By Pr Kungsong Wanbe
The Koirengs have a social institution of the male dormitory system known as Sier. Every Koireng village has one male dormitory. There is no female dormitory. Only the bachelors of the village can be admitted to the Sier after reaching the age of puberty. There is no particular rite of initiation of the boys to the Sier. So long as a boy remains unmarried, he continues to be a member of the Sier. The dormitory/Sier is housed in an elder’s house. The function of the dormitory system is to impart informal education in traditional life, craft and culture of the Koireng community. The dormitory also provides a community life for the youths and inculcates strong sense of unity, discipline and corporate life. It also acts as guard house and the members of the Sier look after the defence of the village. Naturally, the rules of the Sier are very strict and any violation of the rules brings heavy punishment on the erring boys. Attendance of the Sier is compulsory. The boy comes to the Sier after evening meal and sleeps there.
In the management of the Sier/dormitory there are two grades among the members of the dormitory on the basis of age, and age is highly respected in Koireng society. The senior members are called REIBAK whereas the juniors are called SIERNAI. Two persons from amongst the seniors are chosen to command the two groups that are the seniors and the juniors. They are known as SIER-Upa (Head of the dormitory). One interesting point is that the SIER-UPA may be chosen from amongst the members of the Khuo (Village Authority) which the organisation of the married persons of the village including married females.
The duties of the SIER-Upas are to control the affairs and activities of the dormitory, maintain discipline among the members and promote cooperative social action. The junior members are assigned with the collection of firewood from the nearby jungles. The members are taught to dance, sing, play, tell folk tales and learn village folklores in the Sier. The seniors generally train the juniors in handicraft, especially basketry and warfare and in the handling of weapons. Even moral instruction covering marriage affairs are also imparted. The Sier also acts as the recreational centre for the youths of the village. The members of the Sier render joint communal service to individual families during marriage, sacrifices, house buildings, harvesting, clearing jhum fields for cultivation or the village community works. The Sier sometimes settle small cases, especially among its members even before reference to the village council.
One important function of the Sier in early times was the protection of the village from enemies and wild animals. Thus, all the weapons- dao, spear, bow and arrows are kept in the dormitory. The Sier trains up the young men to be ideal members of the Koireng community. It may be mentioned that though the origin of the Sier is obscure, it can be safely concluded that the need to impart traditional education to the young men and provision of protection to the village from hostile enemies must have been the basic factors leading the emergence of the Sier which is a fundamental social institution of the Koireng tribe. Thus, with the coming of educational institutions and safety and security provided by regular administration, the functions of dormitory have been greatly minimised leading to the decline of this institution. It has now become more or less a nominal organisation performing ritual roles during festivals, sacrifices and social actions.
There is no female organisation in the traditional Koireng society. But it does not mean that they occupy a low position in the society. The status of Koireng women is quite high. Their economic role is a very important reason for the stability of the Koireng society. The Koireng women are given some role in the administration of the village; a woman member is represented in the village known as Khuo. There are many Koireng women who are well-versed in Koireng folklores, custom and tradition and a lady informant of this survey is a recognised authority on the customary laws. This is how the Koireng Dormitory/Sier operates and functions.
The writer is Former Secretary, The Koireng Historical Research Committee, Manipur.