TODAY -

Reinvigorating the Awl-len festival

Manglunsang Vaiphei *



The phrase 'Awl-len' is a vaiphei dialect, where 'awl' means calm or tranquil or lax and 'len' means period. In short, it is a festival celebrated during periods of laxity or calamity.

This festival is celebrated in the month of February where hill cultivators particularly the Vaiphei Community were in a period of rest from heavy work. Occasionally, people harvest during the months of October and November and the following months were the periods of satisfaction which they cherished and enjoyed with pomp and gaiety until a new season approaches again. They prayed to their almighty God for the abundance of food which they had reap for the last season. The Awl-len is a post-harvest festival, where people asked God to pour with blessings for the next season.

The Vaiphei Tribe have two festivals in their own. One is Thazing lap, a pre-harvest festival which is celebrated in the month of September. And the other is the much awaited Awl-len festival to be celebrated on this February 28 in Churachandpur District under the banner, "La Nasep phat zial in la Nam malzawl in um in a" (Let your good deeds yield blessings to the Community), which will be hosted by the YVA (Young Vaiphei Association) GHQs.

The Vaiphei People from different regions of Myanmar, Mizoram , Assam and other northeastern states will assemble in this vigorous festival. The Tribesmen of North-east India, have their own distinct traditions and indeed, have their own origin based on the Cave or Hollow earth theory. And no doubt, it is true by oral traditions such as folk tales, folk songs, lore and their genealogical trees.

The most upheld theory of the Vaiphei history can be trace back to their progenitor, Pu Zahawng, who left his native home(cave) and settle in a village called Khawvaiphei in the erstwhile siyin region. From time to time, they practising Shifting Cultivation and till now, they continued to practise this traditional type of Cultivation.

During the days of heavy work, they toil and persist in the field, so as to get an enormous food production which could suffice them for the year. Season changes , the period of Awl-len approaches!

In the olden days, the festival had been like this. The Tangsampu, (Village Crier) under the command of the Hausa (Village Chief) will declared the Awl-len festival with a cry, "ka Chun leh zuan, ka khaw mipite, Khuanu malsawmna I dawng kik tau, Awl-len tha'n ei ngak hii" (Ohh!!!my dear and near ones, we earn God's blessings; and the Awl-len awaits us) .

Then, people irrespective of their age groups will come out plying in the field to hear their Chief's arrangement for the cherished festival,which is not celebrated annually. This festival is celebrated when the community could gather plenty of foods for the past year and to pay thanksgiving to the almighty so as to continue with the blessings.

Simply, this is a post-harvest festival performed after the grains are transported from the Jhums and stored in the granaries. This festival is hosted by group of fervent individuals which usually lasted for 2-3 days depending upon their enthusiasms. But, when uncomfortable circumstances came up in the village like galguks (wars), mithi (funerals), it ceased.

On the eve of this festival, bachelors and some brave men went to the forests for sadel(hunting),where wild animals had to be killed on the first day of the festival. They killed the wild animals such as wild boar, deer,etc into pieces and grill in the bonfire.

In the nighttime, the most interesting programmes acrrues with the youths bringing out several instruments like Khuang(Drum), Dakpi(big gong), Gawsem(flute), Selangdak(Modern day guitar), Sialki(horn of Mithun), and Pengkul(like Trumpet).

Several dances like pheiphit Laam using Gawsem and Khuang, Dakcha Laam using Dakpi, sialki and Khuang were performed by men and women in the celebration site.

Of all this, the Vaiphei community had its most popular dance called LaamKual, which features boys and girls with majestic moves encircling the bonfire. On the daytime, recreational activities called Gualnawp were also done so as to improve body physically and mentally fitted. Various activities like Kungkan(a type of high jump where a man had to leap over the Mithun).

A man is regarded as a Tangval (full-fledged bachelor) if he could leap over the tall Mithun. The kind of football they played was one using a pomelo fruit(Citrus maxima), between two groups comprising of 7 men, and the ball was replaced if it happens to burst. In this, the children are responsible to find a new ball in the forest side to pluck the biggest pomelo.

In this, the Vaiphei community enjoyed this festival and invoke to their almighty for more blessings in the coming year. Every era of Vaiphei life had been influenced by the newfound religion. Before the advent of Christianity in the Vaiphei area, the Vaiphei tribal world-view was bounded within a village or at the most to a particular geographical area or areas.

Christianity has brought a new world-view to the Vaiphei people not only by exposing them to the Indian nation but also to the international world. The vaipheis were the first converts among the Kuki-chin-Mizo of Manipur wayback on 17 February, 1910 when two vaiphei youths, Pu Thangkai and Pu Lungpau received the Word of God from a missionary, Rev. Watkin Robers.

Within a few years of Christianisation many Vaiphei people embraced the new religion, and no doubt, cent per cent of the Vaiphei community are Christians. However, due to coming of Christianity, our traditional ethos and pratices seems to be dwindling over and over, which is indeed, a ruin of our traditional heritage.

Christianity has a far reaching impact on Vaiphei culture and tradition. Some felt that most of the cultural traditions of the early Vaiphei people were profusely connected with old religious practices and considered liquor(used in some festivals or kuts) as incompatible with Christian living. They also felt strongly discouraged to participate and indulge in any of the festivals and cultural ceremonies like Thazing-Lap and other Kuts or cultural activities as they thought such activities would hold them and pull them back to their olden times.

In fact, traditional cultural dances, today, have become items in the cultural functions and some such occasions only. Thus, slowly and gradually, the importance of Vaiphei cultural festivals, other social gatherings and amusement lost their importance and has fallen almost in complete disuse.

In the nutshell, the present time is a high time that the Vaiphei cultural heritage should be revived in a refined way and go along with Christianity and it is to be acknowledged by different sections of the people of Manipur in revitalizing the old aged traditions for the overall development of the Community.


* Manglunsang Vaiphei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at manglunsang1235(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on March 06, 2019.



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