Religious function of pei in the traditional Zeliangrong society
- Part 2 -

Budha Kamei *

Colonel McCulloch remarks of the Zeliangrong that "A whole village or individual members of it are often 'Neina' or under prohibition. Sometimes this state of things lasts a day, sometimes several. The 'Neina' may be against the entrance of strangers or the exit of members, or of both, or allowing the entrance of strangers, disallow their going into houses, etc."

In traditional Zeliangrong society, Neihmei for good paddy (Napchang Lingpui Nei) and crops (Loidui Boumei Nei), safety from rats and rodents (Pu-Pok Mong Thingmei Nei), pests and birds (Thaoroi Mun Thingpui Nei), animals and beasts (Su-Jou Mun Thingpui Nei) and genna for rich harvest (Nap Thuipui Nei) etc. are strictly observed for bountiful harvest (prosperity) of the village. To break or violate it, is a taboo and treated as a serious punishable crime.

M. Horam says, among the Nagas, punishment meted out of the taboo breaker is mainly in the form of sacrifices of animals and other ceremonies to placate an angry supernatural power. Therefore, the Pei will see that the traditional laws, customs and usages are strictly followed by the people or not.

Alfred Reginald Radcliffe-Brown observes, religious conditions such as "pollution, uncleanness, sinfulness can be removed or neutralized by socially prescribed or recognized procedures, such as lustration, penance, sacrifice, confession and repentance. These expiatory rites are also considered to act either immediately or mediate through their effects on gods or spirits, depending upon whether the sin is regarded as acting in the one way or the other."

In addition to Thanthingpatmei ritual, the offender or taboo breaker is suggested to observe the ritual worship (Pumkanmei) for safety and protection or to avoid evil consequences. The closing of the village gates for high festivals has occasionally been the cause of deadly feuds among the Nagas.

Life cycle ceremonies:

It is the responsibility of Pei to supervise the performances of life cycle ceremonies of the birth (Naponmei), marriage (Noushonmei), and death (Theimei). Usually, birth ceremony known as Najumgaimei is performed on the fifth day by offering a cock (Sangdai) and a hen (Sanglou), ginger to Tingkao Ragwang and Dampapui for wellbeing of the child. It is carried out by a priest with the chanting of Najumgaimei soi.

The priest predicts the future of the child by observing the legs of the victims. The cooked chicken is distributed among the elders of Pei; as custom the priest gets a long neck with head called Loipi. A proper name is also given for the child by the present elders of Pei because without a name a man cannot be counted as a member of the society.

Generally, name is selected and given with due consideration after the names of the dead ancestors who were victorious head-hunters or of possessing amazing wealth. This ceremony recognises the existence of the child in the village and the responsibility of the parent to bring up the child.

In the lifecycle of an individual, marriage is an important social event as the couple with the consent of their parents and Pei's elders begins a new stage of life.

Mhailakmei, marriage ceremony is performed by an elder of Pei to recognise them as husband and wife. Dead is the last crisis in the life cycle of an individual. Dead rituals such as ginger offering (Gu Kashetkeimei), offering of food and drink to the dead (Pukpaomei), making of seven food packets for the dead to eat and drink on his way to another world (Theinapdom Nimmei), bathing the dead (Duiloumei), dressing the dead (Pheiban Pumei), purification of the grave with fire (Mhaihamei), etc. are directly or in some way supervised by the elders of Pei for safe passage of the dead to another world, to which they actually belong.

Worship of Supreme God (Tingkao Ragwang):

The Pei also decides on the sacrifices to be offered to Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God, the Zeliangrong pantheon gods and Bambu, presiding deities of the village. Tingkao Ragwang is worshipped by offering sacrifice such as a fowl or goat, ginger etc. for safety and protection of the whole village community. This is locally called Kairong Pumkan. However, such ritual worship is seldom performed. It is performed by a priest at the Peikai with the chanting of Pumkan Soi.

The legs of the victim are examined in quest of good portent. The victim is cooked and consumed by the present elders of Pei. After the performance of the ritual worship, the entire village community has felt relaxation from apprehensions and suspicions or from any kind of trouble or danger.

Annually, every household of the village also performs the ritual worship known as Tingkao Ragwang Jang Lamei by sacrificing a big cock for wellbeing of the family members. Sometimes, they also perform Kairongbuh Kaomei, calling of soul with a big cock at the Peikai invoking Tingkao Ragwang for safety and wellbeing of the village community.

Worship of Zeliangrong pantheon gods:

Usually, on the Rangpatmei day of Gaan-Ngai festival, they worship the Seven Brothers gods and presiding deities of the village, gods of different aspects of nature like the God of fire, wind etc., propitiation of evil spirits not to disturb men is performed by offering fowls, wine, water, ginger, egg etc. for wellbeing and prosperity of the village. It is carried out by a priest outside the Northern gate of the village, the seat of Kaipi Bambu, upper village deity with the chanting of relevant hymns.

The individual who intends to become Shaman priest also performs Raren Loumei. A complete genna (Neihmei) is observed during the performance of the sacrifice. The chickens are cooked at the ritual place and consumed by the elders of Pei, old women and children who are not yet admitted in the dormitories. Adults are prohibited to eat the chicken.

TC Hodson has stated that in Zeliangrong society food taboo are not rigidly imposed on either the very young or the old. "Appointments and retirement of person, handing over of charges, etc. in connection with religious-cultural matters concerning the village is announced at this place. Such announcements which are believed to be made in front of the gods have strong customary sanctions behind them."

After the ritual ceremony, it is customary to fill up any vacant post of the village. The mode of selection is based on seniority of age. Then, the village elders return at the Peikai with a Lilai Hoi. At the Peikai, a priest holding a big pig cock and performs Kairongbuh Kaomei (calling of the soul) invoking Tingkao Ragwang to extend protection to the people of the village from death and danger and provide welfare to the village and its people. A piece of cooked chicken will be distributed to every household of the village.

Worship of village presiding deities (Bambu):

The Zeliangrong people live in the villages. Annually, after harvest they worship the Bambu by sacrificing a big pig for safety and wellbeing of the whole village community. It is usually performed in an auspicious day fixed by the Pei, village council. A priest on behalf of the village performs the ritual worship with the chanting of relevant hymn. The spleen of the pig is removed and observed by the present elders of Pei in search of good sign. The victim is cooked and consumed by the villagers including women and children.

Calling of the soul of Duikhun:

The Pei also looks after the village pond called Duikhun Khundai, which is the source of water. If there is an acute shortage of water in the pond, a ritual called Duibukaomei, calling the soul of water is performed at the residence of Nampou for plenty of water. In the ritual, the Nampou or an elder of Pei with a banana leaf cup (Loiduk) of water (which he secretly fetched from the same pond) and milk of the cow or pig, calls upon the soul of water three or five times with chant.

And after the calling of Duibukaomei, the cow or mother pig is sacrificed in the name of Tingkao Ragwang saying: "Let the water of our Duihkun Khundai flow in abundance like the milk of the cow or pig." The sacrificed animal or victim is cooked and eaten by the elders of Pei. The pig or cow for the ritual will be brought out by the Nampou.

The above rites and rituals are concluded by offering holy wine to the Supreme God, ancestors, presiding village deities and evil spirits (Pahra) for safety and not to give trouble to men. This is called Joupan Keimei. Pei is, therefore, the protector and guardian of culture and religion.


The Pei carefully and jealously guards the religious customs and practices at the village level. Thus, the Zeliangrong antique religion survives.


* Budha Kamei wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on November 30, 2016.

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