Zeliangrong women : Role and status in traditional society
- Part 1 -

Dr Budha Kamei *

"Give me good mothers and I shall give you a great nation!"

1. Introduction

The Zeliangrong are one of the natives of Northeast India belonging to the Tibeto-Burman family (Grierson, 2000:477). Like other native peoples, they also have a long history and rich culture which handed down in oral tradition through the ages. The population of this group is found mainly in the Tamenglong and Noney districts of Manipur. These people are found scattered also in the neigbouring districts of Tamenglong District namely, Churachandpur District, Senapati District, Imphal West District, Imphal East District, Thoubal District and Bishnupur District.

Outside the state of Manipur, they are found settling in Nagaland in its Paren District, and Kohima, and in Assam in its Haflong sub-division of Cachar District and Hailakandi District. The article is an attempt to examine the role and status of Zeliangrong women in traditional society.

2. Methods and materials

The necessary data of the study have been collected from available primary and secondary sources and also from interviews.

3. Women's role and status in society

A society is a group of individuals having a distinct culture and bound together into one homogenous group and they exist through their activities in various ways of life. The Zeliangrong have well-knit social system since ancient times. The foundation of the Zeliangrong society is based on kinship and clan system. They are divided into four totemistic clans namely, Kamei, Gangmei, Gonmei and Rongmei. Being a patrilineal society, descent is reckoned through male line. The term status is a very elusive one.

In sociology, the term status is used as a synonym for role (Majumdar and Madan 1987:141). The Zeliangrong women enjoy a great deal of freedom. They have right to marry, divorce and choose their mates of their own choice. There is no restriction of woman in social participation. Women are not secluded; and they freely eat and drink in the company of menfolk. Boys and girls dance together in time of festivals and other social functions. No inequality marks the observation of male and female childbirths. The rites and ceremonies are almost common to them.

In a family, a woman enjoys a privileged position. The family and kinship usages do not impose on her with extra taboos and impositions. However, she has some restrictions which are also applicable to men. In inter-personal relations, the role of woman is almost at same level with her male counterpart. In the arena of competence the woman is not considered inferior to man. And she is also treated as intelligent.

3.1 Woman as a wife

Woman is man's partner and friend. She does sacrifice her personal pleasure and ambitions, sets standard of morality, relieves tension of husband, maintains peace and order in the family. Thereby she does create necessary environment for her husband to think more about the prosperity of the family. She is the source of inspiration to man for high endeavor and worth achievements in life.

She does stand by him in the crisis as well as she shares with him all successes and achievements. She is the person to whom he does turn for love, sympathy, understanding, comfort and recognition. She is the symbol of purity and faithfulness to her husband.

3.1.1 Woman as a mother

Zeliangrong woman as a wife enjoys ideally a status almost equivalent to that of her husband and performs both social as well as biological functions. In the family, she does perform the task of whole burden of child bearing and greater part of child rearing. She is responsible for the child's habit of self-control, carefulness, industriousness and honesty. She sets up the child behavior pattern during the most formative period of a child development.

She is thus responsible for the maintenance of utmost discipline in the family. She is the only teacher who transmits cultural heritage to the child. It is from mother that the child learns the norms of the society, the manner, moral code and ideals. The mother, because of her intimate and sustained contact with the child, she is able to discover and nurture child's special traits aptitudes and attitudes which subsequently play a vital role in the shaping of his/her personality.

She is the only person who does care for wellbeing of the family members. She does organize the home and its activities in such a way so that each member of the family has proper food, adequate sleep and sufficient recreation. She made the home a place of quite comfortable and appropriate setting for the children through her talent.

Besides, she cultivates taste in interior arrangement, so that the home does become an inviting, peaceful and cheerful place. She is the central personality of the home and the family circle. All the family members turn to her for sympathy, understanding and recognition. She does devote her time, labour and thought for the welfare and prosperity of the family members.

3.1.2 Participation of women in village polity, religious and economic activities

The Zeliangrong people lived in the villages and their attachment to the village and village lands is very strong (McCulloch, 1980: 53). The real political unit of the Zeliangrong is the village (Mill, 1980: 176) with its definite territory with a well knit social system and religious organization (Hudson, 1996: 73-74). Each Zeliangrong village is ruled by Pei, a council of elders. In the Pei, women have not been given any place. So they are totally out of the scene in this regard. However, they are not represented in the Pei but they are powerful and influential in getting their wishes through their husbands (Kamei, 2016:243).

The women play a very important role in the Zeliangrong society, particularly in the economic activities. In short, every aspect of economic activities falls in the hands of womenfolk. For instance, a woman's work includes different activities starting from household chores to the heavy work of agricultural and horticultural activities.

It is the normal duty of a woman to collect drinking water (Dui) from the water sources like ponds or spring or river, firewood (Thing) from the nearby woods, edible items like vegetables, roots, shoots, tubers, spices and fruits either from jhum fields (cultivated) or forests (wild).

In addition to this, she prepares the jhum fields by tilling or uprooting the soils with the help of a small hoe called Phuton for the plantation of various crops at the same time (mixed cropping). The main duties of the menfolk (either husband or parents or guardians or brothers) are to fall down the trees of the thick forest, let them dry in the sun and burnt them (slash and burnt method). After sowing the seeds, it is also the duty of the women to protect the seeds from birds and animals during the day time till the seeds germinate.

Moreover, they also take tender care to grow the plants nicely. In this regard they are weeders too. As stated above, the male members take part in clearing the jhum fields (Laopuk) and making fences to protect the crops from wild animals. Above all, in harvesting also women take major part i.e. they use to reap, thrash and transport the harvested crops.

As stated earlier, women use to collect water with bamboo tubes for their daily use such as for cooking, cleaning, bathing, washing etc. Similarly, they collect the logs of firewood on their shoulders using their transporting baskets (Kah). After reaching home, it is their duty to cut the firewood logs into small pieces to dry in the sun and burn quickly. The same process is followed in the case of paddy.

They help in transporting the harvested crops and store them in their granaries. Then, it is also their duty to let the paddy dry in the sun (bask) and husk or pound them in the early hour. They make it ready for cooking and also for brewing Zoungao, rice-beer. Moreover, it is their routine work to maintain their family with food supplements and cash.

The woman usually rears various domestic animals for consumption or for economic development of the family (if the woman is married) or of her own (if the woman is unmarried, this is counted as her property) and becomes her bridal gifts. The domesticated animals include fowls, dogs, pigs etc. It is the right of the woman to sell or buy these domestic animals, thus men have no right over these domesticated animals.

They can consume or sell with the consent of the woman concerned. To rear these animals, the woman takes all the possible responsibilities like feeding, taking care or looking after them etc. In some families, they are helped by their children.

(To be contd)

* 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 March 11, 2019.

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