Lifecycle ceremonies of the Zeliangrong of Northeast – Part 4


Dr Budha Kamei

From previous issue

This is called Kanungduipang Hekmei in local dialect. Kanungdui is the mythical river which symbolizes the boundary between life and death. Then, a man with the fire of thatching grass will wave inside the grave by way of purification called Maihammei.

Another idea of contacting fire is probably to give warm, light and comfort the soul on his way to the other world. It may also mean to ward off the evil forces. According to E. B. Taylor, the fire at or enroute to the funeral are probably to warm and light the spirit, as well as to put off the ghost.

Then, the dead is attired in his best traditional clothes and costume. It is believed that in the land of the dead, everything is opposite so in dressing also they make it opposite of the living being does. There is a custom that when a man dies they create a mark on some part of the body with soot. In near future, a child is born in the family with a similar mark; it is believed that the dead man is born again. A coin is also put in the mouth of the dead which is intended to pay to the ferry for crossing the Kanungdui. When the dressing is completed, the family will offer wine to the participants. This is called Ponshujoujangmei. Ponshujoujangmei is followed by Theipahdapmei. In this ritual, an elder of Pei who acts as priest and kills a fowl in front of the bed of the deceased by striking it once on the ground pronouncing: Kumeile Hei Nangtheiphathide, meaning this (name of the deceased to be cited here) is your food. The victim is roasted and cut into small pieces. Then, it is cooked by the old women of Kengjapui and rice is also cooked for the dead.

The Zeliangrong believe that the dead has to make a journey to the other world, to which they actually belong. So, the living descendents prepare food packets for the dead to eat and drink on different places through which he will pass his travel to the land of the dead. The cooked curry of Theipha, Takan with rice is cloaked with seven plantain leaves and thus prepares the seven packets of food. It is performed by an elder of Pei. These seven food packets are locally known as Thei Napdom. The same elder puts all the seven packets in a basket called Kah in the following orders by saying the name of the deceased. (1) This first packet is for eating at the Narangbang, beyond the village gate. After saying this, the same packet will be put in the Kah. The similar performance is done with the rest of the six food packets. (2) This second packet is for eating at the Bamdondai, the big resting place. (3) The third is for eating near the Kanung River. (4) The fourth one is for giving to them who receive you at Taroilam. (5) The fifth is for giving to your parents and grand parents [those elders who died ahead of the person]. (6) The sixth one is for feeding the dog of the Taroilam. (7) The seventh is for giving to the Khanana, the evil spirits of the Taroilam. This process is locally called Thei Napdom Nimmei. No one (who gathered in and around the house) is allowed to eat and drink during the performance of Thei Napdom Nimmei because it is a taboo; it is permitted only after its performance.

Mourners will sing traditional songs such as Magenluh, Lamlonlu etc. for the departed soul. It is believed that funeral songs help the deceased to enter the land of the dead with his head held high. When the necessary preparation is completed, the coffin is brought inside the house. After that a man with the fire of thatching grass waves inside the coffin to ward off the evil forces. Pon (salt) is also spread inside the coffin. They carefully wrap the dead body with a cloth which is supposed to contain the soul and then put the body in the coffin with a pillow of unginned cloth under its head. Next, the coffin is closed with a wooden plate and nailed. Tanthing, three sticks are put under the coffin and tied by the Phounamloi, bamboo splints. Tying the coffin is prompted by fear of the dead. It also implies that the dead may be malevolent and has power to harm the living because the dead can come forth from the grave not merely as spirits, but in the bodily form. The coffin is covered with a traditional cloth like Pheingao or Mareipan as a precaution to protect from evil spirits. After this, they lift up the coffin on their shoulders by pronouncing: ‘Ho-ou-we’ and start to go with its feet forward. The practice of carrying out the dead with its forward is to prevent from seeing the way back. Just before crossing the main entrance, they turn around the coffin thrice anti clockwise and move in the direction of the grave. At the very moment, an elder with a Dao performs a ritual called Rah Hamei at the entrance to drive away the evil forces. The custom of turning around the coffin is to deceive the deceased not to come back again and make trouble the family.

Basically, the funeral consists of conveying the deceased from his home to the place of burial. This act of transportation has generally been made into a procession of mourners who lament the deceased and it has often afforded an opportunity of advertising his wealth, status or achievements.

When the coffin is arrived at the grave, the same process of turning around the coffin is performed. Finally, the coffin is inserted in the niche. This is called Theilimei. Just before it, Phounamloi, the bamboo splints which bound the coffin is removed. Now, the Phounamloi comes to be recognised as Pushi. An elder with the Pushi hits once in the grave by pronouncing: ‘Kumeipu/kumeilu nangkaimeinun nangthei Jon-gangmei Naiyethai Mei Pushirui kathamna kathao Gang-o-de,’ meaning: if any one of your relative follows you drive him/her back by hitting with this Pushi. Then, it is placed near the coffin.

“His survivors are careful to equip him with all the necessary material objects such as clothing, food, arms and tools as well as those of a magico religious nature- amulets, passwords signs etc. which will assure him of a safe journey or crossing and a favourable reception as they would a living traveler”. The Zeliangrong burry the dead along with articles like Napdom Khatni Taktu (Food packets); Khengmu Deimu (rice-beer); Shaobon (one set of pointed thorny for the purpose of defending from the attack of enemies or evil spirits); Bui (a spear for throwing to the enemies or evil spirits); Bang (a Dao for chopping the evil spirits or enemies); Buirong (a walking stick); Laogai (a small spade for cultivation in the next world); Tambem, Tangnuk, Tangnam (Weaving equipments for female) for his or her safe passage to the land of the dead. Among the Nagas, the dead body is buried along with a spear and Dao. R. Brown says, the corpse is buried on the day of death in a coffin, in which, under the body, are placed a hoe, spear, cooking pots and cloths for his use in the other world. (To be contd)


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