S P N H
mourns over the death
of a dear and special
Obituary for Jamie Saul
1943 - 2006
To a noble man...
James Derek Saul, one of the most revered modern-day Naga scholars, passed away on March 24th, 2006 and is survived by his loving wife Jean and their three children in Johannesburg. He died at Tamanthi on the Chindwin River after completing a strenuous two-week trek in the remote Somra Tract amongst his second family, the Naga, who he admired, respected, and understood probably more than any other researcher.
Jamie, as he was known to his friends was the last disciple of the respected Naga-scholar J.H. Hutton, whom he had met in 1966 and had been in constant communication with until he died in the 1970s. Hutton thanked Jamie in his foreword for J.P. Mills work The Ao Nagas for the drawings in colour (which, unfortunately, never appeared in the book) and for valuable help with the bibliography".
Unable to travel in the Naga Hills for many years, Jamie, an architect by profession, focussed on the cultures of other peoples, in particular within Indonesia, where traditions were similar to Naga customs. Over the years he built up an amazing archive on body art such as tattooing among various peoples around the world, as well as on tribal architectural styles. His interest in the Naga, however, never ceased, and Jamie maintained communication with all the administrators-cum-researchers who had stayed in the Naga Hills during British time or thereafter. Thus, the list of people he was in contact with included Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf, Ursula Graham Bower, Charles Pawsey, Pieter Steyn, Milada Ganguli, Parul Dutta, S.C. Sardeshpande, as well as Alan Macfarlane and his wife Sarah Harrison of Cambridge University. He made contributions to the Naga Videodisk project authored by the latter, always being ready with advice given selflessly and cause-centred. Jamie did not spare costs and time to research the British sources for any information on the Naga peoples and thus undertook many a trip to England to seek forgotten files. As a result Jamie became an expert on geographical circumstances in the Naga Hills, drawing maps which till date outsource in detail and richness any of the few maps which have been published.
As the true explorer that Jamie has been, one of his main interests lay in the culture of the Naga people on the Burmese side of the hills. These peoples were less known than their counterparts on the Indian side. In 1977, as a result of his many trips to the British sources, he produced an amazing assortment of colonial records on the Burmese Naga groups which he called Nagas of the Patkoi and East, North of the Nanatleik, and supplied copies of this 500-page work to several libraries.
Contining his research, Jamie was able to visit Naga regions in Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland between 2000 and 2002, and was one of the first western researchers to travel up the Chindwin River. He re-visited these regions as often as it was possible and thus, in 2005, was able to publish his incomparably rich book The Naga of Burma. Their Festivals, Customs and Way of Life (Orchid Press, Bangkok). Filled with detailed information, hundreds of photographs and a great number of meticulously finished line drawings, this amazing book will serve generations of both scholars and lay-men to come as a splendid source of reliable and deeply-researched information.
During this time Jamie had been collaborating intensely with Peter van Ham and Aglaja Stirn who had published the first contemporary and up-to-date account on the Naga peoples on both, the Indian, and Myanmar side of the hills,The Hidden World of the Naga Living Traditions in Northeast India and Burma Prestel, Munich, Berlin, London, New York 2003. He selflessly supplied advice, information, editorial work, photographs, maps and extraordinarily beautiful line drawings of architectural styles which thus contributed greatly to this book. Further line drawings supplied by him may be seen on the pages of the booklet accompanying the CD NAGA Songs from the Mist (The Stirn-van Ham Archives / SPNH 2004). In 2003 the two authors together with friends from around the world formed the not-for-profit Society for the Preservation and Promotion of Naga Heritage SPNH, an association which Jamie immediately joined and supported wholeheartedly.
Jamies attitude towards any research activity concerning his beloved Naga people and the cultures adjacent to them had always been constructive, selfless and subject-oriented. He was warm, humorous, enthusiastic and extremely generous in supplying information and whoever contacted him regarding any aspect of Naga culture could count on an intense and elaborate answer. This differentiated him solitarily from many of his academic colleagues, who unfortunately not too seldom, keep information to themselves and have their egos and careers, not the cause as the centre of their approach..., Jamie always had the people, their uniqueness and dignity as his main motivation in mind, when recording their customs . He kept up conversations with many Naga friends and was held by them in high esteem and respect..
Jamie had several research projects in process, all aimed at culminating in major publications. One, to be co-authored with Digna and Neil Ryan involves the textile traditions of the Naga of Myanmar. They have been jointly researching this complex subject for the past four years and Jamies final trip, undertaken with this couple, had provided answers to many of their remaining questions. Another joint project, underway with Peter van Ham focussed on Diaries of two tours through the unadministered areas east of the Naga Hills, the 1923 work of his mentor J.H. Hutton. Jamie, together with Peter and Richard Kunz, curator of the Museum of Cultures, Basle, Switzerland, had been the first western researchers ever to visit these regions of Nagaland/India in the 82 years since Hutton had first accessed them. A further project of Jamies focussed on individual groups and expansions in the broader Naga context underlining his indefatigable passion for his subject.
Luckily most of these projects were quite well underway and therefore, it can be hoped that one or other will be published shortly, serving as a lasting tribute to an unforgettable person whose contribution to studies on the Naga will continue.
James Derek Saul was born on 19 June, 1943 in Lossiemouth, Scotland and died on 24 March, 2006, in Tamanthi, Myanmar. He is survived by his wife Jean, his daughter Lesley and his sons Derek and Graeme.
We will all miss you deeply...
Nagas paying last respects to Jamie in Tamanthi.
Both, this, and top photo courtesy of Digna Ryan.