Kinship and marriage among the Zeliangrong 1


Budha Kamei

Introduction: The Zeliangrong,1 one of the natives of Northeast belong to Tibeto-Burman family of the Mongoloid racial stock.2 Tradition says, the Zeliangrong ancestors originated from a cave known as Mahou Taobei; they moved to Makhel and to Ramting Kabin, and then to Makuilongdi, Senapati District of Manipur. From Makuilongdi, they migrated to different directions. Most of the Naga traditions point to Makhel as their original home. Another theory suggests that the Zeliangrong along with other groups of Tibeto-Burman family came from two regions: south-East Asia and South-West China. As the Zeliangrong are “Tibeto-Burman, they must have lived with other groups of the same family in south West China before 1000 B.C and migrated to eastern Tibet, Upper Burma, then moved into Irrawaddy valley, Malaysia and Indonesia, and they returned southward and entered north East India through Manipur river, and some tracts of Indo-Burma border to their present habitat (North East).” 3 The present article attempts to look into the kinship and marriage systems found among the Zeliangrong.

Kinship: The term Kinship system is explored for a system of kinship and marriage or kinship and affinity.4 It is the system of human relationships derived from marriage and descent. It is an important factor regulating behavior between individuals and affecting the formation of social, political and territorial group.5 This social rule binds different members into one and forbids them from doing certain anti-social activities. If the kin is directly related by blood is called consanguinal kinship relation. For example father and son, father and daughter, mother and son, mother and daughter relationship etc. Morgan uses the terminology, genes for the body of consaguinal descended from the same common ancestor, distinguished by a gentile name, and bound together by kinship affinities of blood.6 Similarly when the blood relationships are counted through a distant it is termed as collateral kinship relations. For instance, the relationship that exists between ego and father’s sisters etc. On the other hand, when the kins are related by marriage, then the kinship is called affinal. Say the husband and wife relationship is called affinal relationship.

There are two main types of kinship system – patrilineal and matrilineal systems. In patrilineal system, the relationship is counted from male line and the later is from the maternal relationship.

Kinship Terminology: Kinship terminology forms an important part in the whole kinship system as it serves as an index to understanding of the kinship relation and patterns of behavior among various kin groups. The kinship terms of the Zeliangrong include both descriptive and classificatory type. Among the Zeliangrong the father and father’s brothers are designated by the same term Apu, but this term again modified by a descriptive suffix term indicating seniority as in Aputhao and junior in Apulao. Thus, father’s brother’s son is designated as Achai. In this case also, some descriptive terms are suffixed to indicate seniority and junior to the speaker as in Achaibung and Akaina respectively. In the same way many descriptive terms are used by the Zeliangrong. There are the terms used for one’s father’s brother’s daughter, (elder as Achailu and younger as Akainalu), brother (elder as Achaibung and younger as Akaina) and so on.

The kinship structure of the Zeliangrong is also of classificatory type as stated above. That is usually one kin term is used to denote different categories of relations. To exemplify the classificatory terms it may be mentioned that, one term Pu is used to address all the male persons of father’s age. All women of mother’s age are similarly addressed by the term Pui.
The term Apou is used for father’s sister’s husband, wife’s father, husband’s father, husband’s elder brother, mother’s brother, elder sister’s husband, father’s father, and mother’s father. In the same way Apei is used father’s mother and mother’s mother. The term Anei is used for husband’s mother and wife’s mother. Here the writer does not purpose to deal with all systems in which classificatory principle is applied to in the terminology, but only with a certain widespread type. In these systems the distinction between consaguinal and collateral relatives is clearly recognized and is of great importance in social life, but it is in certain respect subordinated to another structural principle of the solidarity of the siblings group. For example, a group of siblings is constituted by the sons and daughters of a man and his wife in monogamous society/community or of a woman and her husbands in polyandrous society or of a man and his wives where there is polygyny. The bond uniting brothers and sisters together into a social group is everywhere regarded as important, but it is more emphasized in some societies than in others. The solidarity of sibling is shown in the social relations between its members.

Kinship terms are most frequently used in addressing persons of ascending generations or of the same generation but older. As a general rule, a family member senior to oneself in generation or in age is never addressed by name as sign of respect, whereas it is quite acceptable that those junior to oneself in generation or in age may be addressed by name. Some of the kinship terminologies of the Zeliangrong with reference to consanguineal, collateral and affinal relatives are given below:

Consaguinals :
1. Great Grandfather     Apou(dai), 2. Grandfather     Apou(dai), 3. Father’s father    Apou, 4. Great Grandmother     Apei(dai), 5. Grand mother    Apei(dai), 6. Father’s mother    Apei, 7. Mother’s father    Apou, 8. Mother’s mother    Apei, 9. Father    Apu, 10. Mother    Apui, 11. Son    Anapou, 12. Daughter    Analu, 13. Son’s son          Atoupu, 14. Son’s daughter    Atoulu, 15. Great Grandchild    Atak, 16.Direct descendants of 4th generation    Thang, 17.Direct descendents of the 5th generation    Ru, 18.Direct descendent of the 6th generation    Pai

Collaterals :
1. Father’s elder brother    Aputhao, 2. Father’s younger brother    Apulao, 3.Father’s brother’s son,                                  (Elder-Achaibung & younger- Akaina), 4. Father’s brother’s daughter,     (elder-Achailu & younger-Akainalu), 5. Father’s sister    Anei, 6. Brother’s son    Achainapou, 7. Brother’s daughter    Achainalu , 8. Sister’s son    Achainapou, 9. Sister’s daughter     Achainalu,10. Brother, Elder     Achaibung, 11. Mother’s sister, Elder    Apuithao, 12. Mother’s sister younger    Apuilao, 13. Mother’s brother    Apou

Affinals :
1. Father’s brother’s wife    Apuilao, 2. Father’s sister’s husband    Apou, 3. Mother’s brother’s wife    Anei, 4. Son’s wife    Amao, 5. Daughter’s husband    Alugaan, 6. Wife    Nou, 7. Husband    Gaan, 8. Husband and wife    Nou-gaan, 9. Mother’s sister’s husband    Apulao, 10. Elder brother’s wife    Apuilao, 11. Younger sister’s husband    Meimak, 12. Elder sister’s husband    Apou, 13. Wife’s father    Apou, 14. Wife’s mother    Anei, 15. Wife’s younger brother    Meimak, 16. Husband’s father    Apou, 17.Husband’s younger sister    Aning, 18. Wife’s elder sister    Apuilao

Marriage (Noushonmei): Nousonmei, marriage, is the union of a boy and a girl to form a family with social and religious consent, in which the mates, their parents and the village elders have to give consent. The main objective of marriage is to establish a family for reproduction and continue the society. “Marriages are made in Heaven.”7 Tingkao Ragwang Kaithu Shamsuiloumei denotes those whose hair had been bound in the abode of Tingkao Ragwang, the supreme God. This local tradition gives a vision that Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God had already made man and woman in double by tying their hair together in His heavenly abode to become husband and wife in the world and to command the world on his behalf by extending throughout the surface of the earth. Thus, the basic idea of marriage is to act upon the plan and follow the command of Tingkao Ragwang.

Sacrament: In Zeliangrong society, marriage is considered not a simple social contract, but a religious sacrament. A marriage relation between a man and a woman cannot be disunited because it contains rite and rituals performed in the name of Tingkao Ragwang. On the day of marriage, a ceremony called Mhairakmei is performed by a priest with the recitation of the marriage hymn. In the ceremony, the groom and bride are made to sit on a big bed placing their right legs on the hoe, Laogai, which is on a plantain leaf. At the end of the recitation, the priest holds up the cock high and strangles its neck and carefully observes the legs when it dies. Holy wine is also offered to Tingkao Ragwang for wellbeing and prosperity of the couple in the days to come. After this performance, they are recognized as husband and wife.  Hence, it may be stated that marriage in Zeliangrong society is a religious sacrament.

Marriageable age: Among the Zeliangrongs, the ages of fourteen and fifteen years are very important. At the age of fourteen years for girls and fifteen years for boys, both the boys and girls come out of babyhood. At this age, they usually sit near the elders and learn from them the way to become fatherhood and motherhood. Generally, a boy marries between eighteen and twenty five and a girl between fifteen and twenty one. The age of boy is higher because he is expected to have source of income before he marries. In olden times, the hair of the unmarried girls was often kept short quite close to the head, but it was permitted to grow its natural length only after their marriage.8

Marriage rule: There are definite rules regulating whom the members of the community may and may not marry. They strictly follow clan exogamy. They are divided into four exogamous clans, namely Kamei, Gonmei, Gangmei and Rongmei.9 Marriage between parent and child, brother and sister is strictly prohibited. “Each clan is an exogamous unit and a man cannot marry a woman if she belongs to the same clan. A man cannot marry his father’s brother’s daughter or mother’s sister’s daughter because parallel cousins are regarded as taboo and marriage with any of them is unthinkable. However, marriage with mother’s brother’s daughter is allowed and preferred. Marriage with father’s sister’s daughter is not permissible.”10 There is no evidence of any linked marriage among the Zeliangrongs: “a man with his wife’s brother’s daughter, a woman with her husband’s sister’s son; a man with his sister’s daughter and a woman with her brother’s son.”11 The society prohibits such oblique marriages.    (To be contd)

Source: The Sangai Express


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here