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SOME CUSTOMS OF THE KAR NICOBARESE
The Feast of Exhumation-A Scene in the Graveyard—“Katap-hang”.
“Kiala”_"Enwan-n'gi”—Fish Charms—Canoe Offerings—“Ramal” “ Gnunota" Converse with the Dead “Kewi - apa” "Maya" “ Yintovna Siya”—Exorcism—“Tanangla"-Other Ceremonies — The “Sano-kuy"_The “Mafai”—The “Tamiluana”—Mafai Ceremonies-Burial-Mourning-Burial Scenes—The Origin of Village GardensDestruction of Gardens-Eclipses--Canoe-buying-Dances-Quarrels “ Amok" Wizardry Wizard Murders Suicides Land Sale and Tenure-Dislike to Strangers-Cross-bow Accidents—Canoe VoyagesCommercial Occupations-Tallies.
AMONGST the Kar Nicobarese there are far more customs and ceremonies than I could ascertain during a short visit, but in the following pages an attempt has been made to chronicle all those that came to my knowledge. Many of them were elicited by questioning Mr V. Solomon, the Government Agent on the island, but still more are extracted from his diaries as printed in the Supplements of the Andaman and Nicobar Gazette. For the accuracy, therefore, of much of this chapter, Mr Solomon is responsible.
Of all the observances, customs, and ceremonies of Nicobarese life, that of Kana Awn, where the bones of the dead are exhumed, is perhaps the most important. Literally it is called Ka-al-awnfeast of pigs' Alesh.
It is a very laborious and costly festival, commemorated every third or fourth year, with much ceremony commingled of joy and
All the islanders cannot observe it at one limited period, nor can the people of one whole village do so conjointly with each other. If a few families of a village commemorate the feast during one year, other families will undertake it at some other convenient year, which will be at a time when their stores are abundant, and after sufficient delay for the bones of their deceased to become denuded of flesh.
The festival is conducted with much expenditure and demonstration, and differs slightly in each village.
It consists of a course of ceremonies continuing from one full moon to another, and commences as follows:
About ten months prior to the occasion, all the people of a village consult together to fix the festival month, and then inform the rest of the villages, and obtain their promise of assistance. They next send messengers to give notice to all the villages of the island of their intentions, and bear preliminary invitations (mahaukaré). Of these there are two kinds-general and special. The general invitation is given to friends and relatives, that they may join them in the feast and help in various respects. The special invitation is sent by one family of the commemorators of the ceremony to the people of a whole village, that the hosts may give a performance in their house on the occasion. If ten families of a village commemorate the feast, they would invite the people of ten distant villages for this purpose, while those of three adjacent villages would be invited generally.
Their first duty, after sending out invitations, is to make a ñákopáh (feast for the dead). Some well-carved wooden poles, fifty or sixty feet in height, with cross battens, are prepared and planted in the ground at Elpanam, and in the village in front of the houses of the commemorators. On these the people hang up varieties of yams and plantains; bundles of sireh leaf; bunches of coconuts, areca-nuts, pandanus, fruit, cheroots, and other eatables to which they are accustomed ; in all, about fifty kinds. Below the posts they place teakwood boxes containing new clothes and jewels; bottles of toddy and earthen pots from Chaura, all fenced in carefully. These arrangements are decorated from top to bottom with flags, etc., until they look like Indian processional “ KARE-YENG - CHÓN”
This work is the occupation of about thirty men for three months. From the day the ná-kopáh is commenced, the natives are restricted from killing pigs in the village.
On these occasions they take great pains in repairing their cooking huts, erecting new ones, and in making new roads and paths up to the boundaries of their village in every direction. The open ground at Elpanam and the graveyard are also cleared and kept tidy, and in the meanwhile they make every effort to secure sufficient quantities of provisions for the festival. A month before this begins some more ná-kopáhs, similar to the above, are prepared with fresh eatables, which, however, are not set out until a week before the feast. When this is done, final invitations (mi-nga-la) are sent to all the guests.
Besides this, a week before the opening day kare-yeng-chón (headstones of graves) are made in the following manner :-A well-shaped, round log of wood, about 3 feet long and 9 inches in diameter, having two through holes crossing each other near one end, is prepared and kept in readiness. At the approach of the feast a number of men and women together adorn it by rolling round it a piece of white calico and fringing it with red or blue cloth. Four large soup-ladles are fastened to the holes and to the middle of the log, a cross-shaped iron pike, about 6 feet long, called meráhta, ornamented with many spoons, forks and soup-ladles,* is fixed. To it also are attached toys, dolls, and fancy weapons, with other curiosities, which all add to the gorgeous appearance of the object. Some families keep this in the newly-erected cookhouse, others in the open yard. They particularly take the guests and friends to see it in order to show that they are wealthy.
The men then construct, for temporary use, two or three long bamboo cages, with separate enclosures, so that a dozen pigs may be put in each cage. One is built underneath, and the others in front of the house.
* This same iron rod is used in the rainy season as a means for the prevention of thunder and lightning.