Significance of Manipuri proverbs

Dr Salam Shantibala Devi *

 Telling of folk tales (phoonga / Funga wari leeba)
TTelling of folk tales (phoonga / Funga wari leeba)
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Proverbs can be found in any language or culture but is very difficult to interpret the proverbs of other culture and language. The values of a language are also found in beautiful proverbs. It also defines the social condition of every society and it's related with the culture, history and the people of a nation.

Over the course of history and when human society develops language keeps on developing and became more refined and proverbs and sayings too developed with the happenings of our daily life.

A proverb (from Latin: proverbium) is a simple, concrete, traditional saying that expresses a truth based on common sense or experience. Proverbs are often metaphorical and use formulaic language. Collectively, they form a genre of folklore. Lord John Russell (c. 1850) observed poetically that a "proverb is the wit of one, and the wisdom of many."

But giving the word "proverb" the sort of definition theorists need has proven to be a difficult task, and although scholars often quote Archer Taylor's argument that formulating a scientific "definition of a proverb is too difficult to repay the undertaking... An incommunicable quality tells us this sentence is proverbial and that one is not. Hence no definition will enable us to identify positively a sentence as proverbial," many students of proverbs have attempted to itemize its essential characteristics.

Mieder has proposed the following definition, "A proverb is a short, generally known sentence of the folk which contains wisdom, truth, morals, and traditional views in a metaphorical, fixed, and memorizable form and which is handed down from generation to generation". The purpose of this paper is show the significance of Manipuri proverbs and its social and cultural implications.

It is quite interesting to go for the field work and start collecting our proverbs which we use in day-to-day life. It is the traditional expression full of wisdom and wit and which is an amazing way of expressing our thoughts and feelings.

I went to different places like Moirang, Andro, Bishenpur and Imphal of Manipur, meeting people from all walks of life and collected some proverbs as a part of research project.

I had also visited Agartala and met the Manipuris living in Tripura, who are descendants of the Meiteis. During my short visit, I met some resource person well verse in Manipuri literature and had an opportunity to interact with them and gathered useful Manipuri proverbs there. The proverbs and riddles which I have collected through field work are analyzed in the following way:

1. "The monkey expelled the farmer"

This proverb is used when immigrant came to a place and tried to become the owner of the land and ultimately the natives got expelled. This proverb is found written in Shakok Lamlen Ahanba.

During the reign of King Naophangba, it is said that one Pangal guru from the west came and advised the king to laid the foundation for constructing the Shangai Yumjao at Kangla. But the place where the foundation stone to be laid down as advised by the Pangal guru was wrong and it was finally given the right place by guru Maiba. The connotation of this proverb is that when there is good adviser in the court of the king, it will be wrong to trust people from outside.

2. A mound resembling an oxen will never bellow"

The connotation of this proverb is that the true color of a thing will never be replaced by anything and also suggest that sincere and honest works count. Pretender will never sound right. Ultimately it will bring nothing but lost the faith in a person. This is referred to in Shakok Lamlen of how the Pangal guru deceit the king.

3. "Little knowledge is a dangerous thin". "An inexperience medicine man makes more graveyards"

This proverb is expressed when people with little knowledge or inexperienced person acted as experts and the bad consequence that follows.

4. "Hearing the sound of paddy husking bruise the hands and the heat of the sun burn the shoulder"

This proverb is used when a person feels jealous of what the other one is working and it has been referring till today.

5. "Death is the younger brother while Shame is the elder one"

The connotation of this proverb is that it is far better to die instead to live in shame. This proverb also suggests that keeping one's word or the commitment is also very important. The Meiteis strictly adhered to this and it is referred to in the martial art text, Chainarol. In this text, when Khuman king Lanthaba asked to challenge Heirem Kangbishu nobody came up.

At this juncture, in order to save the dignity of the king Chakha Moiremba, a young man stands for the king. When Chakha returned home, his wife told him that she had a bad dream but he said that it is far better to die if he fails to keep his words. Thus this proverb is frequently referred to till today.

6. "The pigeon burns to the ash while staring the queen"

This proverb is frequently used by the Manipuris. This proverb has a story to tell. When King Thangyee Khongdouba went for hunting with his man Chongairaba and asked to fetch the fire from Luwangkhuba to smoke a pigeon that was shot down. Fascinated by the beauty of Erem Thoibi, he found the pigeon already turning into ash.

7. Just arrived at Samourou (name of a place in Manipur) while mending Pena (traditional musical instrument of the Meiteis)

The above proverb has it origin. It suggests that we should not do any work without knowing how to do rather we should have an idea or the knowledge to do things in a right way to save time and energy. This story was referred to Moirang Thangjing Chinggoi.

8. Different cuisine of potato and different surname of women

This proverb is referred when women after marriage usually have the surname of his husband and if unfortunately she has to return home after the death of her husband or from divorce, generally she is likely to get remarried. And she will again change her surname.

The above proverb suggest that life of a woman is very uncertain but she will adapt to whatever situation that comes to her way. Like potato which is very important in making different cuisine, women are also very important part of the human society.

9. The cats honor and the crows respect

This proverb is used to describe people who are shameless like the cat but always looks out for any opportunity and same thing also with the crow that pretends just to get an opportunity and after they got the benefit they never bother anything. And this proverb is used when we find such type of people.

10. Will power turns a lady to become a priestess

This proverb suggests that when people work hard with full determination anything can be achieved. First of all we need to make our will power very strong and focus on what we are going to do.

11. Termite eat up the wealth of a stingy person

This proverb is frequently used among the Manipuris. Its connotation is that the huge wealth accumulated by a man will be of no use if he doesn't use it timely and in a proper way. And it will simply become a mound that will eat up by the termite.

12. Morning shows the day. "A child is known by its birth napkin" (Manipuri proverb)

Everybody has a different character and attribute. This proverb is commonly used in everyday life in bringing up a child and while giving advice by grandparents and parents. Based on the nature of a child especially grandparents usually say this child will become very good, intelligent and benevolent and at the same time if the child is found nagging and crying every time then it indicates who they will become when they are grown up .

13. "Beating the earthen pot of Thoubandong is not to be broken"

There is a place called Thoubandong in Manipur where earthen potteries are being made. People use the traditional style of making the pot with a wooden bat heating the pot to make the desirable shape.

Thus the proverb, beating the earthen pot of Thoubandong is not to be broken originated from this very place. And it suggests that parents hit their children not because they don't love them but it is just to make them a good person in the future. This proverb is commonly used by parents and teachers in giving advice to their children.

14. Every dog has his day. "Ten days for the thief and one day for the owner"

This proverb expressed that a thief may steal many things repeatedly but someday his day will come. And ultimately he will be caught. So, this proverb which is frequently used to expressed to give a lesson to those thieves and plunderers make them to understand that it is not a good habit to steal others belongings.

Manipuri proverbs as we understood has been associated with many historical incidents and closely linked with our folklore and folk life. If we have taken this subject for serious academic study, there will be of great benefit in moulding the minds of younger generation. This study of the proverbs will help in acquiring language skill and critical thinking. There are still many proverbs and traditional saying which we need to properly collect make documentation.

* Dr Salam Shantibala Devi wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is HOD Manipuri Dept, Nambol Sanoi College
This article was webcasted on October 03, 2019.

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