Sikpui Ruoi (Sikpui Festival)
- A festival with a difference -
- Part 1 -

Lal Dena & Zothanchhingi Khiangte *

There are innumerable festivals and ceremonies among the Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribes of North East India. Of these, Sikpui Ruoi celebrated by the Hmar tribe is unique. There are several reasons for its uniqueness and we shall attempt to discuss only some of them:

1. Among the many festivals of the ethnic groups of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo, Sikpui Ruoi is a festival celebrated by the Hmar community, the descendants of Nelachal, the youngest of Manmasi's three sons. No particular date for the festival is fixed.

It is celebrated at a convenient time during December (Mimtuk thla) and January (Tuolbuol thla). In the olden days, celebration of Sikpui Ruoi would extend to several days and sometimes even a month. But usually, the celebration lasts for seven days.

2. Another noteworthy feature about the Sikpui Ruoi is that it is not celebrated every year. In fact, it is celebrated only in the year of abundant harvest. Such a year is said to be a year of 'fapang ralinsan', when the granary is still left with the previous year's yield at the arrival of the new harvest. Young men and women take out this previous year's yield and winnow the grain two or three months ahead of Sikpui Ruoi.

They then distribute the rice to every household in the village for brewing. This locally brewed drink is called rice beer or zu. On the day of the Sikpui Ruoi, every family in the village would bring their own share of zu, drink and eat together with wild abandon. Thus the name Sikpui Ruoi. The term 'Sikpui Ruoi' can also literally mean 'winter feast', 'sikpui' meaning winter and 'ruoi' meaning feast.

3. The all-embracing mood of the festival where everyone—rich or poor, young or old—can take part without any social inhibition is another distinctive feature of the Sikpui Ruoi. On this auspicious occasion, everyone whether young or old, rich or poor dances in blissful harmony on a common platform.

The wealthier ones did not hesitate to part with their fineries and they used to readily give away their best clothes to their less fortunate fellow men. We, the so-called 'enlightened' ones in spite of all our learning have a great lesson to learn from these pre-literate societies, where a harmonious relationship coexisted among all the people in times of their festivities. More often than not, we fail to spare a thought for our poorer brethrens even in our Christmas celebrations.

4. Sikpui Ruoi is a festival of all the Hmars in general. Unlike the other public feasts and ceremonies like

  • inchawng (a public feast given by a single individual or a family to ensure entrance to paradise),
  • sahrang lumeng (a feast held when a large and dangerous wild beast is killed),
  • ral lumeng (a feast held in celebration of a hero's successful return with the head of an enemy) and
  • bu inei (a feast given to mark an individual's abundant harvest), Sikpui Ruoi does not signify an individual's achievements but the general prosperity as a whole.

It is a community festival in which all people from the youngest child to the oldest member of the tribe participate and it is because of this all-inclusive nature of the festival that everyone, irrespective of his/her social standing is given importance on the occasion and it is this unique feature that makes Sikpui Ruoi an important cultural heritage, to be remembered and treasured for generations to come.

5. Remarkably, unlike the other feasts and festivals, Sikpui Ruoi has nothing to do with religion. The only faint connection with religious beliefs is in the part played by the village priest. A village priest is employed to augur whether it would be an auspicious time to celebrate Sikpui Ruoi. No animal sacrifice is needed for this purpose.

The priest hangs a drum all night in the right-hand corner of the Chief's porch. He strains his ears all night for any sound of the drum beat. If he hears any drum beat, it is considered inauspicious to celebrate Sikpui Ruoi but if he does not hear any drum beat for the whole night, Sikpui Ruoi may be held with great enthusiasm with lots of singing, dancing and community feasting. Thus, Sikpui Ruoi is not a feast given to appease any evil spirit. Rather it is a celebration of nature's bountiful blessings, expressing a tribe's dependence on the earth for sustenance.

6. Sikpui Ruoi is also unique because of the songs and dances that accompany the feast. There are nine different Sikpui Ruoi dances and the songs accompanying these dances are collectively known as Sikpui Hla.

They are:
  1. Buontlaw Hla,
  2. Hlapui (Hla Ser),
  3. Hranthli Hla,
  4. Lamtluong Hla
  5. Saia Ketet lam Hla,
  6. Simsak Hla
  7. Tangkawngvailak Hla,
  8. Inran Hla
  9. Trinna Hla and
  10. Hla Vuina (Hla Phumna)
Of these, Sikpui Hlapui (Hla Ser) is held most sacred and the Sikpui dance can not begin until this song is sung.

It has also aroused much interest among scholars, historians, theologians and anthropologists. It is still the subject of an endless debate. There are two interpretations of the possible meaning of the song. Some lines from the first interpretation may be translated as:
While we are preparing for the Sikpui feast,
The big red sea becomes divided.
As we are marching forward fighting our foes,
We are being led by a cloud during day;
And by pillar of fire during night.
Our enemies, ye folk are thick with fury,
Come out with your shields and spears.
Fighting our foes all day,
We march along as cloud-fire goes afore.
The enemies we fight all day,
The big sea swallowed them like beast.
Collect the quails,
Drink the water that gushes out of the rock.
In this interpretation, the song is reminiscenceof the Biblical account of the Israelites' exodus from Egypt led by Moses. This has led or misled some sections of the Kuki-Mizo in Manipur and Mizoram into believing and claiming that they are the descendants of one of the lost tribes of Israel.

Related Article and photos on Sikpui Ruoi

To be continued .....

* Lal Dena (a regular contributor to & Zothanchhingi Khiangte wrote this article for The Sangai Express . The writer can be contacted at laldenas(at)rediffmail(dot)com and zothanikhiangte(at)yahoo(dot)com
This article was webcasted on November 13th, 2009.

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