TODAY -

Kairao Kalumei : Ancestor worship of the Zeliangrong
- Part 1 -

Budha Kamei *

 Scene from 'The Zeliangrongs'
A Scene from 'The Zeliangrongs' :: Provided by Director - Ronel Haobam



The Zeliangrong, one of the natives of North East belongs to the Tibeto-Burman family of the Mongoloid racial stock.1 The Zeliangrong is the acronym of the Zeme, Liangmei and Rongmei who live in the states of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland. The Zeliangrong people, according to their legend preserved in the religious hymns and folk songs originated from a cave called Taobei; they moved to Makhel and to Ramting Kabin and then to Makuilongdi, Senapati District of Manipur. From this settlement they migrated to the South, West and the North. Another theory suggests that the Zeliangrong ancestors along with other ethnic groups of Tibeto-Burman family came from two regions, south-East Asia and Eastern Tibet or Western China. A noted scholar observes, as they are Tibeto-Burman, "they must have lived with other groups of the same family in south West China before 1000 B.C and migrated to eastern Tibet, Upper Burma, then moved into Irrawaddy valley, Malaysia and Indonesia, and they returned southward and entered north East India through Manipur river and some tracts of Indo-Burma border to their present habitat."2 The present article attempts to look into the ancestor worship among the traditional Zeliangrongs.

Ancestor worship is a religious cult found in some societies based upon the belief that the spirits of deceased ancestors are immortal and can influence events in the lives of the living. Culturally defined ceremonies and rituals are practiced to honour a family's ancestors (or ancestors of another designated group such as a clan, household, etc.) and to encourage the spirits of the ancestors to protect and help the group or individual.3 By strengthening the bond between the living and the dead, ancestors worship emphasizes the continuing of life. H.F.Hedge says, "Every man is his own ancestor, and every man is his own heir. He devises his own future, and he inherits his own past."4 Ancestor worship occurs in some societies of the world; it is found in China, Japan, ancient Roman and Greece, India, Africa etc.

In view of Campbell,5 ancestor worship led in very early time to the worship of trees and animals in which the spirits of ancestors resided. The tree and animal so possessed came to be regarded as an ancestor, and hence developed into the totem, regulating the marriage of its descended. E. B. Tylor observes, worship of ancestor is "one of the great branches of the religion of mankind. Its principles are not difficult to understand, for they plainly keep up the social relations of the living world. The dead ancestor, now passed into a deity, simply goes on protecting his own family and receiving suit and services from them as of old; the dead chief still watches over his own tribe, still holds his authority by helping friends and harming enemies, still rewards the right and sharply punishes the wrong."6 In this view the departed ancestor is regarded as very kind and well disposed towards his living relatives.

There are two schools of anthropologists who give different opinions on the subject of the attitude of the living towards the dead. The two principle ideas are7: (1) that those who have gone before have a continuing and beneficent interest in the affairs of the living; and (2) the dead ancestors is unfriendly to the living.

The first school may be called as Totemistic school which believes on Totemism as the main source from which religion has been developed gradually and thinks specially upon the kindly relations between the god and worshippers. According to Robertson Smith,8 the primitive sacrifice is an act of communion, the totem animal or beast which is sacred to the God being slain in order to renew the bond of connection between the clan and its supernatural ally. Thus, he has rejected the assumption 'religion is born of fear.' He9 further states, it is that savage man feels himself to be environed by innumerable dangers which he does not understand, and so personifies as invincible or mysterious enemies of more than human power; it is not true that the attempt to appease these powers is the foundation of religion. From the earliest times, religion, as distinct from magic sorcery, addresses itself to kindred and friendly beings, who may indeed be angry with their people for a time, but are always pleasurable except to the enemies of their worshippers or to renegade members of the community. It is not with a vague fear of unknown powers, but with a loving reverence for known gods who are knit to their worshippers by strong bonds of kinship, that religion in the only true sense of the word begins.

The Zeliangrong, one of the natives of North East belongs to the Tibeto-Burman family of the Mongoloid racial stock.1 The Zeliangrong is the acronym of the Zeme, Liangmei and Rongmei who live in the states of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland. The Zeliangrong people, according to their legend preserved in the religious hymns and folk songs originated from a cave called Taobei; they moved to Makhel and to Ramting Kabin and then to Makuilongdi, Senapati District of Manipur. From this settlement they migrated to the South, West and the North. Another theory suggests that the Zeliangrong ancestors along with other ethnic groups of Tibeto-Burman family came from two regions, south-East Asia and Eastern Tibet or Western China. A noted scholar observes, as they are Tibeto-Burman, "they must have lived with other groups of the same family in south West China before 1000 B.C and migrated to eastern Tibet, Upper Burma, then moved into Irrawaddy valley, Malaysia and Indonesia, and they returned southward and entered north East India through Manipur river and some tracts of Indo-Burma border to their present habitat."2 The present article attempts to look into the ancestor worship among the traditional Zeliangrongs.

Ancestor worship is a religious cult found in some societies based upon the belief that the spirits of deceased ancestors are immortal and can influence events in the lives of the living. Culturally defined ceremonies and rituals are practiced to honour a family's ancestors (or ancestors of another designated group such as a clan, household, etc.) and to encourage the spirits of the ancestors to protect and help the group or individual.3 By strengthening the bond between the living and the dead, ancestors worship emphasizes the continuing of life. H.F.Hedge says, "Every man is his own ancestor, and every man is his own heir. He devises his own future, and he inherits his own past."4 Ancestor worship occurs in some societies of the world; it is found in China, Japan, ancient Roman and Greece, India, Africa etc.

In view of Campbell,5 ancestor worship led in very early time to the worship of trees and animals in which the spirits of ancestors resided. The tree and animal so possessed came to be regarded as an ancestor, and hence developed into the totem, regulating the marriage of its descended. E. B. Tylor observes, worship of ancestor is "one of the great branches of the religion of mankind. Its principles are not difficult to understand, for they plainly keep up the social relations of the living world. The dead ancestor, now passed into a deity, simply goes on protecting his own family and receiving suit and services from them as of old; the dead chief still watches over his own tribe, still holds his authority by helping friends and harming enemies, still rewards the right and sharply punishes the wrong."6 In this view the departed ancestor is regarded as very kind and well disposed towards his living relatives.

There are two schools of anthropologists who give different opinions on the subject of the attitude of the living towards the dead. The two principle ideas are7: (1) that those who have gone before have a continuing and beneficent interest in the affairs of the living; and (2) the dead ancestors is unfriendly to the living.

The first school may be called as Totemistic school which believes on Totemism as the main source from which religion has been developed gradually and thinks specially upon the kindly relations between the god and worshippers. According to Robertson Smith,8 the primitive sacrifice is an act of communion, the totem animal or beast which is sacred to the God being slain in order to renew the bond of connection between the clan and its supernatural ally. Thus, he has rejected the assumption 'religion is born of fear.' He9 further states, it is that savage man feels himself to be environed by innumerable dangers which he does not understand, and so personifies as invincible or mysterious enemies of more than human power; it is not true that the attempt to appease these powers is the foundation of religion. From the earliest times, religion, as distinct from magic sorcery, addresses itself to kindred and friendly beings, who may indeed be angry with their people for a time, but are always pleasurable except to the enemies of their worshippers or to renegade members of the community. It is not with a vague fear of unknown powers, but with a loving reverence for known gods who are knit to their worshippers by strong bonds of kinship, that religion in the only true sense of the word begins.

Jevons has claimed that primitive man was "ordinarily and naturally engaged in maintaining such (friendly) relations with the spirits of his deceased clansmen; that he was necessarily led to such relations by the operations of those natural affections which, owing to the prolonged, helpless infancy of the human being, were indispensable to survival of the human race; and that the relations of the living clansman with the dead offered the type and pattern, in part, though only in part, of the relations to be established with other, more powerful, spirits."

To be continued..


* Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on December 02, 2013.



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