Zeliangrong: Birth and puberty ceremonies
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Zeliangrong: Birth and puberty ceremonies
Birth and puberty ceremonies of the Zeliangrong
By : Budha Kamei
Zeliangrongs, the inhabitants of North East India are following a profound indigenous religion known as Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak. Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak is basically based on the fundamental belief of Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God. R. Brown has made a reference that the Zeliangrong people worship a Supreme Being who is the creator of all things. Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak means the religion of Tingkao Ragwang. This profound religious tradition is preserved and practiced through oral traditions by the ancient Zeliangrong community through the ages. The population of Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak in three States of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland is about 29,000 souls. The present article is a humble attempt to delve into the birth and puberty ceremonies of the Zeliangrongs.
Generally, the ceremonies of pregnancy and childbirth together constitute a whole. Often by the first rites, a pregnant woman is separated from her surroundings, her family group and sometimes even from her sex. They are followed by transitional rites of the pregnant woman. Finally, she is returned to the customary routine of life [a new position in society as a mother] by the rites of childbirth. Thus, the arrangement is separation from society, transformation and incorporation into the society with a new status. The taboos which are to be observed during pregnancy and childbirth are mainly dietary and some social restrictions.
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. 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. Dampapui 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 only then the child became alive. Both the father and mother are possessed absolutely responsible for giving birth however Tingkao Ragwang is believed to be the sole and final authority.
The native calculation of twelve months is also closely conjoined with the philosophic assertion of the creation of human body from the spermatic fluid in the father to the formation of embryo in the mother, the entering of the soul [Buhmang] in the foetus and the phases of the development of the child in the womb of the mother. The months during which the spermatic fluid is in the father are Ginkibw [March-April] and Maliangbw [April-May]; and the remaining ten months, the mother carries the fluid, which is converted into a baby in her womb till the delivery or birth are: Tonngaibw [May-June]; Duilongbw [June-July]; Pukphabw [July-August]; Lautybw [August-September]; Baanchatbw [September-October]; Matuibw [October-November]; Gaanbw [November-December]; Chagabw [December-January]; Nahnubw [January-February]; and Baanraubw [February-March]. The planting of the plant of the father in the womb of the mother is just like ploughing, sowing and harvesting of rice because rice cultivation is expedited by seasonal rain or monsoon. Pregnancy is a transitional period and it is divided into phases according to whatever months are thought important normally- the third, fifth, seventh, eighth 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 malignant spirits [Rasi-Rarou] are not worshipped but they are propitiated not to give trouble to man.
It is believed that there is a water spirit 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. Offerings are made by the Roman women to the Nymph, water spirits during pregnancy in order to get a painless delivery. Another rite called Khumkara 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 Tingkao Ragwang] is observed for safety and protection of both the mother and child.
Like in many 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, a long line of generation and prosperity. 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. 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. According to Van Gennep, 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. 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. She is indeed, the ancestress of the human-being. 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. 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 saying: “Please come on the soul of long life, eternal soul of Tuk Tarou, come on,” thus repeats thrice for longevity of life of the child. This is followed by tying the umbilical cord at the suitable place with a black thread [khim]. Then, the priestess cuts the cord with a Nuhbang, a bamboo blade which symbolizes the separation of the child from its mother. 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. Most of the Naga tribes have such practices. The mother lays a few drops of her breast milk on the wound of the navel to dry it quickly. 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.
The boys or girls of the dormitory [according to the sex of the child] will go to the family of the newly born baby and present an ear-ring as a proper request to become a member of the particular dormitory when it grows up. This part of the rites of passage will 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 Sheireng 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”.
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. According to English and German school, the childbirth rites are aimed for a better operation of limbs, strength and skills of the child. 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 a 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. This is called Dui Loumei. Then, the child is put in its mouth a little chewed rice which indicates the baby is being claimed as a human being since human food is given. It is also alleged to be for the healthy and long life of the child. This ritual is locally known as Nap Mumloumei. A name is immediately given for the child in the belief that if the evil spirits name first it is bad.
Thereafter, the child is fastened around with a black thread at the neck, wrists and ankles signifying toward 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 awarded to the baby. 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 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 pronouncing: “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 [Plectranthus Termifolius 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.
Nalam Phuploumei means to inter the placenta and after birth of the child. Like the Poumai Naga, 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. On the third day, a propitiation called Duikhun Laman Reimei is observed at the village pond [Duikhun] 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.
Then, 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.
By : Budha Kamei
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. It is said the birth ceremony which is observed on fifth day has been fixed on the basis of the people’s faith in the menstrual period of the woman who takes bath and wash her cloth on the fifth day of the said period. In this ceremony, the priest will confer a name for the child or get confirmed the provisional name [given on the day of its birth] which was found better without giving a new name.
It is a rite of incorporation which introduces the child into the family because without a name, a person cannot be counted as a member of the family. Fuller says, “A name is a kind of face whereby one is known.” Most commonly the ancestor names are given to the children. The name is given sometime having some definite signification, and mostly alluding to some supposed quality or to some accidental circumstance which have happened at the time of birth. In this regard, Colonel McCullock writes, “Five days after the birth of a child it is named with various ceremonies names are not given at random but are compounds of father’s and grand father’s names or those of other near relations”.
The indigenous names in case of boys are Pantilung which denotes long life, Tampikhon means protector and host of the house, Lanchonglung signifies wealth and for girls are Gairuna implies good girl, Gaithoiru indicates a very prosperous lady girl etc. The first born is a boy; they give such name like Pouganglei or Pouchalei which means first born son or first come son. The second, third and fourth are given only generic names. And the last one is a boy they give name like Poukhamlung or Pougangkham which denotes last born son or Last come son. In case of girl, the first born is given name like Luchalei or Luleilu or Luhoulei which indicates first born daughter or first daughter or first seen daughter and the last one is a daughter, Lukhamlu means last daughter. The cooked Loithin, livers of Sangdai and Sanglou are placed separately on two plates of banana leaf along with a lump of cooked rice, and a piece of ginger on each plate. Then, the priest with a piece of ginger in his hand and purifies the child by chanting the hymn called Kasan Kanmei soi. With the end of recitation, a portion of liver of Sangdai, a piece of ginger, a lump of rice along with a small quantity of holy wine is poured on the forehead of the child. The same process is repeated with the liver of Sanglou. This is locally called Nasan Kanmei.
Normally, after birth, the mother is advised to take only plain foods without curry such as cooked rice, dry fish or meat along with salt for certain days or months. It is observed for about three months in case of first born and in other cases only five days. Like his wife, the husband also is supposed to take only plain food for five days for the wellbeing of his offspring. But nowadays, the process is made easy that the father takes only five lumps of cooked rice instead of taking for five days.
Among the Zeliangrongs, the first birth has a social significance, because with the birth of a child, the mother is no longer a mere woman, she raises her moral and social position and becomes a legitimate wife of the husband. It is not possible to get a divorce from a woman who is given birth one or more children; among the people whose customs permit divorce easy. The child is considered a certificate of the parent’s union and a kind of bond token between them. Among the Hindu, there is a belief that “He only is a perfect man who consists of three persons united – his wife, himself and his offspring, and immediately on the birth of his first born a man is called the father of a son and is freed from the debt to the manes”. There is a custom of the Zeliangrongs that parent designating themselves by the name of the first born, say, Poudim, and father of Poudim and mother of Poudim. It is a widespread custom. It is believed to be created in the natural prides of the parents at the birth of a child in whom they are now essence to immerse their personality.
Feeding the child with mother milk is the normal practice among the Zeliangrongs and feed their children as long as milk is available in the breasts. It continues till the arrival of the next baby because milk of the mother is considered best. It is a normal feature that an offspring has to depend on its mother for its nourishment and bodily comfort. “Physiologically there exists a passionate instinctive interest of the mother in the child, and a craving of the suckling for the maternal organism, for the warmth of her body, the support of her arms and above all, the milk and contact of her breast”. Everywhere “it is to the mother the immediate care of the children chiefly belongs, while the father is the protector and guardian of the family ……the simplest paternal duties are ……… universally recognized”. The first reply of the mother when a child cries is to put her breasts at the mouth of the child and the child cries longer, the mother consumes greater time on its suckling. Thus, the child is always made available mother’s milk so that the child may be able to satisfy its hunger. The mother stops feeding her milk only when she becomes pregnant because the milk of the mother breaks short and it is necessary to alienate the child for the cause of the next child.
Nasammei, feeding the child with solid food is observed on any lucky day when the child attains five or six months in which the child gets first solid food for the first time. The family cooks a beautiful bird or fish of white colour on this occasion and feeds the child with it ritually.
By : Budha Kamei
Feeding the child with solid food is very important when the child reaches this age. With the growth of its body, the child is not satisfied with the milk of the mother. Now, something solid is necessitated as its food. This is for this factor that the child is given ceremoniously with the solid food, which symbolizes the milk of the Mother Earth, which is called as second mother of the child. The first mother is the real mother of the child.
Nanu-ngai, an ear-piercing festival is observed in the month of February-March every year. In the festival each child born in the previous year gets his or her ear-pierced at the house of old women called Kengja Kaibang as community recognition. This ceremony is called Nanukon Louphoumei. Each family of the child will bring gifts such as vegetables, cooked chicken curry, salt plates, Tamti, black rice specially cooked for the purpose etc. to the Kengja Kaibang. It is done in the name of the child with thanksgiving and happiness in honour of Tingkao Ragwang and Dampapui. This is called Nanu Tamcha Ponmei. Nasang Saanmei, meaning singing of fertility song is carried out by the senior members of male dormitory in the Nanu-ngai for more reproduction off springs in the village. In the evening of the festival, old women perform Nanu dance with traditional sexual inspiring songs sung by the old men in each households of the child. At the end of the dance, Kon-luh is sung inside the house for long life of the child.
Young children who are not yet enrolled in the dormitories such as Khangchu and Luchu are permitted to eat any taboo food. T.C Hudson has rightly stated that in Zeliangrong society food tabus are not rigidly imposed on either the very young or the old. However, a propitiation ritual called Galao Rou-Kara Rarei is suggested to perform sacrificing a cock not to happen any evil consequences while consuming the taboo food. When a child attains the age of 7/8 years, a ritual called Ganlao Rarei is performed offering a cock to Dampapui for healthy growth of the child. A propitiation ritual called Purumkhang Purumlu Rarei is observed when a child becomes a young teenager to avoid untimely sexual lust.
The transition from childhood to adolescence varies from society to society. In Zeliangrong society, when a child reaches the age of fourteen or fifteen years old, he or she is introduced to the particular dormitory. The initiation ceremony is performed in the festival of Gaan-Ngai in which a piece of meat [Janphop] will be given to him or her by the leader of the particular dormitory as formal recognition of its member. This is called Khangchu Kailu Thaimei. According to Dictionary of religion, initiation is “one who has entered the stream of wider and deeper consciousness”. It is a rite which separates the boy or girl from the sexual world and incorporated into the world of sexuality. Traditionally, after initiation, a boy or girl is considered as physically and socially matured person and permitted to get married because he or she has the capability of reproduction.
To conclude, it can be stated that the main object of the rites and ceremonies attending birth and puberty is to purify the individual, keep him away from any hostile agencies, and to ensure for him the security and care given by the God. Najum Gaimei Khatni Nasan Kanmei reveals an anxiety to integrate the new born child into its father’s clan and a member of the society. Khangchu Kailu Thaimei indicates the introduction of the individual into the world of sexuality.