Neomi's Tower and the Division into Tribes - Zeme Folktale

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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