Zeliangrong women : Role and status in traditional society
- Part 2 -

Dr Budha Kamei *

The Zeliangrong women are also good weavers. They weave different clothes for their own use, because it is the duty of the woman to supply the clothing of her family members by weaving. The woman who does not have the knowledge of weaving is laughed at by the villagers. She is not appreciated by all.

In the case of unmarried girls, people use to select the girl who is skilled in all respects and her Man (bride price) is also high. According to Zeliangrong custom and tradition, weaving is an inseparable work of economic activity assigned to each and every woman.

The Zeliangrong indigenous religion does not prohibit the women's participation in various rituals, festivals and ceremonies. The women have also been admitted in the religious order. It is clearly seen in annual festival of Ginki, Nanu Ngai etc. In regard with religious functions of the society, some restrictions are imposed on women. They are not allowed to take part in some of the rites of the family such as Duikhangmei, Laokhangmei etc. which are usually observed outside the village gate.

But on the day of Napkaodai festival, the wife of Napmupou (in charge of agricultural rites) plants various seeds at a clear spot near the village gate with relevant hymns. Woman is however, permitted to perform family rites like Napchammei, Ginkimei etc. (Jenphul 2000:131-132). The Zeliangrong people perform Ginki every year for abundant food grain.

In the worship and entertainment of Kangdailui (goddess of food grain) they offer special items of food such as Nap (rice), Jankang (dry meat), Gan (cooked curry), Charungbung (egg), and a wine cup made of banana leaf placing on a Pantanglu (winnowing fan). It is believed that Kangdailu is found of crabs, so even a tiny piece of crab is compulsory among the food items or if crab is not found similar species are offered (Chingmeirong Pei, 2004: 53).

This ritual offering is performed inside the house by the mother of the household with prayer to the Goddess. The offering procedure is simple and of short duration. The fifth day of Gaan Ngai festival is known as Napchan Ngai. On this day, a ceremony called Napkao (calling of the paddy) offering of pig and fowls is performed at their respective dormitories such as Khangchu and Luchu to restore the consumed and wasted rice during the festival invoking Tingkao Ragwang (Supreme God) and Kangdailu for the plentiful harvest in the coming year.

Offering of the best part of the killed animal or fowl i.e. the liver with rice and drink are placed on the hearth stones. It is believed that Kangdailu(Goddess of food grain), lives in the form of hearth stone. The same offering is placed on the Nashampantilai, grain jar which is considered to be the core of all wealth. The ritual is carried out by the household mother.

On the second day Nanu Ngai, in the early morning, an old woman of the village will bring water from the Khundai (village pond) for bathing the baby and cooking for ritual offerings. This water is locally recognized as Kakhudui(sacred water) (Pongringlong Kairong Chapriak, 1999-2000:21). In the evening, Nanu Lam, Nanu dance is performed by old women with relevant songs sung by the elderly men at every household of the child born in the preceding year (Chingmeirong Pei, 2004: 58-59).

3.1.3 Household Management:

The main task of woman in the household management started with the household chores. It is stated in the woman's role in economic activities that all works fall on the womenfolk. For instance, they use to prepare meals and feed their family members. Before cooking, they usually pound the rice as it is their routine work. They also arrange the vegetables or any edible items (either roots or shoots or edible lichens and fungi) to prepare their daily curry.

Thus various types of curry are prepared from their own collection from their kitchen gardens, jhum fields and forests. Menfolk on the other hand supply the meat of wild animals that they hunted from the forests or fishes caught from streams and rivers. The remaining necessary materials are taken care of by the women. Thus, the Zeliangrong women are very hard work. In all respects, they are indeed worthy of praise.

3.1.4 Right of inheritance of women:

Inheritance is the practice of passing on property, titles, debts, and obligations upon the death of an individual. According to L. H. Morgan (1982:548), inheritance is the distribution of property among the cognate kindred. With descent in the male line, the children of a diseased would stand at the head of the cognate and very naturally received the portion of the inheritance. Another scholar, Robert H. Lowie (1950: 145) opines that rule of inheritance is like the whole of property law reflects the total ideology of a society.

Law of inheritance indeed gives an unpleasant insight into the socio-economic and political formulation of any society. In the opinion of Kinglsey Davis (1981:409), inheritance is an institution of kinship and a dominant pattern in family organization in any society. In addition to property of various kinds, rights and obligations, crafts and skill might be passed on in accordance with kinship roles. Succession to office, kinship and to other social roles and statuses is also very often determined by kinship criteria.

In the traditional Zeliangrong society, the right of inheritance for women is limited. They can only inherit some property like paddy fields from their parents (if the parents are wealthy persons and offer the item as marriage gift). Otherwise they have no right to claim.

Unlike the Garos, no daughters can inherit property of the parents (Play Fair, 1975:71). On the other hand, a woman can inherit the property whatever her husband possesses. She has the right to distribute it among her children according to her will. If the husband has a second wife and the first wife remains at her husband's residence with or without her children, she gets half of her husband's property otherwise she does not have any right to claim.

If a husband wants to divorce her without her fault, he returns the bridal gifts along with the divorced woman. Besides, the bride-price called Man is forfeited by the woman's party. If the woman is a wrong doer or guilty person she or her party returns the bride price (taken at the time of marriage) to the husband.

4. Conclusion :

After observing the above facts, we can conclude that the Zeliangrong women enjoy a great deal of freedom. They have inherited property through male line since the preference in the matter of inheritance has been given to male only. However, they also have privilege in this matter i. e in the absence of a son in the family, the daughter has the right to inherit her parental property including house, land and mother's property.

The ecology of their habitat and the limited working season compel the Zeliangrong people to work hard for their existence. The women make more contribution in agricultural and horticultural activities. This is the addition to their household chores including weaving. They have enjoyed more freedom and privileges in their social, cultural and religious life. The only disadvantage is in the field of education. Girls were never encouraged for higher studies.

So they remained uneducated for a long time. Now, girls are taking up education in large number and the number of school going girl is increasing day by day. The change in the outlook has also been marked with the increase of educated persons in the society. It is Zeliangrong community which has produced a freedom fighter and religious leader like Rani Gaidinliu (Kamei 2004:260).

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 March 16, 2019.

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