Descent and inheritance among the Zeliangrong of North East

Dr Budha Kamei *

A Scene from 'The Zeliangrongs' :: Provided by Director - Ronel Haobam
A Scene from 'The Zeliangrongs' :: Provided by Director - Ronel Haobam

Introduction: The Zeliangrong, one of the natives of Northeast belong to the Mongolian race and speak the Tibeto-Burman language. The population of this ethnic group is found mainly in Tamenglong and Noney districts of Manipur. These people are found scattered also in the neighboring districts, namely Churachandpur, Senapati, Imphal West, Imphal East, Thoubal and Bishnupur districts; outside the State of Manipur, they are found settling in Nagaland in its Paren district and Kohima district, and in Assam in its Haflong sub-division of Cachar district and Hailakandi district. The present article is a humble attempt to delve into the system of descent and inheritance found among the Zeliangrong of Northeast India.

Methods and materials: The approach of the study is both history and social anthropological. The necessary data are based on available primary and secondary materials of published works and also on interviews with village elders.

Kinship: Kinship is one of the main organizing principles of society. According to A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, the term Kinship system explores for a system of kinship and marriage or kinship and affinity. It is the system of human relationships derived from marriage and descent. It is an important factor regulating behavior between individuals and affecting the formation of social, political and territorial group. This social rule binds different members into one and forbids them from doing certain anti-social activities.

The kin terminologies such as mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, cousin etc. indicate the blood relationship among the members of a kin group. L. H. Morgan uses the terminology, 'gens' for the body of consanguine descended from the same common ancestor, distinguished by a gentile name, and bound together by kinship affinities of blood. It is an important factor in preserving social unity and the most effective way to study the social structure of a society is to begin with the analysis of kinship.

Descent: Descent is one of the principles of kinship organization, whereby a child is socially affiliated with the group of his or her parents. Groups are formed on this basis and social solidarity is maintained by the balanced opposition between them. The two common ways for the transmission of descent group membership, from parents to children are patrilineal and matrilineal.

In patrilineal, descent is traced in male line from father to son whereas in matrilineal, it is traced in female line from mother to daughter. The Zeliangrong people, like many other ethnic groups of Northeast follow the patrilineal system and descent is reckoned through the father.

Property: The term property can be described as a thing or things belong to somebody. It may be material or non-material, over which ownership is established. "The word property means either something that belongs to somebody, or else the right that somebody has to own something." Property may be private or public. The concept of property was initiated with the beginning of agriculture during Neolithic time. Since the concept of property raised among mankind, they are trying to earn it, enjoying it and transferring property to others. Among the Zeliangrong, property means immovable and movable. Immovable property includes paddy field and house, while movable properties consist of dress, ornaments, gong, spear, utensils, domesticated animals etc.

Inheritance and Responsibility: Inheritance is the practice of passing on property, titles, debts, and obligations upon the death of an individual. According to L. H. Morgan, inheritance is the distribution of property among the cognate kindred. With descent in the male line, the children of a diseased would stand at the head of the cognate and very naturally received the portion of the inheritance. Another scholar, Robert H. Lowie opines that rule of inheritance is like the whole of property law reflects the total ideology of a society.

Law of inheritance indeed gives an unpleasant insight into the socio-economic and political formulation of any society. In the opinion of Kinglsey Davis, inheritance is an institution of kinship and a dominant pattern in family organization in any society. In addition to property of various kinds, rights and obligations, crafts and skill might be passed on in accordance with kinship roles. Succession to office, kinship and to other social roles and statuses is also very often determined by kinship criteria.

Inheritance is usually understood as leaving the fruits of one's life from one generation to another. This is a vital expression of mutual human devotion between parents and their children. Inheritance for the parents is the opportunity of leaving a legacy to their offspring. And for the descendant, it is a responsibility and obligation to honor the parents for their sacrifice and investment of life, love and lineage. The filial piety of the offspring can be expressed by carrying on family traditions, maintaining the estate, caring for the welfare of the clan, and even fulfilling dreams of their parents which the parents could not accomplish during their life time.

Patrilineal descent refers to a system in which one is a member of a descent group because one has all male links back to the male founding ancestor. Patrilineality is the most common descent system in the ethnographic record, and is well documented in classic works of social anthropology. The Zeliangrong society is patriarchal society and descent is traced in male line. Only the sons inherit the family property. All the sons get their shares, but the youngest gets lion share including the ancestral house because he has to look after his parents.

Other elder sons move out of the house after their marriage and establish their own separate houses. Unlike the other Naga tribes, it is customary among the Zeliangrong that the youngest son should stay with his parents. If the parents are poor, the other sons are not given property. Unlike the Garos, no daughters can inherit property of the parents. In some cases, daughters are also given movable properties such as cows, buffaloes, pig, ornaments, utensils and many other domestic materials at the time of their marriage.

The inheritance is responsible for repayment of the debt of the father if any. If a man dies leaving no male child, his nearest kinsman will inherit the father's property. A widow has the right to her deceased husband's property as long as she lives in her husband's house looking after her children. But if she marries to another man all the properties go to her male children. According to the Zeliangrong customary law, it is the bounden duty of the brother or uncle or any other surviving male member of the family to give shelter to, as well as to look after the welfare of the daughter or sister or aunt as and when she comes back to her parental home or her being divorced by her husband.

In other words, divorced or unmarried daughters are entitled to live in the house of their deceased father's house or in the house of their surviving brother, and they also have the right to claim for maintenance of their life. According to the customary laws, the illegitimate son is not entitled to claim for inheritance and succession.

Succession: After the demise of the father, the eldest son will succeed his father and look after the family members including his widowed mother. In the case of a Nampou, owner or founder of the village, the eldest male of the clan will succeed the office of Nampou.

Intestacy: Intestacy does refer to the condition of the estate of an individual, owning property greater than the sum of his enforceable debts and memorial service expenses who died without a suitable will. In most common law of descent, property goes first to a spouse, then to children and their descendants. In Zeliangrong society, if a man dies intestate with no identifiable heirs, the person's estate usually goes to the Pei, village council; it is the responsibility of the Pei to perform his last rite or funeral service.

Cultural Inheritance: Inheritance can also refer to the circumstances, cultural practice (customs, beliefs, traditions and values) and surrounding environments into which an individual is born. Cultural inheritance of each person varies greatly depending upon, among others, the era, the geographical location, and the socio-economic condition of one's family. The era, for example, during which a person is born and raised, carries a unique merit of the age, which can influence the events in a person's life.

Also, whether one is born in an Asian or European culture usually influences a person's upbringing and worldview. While the circumstances at one's birth and the social and cultural heritage of one's youth may seem to be absolutely determinant in shaping the quality, opportunities and direction of an individual's life, they are not. Well known instances of normal people ultimately rising to become admired throughout India due to their extraordinary service and dedication to society, include Haipou Jadonang, Rani Gaidinlu, etc.

Adoption: In Zeliangrong society, adoption is in practice and the common motive for adoption is lack of child. A couple who does not have offspring can adopt a child. Generally, they use to adopt the son of a brother of the husband or of a close relative and the boy then become the principal heir. The sentimental relationship comes to approach very closely that based on natural tie. No ceremony is required in adoption of a brother's son or close relative as they descended from the same ancestor.

In case, the boy belongs to another clan, a rite called Joupan Keimei, offering of holy wine to God (Tingkao Ragwang) and ancestors (Kairao) of the adoptive father is performed at the Peikai, house of village council for practical purpose. The rite is carried out by an elder of Pei with the recitation of religious hymns in presence of the child and his adoptive parents and village council members. For this purpose, the man has to log a petition to the Peikai verbally by giving a jar of wine. This is called Peikai Joulai Ponloumei. The adopted son has his due right to inherit his adoptive father's property.

Conclusion: In Zeliangrong society, descent is reckoned through male line; only the sons inherit the property of their father. But the youngest son inherits the lion share including the ancestral house. He has to repay the debt or overdue of his parents. No daughter has right to claim her father's property, but at the time of her marriage, she is given movable properties like domestic animals, dress, ornaments, utensils etc. The adopted son is the legal heir of the family.

* Dr Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at budhakamei(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on 05 November , 2018 .

* 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.

  • Amuktang-Ga Haikho #2 : eRang
  • Exam Centre allocation for HSLC 2019
  • 3rd World Bamboo Workshop #2 : Gallery
  • Cry of a Dying River - 65 :: Poem
  • DIPR facts on Census confuse Pangals
  • Manipur Tourism: Global Mice Congress
  • Coping up with examination stresses
  • On Govt inability to present CAB
  • Breather for the North East
  • Henjunaha #2 :: Funga Wari
  • Sangai Chef: Season 1 : Gallery
  • CAB: Imphal I/W [12 Feb] #2: Gallery
  • Lui-Ngai-Ni -Naga Seed Sowing Fest
  • Inner Line Permit (ILP) Demand :: Timeline
  • Different opinions on CAB 2016
  • Change of B Voc Examination Schedule
  • Nagaland MP will vote against CAB
  • Overshadowing issues by CAB
  • RS adjourned till February 13
  • CAB: Imphal I/W [12 Feb] #1: Gallery
  • CAB: Blockade [7 Feb] #2: Gallery
  • Keisham Priyokumar's short stories? #1
  • Just a beautiful lie :: Poem
  • World Wetlands Day 2019
  • Protests against Union HRD Ministry
  • 'PDA trying to confuse Naga people'
  • The 'ban' of Internet
  • Setting date with February 12, 2019
  • NSCN (I-M) elects new leaders
  • Scientific Knowledge in Manuscript
  • Poppy destruction @CCpur : Gallery
  • Kishorechand Wangkhem's case
  • 70th Indian Republic Day #3 : Gallery
  • Hinduism and Indianess
  • CAB: Maharaj & Xenophobia :: WJ
  • Deciphering a laboratory test report
  • Stop discrimination against women
  • The falls of protracted leader
  • More than hinting CAB will be tabled
  • CAB: Khwairamband [10 Feb] #1: Gallery
  • Gaan-Ngai @Majorkhul #2 : Gallery
  • Human trafficking at Moreh
  • Why meiteis should not be ST #2
  • The Dark Light :: Poem
  • Exclusion of Pvt Teachers from HSLC
  • Pan Meetei met Ex Dy CM
  • NSS special camp 2019 concluded
  • NE to Bangkok flight from March
  • CAB: Khwairamband [9 Feb] : Gallery
  • Thamoise Foidattuna :: e-pao Radio
  • Chingyaisu, Chaklai, Cheksa :: eMing
  • CAB Meira Rally #4 [30 Jan] : Gallery
  • Prof T Kameshwar: Reminiscence
  • Bamboo Cooking Competition: Final Day
  • Tips for healthier skin this winter
  • Sincerity matters
  • Awaiting final pact with NSCN (IM)
  • CAB: Blockade [7 Feb] #1: Gallery
  • 3rd World Bamboo Workshop #1 : Gallery
  • The panic radiated at War-Torn PAD
  • NE- Socio-Economic Development: Book
  • CAB- Consequences in Manipur
  • [ST] Demand for Constitutional Safeguard
  • 'ArP to observe Black Day during PM visit'
  • CAB date with RS on Feb 12 ?
  • Check Post (ICP) @ Moreh : Gallery
  • Tribes India [Exhibition] #2 : Gallery
  • Citizenship Bill, 2016: What to do now #4
  • It's a privilege to be a Rongmei
  • A Saviour Of My Own :: Poem
  • North East Startup Summit 2019
  • Budget : Full, half or quarter ?
  • BJP shows no concern for NE states
  • Mission schools under threat again
  • CAB : Blockade @Tiddim [6 Feb] : Gallery
  • Dolaithabi Barrage: Concealing Facts
  • 70th Indian Republic Day #2 : Gallery
  • Marketing Associates @ PiCiDi Systems
  • CAB, Political Parties and Manipur
  • The Novels Of BM Maisnamba #2
  • Employment in non-Govt sectors in Manipur
  • The board exam festival
  • Naga Peace Process :: News Timeline
  • NE voice on CAB: no worry for the BJP
  • Alienating natives & embracing foreigners
  • Henjunaha #1 :: Funga Wari
  • CAB Gen Strike #2 [31 Jan] : Gallery
  • Demand for ILP :: Articles/Photos...
  • Movement against Citizenship Bill in NE
  • Bamboo Cooking Competition: Day 1 Report
  • A girl with a Bicycle :: Poem
  • Mithun (Sandang) Mela at Machi
  • Disrespect to mother earth
  • Significance of MANPAC
  • Konthoujam Maikel (Painter) :: Profile
  • CAB Meira Rally #3 [30 Jan] : Gallery
  • Business as usual will fail on cancer control
  • Citizenship Bill: Thinking with ethics
  • STDCM reasserts Demand for ST
  • NE Pol parties met Union Home Minister
  • Free Heart Screening at Jiribam & Silchar
  • The ultimate showdown
  • Nepal to SE Asia: Trafficking via Moreh
  • Symbolism in the Tribal Art #2
  • Aribam Syam return Padmashree to Govt
  • Literature review
  • CAB : An Adhesive for Integrity of Manipur
  • Cry of a Dying River - 64 :: Poem
  • Impact of AI and Robotics on Society
  • New MSAD Executive term 2019
  • Rejoinder from Shurhozelie Liezietsu -Feb 3
  • Festival to promote NE trade, tourism
  • Onetwo Okram : Singer- Profile :: eRang
  • CAB : Film Forum Protest : Gallery
  • Cultural: Republic Day #1: Gallery
  • Why Manipuri people oppose CAB? #2
  • Antibiotic Consumption by farm animals
  • The Beauty of the Sunset :: Poem
  • Coordinator of Social Media for Congress
  • Rejoinder to NDPP [Feb 2]
  • Non presentation of CAB at RS is an insult
  • Noting anti-CAB stand of NPP, NPF
  • CAB Gen Strike #1 [31 Jan] : Gallery
  • Match: 4th Women's Polo #3: Gallery
  • Citizenship Bill, 2016: What to do now #3
  • Truth of Manipur is inherent in nature
  • Chola Pass & Chola Range in Sikkim
  • JRF required at IBSD, Imphal
  • NPF disclosure on Citizenship Bill
  • Viral audio which confuse people
  • CAB indication from President
  • Imoinu Erat Thouni #3 : Gallery
  • February Calendar for Year 2019 :: Tools
  • CAB Meira Rally #2 [30 Jan] : Gallery
  • The Novels Of BM Maisnamba #1
  • Screen time, effect on speech & language
  • Trainees Certificate of Lunglei, Mizoram
  • ST: Unfounded fear psychosis being spread
  • Join the people, brother/sisters of state BJP
  • CAB : The rallying point for NE
  • CAB Meira Rally #1 [30 Jan] : Gallery
  • CAB Protest #1 [29 Jan] : Gallery
  • NE Railway's Work & fate of Villages
  • Fellowship Meet of Maring Naga
  • Legal Awareness for Women leaders
  • Flowers for beauty
  • Opposing ST demand of STDCM
  • Gaan-Ngai @Namthanlong : Gallery
  • Why Manipuri people oppose CAB? #1
  • Citizenship Bill, 2016: What to do now #2
  • Oinam Shilla : Society Development Award
  • Let this year be your year
  • Release Journalist Keshore Wangkhem
  • Bill haunt NE today, may haunt BJP tomm
  • Staying away from all parties meet
  • Taking the Street Vendor seriously #2
  • CAB Protest #2 [21 Jan] : Gallery
  • I'm sorry :: Poem
  • Self-development
  • Time to Reshape Reservation Policy
  • Sikandra, where Akbar the Great rests
  • Wise rulers listens kingmakers
  • Understanding National Voters' Day
  • 70th Indian Republic Day #1 : Gallery
  • Agri Fair @ CAU #1 : Gallery
  • MIK (Manipuri in Kolkata) : Gallery
  • Of Manipuri marriages & Swasti Pujas
  • 2nd AMAND Blood Donation Camp at Pune
  • NSUD : on call centre scam at Noida
  • The Banyan :: EI
  • Match: 4th Women's Polo #2: Gallery
  • Why shouldn't Meitei be included in ST
  • Some lessons from Ramayan
  • Republic Day celebrated across North East
  • Mizo Gov addresses RDay in empty ground
  • On the arrest of Gen Sec of RSF
  • International exposure via business
  • Kitchen Ingredients- can be used on skin
  • Republic Day at Loktak Power Station
  • 'A slap in the face for PDA government'
  • No final solution yet in sight !!
  • Combing Operation @Hatta : Gallery
  • Laishram Bombayla : Padma Shri Award
  • Female sex tourism: Sociological study
  • Imphal Declaration: Pan Meetei Convention
  • RPL trainees of Damparengui, Mizoram
  • Is the country listening ?
  • Yet another boycott call of R-Day
  • Maisnam Renuka (Painter) : Profile
  • Thank You Note: Khumukcham Sanjita
  • Gaan-Ngai - festival of Kabui #2
  • Imoinu Erat Thouni #2 : Gallery
  • Rongmei and Kabui are one
  • Rani Khidir : Kalaritu (Laiyekpa) : Profile
  • 11 in line for Congress ticket
  • Gaan-Ngai @Majorkhul #1 : Gallery
  • Eyek Tamba :: Learn Manipuri script
  • Match: 4th Women's Polo #1: Gallery
  • CAB Protest [17 Jan] : Gallery
  • Ranjit Ningthouja : Profile of a playwright
  • Imoinu Erat Thouni #1 : Gallery
  • Dr Thokchom Asha: Teacher Award
  • Purnima Ngangom (Printmaker) :: Profile
  • The Killing Fields 2013-18 : News Timeline
  • New Year picnic at Sekmai #2: Gallery
  • WWII museums in Japan: Gallery
  • Manipuri Calendar for 2019 : Download
  • Featured Front Page Photo 2018 #6: Gallery
  • Irengbam Bedamani - Actress :: eRang
  • List of Restricted Holidays for 2019
  • List of Public Holidays for 2019
  • List of General Holidays for 2019
  • Fabrics of Bangladeshi Manipuri: Download
  • Old Manipuri Movie #1 :: eRang Classic