Mapithel Dam: Lui-Ngai-ni Token Celebration at Chadong vindicates

Mamta Lukram *

A village at the height of Mapithel Hill, is Chadong in Ukhrul District of Manipur. The village is surrounded by water, isolating from the rest of the world by ascending water from the filling of the Mapithel Dam reservoir. It's scenic description of lush green hill abode of vast lake is a matter of aesthetic appreciation.

The justification for submergence forming artificial lake in the development discourse is for harnessing hydropotential to give economy a boost. The view of calm water surface, responding to the gentle breeze, wavering in ripples sparkling the surface is breath-taking. The village is the right destination for refreshing weary minds. Tourism expansion as development agenda for economic enhancement sounds perfect for the place.

A boat pick-up point for entering into Chadong Village, a village at the end of the horizon
A boat pick-up point for entering into Chadong Village, a village at the end of the horizon

Beyond the horizon of aesthetics hallucinations, the flip off reality of physical accessibility to reach Chadong is wrapped with unfold riddle about relying upon public passenger service and the road conditions. Reaching Yaingangpokpi paying Rs 30 per head from Imphal, one will be stuck by constraint of limited passenger service and has to hire a private autorickshaw from Yaingangpokpi to Lamlai Khunou charging Rs 400/450. This is the boat pick-up point at Rs 30 per head to finally reach Chadong. One is expected to spend more than Rs 500 to reach Chadong on one's own receiving end, an expense, high enough to marginalised people.

People have to wait for more people till the load is full for a collective support of the fare. Accessibility remains another issue with questions of auto driver's readiness to take someone to the determined spot and boatman's availability and accessibility. Time management remained perturb question.

Once seated on the boat one chilly evening, the murky expanse, rippling waves against the flickering light of the boat, surrounded by darkness, fantasy reeled the sense of floating in dream. Little afar could see the lights, twinkling amidst the silhouette of the hilly scape. The shadowy waves rippling the dark water surface enthralled the onlookers. The idea of tourism development condensed deep into the heart listening how the local people resigned to their fate, the strives for existence. They called it a way of life, a part existence.

Lui-ngai-ni in Chadong

Lui-ngai-ni ceremony started early morning with prayer in the temporary community hall at the Chadong Village chief's residence. Seeking blessings connotes the intrinsic notion of the celebration. Ritualistic inferences could be coded from the observation with offerings, seeking blessings for productivity. 'Athei Mathelda Mataisangiu' meaning 'maximise agricultural production' was the theme of the observation. Cotton, arum, pulses and paddy seedlings are being offered and seek blessings through collective prayers.

Chadong Village Chief on Lui-ngai-ni morning
Chadong Village Chief on Lui-ngai-ni morning

According to the village elders, Lui-ngai-ni in Chadong is a cultural praxis through dynamics of cultural transformation. Being an indigenous community, before the advent of the Christianism, they have their own traditional seed sowing festival. The festivals evolved through stages into Luira-Phanit, the essence of which finally incorporated to the Lui-ngai-ni festival.

Be it Luira-Phanit or Lui-ngai-ni, being an indigenous community, agricultural festivals are internalised constructs of their community. The importance of the Nature's cycle to the lives of the indigenous communities is decoded from this festival. Nature's glory is gratified through the hymn. Shimthar Mahongnoo, village authority, shared his view about the celebration,

"Lui-ngai-ni must not be interpreted as a metaphor of agricultural festival plainly, it imbibes implicit meanings. There is an intangible aspect of it. A day of reminiscing the serenity of culture, its graciousness. It is the evaluation day of families and its community members' progressive welfare. Before our village was divided, shattered and scattered, in pre-construction of the Mapithel Dam, the festival was celebrated initiating several events like wrestling, race, javelin throw, archery, tug-of-war, folk songs and folk dances etc. Days were festive and colourful. In the post-construction of the dam, due to submergence and internal displacement, we are commemorating the day through a token celebration. Once the government rehabilitate us, we are planning to revive our tradition, which we are hopeful will be in the near future."

The remark of 'token celebration' decipher the situational degeneration. The intrinsic entirety of the seed sowing festival degrades with the alienating constructs of agricultural activities in the village.

Lui-ngai-ni, in Chadong has a different say in the post-construction of the Mapithel Dam. The reversed fate of the festival percolates with the mass submergence of the vast tract of land. Agricultural festivals loss its resemblance sans agricultural activities and when people become refuge in their own land. The submergence including agricultural land, church, community hall, playground, school buildings, houses, graveyard, structures of personal and community importance serves the testimony of why the festival degrades its resemblance. One Malungchang Kashung remarked,

Echanupi!! (daughter), see! we have no space, no playground, temporary church, temporary community hall, few people and no youths. The water has snatch away our lives and ways of life. (gazing vaguely at the submerged expanse…dismal expression) Water isolate us from the rest of the world and we live in houses called makeshifts. Lui-ngai-ni altered its course like the Thoubal River, we can neither invite our friends or relatives, have gathering, feasting nor leisure time or recreational activities. The Mapithel Dam has deluged our pursuit of life. It spelt social division and contestation of interest, and it shattered the village. (sigh..)Hmmm! nothing constructive evolved. With this ageing, we are fading hopes. (faking a forced smile….) We are surviving a non-plan life, our dreams and aspirations are being curtailed. It's all because of this dam!

Colouful Lui-Ngai-Ni morning at Chadong
Colouful Lui-Ngai-Ni morning at Chadong

Manifestation of collective solidarity through Lui-ngai-ni stunned challenged at Chadong. The diminishing culture narrates how the village strive against exertions. Village elders in particular, endeavour to sustain the festival. Their apprehension of younger generation's shrinking interest in preserving old traditional values asserted. However, situational juxtaposition of internal displacement on one hand and maintaining culture fabrics on the other, saturated the dichotomous explanation. Villagers shared that traditional seed sowing proceeded through blessing from a particular family (clan).

The root belief is, the chosen elder will first sow seedlings of the year followed by community members with his blessings. Collective prayers, feasting and recreational events marked the festival. 65 years old lady Marget Kasar, remarked;

(...enthusiastic expression…smiling) I am known as 'Peidaba's'(cotton planter), daughter. (...giggles..) Meitei community try recognise me tracing my father as 'Aiyaa!! Lashing thabagi machanupi' (daughter of cotton planter), because my father sowed and planted cotton in my village. Now our village no more planted cotton. Our generation witnessed the cherished tradition; (raising voice a little...) my parents did maintain indigenous tradition wayward after our generation's religious conversion. (discontenting expression...) I regret my incompetence for documentation. (...a sudden changed expression..) Mapithel Dam has spelt catastrophe to our village. Ashh!! (stops a while.. a vague gaze) see how many youths stay back at Chadong?? They are all away in strive to sustain in this competitive world. Youths are expected to propagate socio-cultural traditions while elders are to be privileged as authorities. Our youths are displaced and stationed at different places. (Sigh...and continues) Like the seeds dispersed and germinate at scattered places, our youths may revive our culture at pockets they settled. (heavy sigh...)Ahhh! Echanupi!! (daughter) asikhak haige! (this much sharing)

The story of divide fringed the whole informal interaction. Social divide and contestation of interests, arises from the Mapithel Dam issue become the domain of the discourse. Disturbing the natural ecology degenerates traditional social structure become the pathfinding revelation. Moving a bit along towards the southern side of the village was visible the submerging expanse connecting the dam reservoir. At one corner lies a dot of fallow land, once belonged to the tract of fertile agricultural land, which according to the villagers is the last portion of wetland agricultural land left in the post-submergence phenomena, the entity for which, token celebration of Lui-Ngai-Ni at Chadong must have been intriguing.

The only dot fallow wetland agricultural field left to Chadong in post-submergence
The only dot fallow wetland agricultural field left to Chadong in post-submergence

Participating Lui-ngai-ni in Chadong anticipates one to internalise the past glory to keep intact the zing of celebration. When the present-day token celebration failed to add zing, travelling the past would render a portrait of the once prosperous and harmonious Chadong Village along the Mapithel hill, entangled by the free flowing Yangwui Kong or the Thoubal River.

The Lui-ngai-ni celebration in Chadong, folksongs of elderly womenfolk scrolled up the dissenting hearts, waver down the slope from the temporary church sung through the loudspeaker. Women at home initiating their duties were seem hymning to the tunes of the folksongs, a metaphoric solidarity to the tradition.

Ladies participating prayers, offerings and folksongs in traditional attires are the living tradition of Chadong Village. According to the village elders they suggest to sponsor some sporting events but the constraint is the playground for the events and the youth participants. They expressed their aspiration for a well-settled village with realisation of R&R measures to have a grand celebration by succeeding year 2019. Resilient spirits are the people of Chadong, Paishola Mahong, in her late 70s continues,

(in a shaking voice...) In dire hope of propelling prosperity to my village, I sing folksongs today. (...contenting expression) Seed sowing festival is our tradition, we cultivate, we survive, so we pray for productivity. The forms of celebration may evolve giving different nomenclature through ages, yet the basic seed sowing festival itself will survive as long as we people survive. (...determined expression) you people need not dishearten, see!! someday this festival will become a popular festival in our village. Seed sowing is a part of our lives. (..smiling wide..) Hahaha!! I look forward for you, but you arrive late. Mapithel Dam is a curse to our lives!! Whose Dam is it, you know?? People say its government's, (whispering..) is it echanupi???

Village elders singing folksongs
Village elders singing folksongs

* Mamta Lukram wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at mamtalukram(AT)yahoo(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on February 26, 2018.

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