Tribal remnants in Meiteis/Meeteis

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I am neither an ethnographer nor a sociologist but certainly a student of history specialized in ancient history. We have studied the tribal ways of life in ancient period particularly of this sub-continent. Some of the prominent features of tribal ways of living are — nature-worship, ancestor-worship, dead burial, hunting-gathering, fishing, group dinning and wine(ing), collective-decision-making, egalitaria- nism, ethnic drinks, peculiar diets, dances and attires etc.
After a certain stage of development and advancement the tribal features do disappear slowly and steadily in almost all the societies. In some places the pace of development is so rapid and so massive that the old traditional ways of living completely wither away.
It will be extremely difficult to trace the ancient tribal tradition and practices in the cosmopolitan and metropolitan cities. However in the villages and under-developed areas we can still find ancient traditions and practices even today.
In remote places or in the hills where the light and sound or the meal and material of modern civilization are deprived, the tribal tradition and practices are still in vogue. For instance, some of the ethnic people of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are still continuing with their traditional style of living. Likewise in far flung areas in Chhotanagpur or Arunachal Pradesh many ethnic groups are still living with their tribal traits and culture.
The Meiteis/ Meeteis are the largest ethnic group in Manipur. Their way of living is very similar if not identical with other ethnic groups in the State. If we segregate the Hindu way of life from the Meiteis, their culture is as good as other ethnic tribal groups; the way they dine, drink and dance are not different from other indigenous groups in the State.
Before the arrival of Hinduism in the State there was hardly any distinction between the hill people and valley people or in other words amongst the indigenous people. They mixed up without any hindrances and hesitation. There were innumerable matrimonial alliances amongst all the ethnic groups and communities in the State. It is not my imagination; these are part of our recorded history.
As a matter of fact Sanskritization made a big chasm between Meiteis and other ethnic communities. The implantation of the practice of holy and unholiness, concept of pure and polluted and the idea of Verna system made our world up-side-down. Gradually the other ethnic groups started distancing themselves from the Meiteis.
The gap between the Meiteis and other ethnic groups was further widened when they started accepting Christianity in the 19th and 20th century. Sometimes I feel that religions have destroyed our brotherhood/sisterhood and fraternity. Otherwise we could have continued to gather as an egalitarian society like the Shinto society in Japan and Tao society in China.
DISTINCTIVE CULTURE: Meiteis have continued with some of their old tradition and practices despite Hinduisation and Sanskritization. They continue with Lai Haraoba (invoking and worshipping of local gods and goddesses) in almost all the localities. It is also a fact that during Lai Haraoba all forms of ethnic dances (wearing traditional costumes) are performed before the deity.
Even today Meiteis are also worshipping their forefathers and ancestors in the form of Chaklon Katpa and Apokpa Khoirumba. In every Meitei household you will find a place of Sanamahi (the progenitor god). A strong tradition of ancestral worship is present in every tribal society.
In addition our Sagolkangjei (polo), Mukna (wrestling), Jagoi (dances), Huyen-lalong (martial- arts) etc. are part of our inherent distinctive culture.
PRIMITIVE WAY OF LIFE: Some of the primitive habits still linger on among the Meiteis. For instance the habit of eating snails, eels, insects( nousek, koujeng , watin etc) are still continuing with many of them. Again ‘Yu’ (local rice brew) which is as old as their culture, is still a popular drink among the Meiteis. As other tribal groups do, Meiteis are very fond of fermented bamboo- soot, beans, fry (fish) etc.
In terms of attire, Meitei women have been wearing phanek since time immemorial and at the same time Meitei men are wearing Khudei and Ningri (without underwear). These traditional attires are more or less the same for all the ethnic groups of Manipur; there may be some slight differences in terms of color, design and texture; otherwise the traditional dresses of all the ethnic people of Manipur are similar.
SHYNESS OF CONTACT: Another significant tribal feature of the Meiteis is their shyness to interact and mixing-up with the outsiders. The present ILPS movement is perhaps an apt example of their shyness and xenophobia.
GENERAL BACKWARDNESS: Meiteis are lagging far behind in education, employment, health-care, infrastructure-development, science and technology, trade and commerce, industrial development etc. as compared to other advanced communities of the developed areas.
GEOGRAPHICAL ISOLATION: Meiteis are living in geographical isolation; they are the inhabitants of the valley of Manipur, which is surrounded by ranges of hills and mountains and it is completely land locked. The means of transport and communication with the outside world is through the erratic and unsafe National highways and airlines. Quite often they are cut off from the outside world as a result of frequent blockades and bandhsaffecting the National highways and even the Airport.
Instead of futile squabbles and arguments among ourselves to decide whether we are still tribal or not, let the competent authorities decide once and for all. I believe our legislators are listening.-

1 COMMENT

  1. Very Good Article Indeed , I have strong feeling Meitei and Kabuii Should Embrace BUDDHISM like Babaseb Ambekar, With Message of peace and Love , Same time we can practices with Meiteism , Or Kabuism. Eg. Most Japanese , Shintoism as well Buddhist. We need to have Profound understanding of different Community, with Loving and Kindness. Without any arrogance. Meitei Be a Tribal Without Invading the space of Hills Brother.

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