Customary laws Relating to Birth and death of the CHIKIMS
- Part 1 -
Dr. Priyadarshni M. Gangte *
Cultural Programmes at Chandel District level Kut festival at Molnoi Khului Ground, Chandel on 01 November 2012
Pix by Gyanand Naorem
We are aware of the fact that in any society, modern or primitive, the birth of a child is welcome. It is an addition of a living human soul that adds to the population of the society in which the child is born. It is considered that birth of a child ensures perpetuation of the family lineage. This act of procreation is considered indispensable for a living society lest it becomes extinct.
As an inseparable and significant aspect of Mizo society the customary laws and its traditionally accepted norms with respect to both rites and rituals were investigated. Some of our inferences are highlighted which reveal a deeper sense of social responsibility. Here the tradition which has been built over the past generations has indeed become socially appreciative.
We researched into the tribal groups under our study and found that they have certain birth rites which are significant and when analyzed deeply show some common traits which throw light upon their common origin.
There is no elaborate birth rite performed in the case of Lushais and Zomis, but they have some simple ceremonies at the time of birth and soon thereafter. It is most probable that in the ancient days such birth-rites must have existed. The brief account given by Gougin (T. Gougin, History of Zomi, :1984, p. 43) mentions that the Zomi in general maintained a high tradition in regard to birth, a natural reverence for those who by virtue of birth become the chief of the village or a clan or a family that is to say the elders get a respectable place in a society. This is an universal practice but in the case of Zomi, we found this was exceptional.
With the birth of a child the mother is made to confine herself within the house for nine days if the child is a girl and for ten days for a male child. This confinement period is called Nawkhutlong (N. E. Parry, The Lakhers :1932, p. 384). While the mother is confined in the house, the father whenever he goes for work; makes a bamboo pin, and place it in the hand of the child telling it not to follow him. This is to protect the child from having misfortune, e.g. getting quashed with stone or cut with a dao or an axe. On the fourth day the child is taken to the street of the village with a hoe and a small pot of cooked rice. While the baby is held by its mother, another woman pierce its ears with a thorn from a lemon tree or porcupine's quill. The ceremony of ear piercing called Radeido (N. E. Parry, The Lakhers :1932, p. 384) is celebrated on the ninth day for a girl child and tenth day for a boy child.
Every new born Lakher child has two names.( N. E. Parry, The Lakhers :1932, p. 390) Unless the child is given two names it is believed that misfortune may fall on the child because it is feared that the God, called 'Khazanpa' may forget the child. This system is also practiced by the Tibetans (Ginseppe Tucci, Tibet, Land of Snows :1967, p. 154) Normally a male child is given the name of his grandfather or anyone of the ancestors who had been a great warrior or hunter. Likewise a girl child is given the name after her grandmother or ancestress.
However, it is generally preferred to give the name of a rich, wise, great warrior or famous hunter in the hope that attributes of person after whom the child is named may descend upon the child. It is also a fact that naming of a child after a friend or fellow villager is considered an insult and is imposed fine on the parents of the child by the chief and elder (N. E. Parry, Op. Cit; p. 391). On the Radeido day, the baby's hair is cropped and is kept short regularly until the child is eight or nine years old after which it is allowed to grow until it is long enough to be tied in a top knot or a bun according to the sex. On the final cropping called 'Sarang' the child's name is given (N. E. Parry, The Lakhers :1932, p. 386). On this day a fowl-propitiation is performed as part of the naming rite. And when the child is of two or three months old, another rite is performed called 'Nawhri' to protect him from all kinds of disease called 'hri' and 'misfortunes' (Ibid).
Similar to the Lakher belief in the ceremonies of birth and naming of a child the Mizo also has an interesting legend. On such legendary belief the practice of the Mizo at the childbirth is that a provisional name is immediately given to the new born child as soon as the child comes out of the mother's womb simultaneously with the cutting of naval cord by a split of bamboo (T.S. Gangte, The Kukis of Manipur :1993, p. 89). This provisional name is associated with the superstitious belief that unless it is done so, the 'Thilhas' (evil spirit) may overtake the person attending to the mother and the child. It is believed that if the Thilhas give name of the child ahead of the attending mid wives the life span of the child is under the discretion of the Thilhas. It is faith among the Mizos.
One interesting thing is the process of delivery of the child among the Mizo group. A jar of ju is kept prepared with full maturity of fermentation for eight to nine months. It is distilled to be offered to the mother of the child as medicinal potion. It is a fact that with the offer of the ju to the mother her entire bowel contaminated by the pregnancy and child-birth gets completely cleansed. This process gives immediate strength to the mother and good health is ensured.
In this regard there appears slight difference from the contention of Shaw who maintained that the naval cord was cut with a knife or bamboo split (William Shaw, The Mizo Kukis :1929, p. 51). However Hutton (Ibid) differed from this contention and his views have been convincingly proved. He maintained that the use of knife or any metal on occasions, such as, child birth is considered as taboo among the Mizos. He gave similar belief prevalent among Nagas as well as many other tribes e.g. the Moi of Annan, the Kayan of Barneo and Tinguian of Luzon (J.H. Hutton, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, N.S. XXIV, 1928, p. 51).
After delivery of the child and immediate offer of ju to the mother, the real name of the child is given by elders and closed relatives of the family. At this stage though provisionally the name of a boy is selected after his grandfather and grandmother lends her part name in the case of girl child. Thus, in most cases this provisional name is confirmed on this occasion.
The restriction to the mothers not to leave the house for some days among the Lakhers is also prevalent among the Mizos which is called Naolaichan. It is done after three days after birth in the case of girl baby and five days for the boy child. On this very day commences feeding of the child. The mother gives food to the child from her own mouth as birds feed their young. It is called Nao-an-mop (E. T. Dalton, Ethnology of Bengal - Tribal History of Eastern India :1872, p. 47).
This is followed by another rite called Kilhalho. It is performed after the birth and naming of the child. In the process, the part of 'Thempu' (priest) comes into the picture. A twisted cotton thread is prepared in the middle of which feathers of a cock is tied. Holding the two ends of the twisted thread around the neck of the child the Thempu will perform propitiation, which includes begging for the health and future prosperity of the child to God. After doing so the Thempu will tie the thread around the neck of the child with his blessings spraying a mouthful of ju around the child symbolizing purification of the child including the surroundings.
The next stage of birth rite is 'Naopui' (Christening of the child) performed at the residence of the maternal grandparents or uncle. According to Gangte, (T.S. Gangte, The Kukis of Manipur:1993, p. 105) on this occasion the parents of the child take the following items with them. One jar of rice-beer called 'jubel' and One cloth called puondum (a black coloured with two lines of white colour on the border, lengthwise).
The christening party comprises 'Tuchas' (representatives drawn from female relatives of the family such as aunts, sisters, etc.) and Bechas (representatives and closed friends of the family such as uncles, brother, good friends, etc.) leave for the maternal grandparents or uncle of the child early in the morning. On their arrival at the maternal grandparents or uncle's house, the party is not allowed to enter instantly. They are stopped at the 'Haungcha' (verandah).
The Becha of the maternal side cuts ginger into pieces and 'Thempu' (priest) performs purification rite on completion of which they are allowed in the house. This signifies that the child is spotless and is not impure when they take him or her to the house of the maternal grandparent or uncle. All kinds of evil influences and bad things that may befall the child are then warded off by the performance of the purifying rite at the door with ginger. This ritual has only changed forms but is found in every ethnic community. Among the meiteis, it is by burning fires.
This follows all the ritual formalities on completion of which the visiting individuals are given a feast together with some presentation including the half portion of the sacrificial meat. Thereafter, they leave the maternal grandparents or uncle of the child's residence with the blessings from the 'Thempu' of maternal side. Among the tribes of the Old Kuki, the birth ceremonies are much alike. In every clan there is a period during which the mother's movements are restricted in some ways (J. Shakespeare, The Lushai Kuki Clans, 1912, p. 158).
Among the Aimol, like the Mizo, the period is also five days in case of a boy, and three days for a girl. Among the Anal and Purum, three days in both cases. The Chothe, Kom and Vaiphei, the restriction is for five days for both boy and girl. Among the Kolhen and the Chiru the period is extended to ten days. As for the Tikhup restriction on the mother's movements lasts only till disposal of the remnants of afterbirth by special persons who clean up the house. It is observed that unless this is done no one may take fire flame from the fire place or remove any article from the house. And on the conclusion of such period sacrificial rites and rituals are performed.
Among the Aimol, the 'Thempu' (priest) pours out a libation of Ju and herbs in front of the house and invoke the child's spirit to take up its residence within the inborn infant.(Ibid. p.159) The name of the child is also given on this day which is similar to the Mizo system of naming. On the birth of a child, the Anal system of performing the birth rite is slightly different from others, in that the 'Khulpu' (priest) utters incantations, 'ju' and fish are distributed to the whole village to invoke the house hold gods (sakhua) so that the soul of the child is summoned (J. Shakespeare, The Lushai Kuki Clans, 1912, p. 159).
For a new born Chothe, the Thempu sacrifices a fowl and sip ju and incantates over a piece of turmeric which is then thrown out of the house. Again, on the fifth day, a fowl is killed then the name of the child is given. In the process of naming of child, the Thempu drops three grains of rice into a cup of water, if the grains sink, it is an indicative of approval of the name given but if they float, another name is to be selected.
Among the Chiru, the Thempu, on the tenth day, performs the sacrifice. In this process, first it starts by planting a rakeng tree in front of the house, then the Thempu kills for the mother a cock or a hen according to the sex of the baby. Now the parents of the child eat the cooked meat, only the flesh, the bones are not thrown or eaten by anybody, and they are buried in the house. Then two or three jars of Ju, which have been kept readied for this day, are consumed by married persons.
The Thempu sips some ju and sprays it out from his mouth onto the walls inside the house muttering charms. The name giving ceremony 'Keng-puna' or 'mingpuna' follows immediately by killing two cocks or hens according to the sex of the child. The Thempu smears the blood on the infant's forehead and navel, some of the feathers being tied with the hair of the child (J. Shakespeare, The Lushai Kuki Clans, 1912, p. 159).
The ear piercing ceremony is identical with slight variation among the old Kuki tribes as observed by Shakespeare(J. Shakespeare, The Lushai Kuki Clans, 1912, p.160).
Among the Kolhen, the ear piercing ceremony is held on the tenth day and like the Chiru, name giving is also performed on this day. The maternal grandfather is obliged to give the child a pair of brass-earrings, bracelets, leg ornaments and a string of glass beads. In this connection, the name to be given is different from that of Aimol and Chiru. The Kolhen practices the custom of taking the name of maternal grandfather in the case of a boy child.
This custom is also prevalent among the Koms, giving a feast for the purpose on the expiration of the five days' 'Sherh' (Sherh, means that the house is placed under profanity for a specific number of days, on the expiry of which it is considered as having been purified). The paternal aunt performs the ear piercing ceremony. The Lamgang ceremonies are the same as those of Anal but the father is prohibited from eating the flesh of fowls during the 'Sherh' period and no other animal is sacrificed during such period.(Ibid)
While comparing with other Kuki tribal groups, we are convinced to say that the Purum customs are simple. The Thempu comes and mutters charms on the day of birth and returns on the third day for confirmation of the name of the child with a libation of Ju. No sacrifices are allowed. On the second day, the midwife gives the name of the child without performing ceremony and on the seventh day the piercing of ears is observed, this too, without ceremony.
The Tikhup, usually celebrates the child naming ceremony in a feast on which the elders of the community are invited. A cock is killed for the child's ritual part and ju also is served. In a poor family, where the parents cannot afford for such feast, it could be postponed till the child attains the age of two years old.
These small ceremonies which are performed among the several groups point towards a common origin and common belief system. While some ceremonies keep the individuals involved forget the pain and sufferings that arising out of the moments of delivery some others performed on account of make-belief systems for invoking longevity for the mother and child. These observations on ceremonies can be observed as common phenomenon in context of world civilizations in general and cutting across all cultural lines in India in particular.
To be continued...
* Dr. Priyadarshni M. Gangte wrote this article for The Sangai Express and Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition)
The writer is a Sr. Lecturer at Damdei Christian College, Taloulong, Motbung, Manipur
This article was webcasted on November 19 2012.
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