The unbreakable umbilical cord : Mao folklore and Meitei connection

Yenning *

 Renewing brotherhood bonds : 'Silent' Makhel stone 'has spoken'
Renewing brotherhood bonds : 'Silent' Makhel stone 'has spoken' :: Pix - TSE

Makhel, located in Senapati district, is an ancient village with a name that translates to "the sacred place of God". For the Mao community, Makhel holds immense significance as it is believed to be the very origin of humankind and the ancestral homeland from which the Ahom, Meitei, and Naga tribes dispersed.

In the rich tapestry of Mao folklore, captivating tales about the birth and subsequent separation of the ancestral brothers abound. These stories intricately connect the diverse indigenous tribes and shed light on the profound ties that bind them, akin to the unbroken connection of an umbilical cord.

Ages ago, there was a woman named Dziili Mosiia, who lived in solitude under a peepal tree. One day, as a cluster of clouds covered her, she miraculously became pregnant and gave birth to three sons. As time went by, Mosiia fell seriously ill, and her sons took turns caring for her.

Yet, when the eldest son, Ora (Spirit), cared for her, she experienced a severe fever. Later, when the second son Kozhowo (Tiger) attended to her, he disturbingly revealed a peculiar longing to devour her flesh after her passing, muttering about the specific parts he intended to consume. However, in the presence of the youngest son, Chamaiwo (Man), she felt well and comforted.

Feeling overwhelmed by their mother's prolonged illness, Man considered hastening her demise by feeding her red-hot chilli. Surprisingly, she recovered from the illness. Since then, chilli became a daily cuisine ingredient for its miraculous potential.

After their mother's passing, the brothers went their separate ways and founded their settlements. Before departure, they raised three magnificent menhirs at Chazhelophi near Makhel, as a symbol of brotherhood. The eastern stone symbolised Spirit, the western one, Tiger, and the central one was a tribute to Man.

Spirit dared to venture towards the river and other unholy places, while Tiger and Man chose to remain within the sacred grounds of their birthplace. Spirit then suggested a shooting contest to decide their fates: whoever hit the target first could stay behind.

Tiger effortlessly hit the target, while Man missed it. Spirit couldn't bear the idea of his youngest brother wandering in the wilderness, so he cleverly suggested giving Man a second chance. Na´ve Tiger agreed, and this time, Man's arrow seemed to graze the edge of the target. Spirit deceitfully declared Man the winner and granted him ownership of Makhel.

Then, true to his mysterious nature, Spirit vanished without a trace. Tiger also left the place but couldn't stay away from his birthplace, regularly visiting Makhel at night.

To put an end to his brother's nocturnal visits, Man discovered Tiger's deepest fear: the dread of loud sounds. With this knowledge, Man gently soothed Tiger, rubbing his furs, and putting him into a deep slumber. Then, he skilfully attached bells to Tiger's neck and secured a mat to his tail. When everything was set, Man blasted his horn!

 Renewing brotherhood bonds : 'Silent' Makhel stone 'has spoken'
Makhel Village still preserves various historical relics and artifcates of naga origins :: Pix - Oken Jeet Sandham

Startled by the overwhelming noise and the unfamiliar weight on his neck and tail, Tiger jolted awake and fled in terror towards the south until he reached a place called Mizha. From that point onward, he never returned to Makhel, where they once shared cherished memories.

In a world full of wonders and mysteries, Chamaiwo set out on a journey to find a loving wife. With his long beard flowing down to his chest and his hair gracefully cascading to his knees, he was a figure of rare magnificence. Destiny led him to a fateful encounter with a mystical woman named Charani, whose very presence exuded profound spirituality.

Known as Pai Chara-a, Charani possessed an ethereal allure with mystical qualities that surpassed mortal understanding. She could shape-shift, transforming from a tender infant to a radiant maiden, and then further to an aged woman. She seemed to embody timeless wisdom and the secrets of the universe.

The loving couple sired three remarkable sons: Ashupfo Alapha (ancestor of the Ahom people), Chutow (progenitor of the Meitei lineage), and Khephio (fore- father of the Naga tribes). In their youthful days, the brothers revelled in the spirit of adventure.

One day, they devised a thrilling long jump competition, aiming to leap over the outhouse. Alapha horribly failed, landing inside the cesspit. Chutow made a heroic effort, but his legs slightly grazed the cesspool. However, Khephio successfully cleared the jump.

This playful competition not only brought them moments of joy but also had a lasting impact on their individual traits. Alapha, humbled by his fall, embraced a newfound sense of cleanliness and decided to bathe before his meals.

Chutow, having experienced a close call, diligently washed his legs before eating. Meanwhile, Khephio, confident in his abilities, continued to dine without the need for a pre-meal bath, embodying unwavering confidence.

As the time for their parting approached, the three brothers knew they had to commemorate their cherished time together. They erected a memory stone, which they called "Tamaratu" in the Mao dialect, meaning "stone of dispersal".

On the Tamaratu, they engraved images of a valiant man dragging a bull, a majestic rooster symbolizing courage, and a tiger head representing untamed determi- nation. They also etched the emblem of a sturdy shield and two spears, signifying the unyielding spirit that bound them together.

Beneath the Tamaratu, they each left their individual marks, choosing distinctive mediums to convey their messages. Alapha's words were etched onto wood, symbolizing nature's enduring strength. Chutow chose delicate tree leaves as his canvas, representing the beauty and fragility of life.

Meanwhile, Khephio expressed his sentiments on the supple skin of an animal, embodying the interconnectedness of all living beings. Tragically, Khephio's animal skin was devoured by a hungry rat, while the inscriptions made by Alapha and Chutow gradually succumbed to the natural ageing process.

On an auspicious day, the brothers shared a meal together each proudly contri- buting their share: Alapha, a grand rooster, Chutow, a huge fish, and Khephio, a majestic Mithun. They had huge appetites, yet they could not finish the Mithun meat.

Khephio used this final gathering to share his moral views regarding other people's property. Alapha, regrettably, couldn't resist the urge to steal a piece of the leftover Mithun meat when no one was looking.

The lesson of respect and discipline seems to escape him in that moment of frailty. But a bug struck him as he reached into the pot. The beetle's painful sting acted as a potent reminder of the negative effects that result from disrespecting other people's property.

After the grand feast, the three brothers went their separate ways. Khephio chose to stay back, while Alapha journeyed towards Assam in the north, and Chutow set off downstream the Barak River. At a riverbank on the eastern hillside of Maram Bazar, where Chutow had his meal, he placed a menhir, likely as a marker of his presence in that cherished spot.

As he passed through the enchanting Koubru Hills, Chutow found solace in its natural beauty and decided to stay there for a while. Eventually, he descended to Khonghampat, where something astonishing unfolded before him. A serpent, seemingly guided by mystical forces, led Chutow along his path. However, at a certain moment, the snake mysteriously vanished.

In that awe-inspiring moment, something truly extraordinary happened. The taro corm he carried on his back remarkably sprouted shoots, bursting forth with new life. Moreover, the eggs in his possession hatched into young roosters, which promptly began to crow, as if celebrating the wonders of this mystical encounter.

Chutow believed this divine event to be a blessing from God, an unmistakable sign guiding him towards a favourable place to settle. Convinced that the valley held the promise of a prosperous future, Chutow decided to make it his home. Thus, began the settlement of the Meitei forefather, forever etched in folklore as a remarkable testament to the harmonious dance of man and the mystical forces of the world around him.

Khephio was blessed with eight sons, each becoming the great-grandfather of prominent Naga tribes like Mao, Chakeshang, Angami, Rengma, Zemei, Liangmei, Rongmei, Maram, Sema, and Tangkhul. Eventually, these Naga great-grandfathers dispersed from Makhel. However, Shipfow, the great-grandfather of the Mao tribe, chose to remain at Makhel, preserving their ancestral connection to the sacred land.

Before their departure, the brothers planted a wild pear tree known as Chiitebu Kaji near Makhel village, specifically at Upper Shajouba. Remarkably, this tree, similar to the sacred peepal tree, continues to thrive to this day.

It has become a sacred symbol, protected by a taboo that prohibits cutting its branches or consuming its fruits. This practice signifies the deep reverence and respect the descendants hold for their ancestral roots.

For countless generations, the Mao people have diligently protected the sacred menhirs, peepal, and pear trees. In 2022, the Manipur Government took a significant step by establishing a cultural heritage complex at Makhel, aiming to reclaim the roots of brotherhood.

To preserve the venerable Tamaratu from the effects of time, a sturdy roof was thoughtfully constructed, ensuring its longevity. Additionally, a meticulously crafted replica of the menhir found its place at the cultural complex.

Once a silent sentinel, the towering Tamaratu, measuring eight feet tall and six feet wide, stands now empowered, brimming with newfound significance, weaving a profound tapestry of unity among indigenous communities.

Lovingly preserved for future generations, it perpetuates the timeless spirit of the Mao people, igniting a spark of inspiration that illuminates the present and guides the future. The echoes of the past resonate in the present, and through this noble endeavour, the cherished heritage of the Mao people thrives, embraced by timelessness, forever cherished and celebrated.

* Yenning wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at hoiyenning(AT)proton(DoT)me
This article was webcasted on 05 August 2023.

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