TODAY -

Culture means cultivation of the land

Z K Pahrü Pou *

A cultural show during Lui-Ngai-Ni at Senapati on 15 February 2015
A cultural show during Lui-Ngai-Ni at Senapati on 15 February 2015 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam



Many tribal communities observe Cultural Day/Festival and exhibits traditional items such as games and dance and put on traditional attires. Often the Guest Speaker or Chief Guest for such important occasion would dwell their speech on the diminishing value of honesty, hard-work and communitarian spirit. They often lament on the colouring of hair or wearing of loose or tight jean pants by the youngsters or the negligence of traditional songs/dance/values due to the influence of western lifestyles.

Many scholars have done research on cultural values and practices but did not connect anything to agricultural life. The proponents of tribal theology have spent much time and energy writing against the anthropocentric and dualistic teaching of western Christianity but have so far failed to connect agricultural life and practices to its theology.

All these show that our people consider culture simply as set of behaviours or attitudes. Our society failed to realize that culture is basically cultivation of the soil and cultivators are the inventors and bearers of culture. It is cultivation/agriculture that gives rise to the development of culture and women played a great role in it.

The word Culture comes from a Latin word 'cultura' which means 'cultivation' or 'growing'. In late Middle English the sense was referred to as 'cultivation of the soil' or 'a piece of cultivated land'.

From the early 16th century, it refers to the cultivation of the mind, faculties, or manners. Hence, we can see the word culture referring to two important formation of human life: First, it refers to both the practice of preparing (tilling or tending) of land for and growing of crops. Second, it means the art of developing and improving something such as habit, relationship, education or image.

It is, in a simple way, defined as a way of life of a particular group at a particular time. It encompasses the whole sphere of human life which includes politics, economic, social and religious life. Culture gives identity and meaning to life to a particular group of people in the world.

When we talk about culture as cultivation of the soil, it reminds us to think of our attachment to agricultural life. It is the practice of agriculture or tilling of the soil that gave rise to the development of our culture. Our foreparents developed relationship with god/spirit because of agricultural practices.

They prayed to god/spirit as they cleared the land for cultivation. They prayed for god's permission to till/break the soil. They prayed to god during sowing seed. They prayed to god for plantation of crops and for protection till harvest time. They prayed for good harvest and give thanks for the same.

Different crops were cultivated not just for consumption purpose but for religious purposes. Proper permission was sought from the spirit to cut down a big tree. They took permission from spirit to break or pull a big stone. In all this, we see that there was no separation between the practices of agriculture and worship (religion) in tribal society.

It is agriculture that helped develop religious life as well as community life. Digging new fields for cultivation for private use was done by community without wage. This practice is called thrasayu in Poumai language. When thrasa is announced for a clan or village to dig a new field or repair part of the field damaged by landslide or flood, it is taboo to refuse the call.

Hence, everyone join the work. People sing and chat together as they work in cultivation fields. Hardworking person gained high status in society. Many Poumai Naga festivals are celebrated as agricultural feasts such as laoka (festival for seed sowing), laonii (festival right after transplantation) or baoloutouyu (thanksgiving festival of harvest). Many religious rites and rituals (gennas) were connected to agriculture. Hence, agriculture is basic to the formation of culture.

Today many of our cultures are at the verge of becoming extinct due to negligence of agricultural aspect of culture. With this negligence (consciously or unconsciously) cultural festivals are becoming mere celebration without any significance attach to it.

Modern society tends to look every economic activity from the perspective of accumulating money. Farmers are encouraged to shift from producing food crops to cash crops. This has led to food insecurity. It perplexes one and all when our government talk so much about the importance of preserving culture but neglecting traditional agricultural practices.

Communitarian life is destroyed by money-oriented wage labour. With this development, the culture of sharing, helping one another and spirituality attached to agriculture is fast deteriorating. The high status gained through hard work and sweat attached to agricultural activities is lost. Christianity which gives much importance to 'time' and 'season' for worship had put on hold the whole year round relationship of farmers with land and nature.

Modern education and mass media that portray consumerism and capitalism as the basic part of human life have done colossal damage to tribal's culture. The traditional ethos of shame, fear and taboo that are closely attached to agriculture and its allied activities is fast diminishing. It was a shame to be lazy. Wealth was procured through hard work.

Unemployment was unheard of in the past but it becomes one of the biggest issues of modern society. There was a time when people were afraid to break any religious observance/law as that would invite the displeasure of god/spirit leading to natural calamity resulting to famine. With increased in wealth, our generation does not fear God today.

The belief and practice of taboo saved many lives of animals and birds. It was a taboo to destroy nature without any purpose. However, such traditional ethos which served as the foundations on which traditional society stood is losing ground to stand due to impact of consumerism and global capitalism.

Culture is not all about eating, drinking and dressing habits. It is not just about the development of hi-fi lifestyle. The Creation Story in the Book of Genesis portrayed God as the gardener who cultivated different types of vegetables and fruits.

God also kept different types of animals and birds. We see here God as the originator of culture. Seth and Abel transmitted God's culture. Likewise, as soon as the flood receded, Noah tilled the land and planted grape.

Today, our generation have almost forgotten that culture is first and foremost rooted in the development, practice and maintenance of agricultural system and secondarily in the development of habits, dance, songs, stories and festivals.

Sadly our aged-old agricultural system is on the verge of total dislocation due to increasing pressure from global market forces and shifting to growing cash crop. The basic understanding of culture is cultivation of the land. It includes tending and caring of nature. Young generations are completely detached from traditional agricultural life.

They migrate to towns and cities in search of jobs and education leaving behind old people to work in fields. We are going to face 'cultural crisis' and hence identity crisis itself. If we want our culture to survive in modern world, let us preserve our agricultural system and practices.

As long as we cultivate the land with our hands and preserve its attached ethos and practices, our culture will continue to survive and food security will be intact as in the past.


* Z K Pahrü Pou wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on February 19, 2015.


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