Lifecycle ceremonies of the Zeliangrong of Northeast – Part 5


Dr Budha Kamei

From previous issue
Then, the son or a near male relative of the deceased uprights a bamboos stickabout 3ft long close to the niche saying: ‘Ho-ou-we Tameipule Lampingleo Ai naiye’. This is called Loukham Teng Khunmei. A woman is not allowed to perform. Loukham Teng Khunmei gives two meanings: the last thing for the dead and the pillar which divides life and death. Finally, the grave diggers fill in the grave with earth. With the burial of the dead; the man is incorporated to the land of the dead as a new member because the underworld is supposed to be the land of the dead. Carl Clemen165 has rightly stated that the earth is the soul of life, but it is also the realm of dead. The grave diggers with their spades on their shoulders go around the grave thrice in clockwise and also repeat the same anti clockwise. This custom is locally known as Tarou lam Lamei, dancing of grave dance. Grave dance signifies to the dead man that he is no more. Then, they will break the gourd which is placed on the grave. Kharou, a fish bone made of bamboo splints is also placed on the grave which symbolizes a division between life and dead. On the fifth day accounting from the day of death, the fish bone will be removed from the grave. The deceased is thus comfortably provided for and admonished by word and deed to go into the other world, and in any case not to meddle with living, the mourners return from the grave.

Funerary rites do not usually terminate with the disposal of the corpse by burial. Post funerary ceremonies and customs generally have two not necessarily mutually exclusive motives: to purify the mourners and to mourn the dead. When the funeral is ended, all who have taken part in the funeral must commonly be purified. Purification means the ritual which is used to protect against unclean, sinful and undesirable situations. The purification of the mourners is the other post funerary action. A corpse straddles the boundary between this world and the next and as with most such liminal objects it is regarded as simultaneously powerful and polluting. All the participants in the funeral therefore are in need of cleansing before they can rejoin normal society. Consequently, they perform various forms of purification, chiefly: bathing or sprinkling of water, Gahroumei, to rub a slice of the mixture of Gah, a kind of turmeric, leaves of kaa plant, Ngeinem, a kind of thatch grass and water at the jaw and Thanjoujangmei, drinking of holy wine. The ancient Greeks put all the door of the death chamber a vessel full of pure water obtained from another house, so that all who came out might purify themselves. Finally, fire is contacted by all the participants in the funeral to drive off the evil forces that comes along or follows and only after this, they are permitted to enter their respectively houses. Frank Byron Jevons states, they pass through or over a fire is to make communion with the fire-God because it has the purificatory power.

In spite of the elaborate precautions to prevent the dead man from returning he is often thought to be present in the dwelling after the actual disposal of the corpse. Accordingly, measures are taken by them to purify the place and remove the tabu. This may be accomplished by driving away the ghost. In this connection, an elder of Pei with Ten Maimit, a kind of grass will purify the house and the whole village. This is known as Kaiphekmei.
A feast is usually a part of the funeral. Among the Zeliangrong, the funeral banquet is held in presence of the corpse before burial. This meal is the sacrificial food, Takan Jan which offers for the deceased. The purpose of funeral feast is to bring all the survivors together, and sometimes with deceased in the same way a chain which has been broken by the removal of one of its links must be rejoined. It is a rite of incorporation. Funeral feast may be interpreted as in honour of the dead. It may also be a farewell banquet– a send off one who is unwilling to go at the termination of which the deceased is formally but firmly shown the door. R. Brown states that on the death of a Kauwpoi Naga, a feast is given by his surviving relations to the friends of the family and others should the parties be well off. The funeral rites themselves are also held to place the obligation on a dead man to give the survivors the benefit of his supernatural power.

When a man dies with debt and at the same time there is no one in the village to repay his debt; in that case, the dead is buried with formal ceremonies and every requirements in the funeral will be brought out by the village. A ritual locally known as Kakhuk Doudanmei is accomplished to make the dead man free from debt both in the living world and in the land of the dead. In this ritual, an elder of Pei who acts as priest divides his khuk, a kind of money bag made of bamboo splints into two halves and places on the grave. This act signifies to God and mankind that this man has nothing and free from debt.

On the fifth day counting from the day of death, Taroukashemmei, grave beautification is accomplished. All the relatives, friends and elders of the village participate in the ceremony. A stone flat is also erected over the grave in honour of the dead. Offerings like cooked rice, curry, wine, fruits etc are also placed on the grave for the departed soul. (To be contd)

Source: The Sangai Express


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