Traditional village administration of the natives of North East
- with special reference to Zeliangrongs -
- Part 2 -

Dr Budha Kamei *

Colonel McCulloch says that the Zeliangrong observes several gennas like, crop, deities, animal, food gennas and many others. In Zeliangrong society, Neihmei for good paddy (Napchang Lingpui Nei) and crops (Loidui Boumei Nei), safety from rats and rodents (Pu-Pok Mong Thingmei Nei), pests and birds (Thaoroi Mun Thingpui Nei), animals and beasts (Su-Jou Mun Thingpui Nei) and genna for rich harvest (Nap Thuipui Nei) etc. are strictly observed for welfare and prosperity. To break or violate it is a taboo and treated as a serious punishable crime. Punishment meted out of the taboo breaker is mainly in the form of sacrifices of animals and other ceremonies to placate an angry supernatural power.

The performances of lifecycle ceremonies like Najumgaimei, birth, Noushonmei, marriage, and Theimei, death are supervised by the elders of Pei. It also decides on the sacrifices to be offered to Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God, Naragwang Chanaren Chanei, the Seven Brothers God (lower realm gods) and Bambu, presiding deities of the village.

The most important function of the Pei is judicial administration. Pei is the highest court of justice of the village and it decides on disputes, civil and criminal cases based on the aged-old customary laws. Peikai Rakaiye means Peikai is the house of god. So they believe they will get justice from the Pei's elders in discharging their judicial functions. All civil (marriage, divorce, adoption, succession, property, recovery of debt etc.) and criminal cases (assault, adultery, abduction, murder, killing, theft, rape, fighting, injury, dismantle of house etc.) are brought before the Pei for justice.

But some emergency cases like murder, killing etc. are settled in the household of the killed. The boundary disputes in respect of paddy fields, adultery, murder, dismantle the house etc. are termed as serious crime. It is also a crime to call somebody as Chagamei, vampire, Napneimei, beggar etc. in Zeliangrong society. Luangwarak (punitive fine), a pig of five cubic with a jar of wine is imposed on the guilty person; (Luang means village; warak, punishment).

All the disputes are settled and justice is given to the aggrieved party by enforcing the customary law of the people. Among the Zeliangrongs, capital punishment is unknown but severest is banishment and excommunication. However, all the disputes and differences between the families are decided as far as possible by the clan elders. Junior members have respect and obey their elders because of their position in the society. The decision taken by the clan elders is equally honored as the decision of the Pei.

If the clan elders can not settle a case satisfactorily, the case is referred to the Pei, village court.38 The decision of the Pei is final and there is no appeal against its decision.39 The Pei often settles the cases of all and sundry, giving no room of discrimination on the ground of rich or poor; this clan or that clan; this village or that village and this tribe or that tribe, but they look equal in the eye of customary laws.

However, the decision of the village court must be satisfied by both the aggrieved and accused party, and if any party tries to contempt the court decision, such party will be castigated under the provision of customary law within the jurisdiction of the village court. The judicial procedure is simple, as an aggrieved person or party can lodge a complaint orally to the Pei by giving a jar of wine. This is locally called Peikai Joulai Ponloumei.

Various remedies are available to the victim of a civil wrong. The two most common are restitution and compensation. Both can be obtained either through agreement between the parties concerned or through the decisions of the village court. In restitution, the effect of the remedy is to cancel, so far as possible, the wrongful act. A trespasser will be removed; borrowed property will be restored; an unfulfilled contract will be carried out; a disputed right will be upheld.

In compensation, the victim receives damages for a wrong which cannot be undone, such as seduction, damage to property, defamation etc. Another remedy, more commonly exercised in ancient times, is to 'take the law into one's own hands' and forcibly exact what satisfaction one can. Generally speaking, however, the tendency has been for the tribal authority to eliminate retaliation as far as possible in favour of the acceptance of compensation. The most common punishments are the imposition of a fine.

The fines, like most forms of compensation, usually consist in livestock. The amount varies from a single beast to the confiscation of the culprit's entire property, according to his position, the enormity of his offence, his previous record, and his ability to pay. Any offender may be punished regardless of sex or social position. Banishment or excommunication from the village is an alternative punishment. Another form of punishment sometimes administers in the olden days was bodily mutilation, such as depriving a man of his ear or hand if he is a habitual offender.

Imprisonment has not yet become part of the tribal system. The character of a wrongdoer also plays an important part in determining the attitude adopted towards him. If he readily admits his offence, he may be dealt with lightly, and sometimes even excused altogether. But if he is insolent or obstreperous, even in the overwhelming evince against him, he will be penalized more severely than usual. Similarly, a habitual offender is always more severely penalized than first offender.

In Zeliangrong society, the head of the family is responsible for all his dependents. He is responsible for the payment of their debts, as well as of any fines imposed upon them or damages awarded against them. But where they commit an offence meriting punishment by thrashing/beating, it is the actual offender who is punished, and not his guardian. The owner of livestock is similarly liable for any damage they do, provided it can be shown that he has failed to look after them properly. There is a Zeliangrong saying Si Bayita Sipou Phuye.

Zeliangrong customary justice is a product of natural justice. Though it is transmitted orally from the forefathers, it has become enriched with the experience thus gained during the process of practice through the generations. It is here discussed how they administer justice regarding the followings:

Theft (Kaihou Laohutmei): The common practice among the Zeliangrongs in case of theft is the culprit will offer a pig of five cubits (Guaku Pungu) with a jar of wine (Joulai Akhat) as punitive fine (Luangwarak) to the Pei whose duty is to trace and find out the culprit and force him to return or compensate not only for the stolen things, but also the fine for stealing. Thus, the pig with a jar of wine offered to the court is considered as Luangwarak and at the same time he will also pay an appropriate fine or compensation; either by returning the stolen articles or by giving the value of the goods that he has stolen.

M McCulloch says that "if the thief should happen to be a married man is punished severely, but a young unmarried man might with impunity steal grain not yet housed, while theft from a granary would subject him to the severest punishment." In the opinion of T. C Hodson, the fine for thief from a granary is one pig. An act of thief committed by a married man is considered very shameful in the society. The simple fact is that he does dishonour and disgrace the whole clan as well as his own family.

In any circumstances theft has been regarded as an act of laziness and those who committed theft always receives a curse from the society. In case of professional thief, the Pei pushes him out of the village for years or forever, because the further presence of such a person in the village is harmful to the community. Sometimes, such case of thief is also settled without referring to the Pei by a joint sitting of two clans' heads.

It is usually held in the house of the injured family; the offender will offer a pig as fine called Goiton in addition to either by returning the same thing or by compensating the same value of articles he has stolen. A feast called Jeigan Tumei is arranged in the same house where two clans' heads and Pei elders including the Nampou as arbiters will take part.

The two individuals or parties involved in the case will exchange their food plates and eat, which signifies the closing of unfriendliness. This is locally called Ginkha Ginlondatnuthe. If thief happens within the same clan or lineage, the case is settled by the elders of the clan.

Rape (Pumshumanmei): A man is said to have committed if he has had sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent through the use of force, or by threatening her with death or other punishments. This is locally called Pumshumanmei. It is a serious offence in the society. Since early days, it was believed that rape brought bad luck to the rapist, no wise man ever dared to rape.

Thus, rape was and is very rare among the Zeliangrong though it is rare, if it is complained by the affected woman or girl to the village Pei, it is the responsibility of the Pei to trace the offender and the case is heard and punished him. The Pei will impose heavy fine upon the family of the rapist such as a pig of five cubits with jar of wine as punitive fine (Luangwarak) and a buffalo/cow/bison (Mashi/Jaoshi Goi) to be given to the family of the girl for causing disgrace to the prestige and chastity of a woman or girl.

It is also said that the cloth of the rapist will be removed by the villagers and will hang in a place where everyone can see and saying these: "It is the cloth for the man who can rape woman." Mere attempt of rape also, if proven, resulted in a punitive fine for the Pei and a four-legged animal (buffalo/cow/bison) to be paid by the culprit to the girl. Among the Maram Naga, in the rape case, the accused person has to pay a minimum fine of one cow and may even be beaten up by the villagers.

In Poumai society, the man will be either bashed up or crippled by the woman's relatives or pay a heavy fine of cattle or paddy or both. As a general rule, the rapist can be beaten to death or cripple for his life so that he may not repeat the same, if the cry of the girl or woman attracts others to the scene of raping. The rapist would also be beaten even latter at the first chance if he had escaped earlier.

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 July 09, 2019.

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