This picture shows the remains of a house which had been destroyed by fire. This was a relatively common occurrence as the fireplaces in all Kachin houses were always left alight



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0319, 0380, 1120 – Fire

This picture shows the remains of a house which had been destroyed by fire. This was a relatively common occurrence as the fireplaces in all Kachin houses were always left alight. Ashes would be used to dampen the embers but, once lit, the fire would burn continuously. In Jinghpaw long-houses with their multiple fireplaces, the smoke from so many fires could make for a very dark, but dry and insect free interior. Of course, such an abode would disintegrate to ashes with tremendous speed once the fire started to spread. There was a great fear of fire because there was rarely enough water availble in a village to extinguish any which might threaten house and home. Green states in his dissertation (p.190) that Nung villagers would build their granaries away from the main house site, sometimes in a separate clearing resembling a small village in itself, to ensure that food stores would not be lost in such an outbreak. Furthermore, if a Jinghpaw person was sending a message to an enemy and wanted to convey the seriousness of his threats, it would be accompanied by a piece of charcoal.

Fireplaces were constructed in the floor of the houses, forming rectangular depressions of about one metre in length and filled with earth upon which a low fire would be built. Each important room or family group within the house would have their own fireplace and the number of these was taken as a sign of the prosperity and fertility of the family as a whole. The number of fireplaces was used to express the length of a Jinghpaw long-house. Placed upon the fireplace would be a tripod and cooking pot and erected above it would be a series of shelves suspended from the roof upon which meat, rice, yeast etc. could be dried. The most important fireplace in the house of a Jinghpaw chief was the Madai dap, the Madai fireplace. The accoutrements of the Madai offerings and ritual, including the special bamboo containers for offering to the spirit would be placed upon these shelves, the lowest level of which was decorated with the same designs as the manau posts [see documentation of Mahtum Manau]. This shelf was therefore equivalent to an altar or hkung-ri and should be constructed of laja wood, a symbol of wealth and fertility. When a manau was held, an additional structure somewhat similar to the manau posts and acting as a wudang for the Madai pig offering would be constructed by the fireplace. When the Madai buffalo was offered, its carcass would be brought inside the house and laid in front of the fireplace / altar and coaxed in the joiwa language to the land of Madai. All the items of paraphernalia used by the joiwa dumsa and his assistants would be hung over the fireplace during the festival. The joiwa would sit in front of the madai dap to recite the creation story and water for the spirit would be poured through a special hole in the floor in front of the fireplace.

When a new house was built, the fireplaces would be lit in a special ceremony at which the origin of human acquisition of ‘useful’ or ‘friendly’ fire was recited. The Jinghpaw differentiated between different kinds of fire such as that which was caused by lightening or was considered wild and untameable. These different varieties were the work of different spirits and harmful fire was thus considered the effect of malevolent fire spirits. As these spirits could affect and influence all the fires of a village once they had taken hold, it was necessary for every fireplace in the village to be extinguished if a house burned down and for the re-lighting to take place only after a special dumsa ceremony. In photograph 0380 one can see the nat altars which were erected to make offerings after such a calamity.

One Jinghpaw version of the human acquisition of friendly fire that would be chanted as part of the Creation Story, at weddings and on occasions when a fire needed to re-lit, is given below. This version was recited at a wedding in Monyin in 1990 as part of the Lanyi [Chyahkyi Brang, transcribed by Punnga Ja Li and Daing Ze; trans. Mandy Sadan with Hkanhpa Sadan]:
Like the sword struck on the same anvil, tonight we lanyi priests are singing the same song. But actually there is still more to be done. Our task is like the rope that has been woven but the fringes have yet to be completed. Now it is our task to relate the story of the origin of useful, friendly fire.
When the central earth had been formed and human beings came to exist, there was at first no fire. At that time human beings consumed only raw food and their bodies were lean and skinny. Yet on the east side of the Hkrang river where no humans lived, there was fire burning all the time, both day and night, and so humans decided to go to the east to get fire. They discussed amongst themselves how to get the fire and they asked Kumhhtoi Wa Kumhtan if he would go. This man could jump incredibly far and they thought he might be able to leap across the steep, narrow gorge of the river. He agreed and the humans sent him on his way with food rations. He was tied to the top of a bamboo pole and was catapulted across the river, where he released himself on the other side.

Kumhhtoi Wa Kumhtan came upon Wanlanghkran cave and met an elderly man there. Kumhtoi Wa Kumhtan asked the elderly man who he was. The old man instead asked him,”Grandson, who are you?” The young man told him his name and the old man was very pleased to hear this because he was Wan Lang Wa Hting Nan and their names matched in rhyme. The fire carrier had met the fire fetcher. They then introduced themselves to each other as grandfather and grandson. Then, because their names matched and they resembled each other as closely as do flying squirrels to each other, the young man asked to be given some fire to take back to humans. He reported that the people who had migrated to the central world were skinny because they could only eat raw food. But the old man replied, ‘Grandson, the fire you see now is raw fire, like lightning, with a green flame, and it will not be fit for you humans. If you try to use it there will only be negative effects. It is like mineral fire which burns too quickly down the whole length of a piece of wood or like the fire which is left alone because it is believed it has gone out but only re-lights itself to set fire to the whole area. If you want to use this fire you must tame it and purify it by propitiating the maraw spirit with the sacrifice of a pig with a belly nine fist lengths in diameter.’ Kumhtoi Wa Kumhtan replied that he was reluctant to hand over such an animal because it would be so large, possibly too large to consume. When he heard this, Wan Langwa Hting Nan told the man that, if that was the case, he could not help further and the human should leave and try to find fire on the central plateau for himself. Kumhtoi Wa Kumhtan again asked where he could find fire and the old man told him to turn over all the dry leaves there and search for it. If he could not find it by turning dry leaves he should look for a man called Ka-ang La Tu Nut, the fourth son, and Shingra Num Htu But, the fourth daughter. They should be ordered to prepare wara and lahkra bamboo segments. Inside the segments they should place fibres from the laisi palm tree. The lahkra bamboo would be pulled back and forth through the wara bamboo, over the laisi fibres to create friction, which would cause the fibres to set alight.

Kumhtoi Wa Kumhtan made a raft and returned across the river. When he arrived back on the central plateau, the people followed the instructions given by grandfather Wan Langwa. They tried turning dry leaves but they could find no fire there. So, they called for Ka-ang La Tu Nut and Shing-ra Num Htu But and they manufactured the bamboo fire making equipment. Laisi fibres were placed in the middle and they let Ka-ang La Tu Nut hold the right end and Shing-ra Num Htu But held the left. Together they made friction and the laisi fibre became hot and started to smoulder. Laiba shreds burned and so fire was made available to humans. They shared it all over the world and fire was used in every household. It was used for cooking, for boiling, for barbecuing, steaming and burning. After humans started to consume cooked foods, their complexions became fairer and they became well nourished. In this way the world became developed and complete. This is the story of how fire became available to humans. We joiwa priests have now related the story of the origin of useful fire and this duty is now done. By relating how fire became available in ancient days we have completed this part of our task.

The use of names in this story is significant. All joiwa dumsa chants were recited as couplet sentences and it was very important that names were used which rhymed together. Here one can see two examples of this: Kumhtoi Wa Kumhtan - Wan Lang Wa Hting Nan and Ka-ang La Tu Nut
- Shing-ra Num Htu But. Such rhymes were considered important as confirmation that any union of the two would have the blessing of Mahtum Mahta and that the no evil effects would accrue to the pair. Typically, especially in lanyi recitations when coupling and male-female pairing is greatly emphasised, the two elements of a name would also express vital elements or attributes which would be united to form a complete whole. Thus, in this case we have Ka-ang (central) and shingra (common / natural). Together Ka-ang Shingra is used to describe the earth by the joiwa dumsa when they want to emphasise the creation having been completed to the suitability of humans. Other couplets to describe the earth would be dingta lungpu to emphasise it as the abode of humans, shingdai layan to emphasise the centrality of the human role in controlling the earth, and so on. Furthermore, when a couple got married, the joiwa would have to ensure that he could use names that would sound pleasing together and to do this he might have to make detailed references to the genealogy of the pair to find a name which could be used for effect. If anyone got married and their names did not rhyme, it was considered a most ill-advised match.




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