Lifecycle ceremonies of the Zeliangrong of Northeast – Part 1


Dr Budha Kamei

The present paper attempts to look into the various rites and ceremonies by which Zeliangrong society marks the physiological phases of human life and all its crises and transitions. These rites and ceremonies are mainly concerned with securing the active help of the God and passive for bearable of the malignant spirits, so as to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the individual and his family at the different turning points in his life cycle. They are also public and collective occasions which emphasize the relations of mutual harmony and solidarity between the individual and society and the dependence of the former on the latter.

The turning points in the life cycle of an individual Zeliangrong are the critical transitions of birth, marriage and death. These rites of passage, as Arnold Van Gennep called them, are practiced universally through their number and stages of life selected vary from society to society. They consecrate the crises and marginal situations in individual and collective life. The gravity of these events is also marked by a whole repertoire of idea regarding pollution and purification. Arnold Van Gennep argued that alterations status or movements into new statues, such as in pregnancy, childbirth, at initiation, betrothals, marriage and funerals, disturb both the life of the individual and that of the society in which he lives. Danger lies in transitional states, because transition is indefinable, it is neither one state to another is himself in danger and emanates danger to other. The purpose of the rites of passage is to reduce the harmful effect of these disturbances.

Pregnancy begins with conception. There are different ideas and beliefs, regarding sexual intercourse and pregnancy in different parts of the world. The phenomenon of conception, pregnancy and delivery are known rarely in a biological sense. Throughout the world, the health behaviour of people is instructed by folk or lay definitions of the body form and its acts. Among the Zeliangrongs, the role of man and woman in the formation of a child is completely known. They are aware of the fact that without cohabitation childbirth is impossible. The exact duration is also known to them. According to local myth, human being is created by another God, named Dampapui by the orders of Tingkao Ragwang.1Dampapui took a long time in creating the human being (human child in the womb of the mother) but it was lifeless. Ultimately, Tingkao Ragwang gave life and soul only then the child began to move.2 Both the father and mother are possessed absolutely responsible for giving birth, however Tingkao Ragwang is believed to be the sole and final authority.3

Pregnancy is a transitional period and it is splited into phases according to whatever months are thought important normally the third, seventh, eight and ninth. Fear of the God, the wish to turn away their anger, and the desire to secure their favour and help are forever present in the mind of the people. The evil spirits (Rasi-Rarou) are not worshipped but they are propitiated not to give trouble to man. It is believed that there is a water deity called Dui Rah who generally dwells in the pond or river or stream far from the habitation of men. At the seventh or eight month of pregnancy, they propitiate to the water deity on behalf of a pregnant by offering sacrifice not to give trouble during labour.4 Offerings are made by the Roman women to the Nymph, water spirits during pregnancy in order to get a painless delivery.5 Another rite called Khumkara6 is observed for the safety and well being of the expected mother and it is done at the eight or ninth month of pregnancy. And at the ninth month, Pumkanmei ceremony (a ritual worship of TingkaoRagwang) is observed for safety and protection of both the mother and child.7

Like other communities of the world, they, too, have a strong belief that if the ancestors (Kairao) are pleased, the family or lineage will get safety, well being and long line of generation. In this faith, at the ninth month of pregnancy, a ritual worship of Kairao-kalumei is performed for the expected baby to be born as a normal one without any defect or disfigured.8 This ritual worship is observed only in case of first born baby. The rites of the above are concluded by libation of holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang, Shong, presiding deity of the village and Kairao, ancestors of the family for wellbeing and propitiation of wine to evil spirits not to give trouble to man.9 According to Van Gennep,10 the rites that are observing during pregnancy of a woman for alarm of deformed, misfortune and hazard of the expectant baby and mother, which are at the same time are dynamic, contagious, direct and negative.
The earliest stage of parenthood is a stage of apprehension, interfused with longing and anticipation. No doubt, it is a union of joy and waiting. It is eagerness and longing to have the first arrival and often the first parenthood accompanies total change in the man. He becomes master and responsible. His conduct changes with life and duties, likewise the woman, changes to motherly and womanly. It is like purification for both of them.
Birth is always believed to be an important social event round which gather many traditional practices and often associated with religion. The Zeliangrong women normally bear children without great difficulty and pain. When the pregnant woman starts to feel labour pain; arrangements for birth are made as quickly as possible. And a local mid wife or in the absence of mid wife, an old woman attends her to accomplish the process of birth. If the labour pain goes on for a long time without any result or if there seems to be trouble while delivering the child, Changkham Gaatmei ritual is performed by sacrificing a small fowl and a little blood of the victim is poured on the forehead of the expectant mother to drive off the evil forces.11 There is a belief that a popular charm or incantation against difficult labour is the opening of all doors and cupboards, the untying of all knots, the loosening of garments.
All the perfect arrangements which they made before the birth are designed to ensure for the safety of the baby and mother. But the foremost aim is to save the mother from the awful contingency of death because birth is a question of life and death of a woman. From this point of view, therefore the apprehensive care which surrounds the birth chamber may be assumed to be charged with religious significance. Dampapui, a female deity is believed to be as an originator of human being.12 She is indeed, the ancestress of the human-being.13 The child after maturing ten months in the womb of the mother is sent off by Dampapui who was unwilling to move out for fear of human-being.14 Thus, the mother delivers to the child. This is called Nah Ponmei. After birth, the young baby is developed, severed from the mother’s body and becomes an independent individual. And the woman also has changed to a socially responsible mother. The transition period of a woman continues for five days and after five days, she is returned to the society with a new status.
Soon after birth of a child, a ritual called Buh Kaomei, calling of the soul is observed by pronouncing: “Please come on the soul of long life, eternal soul of Tuk Tarou, come on,”15 thus repeats thrice. The main objective of this ritual is for longevity of life of the child. This is followed by tying the umbilical cord at the suitable place with a black thread called khim. Then, the priestess cuts the cord with a Nuhbang, a bamboo blade which symbolizes the separation of the child from its mother.16 This is locally called Karaleng Lommei. Usually, bamboo scale is employed by the Zeliangrong for the purpose of cutting the umbilical cord but it is doubtful regarding the origin of this culture. It may be stated that this material aspect of culture is associated with ecological factor because ‘Mongoloid culture’ is invariably directed as bamboo culture since the whole of south Asia is prosperous in bamboo.17 The mother lays a few drops of her breast milk on the wound of the navel to dry it quickly.18 The ritual of an individual starts from the cutting of the umbilical cord and it disconnects the child from his mother and from the land of the dead. Because, the umbilical cord that attached to the mother is cut, the child is no longer depending on his mother and independent life begins.
On the very day of the birth of a child, the boys or girls of the dormitory according to the sex will come to the family of the newly born baby and present an ear-ring as a formal request to become a member of the particular dormitory when it grows up.19 This part of the rites of passage would not be taken as complete without saying a word on the importance of the birth of the male child in Zeliangrong society. The story of Luwang Khunthiba Pokpa, the birth of Luwang Khunthiba in Ningthoulol Sheireng20 gives us the importance of the birth of a male child for preservation, safeguard, welfare, growth and expansion of the clan to which he developed. Thus, the birth of a male was received with pleasure. But it does mean the birth of a female was at all undesirable. However, birth of a male was preferred due to inter-village and clan feuds rather than the social and economic condition in olden days. In this situation, there must have been the tendency to multiply the population of the male member of the clan groups to claim their superiority in strength and power to each other. Whitely says “The happiness lot for a man, as far as birth is concerned, is that it should be such as to give him but little occasion to think much about it”.21
The birth ceremonies comprise a number of rites and the main aim of all these rites is to secure the child and sometime the mother from evil forces, evil eyes and diseases.22 According to English and German school, the childbirth rites are aimed for a better operation of limbs, strength and skills of the child.23 These consist in the course of separation, transition and incorporation. The child’s first transitional period occurs with the mother’s last transition leading her come back to the society from child birth.
As soon as the child is given birth, the child is exposed to the evil forces who are anxious to injure the child and to obtain possession of it, sometimes even bodily, and substitute for it a changeling. Every possible precaution is then taken to frustrate the action of the evils, and to grant as much as protection as possible to the baby. First, the child is bathed with luke warm water for healthy and long life. According to Arnold Van Gennep, the first bath of the baby is only for hygienic purpose and it is also a rite of separation from his mother.24 This is called Dui Loumei. Then, the child is put in its mouth a little chewed rice25 which indicates the baby is being claimed as human being since human food is given. It is also alleged to be for the healthy and long life of the child.26This ritual is locally known as Nap Mumloumei. A provisional name is immediately given for the child in the belief that if the evil spirits name first it is not good. Thereafter, the child is fastened around with a black thread at the neck, wrists and ankles signifying to the evil forces that the baby who comes from the other world is locked up in the human world so no damage is to be given to the baby.27 It is also believed that the evil spirits or forces are afraid of black thread. This is called Laangmumei Taloumei. An elder of village Pei (Ganchang or Banja) who acts as priest and will shake the child pronouncing: ‘Bangla, Bangla, Bangla’ not to cause any dizziness to the child in future. Then, the child on a Paantanglu, winnowing fan will be placed on its parent’s bed saying: “Long live the child and let fresh hair grow and accommodate him to sleep on the Paantanglu”.A mark is put on the forehead of the child with the mixture of burnt ashes of Khamjon (PlectranthusTermifolius D. Don) and water as protection from evil forces. This is called Khamjonli Kasan Kanmei. It is believed that Khaamjon is the tongue of Tenglam, the divine priest of Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God. Hence, it is commonly used after worship for purpose of protection or to drive off the malevolence forces.28
Nalam Phuploumei means to inter the placenta and after birth of the child. Like the Poumai Naga,29 they also burry the placenta inside the house, which is near the mother’s bed close to the wall and never outside the house. Why they burry inside the house is mainly in the idea that the child will sense itself endlessly drawn to its parent’s house even after it has grown up.30A propitiation called Duikhun Laman Reimei is observed on the third day after birth at the Duikhun, village pond where the blood smeared garments of the mother were washed. It is believed that if this act of propitiation is not observed, the child will have poor health. On the coming of fifth day, in the early morning, Penbam Reimei ceremony is performed just against the spot where the placenta is buried as a precaution to avoid from evil destruction. This is the first and compulsory sacrificial rite in the life cycle of an individual.
When a child is completed for five days, a ceremony locally recognized as Najum Gaimei Khatni Nasan Kanmei is performed in the family of the child. This is the first spiritual ceremony in the life cycle of an individual. In this ceremony, the priest offers a beautiful cock and a beautiful hen called Sangdai and Sanglou to Tingkao Ragwang, and Dampapui for wellbeing, prosperity and long line of generation of the child. The legs of the victims are observed in search of good signs. After this ceremony, the child is treated as a human being. It also declares the existence of a child in the society and the responsibility of the parents to bring up the child.31 It is said the birth ceremony which is observed on fifth day has been fixed on the basis of the faith of the people in the menstrual period of woman who takes bath and wash her cloth on the fifth day of the said period.32 In this ceremony, the priest will confer a name for the child33 or get confirmed the provisional name (given on the day of its birth) which was found better without giving a new name. (To be contd)

Source: The Sangai Express



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