TODAY -

Romancing the Tribal Culture via Modern Theatre
- Part 2 -
- An experience with Khenjonglang at Sandang Shenba Maring Khun -

BC Khuman *



The first sight inside the pandal that caught my attention was that of Thanil Leima, being attired in Maring traditional dress. Obviously, it was symbolic of her honest love for tribal culture. That was also exactly what she had done in Tongou last year—then getting attired in Tangkhul traditional dress, thereby giving an optical illusion to the viewers, intriguing them to mistake her for a Tangkhul damsel in the crowd. The same 'special' effect was captured this time too at the Maring village amongst the Maring girls.

When our party reached Sandang Shenba Maring Khun, it was nearly 2 p.m. The closing function of the workshop was clubbed with a Literary Meet of the village youths. When we got there, a Quiz Contest was on as a part of the Meet. As we took our seats, I guessed in a minute that the queries of the contest were about Maring traditional culture (even though the propramme was conducted in Maring dialect).

From the performances of the contestants it was clear that modern day tribal youths are also largely carried away by the sweeping tide of modernisation and westernisation to the extent that they are today scarcely conversant with their own traditional customs and cultural modes, just as we find in many youngsters elsewhere.

Following a solemn prayer conducted by Khulpu Modar, pastor, seeking the holy blessings of Jesus, the Merciful Saviour for the success of the subsequent programme, Mr Merang Morung, an academician of the village formally welcomed the august gathering on behalf of the orgainsers on this happy occasion. Next Mr Khulpu Korung, Ex-Village Chairman addressed the gathering as an invitee.

He expressed his happiness that today the Meiteis are enthusiastically coming forward to help the backward tribals in some or other respects. He stated that the hill people and the valley people have been living like a family since long, though intermingling between the two was disrupted for a brief span in the course of history.

He proudly recalled that during the reign of Maharajah Bodhachandra, there was a Maring who had been rewarded with 'Khamenchatpa', a highly revered royal honour in recognition of one's outstanding service to the kingdom. 'Khamenchatpa' is a especially designed dhoti, the recipient of which is generally held in high esteem in the traditional Manipuri society. The use of Khamenchatpa is specific, subject to some well-defined rules.

Dr. Thanil Leima, the workshop director expressed in her key-note address her profound gratitude to the National School of Drama, New Delhi for its patronizing gesture to her endeavor and her thankfulness to the people of Sandang Shenba Maring Khun for their co-operation for the success of this 45-day workshop. She also expressed her deep concern that due to communication gape such a rich culture as that of the Maring tribe cannot be properly taken care of and much remains to be done to preserve and promote it against the onslaught of modernisation.

It was evident from her speech that she is willing to do something substantial in this regard within the ambit of her capacity as a theatre worker. The main purpose of this workshop is, she added, to create an awareness, to give the participants a glimpse of the interrelationship between theatre and one's traditional culture and to show the local people the avenues of possibility for the cause of their own culture.

Thanil Leima also announced in high spirit that she would try to stage the play 'Khalteba' in Delhi, just as she had done with the Tangkhul play 'Ashang eina Aton'. This is one way theatre can do to showcase our tribal cultures, with the help of the media, to lure the outside world and make them feel the worth of such less known cultures.

Prof N Tombi Singh, the eminent theatre critic and scholar of modern Manipuri literature, in his speech as a special invitee expressed his pleasure that his former student Thanil Leima comes forward with a challenging task today, having chosen to work among the tribals in the remote areas where transport and communication are in bad shape, while other facilities are also practically minimal in there.

He proudly recalled that Maring tribe has a rich cultural heritage—their excellent craftsmanship in bamboo and cane works is proverbial in Manipur, while their expertise in occult science and witchcraft was also widely known in the past.

Their art of weaving, singing and dancing, especially war-dancing which is widely acclaimed, are all clear testimonies of their rich cultural heritage, he stated. While commenting on the age-long relationship between the Maring and the Meitei, Prof Singh delighted the audience by reciting the popular saying of the Meitei, 'Maringi Yenba Khonglakle' and also the famous Manipuri proverb 'Maringna Shaba Sangbaibu Nama Hangba Hounabra?'

Prof N Tombi also vehemently appealed to the audience, especially to the Maring youths, not to compromise their own cultural heritage while they try to keep pace with modernisation and westernisation, lest the precious legacy of their forefathers would be lost into oblivion. He assured that the Meitei culture workers are always ready to help and guide the backward communities like the Maring, who have been in fact a part of the Manipuri history since long—before the coming of Christianity and Hinduism into the territory of this land.

He pointed out that development of Manipur obviously means the comprehensive development of the whole state and the welfare of its inhabitants including those in the remote hilly areas. Hence the need of this kind of workshop as a fillip in the realm of cultural pursuits in the State.

He further elaborated the concept of holistic participation in projecting our national identity by pointing out that the so-called Indian literature, and for that matter Indian theatre or Indian culture, cannot be solely identified with the literature, the theatre and the culture of the mainland India alone.

By this he meant to say that the diverse forms of dialectal literatures, regional theatres and ethnic cultures are the components of what we call Indian literature, Indian theatre and Indian culture. To conclude his speech, Prof Singh stressed the intrinsic power of cultural activities that can bind people of different backgrounds together, that can bring about emotional integration and communal harmony in a pluralistic society like ours.

'Therefore let's meet often, converse face to face and discuss things to improve the quality of our life unitedly', he said in earnest appeal.

To be continued....




* BC Khuman wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on December 17, 2010.


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