TODAY -

Rih-ngai and Mayasvi festivals of the Zeliangrong and the Tsou
- Part 2 -

Budha Kamei *



Only male members of the village perform the activities of the festival and female members are mere spectators. On the eve of the festival every male member of the Khangchiu, male's dormitory observes Lumthengmei, fasting for the purification of one's body, soul and mind, thereby making oneself fortunate and for every challenges of life say ready for war, hunting, fishing, cultivation etc. In the festival, men do not touch women and also fetch water separately.

"The reason for the males and females bringing water separately during this festival is to begin with this ceremony the making of liquor; and the separate eating and cooking of the sexes to be a mark of respect to their gods." The men kill pigs, take a portion for them and give a portion to women. They cooked them separately with new fire and eat separately.

It is similar to the first day of Gaan Ngai festival, but there is no feasting at the dormitory. In the afternoon of the festival, all male members of the dormitory who are armed with spear and dao will walk in procession (Hoigammei) from one end of the village to the another chanting Ho-hoi in chorus. It is an invocation to God for safety and wellbeing of the village. It starts from the Khangchiu after libation of holy wine to God and presiding deities of the village.

Usually, festival includes rites of competition, which often constitute in the form of games. After the Hoi procession, competitions like long jump (Daan Chammei), stone throwing (Tao Phaimei), wrestling (Naokhemmei) etc. are held at the village jumping ground (Daanshanpung). In these competitions, young men of the dormitory fully take part.

The winners are not given prizes, but they are required to pay Shon (fees) for declaring and acknowledging their power and ability. Before the competition, they will perform the Chong Kapmei (shooting of or spearing of the human effigies made of the plantain tree) at the Raang (village gate).

It is believed that one who hits the head of the effigy will be successful in war and hitting on the chest of the effigy is a good luck in hunting. He who strikes at the belly of the effigy will be blessed with bountiful harvest in the year. R. Brown writes, "An effigy of a man made of plaintain is hung on a tree, and at it they throw pointed bamboos or sticks. Should the javelin strike it on the head, the thrower, it is said, will kill an enemy, but if it lodges in the belly, the thrower is to be blessed with plenty of good."

If any woman, who by mistake, eats or drinks which is meant only for male in this festival, she must joint the Chong Kapmei for forgiveness of what she has committed. In the festival, the elderly men of different clans perform Kabaomei (warrior talks), Ritak Phaimei (throwing of rice, and pork meat at the village gate with war hymns), etc. Unlike the Tsou, no song and dance is performed in the festival.

At the close of the festival, all the young men of the village will march to the Northern village gate with bamboo cups which they used for drinking purpose. And the cup will be split in the middle at one stroke with dao and taken the omen. If one half of the cup turns open and other half turns closed the omen is taken as good. If both the halves turn open or closed simultaneously, the omen is taken as bad. This rite marks the end of the festive activities and the return to the normal spatial and temporal dimensions of daily life.

On the first day of Mayasvi, the warriors of the tribe will rise early, and don their best traditional attire in the Kuba. The tribe chief will lead the warriors downstairs to transfer the sacred fire that burns under the Kuba to a prepared open square located not far from the Kuba, where the fire will burn for two days before extinguish; they gather near the Yono trees, a flora sacred to the Tsous.

Then, a boar will be brought in front of the trees, and with an order from the elders, the male members/warriors will use knives to stab. Then, they will lift their knives stained with boar blood towards the tree leaves, and wipe the blood onto the sacred trees as a sacrifice for the god of war and the god of life. A few warriors will then climb up the sacred trees and repair the foliage.

The sacred trees serve as a stairway for the Tsou god of war and the Tsou god of life during the welcoming ceremony, so after cutting down the branches, three will be left, pointing towards the Kuba and the chief's home symbolizing a road cleared for the gods. The gods will eventually be led to the festival in the Kuba, where they will bless the village.

Under the leadership of the elders, the crowd will hold hands into a semi-circle formation, singing a solemn welcoming god tune. After singing, the men will go onto the Kuba, and the other members will run back to their houses and bring back other offerings like wine, sticky rice cake and boar meat. On their way, they will shout incessantly as a way to report to gods and then come back to the Kuba for more rituals.

In the Kuba, the tribe elders mix up the wine, cakes and meat brought by the warriors together and then the mixture is distributed to every household symbolizing tribal unity. Just before that they will offer wine to the god of war for strength and unity. The most important ceremonies of the unity ritual are the Patkaya and Yasmoyuska- both are rite of passage for the boys in the Tsou culture.

Patkaya introduces newborn boys of the tribe to the residing gods in the Kuba. Usually, presented by a maternal uncle, a baby boy will be introduced to the gods by surrounding warriors who will chant the Tsou victory scripture, the Tu,e followed by blessings from elders with rice wine. Then, teenage boys are brought into the Kuba, where they will be whipped with a vine and presented with their first leather hat from elders. The leader will then lead the now grown up men to the village chief to receive rice wine and encouragement to commemorate their rite of passage. This act symbolizes the passage from a teenager to an adult.

After the rituals in the Kuba, the warriors will walk into the square again, engaging in the sending off ceremony. Everyone will gather in front of the sacred trees again in a semi-circle, singing four songs. In the middle, female members of the tribe will also enter the formation with torches, signifying the unification with the tribal fire and the Kuba's sacred fire. At the end of the song, they will send off the gods through the sacred trees back into the sky. Later on, they will perform a ceremonial cleansing of the village to purge from evils.

At the evening, the elders will lead the tribe members into a dance with all kind of songs, praising the god of war and the heroic deeds of their ancestors. Each clan will also praise and present gift each other, signifying their close ties. The festival usually lasts a period of two days, until the midnight of the last day. All the men attending will chant again their song of gratitude before putting out the fire in the square, which closes the celebration of Mayasvi festival.

Conclusion:

In the distant past, inter-village war was a common occurrence among the tribal peoples. The male members/warriors of the village at the cost of their lives defended the village from enemy's attacks. The practice of head hunting was gone. However, it is preserved in the form of narrative. The war rituals continue without the violence in the Rih-ngai and Mayasvi festivals for prosperity, strength and victory.

It protects and promotes the rich culture and traditions of the peoples. It may be treated as survival of culture. Young members also have the opportunity to learn the historic culture, social ethics and ancestor's wisdom through the process of the festival. Besides, festival serves as a reunion of family members, relatives, and friends.

By participating in the festival, people settle disputes and misunderstandings. Socially, festival promotes peace and unity within the family system and the society as a whole.

Concluded


* Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on September 13, 2016.



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