Position, power and function of the Nampou of Zeliangrongs
- Part 1 -

Dr Budha Kamei *


The Zeliangrong people lived in the villages and their attachment to the village and village lands is very strong. The real political unit of the Zeliangrong is the village with its definite territory, a well knit social system and religious organization. In their long history, the Zeliangrong polity did not grow beyond their village. However the internal political and social structures were uniform and similar with little local variation.

“A Kabui owes no duty to the tribe; he enjoys no rights as a member of the tribe; it affords him no protection against an enemy, for as often as not his worst enemies are those of his own village or tribe. He acknowledges no tribal head either in matters of religion or in secular affairs.”

Therefore, the village is the autonomous political, social, economic and cultural unit. In this article, an attempt is made to examine the position and function of the Nampou in traditional Zeliangrong society.

Methods of selection of Nampou

Without an owner, a house is look like empty. Selection of Nampou (founder) is the important step to set up a new Zeliangrong village. Every Zeliangrong village has its brief history leading to the establishment of the village. Usually, each Zeliangrong village has two or more exogamous clans for marriage and ritual practices.

There are different ways of selecting a Nampou, founder of the village; first, by founding a village in his own capacity, one could become a Nampou; second, by organizing helpers to find a new village, one could become a Nampou and third, selection from among the leaders of first settlers’ clans by means of divination. The last method of selection is more acceptable.

Traditionally, the man who first settled in the village was regarded as Nampou. It is his duty and responsibility to carry out the rites and ceremonies for settlement in the new site. Local tradition says, a married man desired to find his own village. He would do so by organizing assistants/helpers under him in look for new fertile land uninhabited by others.

If he could find the land he was considered as Nampou by the villagers. Such a charismatic person is generally known for his superior wisdom. He has influence not only on his fellow clansmen but also on the whole village community either because of his physical prowess or sound economic position or because of other qualities of head and heart.

And if two or more elders/leaders of different clans went in search of such virgin land for a village, the Nampou had to be chosen from among themselves by observing divine omen. But the method of choosing the Nampou is carried out by way of finding whose cock crows first. Each person will bring a cock and sleep at the gate of new village site observing which cock crows first at crack of dawn.

Each cock is supposed to keep in the cage beside the owner. The person whose cock crows first will be declared as the founder of the new village and the second will be chosen as the assistant of Nampou called Nampei. It is a God ordained divination. In a family there is a married couple husband and wife in the same way in every traditional Zeliangrong village there are Nampou and Nampei.

They are the guardians/parents of the villagers. This method of selection is called Roikhon Kingna Madanmei in local dialect. Each cock is killed by strangulating its neck and observed the legs when it dies. The victim is eaten by the participants. After observing the cock’s legs, holy wine is offered to the almighty God (Tingkao Ragwang) for safety.

Bamjourumei (Great ritual sacrifice)

Usually, chief-ship (Nampou-ship) is given either to an elder or leader who founded the village or one whose cock crowed first from among the elders of the first settlers. However, according to custom and tradition, a Nampou is required to perform Bamjourumei, the great ritual sacrifice to confirm his position or to attain the sanction of Tingkao Ragwang within three to five years.

It is performed at the residence of Nampou where all the guests including neighbouring village chiefs are entertained with drinks, foods and meat; gifts in the form of meat, vegetable, and paddy are also given to the village elders and relatives, both men and women after shouting Hoi. This ceremony is locally recognized as Jourumei and it is the important part of the Bamjourumei.

Before the Jourumei ceremony, the boys and girls of the dormitories including the Pei elders will march from the village gate to the residence of Nampou singing traditional song for wellbeing and prosperity of the Nampou as he is the man who speaks the truth and loves his villagers. The village chief wearing a headgear called Lenpikha, a white colour cloth and a spear (Bui) in his right hand will walk in front of the procession.

When they reach at his house, Nampou is made to sit on a Bamle, a kind of traditional chair and Nampei, assistant of Nampou stands at his right. A dance (Ban Karikna Lamei) performed by two boys and girls is presented in front of the guests and villagers. At the close of Jourumei ceremony, Nampei performs the Laogai Karikmei (holding an iron hoe in his hand high) chanting Au Haipou Tingkao Ragwang.

This act symbolizes that the Nampou has obtained God’s sanction and the confidence of his people. Usually, the Zeliangrong people use the iron hoe (Tanchu) in important ritual worship of Tingkao Ragwang in the belief that it has the sanctity of God. If the Nampou could not perform it in time, he is considered to be indebted to Tingkao Ragwang and to his villagers.

Here, it may be stated that prestige is usually gained by the giver of the feast, but where personal credit and renown are linked most closely with the expenditure of wealth, the giving of a feast is a step upon the ladder of social status. After the Bamjourumei, the chief’s position is confirmed and the village is also recognized as an independent unit.

According to the customary laws of the Zeliangrong, a Nampou will remain in office as long as he lives with his customarily wedded wife. But his wife dies and becomes a widower (Mai) he will be replaced by an eldest man having living wife of the same clan. It is done in the belief that the village will have infertility of soil, population and livestock if a widower continues in office.

Pei (Village council)

Each of the Zeliangrong villages small or big is ruled by a village council expressed as Pei headed by a chief. The village chief is known as Nampou in Zeliangrong. He is the chief of the village and also the head of the Pei. He is the central point within and outside the village. The generic term of the word chief is Nampou, a recognized head of a political community.

Recognition in this sense does not mean merely that the other members acknowledge him as their leader. It implies also that they expect him, as holder of the office, to perform certain duties. This he does with the aid of his advisors and other assistants, all of whom likewise have their own special tasks.

The Nampou cannot operate his office in opposition to his councilors (Pei) and the subjects, rather he is the trustee of their interests, and to do the welfare of his people is the sacred duty of the chief. It is stated in Kautiliya’s Arthasastra that “In the happiness of the subjects, lies his happiness; in their welfare his welfare; whatever pleases himself he shall not consider as good, but whatever pleases his subjects he shall consider as good.”13

Indeed, the Nampou is a friend, guide and philosopher of the people. Nampou will be happy only when the subjects are satisfied and flourishing, likewise, the subjects will be happy if the Nampou is looking after the wellbeing of his villagers. It is true that he is like the father and the mother to the villagers.

According to H. Ian Hogbin, “He (chief) was like a banyan, the natives explain, which, though, the biggest and tallest in the forest, is still a tree like the rest. But just because it exceeds all others, the banyan gives support to more lianas and creepers, provides more food for the birds, and gives better protection against sun and rain.”

But, it is not possible for the chief to perform the burdensome duty single-handed, without Pei’s elders. Triumph of the Nampou does depend on the elders of Pei.

Succession of Nampou

The office of village chief is almost hereditary among the Naga tribes; as such the law of primogeniture is generally followed. However, in the case of Zeliangrongs, after the death of the chief, either his eldest son or an eldest male of the clan succeeds him, but the successor should be a married man.

Meijinlung Kamson opines, “Strict rule of hereditary chief ship has not been observed among the Zeliangrong, despite the fact that some importance is given to the founding clan.” J.P. Mills has stated that the office of chief is hereditary in the clan, but not in the family. It does not necessarily pass on from father to son, but to the most suitable man of the clan.

To be continued....

*Dr Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at budhakamei(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on May 25, 2019.

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