One night in my village
- Part 1 -

Witoubou Newmai *

The Christmas and the New Year celebrations were over and the school admission was going on. Our admissions were yet to be done due to shortage of money. We were happy that there was a financial crunch in the family for our admissions would be delayed which would also mean that we would have an extended winter vacation. We were enjoying our vacation in full gear always pre-occupied with one thing or the other from early morning till late night during this period of bliss.

One night, my grandfather (Apou) had occasionally reminded us from his bedroom that the night is getting late and we should go to bed. We could only hear the sound of insects especially the Takourunpui (crickets) making noise outside the house. The silence of the night was again occasionally interrupted by the coughing of an old man next door. He seemed to be badly affected by the chilling winter.

Soft roaring sound from the thick bamboo grove and the big trees at the Nchiang village fringe due to winter breeze had formed the perfect ambience in the dead of night that one experienced an eerie feeling. We could hear dogs wailing from a far off place of the village. We were distracted by the fighting of two mating cats at Apou's backyard that night. So noisy were the two cats that Apou banged the bamboo wall a couple of times.

We were (with my two cousins) sitting round a fire-place with two logs smouldering faintly while the rest of the family members were fallen fast into sleep. We were chatting excitedly about the next morning's plan of bird shooting in an abandoned village which is about two kilometres away. Aguangpibou, my younger cousin was quiet and very observant. He was giggling while looking at me.

While tendering the fire-place I might have touched charcoal and in attending my running nose I had made a moustache for myself. After realising why Aguangpibou was giggling, I stood up to wash my face but Agalepbou, my older cousin grumbled why I should be wasting water for a trifle purpose as we would be in bed soon. He was busy repairing his shorts (half-pants) as one of the hooks had fallen from it.

"Pull little harder," Agalepbou ordered his younger brother Aguangpibou. They were using soft Chaphupriang (fibre-rope tapped from Chaphup tree) as a belt so that his hook-less and faded brown over-sized pair of pants should not be a problem in the morning's bird hunting event. "Perfect," exclaimed Agalepbou approving that the new belt had helped. However, my younger cousin had fallen flat on the floor facing the roof while laughing shakily.

It had appeared that Agalepbou was wearing a petticoat. The pull was too hard that his new Chaphupriang belt had disfigured the pair of pants. "Remove that Chaphupriang. Nkhiangriang (rope made from a fibrous sour vegetable plant) is better as a belt," I commanded. Agaleobou obliged.

I climed up the Kasing-gen (a large and high bamboo raft made suspended just below a roof and usually above the fire place to store goods) and brought down Nkhiangriang, soaked in Kabak-kuang (a carved log where pigs are fed) for about ten minutes to soften and toughen the already dried, semi brittle Nkhiangriang. I made a perfect belt for Agalepbou. But there was more to be done about the worn-out pair of short pants.

The stitch at the back had come out that exposed his ash-buttocks. Because of that Agalepbou always hung around his striped looking bird shooting bag behind him to cover the opening. The bag was striped looking because it was made by stitching together the pieces of Apou's battered T-shirt, his father's socks, my grandmother's old head-cover using thick red woolen thread.

Aguangpibou was given the charge of fanning the smouldering logs for we were baking Taloompisiu (mud marbles for shooting birds).

"I think we should stop here. It is already three hundred Taloompisiu," suggested Agalepbou and we re-counted the mud marbles and divided among us. Being the senior most, my share was fatter than the two cousins.

"I told you go to go bed," Apou reminded us from his bed-room saying that the cock would crow soon signaling the pre-dawn break. He had also said that he had heard a cock crowing.

"I think the cock was crowing from Manningnailiu's house," wondered my youngest cousin. "But they don't have a girl who is in marriageable age. The girls are still very young," I countered.

The Liangmai tribe believes that if a cock crows before midnight or untimely during the night, a girl from the house where the cock crows will elope soon.

Suddenly, Kutariu (a giant owl) began to hoot. The hooting of Kutariu in that dark and breezy night had even fueled the eerie feeling to further height in this hill-top village of Nchiang which was surrounded by thick jungles. Grown-up people used to frighten naughty children by pronouncing the name of Kutariu. Any mention of the name Kutariu would stop a crying child.

Kutariu will not hoot continuously like any other bird. There will be a long interval of about 10 to 15 minutes between two hooting. This peculiar nature of the giant owl's cry that also resembles a man's voice makes your hair rise. Kutariu hoots late at night or in the wee hours. The winter breeze coming through the porous bamboo wall made us shiver.

Agalepbou was blowing the fire with a bamboo pipe to beat the cold. As he blew noisily using the bamboo pipe, the smouldering charcoal glowed but the glowing became faint as he paused. The momentary glowing of the charcoal enabled me to spot a Marao-henbung (a large hollowed dried gourd used as container). I knew Apeh (my grandmother) had stored dried Chara (a kind of beans) in it.

"The heat of the fading charcoal is too less to roast the Chara," grumbled Agalepbou but I ordered him to go out and bring some fire-wood from the wood-pile at Apou's back-yard. "I'm scare to go out. Aguangpibou, come with me." But moments later both of them had rushed in without the fire-wood. "The Kutariu has begun to hoot again," said Agalepbou. The plan to roast the Chara was not possible then.

I could by then feel that the Kutariu had come nearer to Apou's house. It had appeared that the giant owl was sitting at the large Tasiangbang (a large tree forming a canopy over Apou's back-yard where vegetables were grown) for the hooting sound had become quite prominent.

My youngest cousin had already buried himself in Apou's rough, hard and almost worn-out red blanket on hearing the giant owl hooting. However, I was too excited waiting for the morning break. I could no longer wait the bird shooting programme.

To be continued..

* Witoubou Newmai wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Editor of Newmai News Network (NNN).
This article was posted on October 09, 2013.

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