MANGKANG: The Premier festival of Maram Women folks

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By Pungdi P Celestine
For the Maram Women folks, spring season means a lot more than just breaking from their routine agricultural ‘heavy’ activities. What the folks remain excited about is to immerse themselves fully in celebration of the spring with songs, dance and feasting. The festival  is traditionally observed and celebrated at the Maram ancestral village – Maram Khullen (Maramei Namdi) but in recent years, it has been celebrated occasionally at other parts of the Maram. Based on Lunar Calendar (Maram agricultural Calendar), it usually takes place on the fourth day of new month Tingpuikii – March in a Leap Year/April in a regular year.

The first Three Days of the new month is considered to be observed as a prelude to the main festival of Mangkang.

Features of the Mangkang Festival.

Day one/Miitam: The first day conforms the ceremonial arrival of the new month and the new day is known as Miitam which is observed every first day of the new month. (Between the departure of old month and arrival of new month there is a gap in between known as Kaliimra -a day ahead of Miitam. With the observance of Kaliimra Manai, male villagers go to jungles in search of Tiiking-ting, a particular tree of which bark and stems after properly pounded is used for fishing to poison the river water.)

On Miitam, male folks would go for community fishing either in groups, zones or whole village to be returned the following day except for the younger ones. It is taboo for Maram Khullen women to take part in this particular community fishing the practice of which is different from other villagers or tribes.

Day two/Miila-Kasa: The fishing party returns in the morning with the catch and the bounties are shared to neighbours especially to aged-old widows/widowers. This act is known as MIILA-HA. Thus, one important aspect associated with this feastive spirit is the traditional ways of sharing one’s resources generously with others. Women folks are seen engaging over their looms or some needle-work so as to hush-up their preparation before the Mangkang Day.

Day three/Miila: The observance of Miila begins with the ritual offering of food known as Sara-kok to the supreme God. Early in the morning, housewives of every home or oldest women performed oblation ceremony by offering (in very small amount) fresh cooked rice with salt or slice of chicken on an unblemished banana leave and placed in the co-joined small basket-racks (Rajii-kokna). It is note worthy to observe that the food to be offered is kept at the right-hand-side of the structural house with the rice taken out from the first part of the pot before it is served to anyone else and the part of the chicken from its right-hand-side body portion. This is the symbolic act of offering and invoking the Almighty for the prosperity of wealth.

Besides fetching water & firewood, the day witnesses rare activity of women of that period in cleaning house hold works and kitchen wares. This day is considered auspicious as utensils like old-wooden spoon, the three-cooking stones etc. are replaced by new ones. In popular parlance, it heralds the beginning of the new and passing of the old.

From this day on, the next 3 days or until Miiru is observed even pounding of paddy meant for rice-beer, engagement in paddy fields and weaving activities are restricted.

Popular diets on Miila are mostly limited to chicken and sea foods (fish, snails, water insects). It is genna to consume vegetables except for ginger.

These acts of observations with restriction are believed to help prepared Marams in the past to observe the festival with purity and dignity as their lives depended on the framing process.

Further, as it is also the countdown for the next day’s Mangkang, women are found busy in getting ready with their costumes –earrings (Hiibui), wristlets/bracelets, bangles, necklaces etc. and other woven attires. The upper or surface portions of the ears are pierced for hanging baikuinei (black threads that connects both the ears and passed below the chin).

Day four/Mangkang: There is excitement and anticipations as young girls look forward to showcase their wonderful sights, sounds and tastes in colourful traditional attires in all its sheer grandeur. Festivities go on throughout the day in leisure, eating and drinking at several places in groups. Around noontime girls go to the village wells to take bath. Attired in colourful traditional finery and costumes in full zeal and fervour, young girls are seen going round the village in singing meaningful sequence of songs and the village wears a festive look. It is a sight to behold as they wear woven attires according to the ranks and age in the society.

Women married within that year and her friends are accorded courteous reception and treated with rice-beer, festive food menu to their delights (Miitek) at her husband’s house. Then she is decked in her traditional finery and proceeded to Raliiki (spinster’s dormitory). Soon they are joined by other groups and take out a procession in singing till they converge at the traditional picturesque Psii-ha pung/dance playground. The various zones of women groups: Magaimei, Bungnamei, Lamkhana, Kagamna, Kasiim-N’Jangmei will march from their respective directions and occupy the arena in traditionally separate. It is taboo for elder women (except those married ones within that year) and males to step in the playground. As such, it is a common sight for young bachelors/boys struggling to climp up the trees that surround the Psii-ha pung in their efforts to have the glimpse of the beautiful ladies.

With the grand confluence, Psii-ha pung ground becomes a riot of sheer grandeur with different peer groups waiting for their turn to perform.

As the young girls set out to dance, other folk members of the group will cheer in chanting thePsii-ha (dance) song “Ai lou mei …!!!

The initiative and enthusiasm in their displays and representation with the vigorous and harmonious steps showing unity among dancers’ best exemplified the true essence of Mangkang. As the platform offers occasion to climb the ladder of social recognition that prompted young girls to capture the audience’s attraction, during the course of Psii-ha (dance), there is an exchange of feelings and competitive spirit between the peer groups. As the momentum of the competition gears up, the indulgence of dancers reach climax to the extend that ornaments like necklaces are seen worn off and tear down. Then, voicing out their feelings as part of outshining others, songs of competing each other are repeatedly exchanged.

So that the apparent intense situation may not turn ugly, men folks intervene and guide their “sisters” to their own respective directions in voicing the sounds of festive yelling and howling-Miigu, by which time it is almost dark.

Those women married within that year spend this night with friends at the spinster’s dormitory with their sleeping platform separately arranged. This is a symbolic gesture of bidding farewell to the married ones.

Festive food items and drinks are brought to the dormitory, shared and consumed. They enjoy and sing till late at night. Left over foods was thrown away.

The Mangkang Psii-ha/Dance was to the past Maram Young Girls, what Miss Contest is to the present day. Intricate pictures of her beauty, dancing acumen, talents, decency, temperament and other characters that an ideal girl should possess are keenly observed. It is believed that young bachelors who are gathered as spectators look out for their brides. If found one, marriage proposal is made in the month of Pung-Ngii kii /July (rich ones) and in taroukiii / September (poor ones). Wedlock takes place in kapok-kii/ January.

Male villagers are to remain in chaste at the Mangkang Night as immediately the following day (Tingpui-Miiru) hunting expedition will be undertaken.

Day five/Tingpui-Miiru: This auspicious day is believed to be observed as feast of purification and sanctification of village male members. Early in the morning before dawn, male members would go to the village springs to take bath and clean their hunting weapons. On their return, water is brought for the younger ones in the jars made of bitter gourd and wash them at home. The large wooden sleeping platform at the Morung (Riihangki-Male’s dormitory) is also cleansed with the water. Thus another characteristic involved with this feast is the symbolic cleansing, renewal/revival and keeping of oneself pure for the entire year.

When the rituals of Miitek, an act in which the dried meat of wild animal preserved in basket rack is shared & consumed and N’tek that offers wine to the supreme God by pouring out wine from cups are performed, male members enjoy Ajao Maha (drinking) at the Morung. Even the young ones who have registered members to the Morung institution at the last Kanghi-malem are also symbolically offered ‘drops’ of wine.

Women are prohibited to fetch water or crossed the village path to be taken by male folks before they leave the village for hunting. In stringent form, carry-basket that hangs from the women head for fetching water, firewoods etc. is strictly prohibited. Even the house wife to whose house the Morung is attached is restricted from the threshold of the Morung.

Hunting fame is carried out in groups, zones or whole village. When a haunted animal is brought to the village, attempt is made to share the meat. Here again, we notice the similar characteristic of community fishing that features sharing of resources.

The head portion is brought to the Morung. Making sure that the skull is not cut into pieces, after boiling the meat in the pot, the skulled is preserved to adorn the Morung house.

It is significant to mark that the housewife to whose house the Morung was attached acts as a co-performer and plays a crucial role throughout the hunting ceremony. If wild animal is hunted down easily or in no time, it was believed the housewife must have observed rituals properly and vice-versa.

In the event of not able to haunt animal on the first day, the expedition is carried on for days as it was believed until he gets his prey it would bring bad omen to the village and it undermines the skill of warrior ship. In those days of forefathers, the practice of warfare/head-hunting was inevitable as their survival depended on it. Throughout the expedition, it is genna to engage in paddy fields and the villagers are to remain in chaste.

This year’s traditional Mangkang took place on the 4th day of the new month TINGPUIKII which falls on 26th March at Maram Khullen and its replica with other features of enrichment will be held from 27 – 30th April (TINGPUIKII) 2012.

This article based on findings by MARAM STUDENTS’ UNION (MKS) over its 3 (three) weeks of intensive consultations with village elders is a bid to document in an attempt to preserve and rediscover the Pearls that are imbedded in our culture which we have inherited from our fore-fathers. It depicts the ancestral life styles in its originality and reminds the youngsters that fore-fathers had a very serious perspective to what festival meant. Today with the populace almost entirely embracing Christianity, we find cultural practices and belief being partially distorted the legacy of the glorious past. Nevertheless, traditions, customs, socio-ethical values and other practices live on in the life of the people.

The Students’ Body invites constructive suggestions and contributions in its documentation process so as to enable the younger generations see the completeness of traditional values and practices and encourage them to go back to their roots.

(PUNGDI P CELESTINE)
President , Maram Students’ Union (MKS)

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