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Hingchabi Changba: Possession and Exorcism

James Oinam *



Hingchabi is Manipuri word for female devil (male would be Hingchaba). The word can be split into two words: 'hingna' meaning alive and 'chabi/chaba' meaning to eat (female and male). Changba means to go into (here possession).

In an online article 'Ethnomedical Practice in Manipur: A Case of Evil Eye' by Loitongbam Sunita Devi, the mythological origin of Hingchabi is given as follows:
'Atiya Guru Sidaba, the immortal supreme creator wishes to create world. In the beginning, he fails to complete it. As he requests Leimarel (Durga) to complete it, she produces Veirabi Salai Taret from her left hand and Devi Salai Taret from her right hand. Liemarel Apoibi (one of the incarnation of Ima Leimarel Shidabi) reproduces Hingchabi, a kind of spirit, which comes under the group of Devi Salai Taret.'

Some people born with irregular behavioural traits are believed to be incarnation of the evil spirit. Other than teasing the afflicted person, children in olden days performed certain actions like touching their knees when they accidentally come across such persons, without their knowing, for protection from the evil.

Some people wear jantra (talisman) to ward off evil spirits. Among some tribals, people wear the scales of pangolin as talisman. When a pangolin curls up like a ball, the scales are so tough, it is said it can even survive a gunshot.

Some traditional beliefs and methods of treatments in Manipur seem to be based on 'association' rather than 'causation'. Observation: No insect or pest can attack a tulsi plant. Association and conclusion: Tulsi is effective to ward off evil spirits. Perhaps, this is not peculiar to Manipur.

According to the 'Doctrine of Signatures', if a plant resembles a part of the human body, it is considered useful for treatment of that body part. For example, mandrake and ginseng resemble an entire human being and so they are considered good for the entire body.

In Manipuri, the word used for religious taboo is 'tauheidaba', which means 'that which should not be done'. One example of tauheidaba is putting one sit over another like putting a chair over a mat and sitting on it. In terms of 'association' argument, it would mean holding to posts or positions at a same time. Imagine a prosecuting or defence lawyer and judge in a court of law being one person. Or generally speaking, perhaps our ancestors were not fond of the idea of multitasking.

Among the Meeteis, old phanek (a cloth worn by women) of mother and pieces of dead skin or nails of parents put inside small capsules worn around arm or neck are used to drive away evil spirits. People are said to be possessed when evil spirit enters them at certain point of time in their lives. This is the case of 'hinchabi changba'.

Irregular behaviours like withdrawing into a corner (for instance underneath the bed) and muttering gibberish are believed to be signs of possessions. (In Christian exorcism, speaking a language the person did not know is taken as one of the signs of possession.)

A maiba/maibi (male or female shaman) makes the diagnosis and performs the exorcisms. According to Loitongbam Sunita Devi, the male members of the victim calls upon the maiba or maibi to perform the exorcism. The maiba/maibi asks the name of the spirit possessing the person. Then the spirit is asked what it wants.

A reasonable demand like bidi or chicken is fulfilled, and in return it is asked to leave the person. (In Christian exorcism, knowing the name of spirit or demon possessing the person is considered very important as knowing his name gives the priest power over the spirit. After knowing the name, the spirit is asked to leave the victim, calling the spirit by his name, in the name of the lord.)

Maibas and maibis are like traditional doctors in general. As a child when I had pox, I remember being treated by a maibi. A particularly annoying smoke was created in a mud pot. Chanting some unintelligible spell, she gently struck me with some leaves (tairen leaves?).

I remember the maibi saying that there are two ways to blow/breath air (spell) over someone's head. Blowing cold air with your mouth over the other person's head is a way of casting positive blessing on the person. Maibis also engage in fortune telling and divination for individuals or for a community.

Reference

http://krepublishers.com/02-Journals/T-Anth/Anth-05-0-000-000-2003-Web/Anth-05-1-001-066-2003-Abst-PDF/Anth-05-1-025-040-2003-Devi-L-S/Anth-05-1-025-040-2003-Devi-L-S-Text.pdf




* James Oinam wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at jamesoinam(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on October 05, 2017.



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