TODAY -

Technical culture of the Zeliangrong of North East with special reference to house building - Part 2 -

Dr Budha Kamei *



The ritual purification like extracting fire, sprinkling of water etc. remove the taboo, and the rites such as fixing hearth stones, offering of holy wine, crushed ginger to the Supreme God and ancestors, etc. are to insure all sorts of future security of the family. Other practices like Kairaoteng Khunmei is intended to insure that the house remains intact, does not crumble, and so forth.

Sharing of meal and sanctification of the various parts/rooms of the house with the smoke of Kham, a kind of plant leaf are the rites of incorporation. The process is separation, transition and incorporation. The socio-cultural life of the Zeliangrong is interwoven with the local rice beer products. The role of rice beer (Joungao) in any tribal society needs critical appreciation. It serves an individual and the entire society.

The traditional wine is fabricated with any parts of their society structure. Their custom begins with wine and ends with it too. It is also said that heavy consumptions of Joungao does not hamper their loyalty to elders (which Zeliangrongs take dearly) and others. Rice beer is prepared from rice powder.

The housing architecture of Zeliangrong: The houses are well adapted to the climate. In the more flourishing villages, they are large and substantially built. They are gable ended having the ridge pole not in a horizontal position, but sloping from the front to the rear where it is in comparison with the front very low and the thatched roof on either side reaches the ground.

The posts and beams are often of great size and of such excellent quality that for thirty or forty years the only repairs were to the thatch, and their thatching was so good that the roof scarcely needs repair for ten or twelve years. Excellent thatching grass is found usually in the vicinity of the villages.

They use to cut it, divest it carefully of every weed and inferior blade, after which they tie it up in little bundles with strips of a bamboo. The houses are built from various materials available at hand. Houses reflect the nature of a region since their character is related to the environment and to the cultural heritage of the people who build them. Houses reflect the nature of the rock material or the vegetation which is the basis for their construction.

W. C Smith writes that in the construction of a Naga house, bamboo is the principal material used, together with some wooden posts and thatch grass. Usually, an ordinary traditional Zeliangrong house is made of forest wood round post, roofed by thatch and walled by split bamboo walls. Roof is very tall and top two wooden plates designed as daos is placed crossing each other. This is locally recognised as Kaichei. The houses are artistically designed and constructed in such a manner that they last years after years.

At the time of construction, they take into consideration the direction so that the velocity of the wind cannot damage the construction of the house. The technology they use in the construction of the house is simply marvellous. Houses are usually fairly large. E. W. Dun writes, "Their (Zeliangrong) houses are large and comfortable; are placed on the ground, and consist almost entirely of roof, the eaves coming down to within a few feet of the ground."

An average Zeliangrong house does measure 35 feet by 14 feet. It contains three rooms; the front room is called Kaijao where all the guests are entertained. Men sleep in this room. The middle room is occupied by women and children, while the third room is a kitchen. In the third room there is a hearth of three stones and about a meter above the hearth hanging platforms of split bamboos are hung down from the ceiling called Kaangsing.

On these platforms, newly manufactured cane and bamboo articles, seeds of vegetables and grains are kept. Just below the last platform and above the hearth, dry fish, meat and fats of animals are kept hanging. This is called Kaikang. The constant smoking coming out of the hearth serves as a kind of preservative. This type of house is called Kaidung.

A Naga scholar writes, "A Zeliang house is partitioned into three rooms, in which rice-pounding table is placed in the first room. Living room is done in the second room, where a hearth is placed and all the family cooking is undertaken in this room. While the third room is kept for store-room, where all the food-provision and household articles are preserved."

The Zeliangrong house usually has two doors, one at the front which serves as the main entrance and another at the back. The doors, measuring about 6 x 4 are made of wooden plank. There is no chimney, and as the kitchen is not separated from the house, the smoke has to find its way out of the house. The result is that the walls look black and dismal. Each house has a space in front of it, and the space is surrounded by a low slab of stones marking off its compound.

John Butler writes, the Naga houses have distinct court-yards surrounded with stones walls, and a little bamboo railing. Usually, houses are decorated by the heads of hunting animals. In other words, the wall of the front room is decorated with the skulls of animals killed by the household in the chase or slaughtered by him on festive occasions. Brightly coloured insects and the plumage of birds are also fixed on the walls or cross beams of the house.

Veranda is kept enough to allow spaces for many people to sit and take rest on benches. Inside the house, racks are made to keep tools and other household articles. Courtyard is kept clean. Clothes hangers are erected at one or two sides of the courtyard with wooden pillars and bamboo sticks placed upon it. Wealthy men in the village built Taraangkai, traditional ornamented house. Such houses are decorated with carvings, paintings of human skulls and animals, depicting the cultural traits of the tribe to symbolize the owner's prowess in war.

Moreover, the artisans who carved the wooden plank wall and beam post must be head-hunters and should have collected at least a head of the enemy. A person who is known for heroic deeds is entitled to build a house of design to adorn his house. The traditional houses of Kukis are totally unique. Though smaller than the Naga houses, they have evolved from the communal houses of other early communities.

Hence, they are more comfortable according to European ideas. According to R. Brown, the houses of the Kuki (Khongjai) are small, with two gable ends, walls of bamboo matting, and raised floors of bamboo. Each house is usually surrounded by a bamboo fence and a strong palisade surrounded the village. The houses are closely hurdle together and the villages are usually small. They have, however, large villages, containing about four hundred houses, but these are rare.

Conclusion: To conclude, as house is a shelter of human being, the Zeliangrong built their houses with materials like bamboo, wood, cane and thatch for lasting. Architecture and materials used in a house indicate the status of the occupant. With the changing of time and space, they now build their houses in such a way that it will give more comfortable to the occupants. But they still observe the rituals of the house building.


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 August 10, 2019.



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