Tangkhul Shiyan-Chikan can help mitigate environment concerns
Source: Chronicle News Service / R Lester Makang

Ukhrul, June 12 2024: The notion of biorhythm - inherent cyclic patterns found within living organisms - has long fascinated scientists.

Biorhythms help organisms synchronise with the periodic changes in their surroundings, influencing biological processes such as sleep-wake cycles, reproduction, migration, and feeding patterns.

This adaptation ensures optimal survival strategies in response to environmental cues like temperature variations and seasonal shifts.

While the concept of this biological phenomenon sounds a little scientific, ancestors of the Tangkhul community, unbeknown to them, demonstrated an intuitive understanding of these principles centuries ago.

Even without modern scientific knowledge, they had already recognised and harnessed principles that exactly mirrored the concept of biorhythm, born from their astute observations of nature and experimentation.

For generations, their lives have been guided by such principles - a way of life that helped indigenous cultures thrive.

They, thus, developed an intricate understanding of their environment, weaving their daily lives into a harmonious balance with nature.

A cornerstone of the Tangkhuls' ancient lifestyle - lost in the transition of time - this traditional wisdom is proving increasingly relevant today.

In other words, the loss of this ancient wisdom is being increasingly felt as the present generation grapples with escalating environmental challenges, from both natural occurrences and the consequences of human activities.

Hungyohung, 71-year-old environmental activist from Mailiang village, Kamjong district, observed that the ancestors who were devoid of the light of modern education, possessed an innate knowledge of the periodic biological rhythms of plants and animals.

"This wisdom guided their decisions on when to harvest crops and natural resources and when to protect them and the environment," he said, adding that the seasons dictated their actions, guiding them towards a balance between livelihood activities and the ecosystem.

According to Hungyohung, traditional practices are not mere superstitions or arbitrary rules; they are scientific practices, deeply rooted in centuries of observation and experience.

"These practices are our forefathers' traditional concept of biorhythm which offers meaningful insights into sustainable living and respect for the environment".

For example, in the past, elders would not allow cutting plants or trees from Mayo Kachang (spring) onward, and such activities would typically be done only during Si Kachang (winter), he said.

"Our limited understanding of the practice was that harvesting resources, especially timber during this period could render them useless due to pest infestation," Hungyohung continued, while adding that the underlying logic behind this restriction, on the contrary, was far more profound.

"It was to ensure that food sources were available for birds and animals during the breeding season, when new sprouts emerge.

For the wildlife, too, nourishment is crucial during this (breeding) period".

He said that the elders developed their own lunar calendar through experiments to regulate agricultural activities, planting and harvesting crops based on specific Zur-Kan cycle (Moon phases) known to affect plant growth.

Similarly, their traditional hunting and fishing practices were guided by an understanding of seasonal patterns that influenced animal behaviour and optimal hunting period, he said.

Hungyohung, however, noted that there has been a generation gap and expressed concern over the erosion of this knowledge among the younger generation.

He pointed out that the lure of modern lifestyles in the absence of consistent knowledge transfer from elders has led to a disconnect.

What has further aggravated this disconnect is the fast emerging trend of commercialisation.

"In the past, nature's bounty provided ample sustenance, but this abundance has vanished as greed has taken hold.

Commercialisation has transformed how we view natural resources," he lamented, adding that people now seem to prioritise profits over preserving natural resources.

"For example, in the case of gooseberry harvesting, people thoughtlessly shear branches to collect the fruits, leaving trees wounded and vulnerable," he further observed.

This disconnect is also echoed by 73-year-old social activist L Keenson of Langdang village, Ukhrul district, who noted that the dwindling relevance of 'Shiyan-Chikan,' the traditional Tangkhul customary do's and don'ts.

These customs, which acted as guides for respecting and balancing nature, are fading away among the present-day generation.

"Such disregard for 'Shiyan-Chikan' is bound to lead us all to a disrupted ecological balance," he rued.

The consequences of this generational divide are palpable.

"Deforestation, soil erosion, and unsustainable agricultural practices are rampant, threatening the biodiversity," Keenson further observed, adding that the lack of knowledge about sustainable practices exacerbated the problem.

Homhor Zimik, 35-year-old farmer from Ukhrul district's Pharung village, observed that the current environmental crisis, for the most part, stem from the rapid increase in human population.

"In the past, with a smaller population, natural resources were abundant," Zimik explained.

"However, as population has soared, the demand for these resources has far outpaced their availability".

According to Zimik, this shortage of resources may drive people to exploit the environment for their survival.

He warned that deforestation, may even take on a more severe form.

"In the modern day, with the advent of heavy machinery such as earth excavators, vast tracts of forest lands could be destroyed in a matter of hours".

Another concern Zimik noted is the emerging practice of leasing large areas of hillside to private enterprises for commercial activities like stone quarrying which could lead to over exploitation.

"Such activities naturally lead to deforestation," he said, "which in turn depletes water sources, a vital resource for both communities and ecosystems".

The future of Ukhrul and Kamjong districts' local ecology hinges on bridging the generational divide and reconnecting with the wisdom of the past.

This can play a significant role in mitigating the existing environmental issues and ensuring a sustainable future for the posterity.

Hungyohung is of the belief that the wisdom of sustaining the environment can be found in the ancient practices of the forefathers.

"We can find sustainable solutions for a future that respects the interconnectedness of all living things.

This is a very good-proposition.

For that to happen, 'Story-telling sessions' may be organised at convenient locations where a few senior citizens with sound traditional ecological knowledge may be invited to tell the stories imparting traditional ecological knowledge to the youngsters" .

"This can help reconnect the younger generation with the wisdom of their elders.

These sessions could involve sharing practical knowledge about biorhythm, sustainable farming techniques, and traditional ecological practices" .

He also expressed the need for public support to this initiative.

"Unfortunately we don't have much philanthropic persons among well to do households.

Church is the best and the strongest platform to take the task.

We can't love, follow and believe in God without loving His creations".

As Zimik observed, human resources development holds immense potential for revitalising sustainable practices.

"This requires a collaborative approach, spearheaded by professional experts who are currently working outside our community.

By returning home, they can champion sustainable economic opportunities that align with traditional practices, encouraging young people to participate in conservation while securing a viable livelihood," he said.

On a positive note, Zimik highlighted a growing awareness of preservation among a significant number of young people in recent years.

He added that the imposition of a hunting ban in villages like Pharung, spanning from March to September which is the breeding season, has yielded positive results.

"Since the ban was imposed some five years back, we've noticed a gradual increase in wild animals like Siva (wild boar), deer and others.

Even the chirping of birds like Koktui Sampheirok (Cuckoo) is becoming more frequent," he exuded.

(This article is written under the joint initiative of Media Resource Centre, Directorate of Environment & Climate Change and Ukhrul District Working Journalists' Association) .

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