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Zomi Traditional Festivals and Sacrifices: An Analytical Study

Written by  Dr. H. Thangtungnung Published inThathang Hangshing Friday, 15 August 2014 22:14
Zomi Traditional Festivals and Sacrifices: An Analytical Study

~ By: Dr.  H. Thangtungnung*

 

Abstract

The Zomis are a group of tribes who were historically referred to as Kukis or Chins. They belong to the Tibeto-Burman group of Mongoloid race and occupy the trans-border region of India and Myanmar. They mainly settle in Manipur, Mizoram, Assam, Nagaland and Chin State of Myanmar. The major tribes of the Zomis are Tedim, Paite, Zou, Simte, Vaiphei, etc.

 

The Zomi forefathers are rich in traditions and culture relating to festivals, dances and rituals apart from customary practices. Since their conversion into Christianity, they gradually abandoned most of their ritual sacrifices and festivals. They eventually lost many of their dance forms. Their festivals, rituals and dances were in one way connected to one another as they were usually performed together. Today, they still maintain some of their festivals and dances, which conveyed their old belief and agricultural activities. Though we are unable to focus on the dances here, we examine some interesting festivals and rituals, which were relevant in the past Zomi society. It is an attempt to study the Zomi traditional values, some of which are still current in these days.

 

* Dr. H. Thangtungnung is an independent scholar who earned his Ph.D Degree from Manipur University in 2013.

 

This article appeared in The Tribal Tribune international journal, Vol. 6, Issue 4, July, 2014 and can be accessed in www.etribaltribune.com

 

1. Introduction:

The Zomis were traditionally rich in rituals and festivals. These rituals and festivals were of great significances in the Zomi pre-Christian society as they indicated their belief and social practices. Both of them were interlinked to each other as festivals were usually celebrated with some kinds of rituals. In the past, different types of festivals were celebrated according to the cyclic nature of their jhum cultivation. They reflected their economic activities as well as the social and religious lives. They also conveyed deep meanings to their day-to-day affairs. The different types of Zomi traditional festivals are examined below:

 

2. Zomi traditional festivals:

2.1Khobawl: It was celebrated in March or April every year. It was a New Year festival for the Zomi forefathers to begin their jhum cultivation. On this occasion, they performed sacrifices as a means to propitiate the spirits which they believed to cause harm or shower blessings.

 

 Khobawl festival was also known as Tapphou. It was usually known as Sialsawm Pawi in the Chin Hills and Chapchar Kut in the Mizo Hills. It was celebrated after clearing the jhum field, the arduous task of jhum operation. It was celebrated for a day, but could last for three days. Boys and girls put on their festive dresses and the whole village prepared a common feast in its celebration. As the festival was mainly observed as a joyous moment, it usually began with singing and dancing. Both boys and girls would sit in rows facing one another to play a game of merry-making like putting hard boiled eggs into each other’s mouth and then sipping a traditional rice beer called Zupi (Neihsial1993:195). A big feast was organized to celebrate the new season.

 

The main objective of this festival was to cleanse the village from evil spirits, diseases and acute poverty (Ibid.197). On the eve of the festival, the village runner called Tangkou would ask the strangers to leave the village. Here, ‘strangers’ meant the evil spirits who were supposed to dwell within the village premises. On the following evening, the village priest would sacrifice an animal, either a he-goat or a dog at the entrance of the village. The flesh of the sacrificial animal would be served to some village dignitaries like members of the village council while the skull of the sacrificial animal was hanged at the village gate. In this sense, it was more a solemn ritual than a celebration.

 

2.2 Tualsuang-at: It was a festival in which the blood of sacrificial animals like goat or dog was splashed at the doorposts and in the courtyard of a house. This festival used to be observed for seven days during which Zubel (beer vase) and fermented drinks were detached from the house.[1] The village priest offered a sacrifice to propitiate the spirits at the water spring of the village.[2] It was similar to the Jewish’s Feast of Unleavened Bread found in the Bible.

 

2.3Bangtung Kithoih: It was a festival of the first fruits.[3] The other name of this festival was Pawl Kut. During the festival, children put on their best dresses and ornaments and each household participated in a common feast (Shakespear Reprint 2008: 87). To feast to his or her heart’s content was what everyone desired and Zu would be served in abundance. It was celebrated with much singing and dancing. It was one of the greatest Zomi festivals celebrated during June/July.

 

2.4 Haitungmut Kithoihna: It was an occasion in which various musical instruments were played for amusement. Some of the instruments played during this festival were Phit, Tamngai, Guate, Taal and Semgua. The village Siampu used to blow trumpet to commemorate the festival.

 

2.5 Sumtawng Kithoihna: Another name of this festival was Mim Kut. It was celebrated during the month of August or September. It was observed with fasting till sunset.[4] Traditionally celebrated only for a day, every male member in a family offered sacrifices to the spirits on this day. But after the day was over, the villagers heavily feasted with the involvement of Zupi. This festival was more a ritual than a joyous occasion.

 

There was a myth on the origin of this festival. Once, there was a man named Sawngkhar whose wife was Chawngvung. She was severely ill and died very soon. Her spirit went to Misikhua, the abode of the dead. Her husband missed her so dearly that he could never comfort himself and so, he died. He met his wife at the Misikhua but saw her very thin and restless. After enquiring the reason, she told him that she was continuously starving for want of food and requested him to go home and bring some vegetables from their field. Sawngkhar instantly came alive again and went straight to their field as his wife had asked him. On reaching the field, he found the vegetables growing lively and abundantly. He wept profusely as he cut them, for he recollected the times he had spent with his beloved wife. He carried home whatever he gathered to put in a bawmpi (big basket). He then returned back to Misikhua. After this, his wife became as fat and pretty as before and even healthier than she had ever been (Niehsial, op. cit.: 195-96). They then lived together in the Misikhua happily.

 

Since then, people started to celebrate Mim festival with a ritual sacrifice. They offered Mim cake made of maize or millets to appease the spirit of a person who had died within their family.

 

 

There was another version how this ritual festival began. It started as a ritual firstly by the legendary orphan brothers, Thanghou and Liandou who led a pitiable life. Many times, they were starved and led a life of acute poverty. One day, the spirit of their deceased grandmother appeared to them at their verandah. She blessed them and told them to offer daily rituals at their verandah. Since then, Sumtawng sacrifice began as ancestor worship. Sumtawng means ‘mortar’ and Kithoihna means ‘sacrifice’ and it literally means ‘mortar sacrifice’ as the two brothers used to offer their sacrifices at the place where a mortar was kept within the verandah (Kamkhawtuan 2010: 17). In the later period, it came to be celebrated in the form of a festival, known as Mim Kut. ‘Mim’ means millet and ‘kut’ means festival. As the orphan brothers were provided millets daily by their deceased grandmother, it came to be known as millet festival. The Zomis offered this kind of ritual until they were converted into Christianity. Due to its animistic origin, the people themselves had discarded it.

 

2.6 Khawdou: It was the greatest festival of the Zomis.  It was usually celebrated within September/October after the harvest normally lasting for eight days. They fixed branches of palm and bough of thick trees at the entrance and fences of their houses.[5] They feasted lavishly with much cheering and delight. Thus it was a joyous occasion to celebrate the completion of their jhum labour.

 

During Khawdou, no stranger was permitted to enter or leave the village as ritual rites were performed under the village priest, called Siampu (Bertram & Tuck 2008: 199). In matters related to such a sacrifice, a Siampi[6] assisted the Siampu in the rites and the entire village plunged into taboo (Shaw Reprint 1997: 76-77).

 

The term Khawdou is composed of two words, khua, and dou.Khua could denote various literary inferences like khawhun or weather, khauzing or evil spirit and khua or village. Similarly, dou might mean both entertaining a guest or fighting the enemies.[7] But the combination of the two words literally means to ward off against the evil spirits or demons. khawdou could also mean to dine together with the spirits of one’s dear ones who had passed away. Moreover, it was a complete rest from one year’s labour soon after the harvest was over.

 

The origin of Khawdou festival is not certainly known except that it had been celebrated from times immemorial. There is a myth as to how Khawdou came to be celebrated. Once, the daughter of a certain chief got seriously ill. As spirits were believed to cause such illness, the chief sacrificed various animals like pig, hen, dog and goat to propitiate the spirits so that his daughter might recover. Nevertheless, his daughter died. The chief got so infuriated with this that he vowed to fight against the spirits. He consulted a sorcerer who suggested him that “spirits had no specific dwelling place and they roamed about from one place to another. They were afraid of broad daylight and used to hide themselves from the sight of human being. They dwelled in thick jungles, dark woods, junk and stinking places around a human settlement. They normally roamed out late at night when human ceased their activities. Therefore, instead of fighting against them, we should hound them away with flames and cleanse their abodes”.

 

Accordingly, the chief began his campaign. His villagers were asked to burn meilah (fire flames) and to take up arms. They formed a group to yell, “Dawi hang, kau hang, uisanpa, duhgawlpa, voknou dawng kaipa, aknou dawng kaipa, na zun na ek namsia, na khua na tui ah pai in, (You bloody spirit, greedy fool, who took away pigs and chicken, you are a disgusting lot, go back to your land)” while they dangled their fire flames. Then, the chief would shout, “He is running, he is running…,” in which the rest enquired, “In which direction?” and so, everyone would emulate to pursue. After pursuing till Khomual (outskirt of the village), they all shouted in one accord, “Taimang ta ei (they has vanished)” and left their meilah burning there, in the hope that the spirits would dare not return back. After they arrived back to the village, they hung a burning meilah on a high pole to frighten away the spirits.

 

When it was all over, they feasted with Zupi for days to commemorate the triumph. The first day was celebrated as a joyous event. The village youths went out for hunting expedition on the second day (Dev and Lahiri 1983: 95). The remaining days were also spent in eating and drinking with merriment. This feast came to be known as Khawdou Pawi. One Khawdou song consistently sang at this occasion was:

(a) Dou na lingling, dou na lingling e,

     Gual in kumkhua dou na lingling e;

(b) Gual in kumkhua douna lingling e,

     Dou han ah naubang ka kap hi e;

(c) Naubang ka kap khaubang va chiah ta,ng e,

     Khua leh chiautui taang na silsial e.[8]

 

The above lines were composed by legendary Thanghou while moaning deeply for his deceased brother, Liandou during a Khawdou festival.

 

There is another account on the origin of Khawdou festival. Once, a Siampi (clan priest) had a strange dream about a spirit. The spirit who appeared in his dream asked him, “Worship me and I will give you whatever you require”, to which the Siampi replied, “If I have to worship you, what should I call you?” The spirit told him that he should be called “Khozing”, and must be worshipped in flesh and blood. There after, the Siampi arranged a feast after every harvest and worshipped the spirit (Khozing) with rice beer, meat and animal’s blood. But, he neither became prosperous nor better off in doing this. At last, he performed human’s blood sacrifices. As his fortune still remained the same, he completely abandoned this ritual and subsequently enticed his villagers to fight against the spirits. This event came to be known as Khawdou. Since then, Khawdou was observed as an occasion to ward off evil spirits to clean the village, water springs and other surroundings (Stevenson Reprint 1986: 160).

 

The third day of Khawdou was a day for Khuai-aihni (bee-luring day). On this day, the village youths went to the jungle for collecting honey. When they returned back home, they were greeted with zupi by their female counter parts. As it was the belief that the future could be predicted with a bee, they danced around the bees to perform a sort of rituals. After it was over, the bees were released unharmed. There were some reasons in doing this practice. In olden days, a dead body was kept unburied for days or months. When the dead body became so stinking, bees prevented the flies and moats to harm the dead body. Therefore, there was a notion that a person who participated in a khuai-aih in his lifetime would have the advantage of his body being prevented from flies after his death.

 

When bees were caught for this purpose, only a few selected ones were taken. The rest of them were smoldered and the hive was broken. If the young bees were seen lively, it was presumed to indicate that the coming year would be a good year for the villagers, but if it was otherwise, illness or ill luck can befall them. Similarly, if the larvae were fat, then in the ensuing year, there could be rich harvest, but if there were dead larvae, then equal number of the villagers might expire in the coming year. And if there was no larva at all, it would be taken that the village would be deserted for another village (Kamkhawtuan op. cit.: 125). As such, there was a song (meant for the bees)—‘Nang in kumkhua na thei a, kong dong hi (I will ask you as you know about the next season).’

 

The Zomis have many khuai-aih la or bee songs, which they used to sing during Khawdou like:

(a) Ka lounawl a Khuai aw e, Simngal hen,

     Zo ngalhen, nang in kumkhua na thei a, kong dong e,

(a)   Nang in kumkhua na thei a, kong dong e.

     Ningzu a ken dong, aisa a ken dong.

 

In olden days, when one heard such a song sung, he/she would certainly know that the bee catchers had arrived back home and then, he/she would rush out to greet them. A crowd would gather to dance to the following tunes:

(a) Mual ka bawl mual ka bawl e,

     Laamtual diing mual ka bawl e,

(b) Laamtual zil in za hen aw,

     Luai naubang kivei leng e.

(a) I level the ground I level the ground,

     I level the ground for dancing podium,

(b) Let the ground be large and spacious,

     So that I will dance like a child.

(a)   Chiah ning ka chih ka omna

     Om ning ka chih ka chiahna,

(b)   Chiah taleng bang a sam diam,

     Inn ah ka ngaih om hi e.

(a)    If I said I will go, I remained staying,

     If I said I will stay I moved going,

(b)   What will be needing if I go,

     My beloved is there at home.

Another Khuai dance song goes like this:

“Ngaltun e ngalthen e khuai aw,

 Ka loupam a khuai aw e, sim ngalthen e,

 Nang in kumkhua na thei a, kong dong e;

 Sanpi sanou na huai leh na kik aw,

 Mim leh sawmtang na huai leh hong pai aw khuai aw e.”

Its free rendering is:

“Oh Ngaltun! Oh Ngalthen, Oh you bee!

 The bee near my jhum land, Oh Southern Ngalthen!

 You know about seasons and I consulted you;

 Be back if you lure Sanpi Sannou,

 Come to us if you lure Mim and Sawmtang.”

 

After celebrating Khawdou for seven days, the eighth day was celebrated with great exhilaration. At the end of the day, the crowd cheered in a chorus, “Li…li…li…li…, ha…ha…ha…ha….” In this way, the grand Khawdou festival came to a close after eight days of hectic celebration.

 

The month when Khawdou was celebrated is known as Khawdou Kha. In Myanmar, it is celebrated for three days as a national holiday, officially so recognized by the government (Neihsial op. cit.: 196). Its equivalent one is Chavang Kut in Manipur; Manipur Government declares 1st November as a State holiday on this occasion every year. In Mizoram, it is celebrated as Pawl kut.

 

3. Conclusion:

The Zomis celebrated various types of festivals. Some of them were observed in the form of ritual and sacrifices. They played a significant role in the Zomi society, as they were normally associated with economic and religious activities, social lives and agricultural season. These festivals and rituals revealed the Zomis’ view on diseases, life and death. While some festivals were meant for joyous celebrations, the others were related to ritual events that resulted from the belief in the existence of supernatural spirits. These practices or celebrations gradually ceased due to the mass conversion of the tribes into Christianity in the twentieth century. Festivals like Khodou or Chavang Kut is still celebrated as a post-harvest festival in a modified and modern form. Chapchar Kut is also revived in Mizoram but without any originality. It, therefore, emerges as a challenge as to how to preserve and sustain the tribal traditional values.

 

Notes:



[1] Thonzagin Hangshing, Bible a Kithoihna Dante Leh Pipute Kithoihna Dante (Biblical and Traditional Tribal Festivals), Manipur Express (Article), 13th September, 2009, Churachandpur; Lamka Post, Lamka, same date.

[2] G. Khamkam, “Family Worship” in Naorem Sanajaoba ed., Manipur—Past and Present, Vol. iii, Mittal Pubs., New Delhi, p. 257.

[3]Documentation of the Zo People, published by Zomi Youth Association, Gen. Headquarters., Lamka, 2010, p. 19.

[4] Thonzagin, op. cit.

[5] H. Thangtungnung, “Social Organisations of Paite Society in Manipur” in Madhu Rajput ed., Social and Cultural Stratification in North East India, Manak Publications, New Delhi, 2012, p. 243.

[6]Siampi was a clan priest who acted on the behalf of Siampu in small rituals. He also assisted the Siampu when necessary. He performed minor sacrifices for his clan.

[7] Dr. Dal Lian, “Zomite’ Pawite (The Zomi Festivals)”, Young Paite Association Golden Jubilee Souvenir, 1953-2003, published by YPA Headquarters, Lamka, 2003, pp. 27-28.

[8] Dal Lian, “Zomite’ Pawite (The Zomi Festivals)”, op. cit., p. 29.

References:

Carey, Bertram S. and H N Tuck (2008): The Chin Hills, Vol. 1, Reprint Aizawl:

Tribal Research Institute.

Dev, Bimal J and Dilip Kumar Lahiri (1983): Lushai Customs and Ceremonies,

New Delhi: Mittal.

Kamkhawtuan, Shmuel T. ( 2010): Awmzenei Pu-pa Khangthu leh Ngeina (A

Typical Culture), Lamka: Manmasi Book Series.

Neihsial, Tualchin (1993): History and Culture of the Zomis, Ph.D Thesis

submitted to Manipur University.

Shakespear, J. (2008): The Lushei Kuki Clans, Reprint Aizawl: Tribal Research

Institute.

Shaw, William(1997): Notes on the Thadou Kukis, Reprint Guwahati: Spectrum

Publications.

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Aizawl: Tribal Research Institute.

 

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