TODAY -

Chaga Ngee (The Blessed Festival) : Liangmai ethnic people
- Part 1 -

Adibo Newmei *

Chagah Festival : Annual festival of Liangmai at Taphou Liangmai village, Senapati on Oct 30, 2012
Chagah Festival : Annual festival of Liangmai at Taphou Liangmai village, Senapati on Oct 30, 2012
Pix - Popcha Yambem



The Liangmai ethnic people are one of the indigenous people of Manipur. They are an agrarian society. During the olden days jhum cultivation was viable and productive. Perhaps one of the reasons was that the forest and the land were virgin and fertile and the people hard working. The annual harvest was always a good harvest surplus for almost every house-hold.

Different kinds of festivals and feasts of merit are celebrated by the villagers throughout the year. It is usually celebrated in order to appease the god to invoke his blessing or thanksgiving to mark the end of every occasion. Every festival involves huge amount of rice-beer and other edible items. All the villagers are able to afford or to sustain and participate during the festivity. With the exception of "Chaga" which is for the male group only, everyone participate in the festival.

Chaga is one of the most important festivals. Many Liangmai elders have opined differently about the meaning of "Chaga". Some say it is a festival of the sanctification, preparation for war, war festival and seeking God's blessing for the next year. But most of them agree that it is a process of sanctification of the body and mind to get blessing in whatever form for ambitions one aspire to have. In short one can call it a blessed festival.

Chaga is annually celebrated during the autumn season, Chariuting, Chaga Hiu (month of Chaga) which usually falls in the late part of October or the early part of November. It depends on the sighting of the moon as the Liangmais follow the lunar calendar. For the Liangmai villagers every month is a month of festivals. Except for a month called the Chahiu Sinbo (Molomas-doubling of a month/presuming two months as one). This Chahiu Sinbo will be observed during the rainy season after every 7-8 years when the plants, flowers or the seasons do not tally with the counting of the months. During this month there is no festival, rituals, feast of merits etc.

During Chariu Ting (autumn season) particularly in the month of Chaga Hiu, the Liangmais believe that God has blessed the land; the climate is neither hot nor cold, but is moderate, the field, the plants and the trees are productive. The jhum fields are harvested, granaries are filled up with vegetables like pumpkin, yam, gourd, chilly, ginger etc. are in abundance and are cultured and preserved for future use. Even domesticated and wild animals are healthy. In other words God is happy and have blessed everything. Therefore the Liangmai people during this season take the opportunity to be blessed by the gods.

The main objective is to appease the Charawang (god) and to seek his blessing. Each individual tries to purify/sanctify themselves. Everyone hopes to be blessed and bestowed to become a great warrior/hunter/wealthy/great lover as desired by an individual and to be free from sickness and misfortune. Each individual looks for good omens or signs during Peng Kepbo for the coming year.

The preparation made by each individual for 'Chaga' is very meticulous compared to preparation made for other festivals and each must be committed to please god. The men folk themselves initiate to purify the mind, body and soul and must remain cleansed but a mere pretension will have to face the wrath of god.

The Singku (chief priest), Pakhangpi (leader of the morung) and subordinates take initiative in observing and maintaining the lunar calendar. They also observe seasonal chirping of birds, blooming of flowers particularly Chaga Rapen (Chaga flower) known today as the Christmas flower. The Chaga calendar is strictly maintained with the first appearance of the moon during Chaga time. The day of the festival is counted by marking it by color (using charcoal) or given a cut mark by a Chaheng (matchet) each day (daily by a member of the morung) on a wooden plank or pole purposely shaped for use and placed in front of the Khangchiuky. This cut mark is called Chaga Hengsa. Thus the priest is able to fix a particular day for the commencement of the festival. The attempt is to get a full moon in the festival and is known as Chagah Hiu Pahbo.

It is believed that one who sees the first sight of the moon is fortunate and he will be blessed to fulfill his life ambition. Therefore everyone eagerly observe the heavenly bodies and clamour to be the first person to see the moon. As soon as the new moon is sighted every villager takes great precautions from falling sick or getting injured. Venturing out for hunting or going to distant places is avoided and even mothers caution their children not to venture out and remain alert while playing on the eve of the festivals less they fall prey to unforeseen ill luck or injuries. It is taboo to be sick or injured and remain bed ridden during the festival.

Restriction:

Food restriction: All the members who are to participate in the Chaga have to abstain from certain from certain food habits. Particularly creeper vegetables like pumpkin, gourd, cucumber, varieties of beans and even vegetables from the forest. It is believed that consumption of such will hinder him or make him stumble. These creepers will entwine their legs while going for head hunting or hunting wild animals or participating in village sports. Abstaining from these vegetables continue until the Chaga is over.

Restriction for some men: Some men are also debarred by customs, such persons are men whose wives are pregnant, Kasaipuimai i.e. those persons who carried or accompanied dead bodies to neighbouring villages, those family members who are on Tadiabo ritual (Family who still believes in living together with the death soul till the end of year.)

Restriction for women: All members who are to participate in the Chaga will not have physical contact with women. To get blessing from the god one must be ritually purified or sanctified. This restriction will continue till the Chaga is over.

Restriction for travelers: During Chaga, travelers from outside the village are not welcome. Traditionally, travelers shy away from such villages who are celebrating Chaga Festival. In case, if any person enters unknowingly, they will not be allowed to leave the village till the festival is over.

Preparation for Chaga: Before, the advent of the full moon of Chaga Hiu all the materials required during the festival are well stocked particularly rice and meat. As the moon of Chaga Hiu is sighted, Pakhangpi, the leader of Khangchiuky or morung (boys dormitory) will initiate the members for various sorts of assignments. The assignment is the collection of materials to be used during the festivals like gathering of fire-wood, banana leaves, bamboo tumblers or mug called Chaga Piang, bamboo for making bamboo plate called Chaga Kuang. The place for collection of such materials is already ear-marked by Singku and leaders of the morung.

Pakhangpi will assign these various works to its junior members in groups. He will give proper direction and assign particular water-holes call Dui Khun for collection of water, Chapaipiu (Bamboo grove), Chagum Lee (banana leaves), Chagum Bee (banana trees), fire-wood and other works. The assigned persons will rinse their mouth, wash their face, body etc. and will fetch water. Other groups will procure other items as assigned to them. All the members who are to participate in Chaga will stay in their respective dormitory. In some Liangmai villages there is a group call "Chaga Phoam". This is a group of male members belonging to the same clan or grandfather. They are a separate group who will perform their own Chaga. On the last day they will join with other group in khangchiuky.

The senior members who had stayed back at Khangchiuky will rinse their mouth and wash their face body etc. When all the members have completed their assigned duties and the members who are to participate in the festivals are assembled, they will come out from the morung led by Singku (Priest) and stand at the court-yard. The priest will ward off evil spirit. They prepare themselves to invoke upon the god Charawang for his blessings, power and success of the festival. Young boys who are not yet qualified to join the khangchiuky will imitate their elders in their dormitory called Chung Khangnaky. Almost every mother will rear a special rooster. During the Chaga these young boys enjoy with various sports as well as cock fighting which is the highlight of the festival of the young ones.

The Beginning of the Festival

The first day is call Chaga Zao Thoubo Nai or the day of pounding rice for Chaga. On this day, rice is pounded to powder for making rice beer. On this special day pounding of rice is helped by the women-folk. The process of getting the finest rice powder is done by women with the help of winnowing fan for consumption.

The second day is call Zao Madungbo Nai or day of fermenting powdered rice. This powdered rice is put on a wooden pot called Kaphup along with hot water. This is also helped by women-folk.

The third day is call Chami Malap Wangbo Nai or day of making new fire. On this day all the fire of the entire village will be extinguished. The new fire will be made by the priest or Pakhangpi by rubbing on a day wooden piece by a bamboo or rope. This new fire will be rekindled by each male house holder and taken to their homes. The new fire in their own hearth marks a new phase of life in the village. After that, restriction of intermingling is relaxed. In some villages, fire in every household hearth will be extinguished. Every family will take the new fire to light their extinguished hearth. (To be contd) The Liangmai tribe observes Chaga Ngee on October 30 every year.

The Liangmais laid great stress for omen while making this new fire. The rope used in the fire will be split in two parts by the heat and fire produced in the process of rubbing vigorously. The burnt end of the right hand side will be observed properly and interpreted with its observance as follows:

1. If the burnt tip of the rope where the outer covering is burnt less than the inner layer there will be discord and differences in the coming New Year.

2. If the burnt tip of the rope is split into many parts there will be lots of quarrel and disease.

3. If the burnt tip of the rope is split into many parts and a small fiber is bent then during hunting spearman will first spear the prey.

4. If the tip of the rope is burnt in a straight line life span of many people will be short and.

5. If the right and left side of the rope are split into two equal parts it is a good omen. They believe the Chaga Ngee is going to be good and so also the coming New Year.

The lady of the house will, well in advance, give enough Kabiu (ginger) to the priest. From amongst the ginger the priest will sort out Majat Biu (new ginger shoot from the right side of the planted ginger), make a plate called Chaluih (Folded banana leaves like a plate to contain article) from Majat gum (piece of banana leave peel off from the right hand side of banana leave) and rice-beer will be poured in Chaluih where Majat Biu is already placed. The Liangmai community gives importance to the right hand side because majority of the people are right handed and accustomed in movement and feels stronger than their left counterpart.

All the members/participants will come out in the courtyard of the Khangchiuky. They shout in unison. "Oh! This year, with the coming of new year, Oh! Let my enemy warrior who may come swiftly like a squirrel may you fall down in front of me. I will throw you out like my Majat Biu and eat my Tathethou Thuan Patbo (throwing out of Chaluih containing ginger and rice beer) which I am throwing out."

All the members will re-enter the Morung. Pakhangpi will pick up Majat Biu and place it on his right thigh and break it with his right hand fist by banging on it. Then, he invoke upon God that all his members are free from sickness, and are able to withstand against attacking warriors, while hunting in the western side of the village, that they are able to spear a bear whose head is as big as Karap (hanging basket above the hearth), wild boar whose teeth is the longest. In the east they will be able to spear a reindeer whose horn is as big as Marao (gourd). Every morning and evening let them bring home meat like bringing in vegetable and pour rice beer.

The Liangmai tribe observes Chaga Ngee on October 30 every year.

To be continued...


* Adibo Newmei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The Writer is The President, Liangmai Writers' Research Forum, Manipur and can be reached at adibonewmei(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on October 31, 2013.


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