On the Christmas afternoon of 2006, Nao visited me again, accompanied by his son and, to my surprise, volunteered to narrate a new story of Juro, the headhunter. I shelved my linguistic work and sat down with my notebook. He instructed me, to my amusement, to switch on the recorder. He wanted in return a gift of a mobile phone. I promised to present him one and I kept my promise.

The story of Juro was a bonanza for me, as I had never expected to hear anything after the story of Phertajido. This is one of the stories, where cannibalism was very evident. While narrating the story, he tried to establish the similarity between Juro and the Hindu goddess, Kali, for my understanding, when I asked how a woman could eat human flesh.

I did not like the comparison as I told him that Kali never ate human flesh. He did not believe me, but I did not want to land up in an argument, as I wanted to focus on the elicitation of the story of Juro. He was not sure whether Juro wore the necklace of human skulls as Goddess Kali did.

This story also reveals the tale of Juro, the headhunter that people, who die unexpectedly, are born again, or turn into ghosts to trouble the community. To avoid this, it is enjoined that the dead must be cremated and not buried. This ensures the complete annihilation of the person concerned. From the story, I learned that there were four kinds of funerals in their society.

  1. When a person dies of a natural death or in illness, s/he is buried in the earth (“boa-phong” meaning “hole in the earth”).
  2. When a person dies while hunting/killing, then s/he is put on a platform made on a tree (“machaan” in Hindi) and burnt.
  3. When a person dies because of choking on a fishbone, their body is taken to a particular place near Mayabandar in the northern part of the Andaman Islands and left for a month on a tree for vultures to eat. The bones are collected after a month.
  4. When children pass away, they are not buried initially; they are left untouched for a few days, then they are cremated.

Juro’s story raised mixed feelings of remorse and pity. Juro’s son loved his mother, but could not bear her atrocious habits of headhunting and, thus, he became instrumental in her killing. Nao thought what he did was right and beneficial for the society. I was amazed at the way he compared Juro with the Hindu goddess, Kali, repeatedly. Although I found little similarity between the two, I didn’t contradict him.

The Tale of Juro, the Headhunter

There was a woman called Juro, who lived in the forest. She was a headhunter. She would go to the seashore and catch young women and men to satisfy her appetite. While she was pregnant with a baby, she killed her husband and ate him up.

She eventually delivered a baby boy, whom she loved immensely. She continued to hunt humans from the seashore. She had four arms. One of the arms had a large siro-bun or seashell; another one had a keo or dagger; the third one adorned a lech or bow, and the fourth one was free to hold arrows.

As the child grew up, he noticed Juro regularly visiting the seashore and bringing back meat in good quantity. Once he asked his mother what meat she had been serving him. She replied that it was boar’s meat. The boy was not convinced as the meat looked very different from that of boar. He also noticed that she often brought back human skulls in her hands. Once he secretly followed his mother to the seashore and saw her hunting humans.

He got really scared, as by now, he was married and had a child. He was scared that one day Juro might eat her grandchild. He was also scared for the community, as he realized that one day, no one would be left alive and the community may vanish totally. The place would be bereft of humans.

One fine day, he went to the village by the seashore and met the people of the village. He came to know that the village folk were very worried, because they were losing young men and women every day. No one could solve the mystery of the young population disappearing. Seeing their misery, he confided in them and told them about Juro’s heinous behaviour.

The villagers believed him and asked him to suggest a remedy. He suggested that on an afternoon when his mother would be fast asleep, he would hide her weapons: the siro-bun, the keo, and the lech. She would be powerless without these arms. The villagers could then kill her and salvage the community from future destruction. The village folk liked his idea and decided to put the plan into action to get rid of Juro on a particular day.

Finally, the day for Juro’s killing arrived. On that day, the boy was very sad, as he knew that he was going to lose his mother for good. Juro noticed his melancholic mood and asked him what the matter was. He just shook his head and replied, “Nothing.”

He then went deep into the forest and hid himself. As promised, he took along all the weapons used by his mother and hid them in the forest.

The villagers came at the stipulated time and pierced Juro’s body with innumerable arrows. There were so many arrows that one could not see her body.

Juro’s son returned from the jungle and saw his mother’s body gored by arrows. He had tears in his eyes, but he knew that he had to sacrifice his mother for the benefit of the human community.

He asked the villagers not to bury her in the earth lest she is reborn to rise again. He knew that Juro had special powers, of resurrection. Hence, he suggested to them that she should be burnt. The villagers put Juro’s body on a raised platform (machaan). Her son insisted that all the weapons used by his mother should be also cremated along with her body.

The villagers followed his advice and then lit up the pyre. Juro’s body was thus burnt to ashes. It was ironic that Juro was destroyed by the help of her son, who loved his mother immensely.

As time flew by, Juro’s son became the father of many children. Both his family and the villagers lived fearlessly thereafter.

Voices from the Lost Horizon

Excerpted with permission from Voices from the Lost Horizon: Stories and Songs of the Great Andamanese, Anvita Abbi, Niyogi Books.