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Sport and Work on the Nepaul Frontier
Chapter VII


Native superstitions—Charming a bewitched woman—Exorcising ghosts from a field—Witchcraft—The witchfinder or "Ojah"—Influence of fear—Snake bites—How to cure them—-How to discover a thief— Ghosts and their habits—The "Haddick" or native lone-setter— Cruelty to animals by natives.

THE natives as a rule, and especially the lower classes, are excessively superstitious. They are afraid to go out after nightfall, believing that then the spirits of the dead walk abroad. It is almost impossible to get a coolie, or even a fairly intelligent servant, to go a message at night, unless you give him another man for company.

A belief in witches is quite prevalent, and there is scarcely a village in Behar that does not contain some withered old crone, reputed and firmly believed to be a witch. Others either young or old are believed to have the evil eye; and, as in Scotland some centuries ago, there are also witchfinders and sorcerers, who will sell charms, cast nativities, give divinations, or ward off the evil efforts of wizards and witches by powerful spells. When a wealthy man has a child born the Brahmins cast the nativity of the infant on some auspicious day. They fix on the name, and settle the day for the baptismal ceremony.

I remember a man coming to me on one occasion from the village of Kuppoorpuckree. He rushed up to where I was sitting in the verandah, threw himself at my feet, with tears streaming down his cheeks, and amid loud cries for pity and help, told me that his wife had just been bewitched. Getting him somewhat soothed and pacified, I learned that a reputed witch lived next door to his house; that she and the man's wife had quarrelled in the morning about some capsicums which the witch was trying to steal from his garden; that in the evening, as his wife was washing herself inside the angaria, or little courtyard appertaining to liis house, she was seized with cramps and shivering fits, and was now in a raging fever; that the witch had also been bathing at the time, and that the water from her body had splashed over this man's fence, and part of it had come in contact with his wife's body—hence undoubtedly this strange possession. He wished me to send peons at once, and have the witch seized, beaten, and expelled from the village. It would have been no use my trying to persuade him that no witchcraft existed. So I gave him a good dose of quinine for his wife, which she was to take as soon as the fit subsided. Next I got my old moonskee, or native writer, to write some Persian characters on a piece of paper; I then gave him this paper, muttering a bit of English rhyme at the time, and telling him this was a powerful spell. I told him to take three hairs from his wife's head, and a paring from her thumb and big toe nails, and at the rising of the moon to burn them outside the walls of his hut. The poor fellow took the quinine and the paper with the deepest reverence, made me a most lowly salaam or obeisance, and departed with a light heart. He carried out my instructions to the letter, the quinine acted like a charm on the feverish woman, and I found myself quite a famous witch-doctor.

There was a nice fiat little field close to the water at Parewah, in which I thought I could get a good crop of oats during the cold weather. I sent for the "dangur" mates, and asked them to have it dug up next day. They hammed and hawed and hesitated, as I thought, in rather a strange manner, but departed. In the evening back they came, to tell me that the dangurs would not dig up the field.

""Why?" I asked

"Well you see, Sahib," said old Teerbouan, who was the patriarch and chief spokesman of the village, "this field has been used for years as a burning ghaut" (i.e. a place where the bodies of dead Hindoos were buried).

"Well? " said I.

"Well, Sahib, my men say that if they disturb this land, the 'Tilioots' (ghosts) of all those who have been burned there, will haunt the village at night, and they hope you will not persist in asking them to dig up the land."

"Very well, bring down the men with their digging hoes, and I will see."

Accordingly, next morning, I went down on my pony, found the dangurs all assembled, but no digging going on. I called them together, told them that it was a very reasonable fear they had, but that I would cast such a spell on the land as would settle the ghosts of the departed for ever. I then got a branch of a bael [The bael or wood-apple is a sacred wood with Hindoos. It is enjoined in the Shastras that the bodies of the dead should be consumed in a fire fed by logs of bael-tree; but where it is not procurable in sufficient quantity, the natives compound with their consciences by lighting the funeral pyre with a branch from the bael-tree. It is a fine yellow-coloured, pretty durable wood, and makes excellent furniture. A very fine sherbet can be made from the fruit, which acts as an excellent corrective and stomachic.] tree that grew close by, dipped it in the stream, and walking backwards round the ground, waved the dripping branch round my head, repeating at the same time the first gibberish that came into my recollection. My incantation or spell was as follows, an old Scotch rhyme I had often repeated when a child at school—

"Eenerty, feenerty, fickerty, feg,
Ell, dell, domun's egg;
Irky, birky, story, rock,
An, tan, toose, Jock;
Black fish! white troot!
'Gibbie Gaw, ye're oot.'"

It had the desired effect. No sooner was my charm uttered, than, after a few encouraging words to the men, telling them that there was now no fear, that my charm was powerful enough to lay all the spirits in the country, and that I would take all the responsibility, they set to work with a will, and had the whole field dug up by the evening.

I have seen many such cases. A blight attacks the melon or cucumber beds; a fierce wind rises during the night, and shakes half the mangoes off the trees; the youngest child is attacked with teething convulsions; the plough-bullock is accidentally lamed, or the favourite cow refuses to give milk. In every case it is some 'Dyne,' or witch, that has been at work with her damnable spells and charms. I remember a case in which a poor little child had bad convulsions. The 'Ojah,' or witchfinder, in this case a fat, greasy, oleaginous knave, was sent for. Full of importance and blowing like a porpoise, he came and caused the child to be brought to him. under a tree near the village. I was passing at the time, and stopped out of curiosity. He spread a tattered cloth in front of 1dm, and muttered some unintelligible gibberish, unceasingly making strange passes with his arms. He put down a number of articles on his cloth—which was villainously tattered and greasy—an unripe plantain, a handful of rice, of parched peas, a thigh bone, two wooden cups, some balls, &c., &c.; all of which he kept constantly lifting and moving about, keeping up the passes and muttering all the time.

The child was a sickly-looking, pining sort of creature, rocking about in evident pain, and moaning and fretting just as sick children do. Gradually its attention got fixed on the strange antics going on. The Ojah kept muttering away quicker and quicker, constantly shifting the bone and cups and other articles on the cloth. His body was suffused with perspiration, but in about half an hour the child had gone off to sleep, and attended by some dozen old women, and the anxious father, was borne off in triumph to the house.

Another time one of Mr. D.'s female servants got bitten by a scorpion. The poor woman was in great agony, with her arm swelled up, when an Ojah was called in. Setting her before him, he began his incantations in the usual manner, but made frequent passes over her body, and over the bitten place. A gentle perspiration began to break out on her skin, and in a very short time the Ojah had thrown her into a deep mesmeric sleep. After about an hour she awoke perfectly free from pain. In this case no doubt the Ojah was a mesmerist.

The influence of fear on the ordinary native is most wonderful. I have known dozens of instances in which natives have been brought home at night for treatment in cases of snake-bite. They have arrived at the factory in a complete state of coma, with closed eyes, the pupils turned back in the head, the whole body rigid and cold, the lips pale white, and the tongue firmly locked between the teeth. I do not believe in recovery from a really poisonous bite, where the venom has been truly injected. I invariably asked first how long it was since the infliction of the bite; I would then examine the marks, and as a ride would find them very slight. "When the patient had been brought some distance, I knew at once that it was a case of pure fright. The natives wrap themselves up in their cloths or blankets at night, and lie down on the floors of their huts. Turning about, or getting up for water or tobacco, or perhaps to put fuel on the fire, tlicy unluckily tread on a snake, or during sleep they roll over on one. The snake gives them a nip, and scuttles off. They have not seen what sort of snake it is, but their imagination conjures up the very worst. After the first outcry, when the whole house is alarmed, the man sits down firmly possessed by the idea that he is mortally bitten. Gradually his fears work the effect a real poisonous bite would produce. Ilis eye gets dull, his pulse grows feeble, his extremities cold and numb, and unless forcibly roused by the bystanders he will actually succumb to pure fright, not to the snake-bite at all. My chief care when a case of this sort was brought me, was to assume a cheery demeanour, laugh to scorn the fears of the relatives, and tell them he would be all right in a few hours, if they attended to my directions. This not uncommonly worked by sympathetic influence on the patient himself. I believe, so long as all around him thought he was going to die, and expected no other result, the same effect was produced on his own mind. As soon as hope sprang up in the breasts of all around him, his spirit also caught the contagion. As a- rule, he would now make an effort to articulate. I would then administer a good dose of sal volatile, brandy, eau-de-luce, or other strong stimulant, cut into the supposed bite, and apply strong nitric acid to the wound. This generally made him wince, and I would hail it as a token of certain recovery. By this time some confidence would return, and the supposed dying man would soon walk back sound and whole among his companions after profuse expressions of gratitude to his preserver.

I have treated dozens of cases in this way successfully, and only seen two deaths. One was a young woman, my chowkeydar's daughter; the other was an old man, who was already dead when they lifted him out of the basket in which they had slung him. I do nut wish to be misunderstood. I believe that in all these cases of recovery it was pure fright working on the imagination, and not snake-bite at all. My opinion is shared by most planters, that there is no cure yet known for a cobra bite, or for that of any other poisonous snake, where the poison has once been fairly injected and allowed to mix with the blood.

There is another curious instance of the effects of fear on the native mind in the common method taken by an Ojah or Brahmin to discover a suspected thief. "When a theft occurs, the Ojah is sent for, and the suspected parties are brought together. After various muntras, i.e. charms or incantations, have been muttered, the Ojah, who has meanwhile narrowly scrutinized each countenance, gives each of the suspected individuals a small quantity of dry rice to chew. If the thief be present, his superstitious fears are at work, and Ins conscience accuses him. He sees some terrible retribution for him in all these muntras, and his heart becomes like water within him, his tongue gets dry, his salivary glands refuse to act; the innocent munch away at their rice contentedly, but the guilty wretch feels as if he had ashes in his mouth. At a given signal all spit out their rice, and he whose rice comes out, chewed indeed, but dry as summer dust, is adjudged the thief. This ordeal is called choui chipao, and is rarely unsuccessful. I have known several cases in my own experience in which a thief has been thus discovered.

The bhoots, or ghosts, are popularly supposed to have a very happy exemption. During the last forty years, it would seem that only two Europeans have been killed by snake-bite, at least only two well substantiated cases. The poorer classes are the most frequent victims. Their universal habit of walking about unshod, and sleeping on the ground, penetrating into the grasses or jungles in pursuit of their daily avocations, no doubt conduces much to the frequency of such accidents. A good plan to keep snakes out of the bungalow is to leave a space all round the rooms, of about four inches, between the wail and the edge of the mats. Have this washed over about once a week with a strong solution of carbolic acid and water. The smell may be unpleasant for a short time, but it proves equally so to the snakes; and I have proved by experience that it keeps them out of the rooms. Mats should also be all firmly fastened down to the floor with bamboo battens, and furniture should be often moved, and kept raised a little from the ground, and the space below carefully swept every day. At night a light should always be kept burning in occupied bedrooms, and on no account should one get out of bed in the dark, or walk about the rooms at night without slippers or shoes.

Favourite haunts, generally in some specially selected tree; is supposed to he the most patronised. The most intelligent natives share this belief with the poorest and most ignorant; they fancy the ghosts throw stones at them, cast evil influences over them, lure- them into quicksands, and play other devilish tricks and cantrips. Some roads are quite shunned and deserted at night, for no other reason than that a ghost is supposed to haunt the place. The most tempting bribe would not make a native walk alone over that road after sunset.

Besides the witch-finder, another important village functionary who relies much on muntras and charms, is the Huddick, or cow doctor. He is the only veterinary surgeon of the native when his cow or bullock dislocates or breaks a limb, or falls ill. The Huddick passes his hands over the affected part, and mutters his muntras, which have most probably descended to him from his father. Usually knuwing a little of the anatomical structure of the animal, he may be able to reduce a dislocation, or roughly to set a fracture; but if the ailment be internal, a Mraught of mustard oil, or some pounded spices and turmeric, or neem leaves administered along with the muntra, are supposed to be all that human skill and science can do.

The natives are cruel to animals. Half-starved bullocks are shamefully overworked. "When blows fail to make the ill-starred brute move, they give a twist and wrench to the tail, which must cause the animal exquisite torture, and unless the hapless beast be utterly exhausted, this generally induces it to make a further effort. ploughmen very often deliberately make a raw open sore, one on each rump of the plough-bullock. They goad the poor wretch on this raw sore with a sharp-pointed stick when he lags or when they think he needs stirring up. Ponies, too, are always worked far too young; and their miserable legs get frightfully twisted and bent. The petty shopkeepers sellers of brass pots, grain, spices, and other bazaar wares, who attend the various bazaars, or weekly and bi-weekly markets, transport their goods by means of these ponies.

The packs of merchandise are slung on rough pack-saddles, made of coarse sacking. Shambling along with knees bent together, sores on every joint, and frequently an eye knocked out, the poor pony's back gets cruelly galled; when the bazaar is reached, he is hobbled as tightly as possible, the coarse ropes cutting into the flesh, and he is then turned adrift to contemplate starvation on the burnt-up grass. Great open sores form on the back, on which a plaster of moist clay, or cowdung and pounded leaves, is roughly put. The wretched creature gets worn to a skeleton. A little common care and cleanliness would put him right, with a little kindly consideration from his brutal master, but what does the Kulivar or Bunneah care? he is too lazy.

This unfeeling cruelty and callous indifference to the sufferings of the lower animals is a crying evil, and every magistrate, European, and educated native, might do much to ease their burdens. Tremendous numbers of bullocks and ponies die from sheer neglect and ill-treatment every year. It is now becoming so serious a trouble, that in many villages plough-bullocks are too few in number for the area of land under cultivation. The tillage suffers, the crops, deteriorate, this reacts on prices, the ryot sinks lower and lower, and gets more into the grasp of the rapacious moneylender. In many villages I have seen whole tracts of land relapsed into purtee, or unfilled waste, simply from want of bullocks to draw the plough. Severe epidemics, like foot and month disease and pleuro, occasionally sweep off great numbers; but, I repeat, that annually the lives of hundreds of valuable animals are sacrificed by sheer sloth, dirt, inattention, and brutal cruelty.

In some parts of India, cattle poisoning for the sake of the hides is extensively practised. The Chumars, that is, the shoemakers, furriers, tanners and workers in leather and skins generally, frequently combine together in places, and wilfully poison cattle and buffaloes. There is actually a section in the penal code taking cognisance of the crime. The Hindoo will not touch a dead carcase, so that when a bullock mysteriously sickens and dies, the Chumars haul away the body, and appropriate the skin. Some luckless witch is blamed for the misfortune, when the rascally Chumars themselves are all the while, the real culprits. The police, however, are pretty successful in detecting this crime, and it is not now of such frequent occurrence. [Somewhat analogous to this is the custom which used to he a common one. in some parts of Behar. Koomhnra and Or amies, that is, tile-makers and thatchers, when trade was dull or rain impending, would scatter peas and grain in the interstices of the tiles on the houses of the well-to-do. The pigeons and crows, in their efforts to get at the peas, would loosen and perhaps overturn a few of the tiles. The gramie would he sent for to replace these, would condemn the whole roof as leaky, and the tiles as old and unfit for use, and would provide a job for himself and the tile-maker, the nefarious profits of which they would share together.]

Highly as the pious Hindoo venerates the sacred bull of SIiiva, his treatment of his mild patient beasts of burden is a foul blot on his character. "Were you to shoot a cow, or were a Mussulman to wound a stray bullock which might have trespassed, and be trampling down his opium or his tobacco crop, anil luinmg his fields, the Hindoos would rise en masse to revenge the insult offered to their religion. Yet they scruple not to goad their bullocks, beat them, half starve them, and let their gaping wounds fester and become corrupt. When the poor brute becomes old and unable, to work, and his worn-out teeth unfit to graze, he is ruthlessly turned out to die in a ditch, and be torn to pieces by jackals, kites, and vultures. The higher classes and well-to-do farmers show much consideration for high-priced well-conditioned animals, but when they get old or unwell, and demand redoubled care and attention, they are too often neglected, till, from sheer want of ordinary care, they rot and die.

Cultivators of thatching-grass have been known deliberately and wantonly to set fire to villages simply to raise the price of thatch and bamboo.


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