TODAY -

Position, power and function of the Nampou of Zeliangrongs
- Part 2 -

Dr Budha Kamei *



Position and privilege of Nampou

As a First Man in the village, Nampou is given a prominent position at the social and religious gatherings and festivals of the village. The words of the chief are obeyed respectfully and promptly. As a symbol of love and respect he is always given a right hind leg (Kanang) of any sacrifice animal in the village. Among the Tangkhuls, the village chief is always offered the head of the victim (Sakuiphit).

Annually, after harvest, every household of the village whatever they produce be it paddy, chilly, maize, etc. will present a basketful of crops/paddy, maize etc. to Awunga. Besides, land tax known as Ramshai will also be given to the Awunga for allowing them to cultivate.

M McCulloch has stated that the Tangkhul have their “hereditary village chief, he has no great influence, but receives a leg of every animal killed for a feast, with the first of the wine; and one day in the season, if he asks it, the village assists him in his cultivation.”

However, the Mao village chief is entitled to a basket of paddy at the time of inception of the sowing season (Movoowu Matekottho), the foreleg of sacrificed animal at the time of merit feasts and the right foreleg of the hunted animal during the other festivals.

The Poumei village chief always gets a limb each of the sacrifice animal in the village and wild animal killed by the villagers. The concept of tax payment to the village chief may be derived from the Rigveda tradition which says, “As the sun takes away the water from the seas and return it in the form of rains, so the chief should have tributes from the people and spend them for their benefit and welfare.”

During the festivals or functions, the chief is always offered the best rice beer locally known as Zou-ngao because rice beer is the national drink of the Nagas. Nampou drinks the rice-beer after pouring a little on the ground saying: “God drinks first and man next.” He inaugurates the sports of the festivals.

Like the Kuki and other Naga tribes, the house of the Nampou normally serves as a public guest-house at which any casual traveller is entitled to hospitality. The maintenance of the chief’s house is thus to some extent a public responsibility. Villagers have an obligation to assist in the building and repair of the chief’s house.

It is said that the houses of the chief are distinct in size, decorative patterns and strength of the material used. In short, village chief (Nampou) is a very privileged person. He selects the best lands for his home and jhum fields in the village and is also “entitled to a portion of meat of all animal killed in the village.”

Power and Function of Nampou

The Naga village chief usually performs “a dual function of the religious as well as secular head of the village. As religious head, the chief is the first man to sow seeds, transplant the paddy seedling and the first to harvest. Although the actual religious worship and sacrifice etc are performed by the village priest, the presence of the chief in the proceedings is necessary.

The village chief inaugurates all ceremonies and festivals of the village.” According to Zeliangrong customs and tradition, the village chief has some customary rites and rituals like Namgutmei (village entry), Khun Nummei etc. to be performed. Such ceremonies are performed when a new village is instituted or re-entry to the village after dissertation due to war, epidemic etc. and when the village does require occasional purification.

In the ceremony, all the villagers, domestic animals like pig, fowl, goat, dog etc. move out of the village and stay outside the village gate (Raang), where they are kept under the control of the village youths(Gaan) till the rites and rituals are completed. The Nampou will supply the necessary items such as a pig, ginger etc.

Every year during the Gaan-ngai festival, the Nampou will perform the Khunnumei ceremony for the affirmation of his position and strength of the village. This rite has social and administrative significance. It is believed that a Nampou who carries out such rites and rituals of the village will die early without an heir if he does not follow a virtuous life.

In the oaths and ordeals of disputes (Rahta Jaihamna Sengding Dingmei), the Nampou on behalf of the Pei will pray to deity for giving right judgment or his presence is important. In the same way, his presence is significant at the ritual worships of the village like worship of Tingkao Ragwang (Kairongpum Kanmei) and Seven Brothers Gods and local deities (Rarenloumei).

Hence, the Zeliangrong Naga village chief has more religious role unlike his Kuki counterpart who plays very active role in mundane affairs of the village. But if the Nampou breaks the marriage code, he has to step down from the office of village chief in favour of one of his brothers or an elder of the clan.

Among the Tangkhul Nagas, the chief-ship is cut off from the day he violates the marriage rule and from the day onward none of his children shall ever be crowned as Awunga. Similarly, Anal chief can be removed if he commits incest or adultery and illegal marriage or shedding of blood accidentally or intentionally or when two thirds of the villagers dislike his behavior and conduct.

Nampou has some other secular powers and functions. He is the leader, advisor and protector of the village community. The chief must “protect the rights of his subjects, provide justice for the injured and oppressed, and punish wrongdoers.” The chief acts as a judge when any serious crime such as adultery, land disputes, murder etc. occur in the village. The matter is brought to the Pei and any decision taken by the Pei is to be finally approved by the chief. Nothing of “public importance may be done without his knowledge and consent.”

In the same way, any other serious problems of the village like external threats to the security of the village. The village chief is to act as chief of the army in the defense of the village. This has indicated that the chief is powerful and final authority of the village administration.

However, it may be stated that as the administration in Zeliangrong village is democratic in nature the chief does not have an absolute power because any decision he has to be supported by the majority in the Pei and such decision is to be based on the customary laws.

In other words, with all the “powers concentrated in his hand, however the village chief could not be a dictator as he was bound by various tribal customs and unwritten laws which were rigidly followed. The chief had no power” to overrule village council (Pei). In fact, Nampou, owner of the village, is in theory the chief functionary of the Pei.

The chief is understood to exercise his power within the law of the land, a view strikingly captures in the Tswana saying: “The law is blind, it eats even its owner.”

John Butler opines, every Naga village has a nominal head or chief, “it is evident their chiefs have no absolute power over the people.” Unlike the Kuki who has strong chieftainship system, the Naga chief has relatively limited powers and while exercising his powers the village chief is checked by the village council.

According to James Johstone, the Nagas are republicans, “their chiefs are elected and they are liable at any time to be displaced.” In this connection, one can compare the similarity of a Naga village chief with leopard skin chief of Nuer of Southern Sudan, who has no “political authority his activities are concerned with settlement of blood-feuds and for a feud cannot be settled without his intervention and his political significance lies in this fact.”

The Nampou does not wear any emblem indicating his power and status. It is true that the Zeliangrong village is run by a chief at the top of the hierarchy, but with limited power. He is finally responsible to the Pei.

Conclusion

To conclude, the Nampou or chief is the privileged person in the village and his words are obeyed respectfully and promptly. He is the representative of the village. In any dispute or matter of the village, the words of the Nampou are final, but it should be based on the customary laws of the Zeliangrong.

In theory, the Nampou is on top of the hierarchy, but with limited power. He is finally responsible to the village elders of Pei.

Concluded....


* 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 29, 2019.



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