Lai Khutsangbi, female power and punishment

Rubani Yumkhaibam *

 Artwork on Lai-khutsangbi
Artwork on Lai-khutsangbi by Meisnam Jackson

One persistent ideology of the male-dominated society is the punishment of the female excess. Cinema, literature, everyday idioms, etc., are imbued with cautionary tales of women who have extraordinary hunger for freedom and agency. These women are punished and vanished from the domain of the civilized society, thereby weakening and suppressing their presence.

Very often such tales are imparted to young children for the future maintenance of the societal status quo. The story of Lai Khutsangbi, a bedtime story for children, is the tragic story of one such woman who exercises power and freedom.

In the everyday parlance of the Manipuris, Lai Khutsangbi is used as a metaphor for unpleasant and unacceptable show of female agency, and in a similar manner Lai Khutsangbi is an accursed symbol that negates female modesty and beauty.

The question is who is the real Lai Khutsangbi? She does not have a name, she is known so because of her unusually long hands, she does not have a lineage, and she lives alone in the forest.

Lai Khutsangbi's story raises multiple questions, none of which is adequately answered in the narratives Is Lai Khutsangbi a mortal? Is she a demon? Why does she attack mostly children and livestock? What is her power? What is her weakness? It is in these questions and their inadequate answers that we have to retrieve the identity and importance of a powerful and frightening woman in our collective memory.

The analysis of Laikhutshangbi in this brief article is drawn from two recent sources James Oinam's New Folktales of Manipur (Notion Press, 2016) and Pupu's Folk Tale's short digital film on Lai Khutsangbi ( Although there are other sources of the story, the sources here are chosen for the lucidity of the narratives.

Let us analyse Lai Khutsangbi's character. Lai Khutsangbi is characterised as a demon-like human who does not behave and think like a rational human, and one who feeds her hunger on the raw flesh of humans and animals. Lai Khutsangbi lives in a remote geographical area where the wilderness of the untamed nature meets the human dwelling, a heavily forested, sparsely populated village community.

Although she lives in the geographical proximity of the everyday human beings, she is set aside at a safe distance from the villagers. Being a grotesque flesh eater, she cannot mingle with the people in the story, and so she lives in the shadiest and thickest part of the forest.

The intriguing abode and cannibalism are further linked with her inexplicable and hideous demeanour tall stature, unusually long hands, unkempt hair and eerie laughter. She kidnaps young children and kills animals, and she has an inordinate appetite for human flesh, from which the village women and children have to be protected.

In James Oinam, she is also portrayed as snatching dead bodies of children from the burial ground (which also shows that the story of Lai Khutsangbi goes back to the time when dead bodies were buried). Her isolation from the harmony of everyday living is evident from the uncooked food she eats and the dreaded dwelling in the thickest part of the forest.

Every child dreads her. Notwithstanding her extraordinary character, she is never portrayed as a magical, immortal soul; she is portrayed as an extra-human, demon-like, evil witch; she is a mortal woman with immense faculty (long hands) and evil prowess.

Lai Khutsangbi is a denizen of the wild nature. One can hear recurring attack on the nearby village from the accessible distance between the village and her dwelling. The village is a natural extension of her forest dwelling.

One wonders if she preys on the wildlife in the forest. And if so why does she attack children and livestock? In a brief yet insightful reading of Lai Khutsangbi, James Oinam opines that Lai Khutsangbi's attack on the village children is "driven by poverty and hunger", which leads her to "survival cannibalism" ("Kabui Keioiba and Lai Khutsangbi: Stories of Hunger?",

In such a state of material existence, it is only consequential that Lai Khutsangbi attacks the nearest village community, and the caution and repulsion of Lai Khutsangbi among the villagers is also the required precaution.

The story of Lai Khutsangbi is tendered for the young audience as a cautionary tale to stay in the safety of the home. The moral lessons of Lai Khutsangbi teach children to be careful, and to be obedient to the parental advices.

In the olden times when the locales in Manipur were largely rural intertwined with the thick growth of forests and jungles, and also the impending danger from the wild animals lurking in the seamless expanse of villages and the wilderness, such tales must have resounding relevance.

Like a carnivorous tiger, Lai Khutsangbi is a constant danger. Ultimately, Lai Khutsangbi's aggression is projected as pure evil in the process of the real story telling. However for the modern readers, the subterranean implications of power and resistance of the female agency are not far from detection.

That Lai Khutsangbi has an inordinate appetite for human flesh is evidenced from her dissatisfaction with small meals of small animals, and hence she sets out to prey on her victims (young children and livestock in the village).

She uses her long hands as weapons to kill her prey. Her powerful long hands are not the hands that nurture; they are the killing hands of terror and sensual satisfaction (of eating). She wields the power of her long hands in the boundless wilderness of the remote forest.

On the other hands Satchi's (Satchi is the child protagonist in Pupu's Folk Tale) mother feeds Satchi with loving and protecting hands. Her long hands defy the danger of the dark and thick forests. When all the villagers are sleeping, she prowls in the night landscape (in our times, a woman could be raped or molested in absence of a male guardian!).

While being a figure of violence and terror, she is also a figure of self-sufficiency, and in this sense she hunts alone with her bare hands. Such embodiment of horror and agency makes her a transgressive figure, a woman who crosses domestic confinement).

However, our cultural sensibility has to punish such a figure of female transgression. In both James Oinam and Pupu's Folk Tale, Lai Khutsangbi withdraws in the wilderness/burial after her hands have been severed by the fathers of Naocha and Satchi.

Lai Khutsangbi is not inherently weak, but in absence of her hands she is reduced to tears and helplessness. Once her hands are cut off she flees in fear. It should not be considered a con-incidence that her power is destroyed by the male head of the family, husband/father.

Satchi's mother can only withstand Lai Khutsangbi for a while through a witty connivance of misinformation; she waits for her husband to destroy Lai Khutsangbi. We do not find women standing against the evil incursions of another woman in Lai Khutsangbi's narratives.

In the early days, when men were far away from home on military duties, women were responsible for maintaining the household, and this is a cultural marker of the courage of the Meitei women. However, the protection of the village from a female terror is physically invested in the hands of the male members, and this is factored as a masculine responsibility.

Eventually the destruction of the female devilry is symbolic of the repression of female agency and triumph of masculinity. In the end, Lai Khutsangbi is a tragic figure who stands at the crossword of female assertion and the necessary male suppression. She is figure that has to be reclaimed from demonization and cultural erasure of complex female characters.


I express my deep gratitude for Santa Khurai, an indigenous nupi maanbi activist, for her encouragement in writing this article.

* Rubani Yumkhaibam wrote this article for Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on September 29, 2019.

* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.

  • Trekking to Dzukou Valley #3 : Gallery
  • Licypriya- SDG Ambassador Award: Gallery
  • Featured Front Page Photo 2019 #5: Gallery
  • Whither Pangals ?
  • Licypriya Kangujam: SDG Ambassador
  • Blood Donation Camp at Benguluru
  • The Sun on the Western Horizon :: Poem
  • Rejoinder to NDPP [20 November]
  • Regarding resignation of NPF Youth Wing
  • Rider to be exempted from CAB: ILP
  • Truth, sincerity & commitment ...
  • CAB : Total Shutdown - Nov 19 : Gallery
  • CAB : Sit In Protest - Nov 19 : Gallery
  • Inner Line Permit (ILP) Demand : Timeline
  • Dr Sanajaoba (Dr KS Singh): Reminiscence
  • Career option in technical writing
  • What Mindset does Govt of Manipur have ?
  • 12 Members resigned from NPF
  • Where is the special clause in CAB?
  • Please understand CAB; future is at stake
  • CAB protest - Nov 18 : Gallery
  • Children's Day @CM Bungalow : Gallery
  • Why CAB is being opposed in North East
  • Meeteis' paradox
  • A Vision :: Poem
  • NE development: Lean on regional planning
  • Sand War- deadly war against mother Earth
  • From 'ahead of final pact' to CAB
  • Can Meitei, Naga & Kuki jointly resist CAB?
  • Mera Houchongba @Kangla #4: Gallery
  • Ningol Chakouba Fish Fair #2: Gallery
  • History - from Obscurity to Visibility ?
  • Manipur State Journalist Awards, 2019
  • Was it a Hindu Day in Assam book season
  • Kerala's multi-layered approach to #endTB
  • Being vegetarian can fight climate change
  • Let the rivers flow uninterrupted
  • Cry of a Dying River : 100 Poems
  • Aronlinamba, Namlalung : eMing
  • MANITEX & the poor fate of weavers
  • Anecdote, Fable & Refugee Blues : Poem
  • Naga Peace Process :: News Timeline
  • What is pollution doing to your skin
  • Dispensation in Nagaland is rudderless
  • Resistance to CAB may fail
  • Culturals @ Shirui Fest #2: Gallery
  • Gender, Power in South Asia :: Book Rvw
  • Stop Burning of Hay- uplift Rural Economy
  • Disoriented mind :: Poem
  • What is all about a flag ?
  • Cannabis plant : Myths and facts
  • Need to be on guard against rumours
  • Smart city or smart earning...
  • Ningol Chakouba @ Pune : Gallery
  • Khumang: Conference- Science for Society
  • 7th NE Students Sports Meet at Jalandhar
  • Ningol Chakouba at Pune :: Report
  • Hospitality at One Horn Nation
  • Henjunaha , masculinity redefined
  • World Diabetes Day 2019
  • Tension filled days for over 2 weeks
  • Subdued voice
  • Rani Hingchabi :: Funga Wari
  • Miss Kut @Imphal #3 : Gallery
  • Rejoinder to Lamcha Chongloi's piece
  • Salt brines : Source of Meitei Thum
  • Hibernating animals and climate variable
  • Combined Defence Services Exam (I) 2020
  • Rare good news : NMA reaching out
  • Forgotten pledge - a reminder
  • Children from Noney #1: Gallery
  • 7 NE entrepreneurs wins National Awards
  • Identity of Pangal in Manipur: Counter-points
  • Recharging the World with Li-ion Battery
  • Achoubi in Love, Bloody Phanek : Southasia
  • When the man is silent :: Poem
  • Chekshin Meepham at Kakching
  • Arrested, released, 'escorted' to Delhi
  • CM has every reason to believe..not public
  • Ema Keithel (Khwairamband) #2: Gallery
  • Argentina hosts Manipur Cup (Polo)
  • Birth celebration of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji
  • Chin Orgs demand release of U Hawi Tin
  • The Killing Fields 2013-19 : News Timeline
  • Refresher course in Khasi subject at NEHU
  • Process of closing offices in Nagaland
  • HM assurance to GOM..only means left?
  • Meira Rally [10 Nov] : Gallery
  • Religious evolution among Meiteis
  • Manipur's Identity & Political Ingenuity
  • Cry of a Dying River - 100 :: Poem
  • NEC Tamchon Football at Delhi
  • Soma Laishram at Northeast Festival 2019
  • Respecting stand of the Supreme Court
  • Kut : State level @Imphal #2: Gallery
  • Eyek Tamba :: Learn Manipuri script
  • Nazareth @ Shirock #2 : Gallery
  • Ningol Chakkouba : A beautiful tradition
  • Cost of inaction to treat TB is high
  • Cross & Flag: Christianity at Risk
  • Lithium Ion batteries & Nobel Prize
  • New India & the ticking time bomb
  • Naga can trust on preamble with GoI
  • Thanga Ningol to mapam #2 : Gallery
  • Lungpuiga Remei : Natyabhusan
  • The Fate of Peepal Tree
  • Manipur: Context & Structural Violence
  • International Day of Radiology
  • That peaceful moment :: Poem
  • OCCE 2020 : Conference at TISS Mumbai
  • Manipur : Natl School Games Football
  • NPF camping at New Delhi
  • Mature statement of Kho John
  • Civility matters; but is in the cross road
  • Alert Rally at Khumbong : Gallery
  • Miss Kut @Imphal #2 : Gallery
  • Carbon Neutral Journey through e-mobility
  • What FA of IM and Govt of India says?
  • Imphal-Mandalay flight service
  • Nutrients for good skin & hair health
  • Th Muivah central to it all
  • Translate those 'taken' into action
  • Mera Houchongba @Kangla #3: Gallery
  • World Tourism Day @Noney #5 : Gallery
  • There is nothing either good or bad ..
  • Food Wastage and its Impacts
  • Final Indo-Naga Peace Accord & beyond
  • Career options in Labour Studies
  • Assam CM inaugurate Don Bosco College
  • The great October 31 bluff ?
  • Blasts in Imphal: Do that have an agenda
  • Ningol Chakkouba @ Korea : Gallery
  • Ningol Chakkouba @ Mysore #2 : Gallery
  • Ningol Chakouba & Kut at Korea
  • Are Nagas ready to face hostile Neighbour
  • Case of 'Choudhury" among Pangal
  • Frontline champions lead fight to #endTB
  • How do you define Manipur's interest
  • Junior Accountant @ MaolKeki Foundation
  • Accord: Greater autonomy, the last word?
  • What if it turns out to be 'Godot'
  • Hinduism in Manipur #4
  • Kut : State level @Imphal #1: Gallery
  • Controversies of 1200 MW Teesta III HEP
  • Seminar on Rural Transformation in NE
  • Licypriya: solution to curb air pollution
  • Cannabis - A new beginning
  • Khwairamband By Night :: Poem
  • Requirements @ Birla Emporiums, Khurai
  • Of AEP, gateway and redundancy
  • Political Rumors
  • Thanga Ningol to mapam #1 : Gallery
  • The Hand that Rocks :: Poem
  • As long as hills & valley stand united
  • Indo-Naga talks: Praying for a happy ending
  • Meiraba Luwang clinche Korea Junior Open
  • Wander Nagaland : Enterprise launched
  • NH7 Weekender 2019 : Day 2 Report
  • Vigilance Awareness Week at ADBU
  • Military build-up: Something is not right
  • Manipur accounted for 50% of NE violence
  • Chingda Satpi Engellei #3 :: eRang
  • Banana Fest @ Noney #1 : Gallery
  • Biren can make a difference in Naga deal
  • CM interact with Social Media : Gallery
  • Medical lab : A building block of trust
  • NH7 Weekender begins in Meghalaya
  • Tracking black money
  • Miss Kut @Imphal #1 : Gallery
  • Sintha Leppa [Oct 31] : Gallery
  • Yubu and Lai Haraoba
  • Demilitarize educational institutions
  • Did Mongoloid drive out Assam inhabitant
  • A kind being :: Poem
  • Transgression of suppressed sexuality
  • Rejoinder to NDPP :: NPF [Nov 1]
  • One day after Oct 31: Time to look ahead
  • Bridge the trust to restore peace
  • Ningol Chakkouba @ Mysore #1 : Gallery
  • Cheksine Khongchat [Oct 31] #1 : Gallery
  • November Calendar for Year 2019 : Tools
  • Kut: Celebration of nature's gift
  • Cry of a Dying River - 99 :: Poem
  • Kut Festival of Kuki-Chin-Mizo : Articles
  • Forgetting TB prevention is better than cure
  • Understanding Ishan Uday Scholarship
  • Miltary should be removed from College
  • Rejoinder to Kuki Chief Association
  • Date with Oct 31 : Of misleading headings
  • Final agreement- a mere mistake will ...
  • Modi's promise for Naga takes final step
  • NESO to stage protests against CAB
  • Centre may extend Naga pact deadline
  • Ningol Chakkouba by Journalists : Gallery
  • Alert Rally- Peace Talks- Oct 30: Gallery
  • ASEAN Peoples Forum: Lesson for Manipur
  • Hope Modi will able to resolve Naga Issue
  • 'Serious concern for unarmed civilians'
  • "Sunday Closed Law" & the aftermath
  • Thadou Inpi met with Mathur
  • NPF Legislature Party clarify
  • Pregnancy Care Practice : Book
  • Kicking up issues at this point
  • A Clandestine announcement or....
  • Ningol to her mapam lamdam : Gallery
  • Chakkouba Nga Mela #1: Gallery
  • Raju Bista at Ningol Chakouba Delhi
  • The bone of contention - Two Entities
  • Response to Govt Recommendations
  • Competing Claims Along India-Myanmar
  • 'Great October March 2019' at Odisha
  • From shared sovereignty to what ?
  • ...Manipur is the only option, Avakarar
  • Khehoi camp training Kuki to fight Naga: IM
  • Social significance of Ningol Chakkouba
  • Ningol Chakouba :: Flash Presentation
  • Sangai Festival: Cultural Program: Gallery
  • Ningol Chakkouba Shopping #1: Gallery
  • Alert Rally- Peace Talks- Oct 26: Gallery
  • Jessica Akoijam in Miss United Nations
  • Bor khoiramba @Hiyangthang #3 : Gallery
  • Talui in Ukhrul #2 : Gallery
  • Hiyang Tanaba @Lamlai #2: Gallery
  • Akhunba Takhellei #1 :: eRang
  • 123rd Lamyanba Irabot #3 : Gallery
  • Bor khoiramba @Hiyangthang #2 : Gallery
  • Ibudhou Thangjing Haraoba #5 : Gallery
  • Tolloi, Ukhrul :: 360 Panorama View