Namsu Namdimmei: Foundation of a Zeliangrong village – Part 1


Dr Budha Kamei

Nature prepares the site and man organizes it to enable him to satisfy his desires and his needs.”

Generally, a village is a group of dwelling houses, built in cluster with cultivable and uncultivable land around it. It is a habitat place of mankind and a centre of community. It may be located in high, low and plain with all the forest around it. Usually, a village is established in a habitable location, where water, plants, trees and grasses are available in the locality. There is no specific standard number of the houses that can be considered as village. Every ideal village is necessarily to maintain large tract of arable land with abundant sources of water supply, forest and other raw materials. In fact, a traditional Zeliangrong village is characterized by abundant supply of arable land, forest and was located on the summit of a hill. According to T. C Hodson, each Zeliangrong village possesses “a well defined area of territory, not only of cultivated and terraced land, but of jhum and waste lands as well.”
Man wants to live along with his kith and kin and others at one place not without some purpose. He has to stay and live in shelters which best satisfy his requirements. Moser and Tayler have stated that in south-east Columbia, the houses of Tukano Indians, recognized as Malocas, are seldom occupied by less than twenty persons. C. Robequan does find that Dyaks of Burneo, living in long houses of wood and thatch, are more than six hundred people. The type of economy in various environmental conditions enables man to live in hut, tents, encampments and big houses. In hunting and collecting stage or under primitive economy of pastoral nomadism, man is content with encampments. It is only in sedentary agriculture that man depending on cooperative operations gets assured reward hence living together not in one house, in group of houses, i. e. village. The first known example of a permanent settlement is the village of Zawi Chenui (C. 9000 B.C) on the Turkish-Iranian border. The purpose of village is for mutual aid in cutting forest, tilling soil, organizing water source, harvesting, fishing, building, defense etc.

Basis of constitution of a village:
Like other Naga tribes, the Zeliangrong also lived in the villages. Traditionally, they observed rites and ceremonies before they establish a village. Unlike the Kuki tribes, once a Zeliangrong village was set up, they settled there enduringly and hardly moved out to a new place except for some specific cause. In this regard, R. Brown also writes, the Zeliangrong are much attached to “their villages as the former homes, the present graves of their ancestors are held in much esteem, and a village is only abandoned” with the greatest reluctance. From cradle to the grave a Zeliangrong identifies himself with his village. Hard life or any grave danger not affect in the least the love and pride that a Zeliangrong has for his village. He will always subscribe his interest and welfare of his village and strive for the good of the village.
There are some reasons for the constitution of a new village. The probable factors were over population of the village, frequent conflicts within existing village, desire to settle in a more fertile/virgin land, due to some differences in the family or clan etc.

The Zeliangrong have a clear cut system of constitution of a village locally recognized as Namsu Namdimmei or Namdoumei. Nam Phumei means searching of a new village; (Nam means a new village and Phumei, to search). It is the first stage for the selection of the site of the new village. To select a new site, it is the custom and tradition of the Zeliangrong to send a team of expert or some selected members, who would go from one place to another or from one range to another in search of virgin or unoccupied land and suitable location for human habitation. The selection team has to “put on full traditional dress and attire, and they have to bring sufficient food provision. Any shortage of food provisions is believed to be sign of bad omen.” They would continue for many days or months or even years until they get a favorable site. According to custom and tradition of the Zeliangrong, the following essential factors are necessary to determine the suitability and selection of the site.

1. A site is on the summit of a hill. They can forecast the weather, have a good and clear view of other villages and defend themselves against outside attack or any intruders;
2. A site where materials are abundantly available for building of house and other purposes;
3. They like better a position which is not foggy and windy. In such a place sun rays are expected to give out sufficiently. It is advantageous from the point of health and security;
4. A place is proposed where there is perennial source of water or water spring;
5. They prefer a site where there is fertility of land for cultivation and a good natural vegetation and
6. The site is free from land dispute.

Thus, after hard labor and after many days or months or even years they selected the new village site where there is “a good natural vegetation, favourable movement of the wind, higher elevation, and fertility of the soil” for jhum cultivation.

Observation of omen (Daan Madanmei/Daan Saanmei):
The Zeliangrong people would not easily settle in the proposed site without seeking divine’s blessing. They would observe omen locally called Daan Saanmei/Daan Madanmei to decide whether the new site is suitable for human settlement or not; (Daan means omen and Madanmei/Saanmei, to read). But, the method of observing omen varies from one village to another. There are different methods of observing omen in the traditional Zeliangrong society. The first method is called Napgum Daan Saanmei. As per this practice, they have to collect some paddy seeds (Napgum) to be planted in the selected site of the village. They will dig out a small portion of the site and plant the seeds with prayer to Tingkao Ragwang (Supreme God) for good omen and plentiful production in the proposed village site. Customarily, after a week if they find the grains sprout well it is considered as a good omen. But, if the grains do not grow or are eaten up by ants or wild animals, it is assumed as a bad omen and they will not shift to the new site or reject it. Among the Angami and Chakeshang Nagas, the village site is selected by Yamthanpu, an agricultural priestess, who will sow various seeds in a single pit and observe for a week. After a week, if the seeds grow from the pit, the site is selected to establish a new village. As fee the priestess is given the head and the fat of a pig for this ritual. Another method of selecting a new site is to make a huge fire on the proposed site and examine the smoke. This is called Mhaikhou Daan Madanmei, omen by smoke. Like the Rengma and Sema Ngas, they also reject the site if the smoke form no prominent shape, but if the “smoke goes up straight into the sky it is regarded as a good omen” and the site is selected for settlement. The third method is to bury an egg at the selected site to find out the new location is good for human habitation. It is usually done with a sort of religious hymn. After five or seven days, if they find the egg intact and not rotten, then they will presume it as a favorable sign for founding their village at the selected site. But, in case the egg is empty or rotten, it is an unfavorable sign. They will give up the location and then they will go to another place for selection. By employing the above methods, they selected a new site of founding a village.

Selection of the founder of the village (Nampou):
Without an owner, a house is looked like deserted. Selection of the founder is the first step to set up a new village as well as for the administration of the village. Every Zeliangrong village has its brief history leading to the establishment of the village. Usually, every Zeliangrong village consists of two or more exogamous clans for marriage and ritual practices. There are different ways of selecting a founder (Nampou) of the village; first, one can become a Nampou by founding a village in his own capacity; second, by organizing helpers one can become a Nampou and third, selection from among the leaders of first settlers’ clans. The third method of selection is more acceptable. Traditionally, the man who first settled in the village is regarded as founder of the village (Nampou). It is his duty and responsibility to carry out the rites and ceremonies for settlement in the new site. Tradition says, a married man desired to find his own village. He would do so by organizing assistants/helpers under him in look for new fertile land uninhabited by others. If he could find the land he is considered as Nampou by the villagers. Such a charismatic person is generally known for his superior wisdom. He has influence not only on his fellow clansmen, but also on the whole village community either because of his physical prowess or sound economic position or because of other qualities of head and heart.

And if two or more persons/leaders of different clans went in search of such virgin land for a village, the Nampou is to be chosen from among them by observing divine omen. But, the method of choosing the Nampou is carried out by way of finding whose cock crows first. Each person would bring a cock and sleep at the gate of new village site observing which cock crows first at crack of dawn. Each cock is supposed to keep in the cage beside the owner. The person whose cock crows first would be declared as the founder of the new village and the second one would be chosen as the assistant of Nampou called Nampei. It was a God ordained divination. In a family there is a married couple husband and wife in the same way in every traditional Zeliangrong village there are Nampou and Nampei. They are the guardians/parents of the villagers. This method of selection is called Roikhon Kingna Madanmei in local dialect. The cock is killed by strangulating its neck and observed the legs when it dies. The victim is eaten by the participants. The rite is ended by offering holy wine to the almighty God (Tingkao Ragwang).

In traditional social hierarchy, priest (Tingku) is next to the Nampou and Nampei. So the priest cannot be neglected in traditional society. In the past, he was the religious head cum administrator of the village. The foundation of his power lies on the assumption that he could control some natural calamities like draught, epidemic, storm etc. “He is the intermediary between gods and men.” But, Pei became powerful and he is now confined to the religious affairs of the village. The Pei acts on the advice of the Tingku. As a matter of fact, the priest was an indispensible person in day today life of the people. An elder who is well versed in the religious rites, ceremonies and sacrifices is selected as priest of the village (Tingku). His main duties include performance of all kinds of religious rites, sacrifices, healing of sickness, forecasting the future, announcement of village gennas/prohibitions (Neihmei) etc. Each Zeliangrong village generally has “a priest who directs the sacrifices, and also acts the physician, performing sacrifices and incantations for the recovery of the sick. Their worship consists of offerings, omens, sacrifices and divination by examining the slaughter animals.”

Namrin Jaomei:
Namrin Jaomei forms a very important part of founding a village. Namrin Jaomei means omen reading of the future prospects of the village; (Nam means village, Rin means omen and Jaomei, to read). According to custom and tradition, an omen taking rite locally called Gakpai-Jaomei (Guak means pig, Pai means spleen and Jaomei, to examine or read) will be performed by sacrificing a big pig to the Supreme God (Tingkao Ragwang) for wellbeing and prosperity of the village. It was performed by the village priest or the Nampou with relevant religious hymn at the proposed Danshanpung, jumping ground of the new village site. At the end of ritual recitation the pig would be killed with single stroke. The spleen of the victim is removed and placed it on a right banana leaf for the elders to examine the signs and to predict the future of the village. (To be contd)

Source: The Sangai Express


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here