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Yubu and Lai Haraoba

James Oinam *

 Maibi : A Female Shaman
Maibi : A Female Shaman



Yubu, translated as the Pace(s) of Yu, is a shaman dance of ancient China named after a historic-mythic figure Da Yu (the Great Yu). Lai Haraoba, literally merriment of god(s), is shaman dance festival of Manipur. Lai Haraoba has many types, and they have developed over the agesósome unfortunately given up like the Sanamahi Haraoba. My particular interest here is the Pakhangba.

In this article, I will compare the Yubu and Lai Haraoba, particularly, keeping the larger mythic contexts in mind. The article will be in the form of descriptive narrative of Da Yu with Manipuri mythic counterpart/similarity interspersed in between within square brackets '[]' for comparison.

Many scholars have noted mythic similarities between various civilizations. When scholars discovered a huge flood mentioned in the epic of Gilgamesh (Mesopotamia), it drew great interest from the Christian worldóconnecting it with the deluge of Noah.

Author Tan Chung, in his book China: A 5000-year Odyssey, speculates that Chinese mythic character Nuwa might be related to Noah of the Bible. It is said that massive flood is also mentioned in Hindu myth related to Manu. With or without mass migrations, myths may have spread from one civilization to another.

Ancient China faced flooding from the big rivers which caused great destructions. [According to Manipuri myth, the earth was full of water in the beginning. The gods made the land and made it habitable. The Lai Haraoba dance, or a part of it, enacts this process.]

The king tasked Yu's father, Gun, to control the flood. Gun erected dams and constructed bundhs to stop the flood water. But he failed to contain the floods. The king executed Gun for his failure and assigned the task to Yu. Yu studied his father's method to understand why he failed. He dredged the rivers and build canals instead of trying to stop the excess water.

In order to accomplish his project, Yu had to travel the provinces of China. Some scholars have compared this to going around the earth: 'Yu's legendary circumambulation and pacification of a world in chaos appear to have made Yu the archetypal pacifier of the spirit world that continued to exist alongside mankind' (Donald Harper, 1999 cited in Yubu, Wikipedia).

[In Manipuri myth, god Sanamahi went around the earth as his father said to his two sons whoever could go around earth and come back first will be crowned king. In this story, I have not heard anyone mention that going around the earth is about bringing order into chaos. But the idea of establishing harmony can be noted in the story of Henjunaha, another mythic story of Manipur. (I have written a short translation of this story on this website.)

In order to pacify the evil spirits, the god Thangjing gave them a role to play on earth. The god himself incarnated in form of Henjunaha and gave some roles to all others to play. This can be interpreted in some way as bringing order in chaos.

Also, proverb number 28, 'Mayek uray leipak koiray / Mason khanglay leipak kanlay', of the book Chayom Thupki by Makar Luwang (the translation of which is available on this website, Part 4), says the 'land', synonymous to country in Manipuri, is saved by studying books.

I think it would be more appropriate if we interpret the proverb as saying after going around the land one knows the 'mason' which in turn saves the land. (Studying the books give theoretical knowledge of the land, but practically going around it gives grass-roots/in-depth knowledge of it.)

So in the Manipuri myth asking the gods Sanamahi and Pakhangba to go around the earth is perhaps not just about testing their physical prowess but about developing deep knowledge or understanding about it.]

After spending years on the project, Yu succeeded in controlling the flood. For this, he was made king. Yu is credited with establishing the first dynasty (father to son inheritance of kingship) in China. [In the Manipuri myth, god Pakhangba went around his mother and symbolically went around the earth. He was crowned king for this.]

According to scholars, the shamans through the Pace(s) of Yu drew the psychic power from the Big Dipper constellation (Ursa Major) for the well-being of the community. The Paces can also be used to bring misfortune to people.

[Lai Haraoba is meant for the well-being of the community. Mistakes in the festival can bring misfortune to the community. In one festival I remember a maiba (shaman) telling participants, 'While enacting the sword fight, there should not be any sparks, else there will be quarrel in the community.'

Ursa Major is recognized constellation in Manipuri myth. A shaman once told me that the seven stars of Ursa Major are the seven days of the week. From head to tail, count them as the seven days, Sunday through Saturday. Observe the star corresponding to your day of birth. The relative brightness or dimness of that star compared to the rest indicates your well-being.]

Last, but not least, the legend of Da Yu says Da Yu received guidance from Heaven in the form of imprint on the shell of tortoise, and once he transformed into a bear to dig canal across a mountain. Some scholars have translated the name Yu as 'insect, bug, reptile' (Yubu, Wikipedia). [Pakhangba, the mythic-historic god-king of Manipur, it is said could transform into Lairen, some kind of snake, reptile.]

References

o Wikipedia. 'Yubu'. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yubu
o Tan Chung. (2018). China: A 5000-Year Odyssey. New Delhi: SAGE Publications.




* 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 November 02, 2019 .



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