Chagah Festival & Its Significance

Kaikhamang Daimai *

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

The Liangmais are one of the indigenous inhabitants of the North Eastern Region of India. They are found scattered in the States of Manipur and Nagaland and concentrated in the District of Tamenglong in Manipur and Peren in Nagaland. The Liangmais are great lover of dance and music. Their aesthetic sense of love for beauty are expressed through their dances and enchanting songs. Throughout the year, they celebrate seasonal festivals by which they exhibit their graceful dances and songs.

The Chagah festival is one of the most celebrated festivals of the Liangmais. It is rather a war festival on one hand and festival of sanctification on the other. It is celebrated in the month of Chagah Hiu i.e. October every year. The celebration drags on for five days. Practically it is a festival of male members of the society.

Traditionally, all male members had to observe a strict food restriction and keep themselves physically clean as soon as the moon appears in the sky till the celebration over. All kinds of creeper food are prohibited particularly for grown up ones. The belief behind the food restriction was that if any one consumes the creeper food like pumpkin, bean, cucumber etc., the creeper would bind his leg when he goes for hunting and other games. So consumption of such food is restricted for them till the celebration is over.

The significance of keeping oneself physically clean was that having physical contact with woman while preparing for the game of head hunting, festival was considered as defiled from the war point of view. Every one, particularly those who intends to go for the game should therefore, keep themselves clean.

The celebration starts with the pounding of paddy for rice beer and rice for consumption during the festival the first day is called Chagah Thuk Thoubo. The following two days is meant for fermentation of the powdered rice mixed with boiled hot water and yeast. It is called Zou Madunbo. The mixture is kept in a wooden container locally called Kaphup. During this days, the young boys of close relatives of their respective clans have to collect fire woods which are supposed to have not been touched by woman and keep the same separately for use during the festival.

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

The third day continues after a gap of 2/3 days. It is the real beginning of the festival. The celebration sparks out with making of a new fire by the priest notionally. Fire making ceremony is known as Chagah Mi Malapbo. Fresh fire is produced by a dry bamboo rope against a dry wood purposely made for the occasion. The wooden materials used for making fire is called Magang. The fire so ignited is distributed to every household and the old fire will be replaced by this fresh fire in their hearth. The third day id called Chaga Malap Wangbo.

A portent is taken at the time of igniting fire. While rubbing the dry bamboo rope against the Magang, naturally the rope is broken into two parts. If the rope is broken into equal parts, it is taken as good. The year would be free from any outside intrusion and fetch bountiful harvest. On the other hand, if either of the broken part is longer or shorter, the portent is considered as bad. All kinds of sicknesses, shortage of food grain or outside intrusion are heralded.

One of the most ritually important parts of the Chagah festival is Tathe Thonbo. It takes place in the evening of the third day The close blood related relatives of the respective clans form a group locally known as Chagah Phuam. The eldest member in the group has to lead the Tathe Thonbo ceremony. He has to frighten the spirit of the enemy with the following proclamation:-

"Hey, tingkum jari wangja,
athe thon sune, Aky Rambow ga atu mikremai,
atu atai nijiu kabam mai,
pami ka-nga mitheng pon matang lujiu tagoi bambose,
athe wang leng tiulo, (tathe thon padjiu pakhangmai kahu chin chin khai).

Abiu thiu e, atei phuatle,
aba sha e, azou niang e,
wang leng tiulo, thaa,
atei-azou saklu atampi sui wanglo."

Random translation:- "With the coming of the season, let me make this solemn proclamation, My enemy who are loitering around my homestead land like long tailed monkey eying to attack, come and take my food. (The tathe food will be thrown out, the members will shout to the spirit of the enemy with hawling). My food is tasty, my beer is sweet, my pork is fatty, come and take my food to your stomach and be of hunted head (taking of enemy's food is tabooed, if one takes, he is destined to be hunted of). After the Tathe Thonbo Ceremony, the member can relish their food, till then no one should take any food.

The fourth day of the celebration is the most elaborated day. It is marked by Peng Kepbo. It means attack of a wooden human figurine by all male members with arrows and a kind of reed locally known as Maram or Ading. The wood for making the figurine is collected by the selected young members of boys dormitory. The nominated boys have to go to jungle early in the morning before sun rise and get the wood. There is a particular brand of wood usually used for this purpose (this day people use any kind of wood).

When the selected wood stem is brought, the elder member have to shape the material in human figure, the wood & figurine should not be touched by women, if any woman touch the figurine, it considered defiled. The figurine is painted with multiple choice targets of different significances. Then the figurine will be erected and keep ready for the show. The priest of the village will announce the commencement of the game to all villagers.

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

All male members who can shoot at the figurine have to take the spike made of reeds kept ready for the show. They will converse at the central place and from there they will march towards the site where the figurine is erected with hawling/shouting in the manner of bee marching.

As they reach the site, everyone has to shoot at his wished target painted in the figurine. The head represents the enemy and if one hits the head, he is supposed to win the war/feud during the year. This target is called Charibai.

In the second place, there is Tathiubai which is the neck portion. The one who hits this target will succeed his hunted game the third target is Aliubai. It is the chest portion and the one who hits this target will be able to woo many girls in his life time. In the fourth place there is Chamiubai and the target is stomach portion.

The one who succeed is targeting this portion will have a good harvest. Lastly the target below the stomach is collectively called Majiubai. These targets carry negative influences. Anybody who hits one of the targets is believed to fall in sick, death or misfortune. Therefore every one aims at the target above the stomach.

On the fifth or last day, whatever provision prepared for the festival is to be consumed. Several dished of meat and rice beer will be gathered at Khangchiuky i.e. Male dormitory and elder members will enjoy it. They narrate stories and sing songs related to Changah festival and tt passes on to young one. Inter mingling of men and women are permitted again. Young boys and girls enjoy the day by playing games of their interest like tug of war, jumping etc. they also share food with each other.

Junior boys will sing song of victory over their enemy led by elders ones of the dormitory by going around the whole village. Later in the evening, grown up boys will join them in full costumes in singing till midnight. Then they will visit girls dormitory in singing and asking them to forgive for whatever excess they might had committed during the festival and release the girl from customary bound activities of weaving etc. during the celebration.

On the following day a second portent is again taken by breaking bamboo mug used during the festival into two halves and drop on the ground. The breaking of bamboo mug is done at once cut with an utterance to the effect that if he has to lead a favorable year, let the two halves of bamboo mug fall one downward and the other upward, otherwise the portent is considered negative. Food restriction on the part of men is still enforced till the last rite of Aliambo.

The last day is also the day of Jhum site selection, early in the morning, two young members of the adult dormitory will go to harvested forest to cut a kind of bamboo locally called Kahiu. While cutting the bamboo they should not take breath anil cut it in one stroke. They will bring the so cut bamboo where a portent is to be taken. The site for this ritual performance is just below the village gate. The Kahiu would be cut in two equal halves and held by village chief priest and his deputy at both ends.

The Chief Priest would ask to God of Jhum site to let them know it the cultivation of particular area would be giving to his villagers. If the response is affirmative, the bamboo pieces will bulge out in the middle, if negative, it will shrink in. Till they get positive signal, they will keep on asking the god of arable area within the village land by naming the eligible site one by one. In this way Jhuming site is selected for the next year cultivation.

* Kaikhamang Daimai wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao
The writer is Retd. Director of Tribal Research Institute Manipur, Imphal
This article was posted on October 30, 2014.

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