NEOMI’S TOWER AND THE DIVISION INTO TRIBES

Neomi’s descendants determined to build a tower so as to return to Heaven, whence their ancestor came. They built a wooden tower, and when it was very high a man at the top called down for more wood. Those at the bottom did not hear properly, and one man called out: “Shall I cut?” The one above shouted: “Wood, wood!” and the man below again called: “Shall I cut?” The man at the top lost his temper and shouted: “Yes, cut!” The man below did so and the whole tower fell, killing all those on it. The remains of the structure are still to be seen at the place, they say.

Those who were on the ground and survived decided they would scatter and choose land for themselves. The Nriami chose all the cliffs, but Neomi and Nkuoami chose the good land. After they had settled in their villages Nriami found they had nowhere to cultivate, so they asked Neomi and Nkuoami to have pity on them and help them, and so they divided out the land equally.

When they all went off to found their different villages the Kabui blazed a trail by cutting humuk trees, and all the marks turned black and it looked like an old path, so that few people went that way; but the Zemi cut their marks on kameo trees on which the marks stayed white, so that a great many people went that way, and the Zemi became more numerous than the Kabui.

When the Zemi were on their way from their place of origin in the north-west a spirit saw that they were too many, and so turned Henima and Intuma into Lyengmi. Heningzami village also wanted to become Lyengmi, so gave the Lyengmi a man’s dance-cloth as a fee for teaching. The Barak is the boundary between the tribes, the Kabui and Lyeng on the far side and the Zemi on the west, and their village go as far up as the Angami country. In the days of the migration the Angami did not fight the Zemi, though they did so later. The Angami are Tsiuperai’s children and live round about his house, and so are cleverer and better fighters than the Zemi.

Zeme folktales by Ursula Graham

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