to the opponent’s village while they celebrated all night long, men drank gallons of rice beer and women danced around the bonfire. Everyone was immersed in the spirit of victory, there I saw my brother’s head hanging next to the fire beside the few men that were killed. 

With no weapons in my hand nor did I have a torch of fire, I took a porcupine's quill and covered it with the poison of the poison arrow frog and crept inside the log house of that village. 

“I shall perform the ritual to remove the bad omen” said the elder man of the that village.

 As I looked at my brother's face, memories flooded my head,

 I blew the quill and as it shot the Angh

 I whispered:

“This is for my brother and I”.