TODAY -

The message of Chaga-ngee

Wichamdinbo Mataina *

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



Chaga or Chaga-ngee is an ancient festival extensively celebrated by the people of Liangmai in Nagaland and Manipur during the tenth Liangmai month called Chagahiu. Chaga-ngee denotes the abundance of provisions. While it is not a celebration of a new year, like any human culture which observes festival to start a renewed life, Chaga-ngee serves as a guiding light for the future of an individual and the community.

Primarily, it is a celebration to mark the reaping season of an agrarian society. The three long day festival is filled with splendid display of cultural and religious fervor along with elaborate feasts. In fact, beginning from the eve of the festival and the following day of the final day, it is a five day event. Chaga-ngee is the biggest and most longed-for festival of Liangmai since the days of the ancestral settlement Makuilongdi and beyond.

The term 'Chaga' is a Liangmai word formed by a nominal prefix 'cha' and a root 'ga' loosely referring to something that has an 'appealing power' which in turn can give man a fortune. The Liangmai root word 'ngee', a bound morpheme, is derived from 'changee' meaning 'festival'.

In other words, Chaga-ngee is simply a compound word derived from 'chaga' and 'changee'. The word Chaga is difficult to be translated into any language as literal as its original denotation. Chaga is a polysemous word or a homophone of four words. Firstly, Chaga with a low tone refers to a crustacean namely, crab.

Secondly, with a high tone, it refers to a wild creeper that generally grows on huge tree. Its nut (fruit) is non-edible, yet useful for children's traditional games. Thirdly, again with high tone, it refers to a medicinal herb grown in the garden or jungle. It is taken when one has a stomach ache.

It is also believed that a dry piece of it tied around wrist or neck or carrying in a pocket would ward off evil spirit. Finally, yet again, with a high tone, Chaga is an adjectival word meaning one or all of the following: lucky, fortunate, magnificent, propitious, timely, appealing, or a gem. The Chaga-ngee is thus derived from the fourth one as mentioned above.

The timing of the festival is fixed by observing the lunar calendar. The one who sights the first visible crescent moon of the tenth month is the most fortunate of them all is a common belief. The village priest known as singku/nkopiu with elders would study the movement, shape and size of moon and fix the celebration date in such a way that the sighting of the moon ends on the peak of the festival, Chaga-gadi.

On this day, the moon would still be seen in the dawn, and vanished by the twilight. This occurrence is called 'hiusumbo', upon which the moon goes down the earth. Each of the five days is known with different names as, in sequence, Malap-ngutbo nai, Npeng-phenbo/Chareng-kepbo nai, Maluang-ponbo nai/Chaga-gadi, Chaga-pabo nai and Chaga-laibo nai.

Each day is associated with elaborate ritual and merry making activities. It is so significant because of the timing of the festival in the year. The preceding months or summer had been a tedious cultivating time, and people now long for a holiday. It also had been already a hard time not only for the poor but also for the rich, in which they had finished their produce of the previous year.

Famine is common in olden days. By the turn of the summer or monsoon, many would be left with no more paddy in their granary. People would borrow rice/paddy from neighboring village until the cropping of the year. When no one could lend them rice, they survive with a cereal called tathiu, which is perhaps poorer in its taste and nutrition than rice.

It is around this time the fields that grow rice, millet, maize, pumpkin, beans and others would be just ready for reaping. Farmers would gather crops and vegetables as much as they can for the festival saying that they would be off from their fields for about a week on account of Chaga-ngee. Oral tradition narrates that farmers get restless meanwhile with the thought that their produce may get over ripen.

Chaga-ngee appears to be a typical male festival of a patriarchal Liangmai society, - some may assume it so for the reason such as, for instance, until the third day chaga-pabo nai, men would not take food prepared by woman, nor share the same hearth or well, nor have physical contact with them, - but it is for this festival where the enthusiasm and the anticipation of women folk in the community are no lesser than their counterparts.

Men folk in every household would give their best effort to hunt the most delicious venison such as squirrel, jungle fowl, deer, etc., and enable their ladies to savor during the festival. Their platters will be fully loaded with a variety of sumptuous meat. Widows, orphans and the needy too would be jubilant and sanguine because of the nature's bounty.

Over the years, Liangmai Arts and Cultural Association fixed October 30th as an official date for Chaga-ngee. Nagaland state recognizes October 30th as a restricted holiday on account of Chaga-ngee. Chaga-ngee, today, is rather marked by a get-to-together of the community members wherein they perform vibrant and colorful cultural dance and music, blended with folktale narrations, literary debates, speeches and discussions on the theme of modern relevance.

Today, in fact, to meticulously observe Chaga-ngee as before is no longer convenient. For instance, the practice which is done on the first day 'npeng-phenbo' whereby male members test their luck by throwing a reed missile at a large-size dummy bird or human is considered dangerous.

Each portion of this lifelike human has a forecast of failure or success for any aspect of life, - be it health, wealth, love or war. This is determined by where the missile is hit at. Only present sexagenarians and above seemed to have experienced or witnessed this event.

Further, the whole length of the festival would be accompanied with indigenous drinks and singing of folk songs in unison. The intention of their songs is innocuous but most of the lyrics are quite carnal and naughty, which they themselves now consider salacious; more so, after they embraced Christianity. Nevertheless, despite of celebrating Chaga-ngee today without strict observation of all its rituals, the joy of the community that demonstrates during the festival indicates its relevance.

Festival is not just an event to celebrate or enjoy, but it is a way of life. Today, the community members form committees such as Chaga-ngee Celebration Committee wherever they reside in. They celebrate it to keep its tradition alive, with which they in turn assert their unique way of life.

The Liangmais now aspire and urge that Manipur State (and others) mark this day as one of the state festivals. With whatsoever reason, the people today may celebrate Chaga-ngee, it is essential not only for the particular community but others also to sustain it, acknowledge it and give space for its celebration with meaning, fulfillment and joy, just as it actually was.


* Wichamdinbo Mataina wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on October 22 2015.


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