Many ancient cultures have beliefs about animal and birds. Some believe that they were among our ancestors and some look at them as protectors of mankind. Verrier Elwin collected several such beliefs from tribes in the North East.
There are several beliefs about arthropods which are invertebrate animals. The Singhpo people believe that the spider taught the first woman to weave. Similarly the blacksmith learnt his trade by watching the crab; he modelled the first tongs on its claws. And who taught men to chew betel? The mosquito. When men saw its lips reddened by the blood it had sucked out, they felt that they could do the same with betel leaves. The Shimong people believe that the bees make sweet honey because they stole rice beer from man!
There is a common belief among many Naga tribes that leeches are immortal. Some believe that if a leech is cut in half, it dies. But if it is cut into three pieces, a bird takes the middle piece as its share and joins the other two to bring it back to life. Leeches are part of many stories in the region as are snakes which are believed to have lived among men and married human beings too.
There are also many interesting ideas about how large animals came to take their current forms. The elephant for instance is the result of a house changing its shape. The story goes among the Idu Mishmi people of the region that the first man to build a granary was Inni Abromai. He was a proficient builder and having made a large storehouse for his grains, he went on to build a fine home for himself. The home however did not last very long. After a few years it fell down and turned into a great animal as long as a Mishmi house. A Mishmi house is a long structure, rectangular and somewhat like a modern day bus Inni Abromai’s house turned into a long animal with the pillars becoming the legs; the roof, the head and the ladder that led to the door of the house, turned into the trunk. This was the first elephant.
Text Source: Myths of the North East Frontier of India, Verrier Elwin, Printed by SN Guha Ray at Saraswaty Press, Calcutta, 1958
Web Sources: ( and (
Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta Singhal
Image Credit
Image Details: