Chini-Gur (Jaggery) in Christmas Menu

By UA Shimray *

Christmas celebration is important festival in Naga hills [villages] today and my village Chingjaroi is one of them. Majority of the Naga population embraced Christianity so December makes lovely and busy month. The outstation youth, family, students come home on this day.

This is also a season where many weddings take place. Many buffaloes and pigs are slaughtered for the occasion. New clothes are fashionably worn.

Lakhs of money are spent making elsewhere richer by some per cent. Household faces inevitable economic "shock." Houses are decorated with pine-made Christmas tree. Exchange of greetings through internets and SMS is fashion now.

Chini-Gur and Christmas

Christmas is the annual Christian festival celebrating Jesus Christ's birth [25th December]. Indeed, we are reminded the story of Jesus Christ in Sunday school. In my younger age, I identified Christmas synonymous with Chini-Gur [Jaggery], new fresh smelling shirt, pant, shoe and toy pistol.

Of course lot of pork and beef to eat. Distributing Chini-Gur on Christmas celebration is one major activity particularly in Tangkhul Naga villages [According to 1991 census, there is 93.66 per cent Christian population in Ukhrul district].

The size of the Chini-Gur should be adequate so that no complaint emerges from the villagers [read as old women and men]. Cohort based running competition, boys and girls relay race…were important games and at the same time earned extra Chini-Gur as a prize. Young or old, everyone eats Chini-Gur.

I remember one particular Christmas celebration where a group of my village women staged a protest in the form of drama. Wearing rag dresses, painted their faces funnily and shouted, "We don't like Dimapur Chini-Gur." And then there was a big roar of laughter from the audience.

That particular year, my village Christmas Committee bought a cheaper yellowish Chini-Gur from Dimapur [I don't know why they called Dimapur Chini-Gur]. Otherwise, normally distribute high-graded local product Chini-Gur from Imphal which is quite tasty.

Some children got sick after eating cheap yellowish Chini-Gur [overeating perhaps]. Since then so-called Dimapur Chini-Gur completely vanished from the Christmas menu. Day time we were entertained by Chini-Gur and night time local jokers.

Indeed, the literature informed that Jaggery [Chini-Gur] is often called the "medicinal sugar." Jaggery ranges from mustard yellow to deep amber in colour, depending on the quality of sugarcane juice. It is also very useful in health problems.

It said that a superior product among natural sweeteners with regards to the vitamin contents. It is an energy food that is said to "purify" blood, regulate the liver function and keep the body healthy. In most of the rural areas, tea is sweetened with Jaggery instead of sugar.

Chikki or praline is made by adding nuts to melted Jaggery and cooling the mixture in thin slabs. In this regard, the Jaggery [Chini-Gur] sold in the Ima-Keithel, Imphal is quite tasty, mushy and of high quality. Today, the prices have gone up however; I never fail to buy jaggery mixed with ground-nuts whenever I visit Ima-Keithel.

Whose Chini-Gur [Jaggery]...!?

Exactly I don't know when and how Jaggery [Chini-Gur] came into our Christmas menu. The Jaggery [Chini-Gur] as a commodity in its own right, I speculated and traced back 1897.

It was the year Rev Pettigrew taught his first class of 20 pupil in a little hut in Ukhrul/Hungphung (Manipur). What was taught on that fateful day is lost in the history but it marked the beginning of modern western education and Christianity in the history of the Tangkhul Nagas.

To be brief, Rev William Pettigrew was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, January 5, 1869. He was educated in Livingstone College, London, and had nine month of special medical training.

At the early age of 21, in 1890, he accepted the challenge to go to the foreign field, as it was presented by the Arthington Aborigines Mission, a mission fostered by Mr Robert Arthington, a millionaire of Leeds, England which established mission stations for the spread of word of God among the primitive tribes.

Pettigrew was allowed to work among the Tangkhul Nagas located at the easternmost Indo-Burma [Myanmar] frontier. The British officials' permission to work among the Tangkhul Nagas was "at his own risk." However, the sponsorship given by the Arthington Mission was not willing to establish a permanent mission station in any particular place.

So the dilemma for the Pettigrew is to leave Manipur for other place or be sent home [England]. Therefore, having no alternative, he thus applied for membership to the American Baptist Missionary Union in Assam. Subsequently, he was redesingnated as a Baptist missionary to Manipur.

Victor Hugo Sword's message appreciating Rev William Pettigrew states that "at the time of leaving England he was an Anglican but soon after arrival in India his conception of baptism changed and he was later immersed."

Coming back to Jaggery [Chini-Gur], I further constructed that Jaggery [Chini-Gur] could be one of the special "ingredient" added to the lesson Mr Pettigrew taught to the children of former headhunters.

In other words, keeping the children "happy" from bounded in the little hut. Otherwise, these half-naked children sitting in Pettigrew's little hut and then listened strange words would bore enough [or enjoying the amazing experienced!].

However, in practical these children would inevitably missing their daily "chores" like fetching water, pounding granary, trapping bird, harassing domestic animals, and other naughty business.

The history informed us that Mr Raihao, Chief of Ukhrul [Hungphung] village knew Meiteilon [language of Meitei/Manipuri community] and Mr Pettigrew had already learnt Meiteilon at Cachar before coming to Manipur. The eventual interaction with Raihao, Pettigrew learned Tangkhul language [Ukhrul language].

The parents did not like to send their sons to School. At first Pettigrew approached the village elders and asked for 30 children to enroll in his school. But the villagers ignored his request. He approached to AE Wood, the Political Agent of Manipur when he visited Ukhrul.

The Political Agent gave a very stringent order that the Chief of Ukhrul must provide 20 children and the village Hundung with 10 children. Fearing the order the two villages provided the 30 children to Pettigrew. The Ukhrul Chief Raihao himself enrolled in the school and acted as the interpreter and without him the children refused to go to school.

By 1899, these young students of the Ukhrul LP School started learning English language. In 1901, 12 [Twelve] boys from the Mission School were immersed in water symbolizing purification and admission to the Christian Church which was termed as baptism. Now, these twelve children speak the imported English language fluently.

In 1903, two best students were selected and trained as teachers. In 1906, Mrs Pettigrew managed to persuade ten girls from different villages to come to Ukhrul for schooling.

Subsequently, these girls were converted into Christian. Indeed, for the convert celebration of Christmas became most important festival, so is the Jaggery [Chini-Gur]. Eventually, demand of Jaggery [Chini-Gur] increased in Christmas which yielded "positive correlation" to the number increased in baptism.

Undoubtedly, Christmas without Jaggery [Chini-Gur] in Tangkhul Naga villages is "unfulfilled." Sweet taste has to be there. Jaggery [Chini-Gur] as the commodity deserves no "obituary" unlike the traditional rice-beer which has already received "obituary note."

Lastly, I am just half-baked narrator, so my dear readers please forgive me if I wasted your time [If not, next narration would be "Colonialism and Sugar: Obituary of the Traditional Rice Beer"].

* UA Shimray wrote this article for The Sangai Express . This article was webcasted on February 05th, 2009.

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