Thien and its downfall in the traditional Zeliangrong society
- Part 1 -

Dr Budha Kamei *

The Zeliangrong people live in the villages. All activities are confined in the village. They have got a very high moral and discipline pattern of life. They have a separate institution for all the members belonging to this community according to their stage of age, group and sex. The dormitory is known as Thien in Zeliangrong dialect.

Dormitories are well organized traditional institutions. The village operates through these institutions. They are the life-vein of Zeliangrong social and cultural activities. In the institutions, both boys and girls are disciplined and their traditional values are promoted. Ursula Graham Bower (1986:81) opines, dormitories are an admirable institution which discipline and educate the young, and unite the householders.

The bachelors' dormitory is known as Khangchu and the girl's dormitory is called Luchu. Besides, there are other institutions like Ganchang Kaibang, Mathenmei Kaibang and Kengja Kaibang etc. these institutions also have their own functions which sustain culture and unity.


Khangchu (boys' dormitory) has occupied a high degree of social magnitude in traditional Zeliangrong society. It is a place where youth are shaped into responsible adult members of the society. It also sustains and provides a pure and uncorrupted life among the members of the society. It is the place of Zeliangrong social, cultural and political activities.

The dormitory does meet "the education needs of the young men, the defense requirement of the village and manpower requirement to organize public works, religious ceremonies and cultural festivals including dance and music. The dormitory was perhaps evolved to meet these needs of the people" (Kamei, 2004:253). At present when these requirements are met by modern schools and government development departments, this institution obviously dies.

According to Zeliangrong belief, the male's dormitory was an adaptation from the hoary past when, men and gods attended the house of the mythical God Tingpurengsonnang who was the patriarch of the dormitory. Men adopted God's institution.

Khangchu is an important sociocultural institution of the Zeliangrong. All the boys who attained the age of puberty become the members of Khangchu and it is shameful for boys to sleep with their parents when they reach years of understanding. It is compulsory for all the boys and male members to join it. It is a three tier institution in which there are three different categories, namely Gaana (Shingkhang), unmarried boys, Gaanpi and Khangbon.

The Gaana forms the junior most of the three grades consisting of only unmarried young men. The next higher grade is Gaanpi, the members of which are of two different grades senior and junior. The senior grade is known as Ganpi- Kaijipmei where Kaijipmei sleeps in his house and the junior-grade is called Gaanpi- Chaphongmei.

The junior is usually unmarried one and he represents the senior most of the unmarried young group, Gaan. Gaanpi- Kaijipmei consists of married men only. The next higher grade- Khangbon is the highest grade. Generally the members of this grade are all middle- aged men. According to customs and traditions, the Khangbons are the head of the organization of Khangchu. They decide the affairs of the dormitory.

Peace and prosperity of the Khangchu, therefore, depends entirely on the ability, efficiency and leadership of the Khangbons. The bachelor's dormitory is not a "rival or parallel administrative unit of a village, but an institution within the village unit. A Morung (Khangchu) may aptly be called a microcosm of the village and like the village it has its own council" (Horam, 1975:69).

Unlike some other Naga and Kuki tribes, Khangchu is housed in a particular house usually with a rich and influential owner who has a big house. It is a public spirited act to offer his house as the Khangchu. In the Naga villages, "all unmarried young men live together in a great bachelor's hall or barrack-hut called morung, away from the married quarters and usually situated at the gate of the stockaded village, the defense of which specially devolved on them" (Hutchinson, 1984: 1180).

As a general rule, this house is taboo to women. In the Khangchu, no favouritism and discrimination is permitted. Every person rich or poor, high or low is treated equally. Differentiation on the basis of wealth and family position is frown upon and formation of faction or group is not allowed. The primary aim of all such organization is to form a classless society having unity and brotherhood (Anand, 1967:89).

Khangchu provides as a communal sleeping hall for the boys and other members of the dormitory. In the dormitory, all kinds of traditional practices and activities such as warfare and art of fighting by the use of weapons, dance, music, and song are imparted to its young boys (Makuga, 1994: 23). They also get training in the art of handicraft like basket making, wooden craft, carpentry, bamboo, cane and other embroidery works (Gonmei, 1980:15).

According to Asoso Yonuo, "They learn manners, discipline, art, stories, songs, war tactics, diplomacy, religious and customary rites and ceremonies living in it" (1974:11). They act not only as a guard house for the defense of the village, but also protect the village in times of accidents, incidents, natural calamities like earthquakes, floods, draught, sickness, epidemic, etc. (Makuga, 1994:23).

Other social services extended by the Khangchu involve constructing paths, and clean ponds in and around the village. The bachelors' dormitory also acts as a centre of cultural activities. The festivals and ceremonies of the village or individual are organized by the Khangchu. It renders services for the individual's households or village council during the time of marriage and other social occasions. The youths of the dormitory take part in fishing, house building, hunting, and in the fields at the time of sowing seeds and harvesting (Rao, 1976:137).

The boys used to spend their time in the dormitory for doing different types of activities. Fire is burning (Mhaipui Hana) in the Khangchu all the hours of the day and night and the supply of fuel for the hearth is the responsibility of all the junior boys. They all sit around the fire and learn everything mentioned above from their senior members. They return to their houses only for taking foods or whenever they fall seriously ill (Bower, 1986:82).

A person, who becomes the member of the Khangchu, refines his culture; rectifies his manner; changes his attitude; polishes his code of conduct; develops his conscience; nurtures his thought and action; realizes his duties and responsibilities and later becomes a successful man in the society. A product of this institute becomes a worthy husband, leads a happy and prosperous life; brings up his children in the discipline of his institute and his generation will continue to shine in the same trend he follows.

The institution of Khangchu is what the proverb says, "Strike the iron, while it is hot." A boy goes to the Khangchu while he is still young, where he moulds all that is necessary that a man is required during his life time. It indicates that Khangchu takes the place of his parents to bring him up in the discipline of the civic society. It is indeed shouldered the burdens of his father, lessen the stress of his mother and together it builds the healthy society.

V.K. Anand writes, "The Morung (Khangchu) plays vital role in preparing younger generations for posts in the village council. The Morung is the club, the public school, the military training centre, the hostel for boys and meeting place for village elders. It is as well the centre for social, religious and political activities. In short, it is the fulcrum of the village democracies" (1967:89-90).

(To be continued ....)

* Dr Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on September 08, 2018.

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