Lifecycle ceremonies of the Zeliangrong of Northeast – Part 2

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Dr Budha Kamei

From previous issue

In Zeliangrong society, marriage is considered not a simple social contract but a religious sacrament. A marriage relation between a man and woman cannot be disunited because it contains rite and rituals performed in the name of Tingkao Ragwang. On the day of marriage, Mhairakmei ceremony is performed in which a cock, a Laogai (a small iron spade, a symbol of sanctity) and a Guh (ginger) are offered to Tingkao Ragwang for long life, prosperity, and a long line of generation of the young couple. It is carried out by a priest with the recitation of the marriage hymns called Mhairakshoi. In the ceremony, the groom and bride are made to sit on a bed placing their right legs on the Laogai which is on a plantain leaf. At the end of the recitation, the priest holds up the cock high and strangles its neck to death. The legs of the victim are carefully examined in search of good signs. The omen is read as: If the right leg is over the left, it is assumed as good and the couple will be blessed with a male child and long life. This position is locally known as Jat Longdai. If the left is over the right, it is also treated well and the couple will be blessed with a female child. This position is called Chagan Longdai. But, both the legs stop down lifelessly, it is considered as a bad omen. Holy wine is also offered to God for wellbeing of the couple in the days to come. It is a compulsory ceremony. Without this, the relationship is considered invalid. Anyone can make an inquiry and interference it. After this performance, they are recognized as husband and wife. Hence, after observing the above facts, it may be stated that marriage in Zeliangrong society is a religious sacrament.

In Zeliangrong society, marriage is regarded as one of the important events in the life cycle of an individual. It is a necessity and duty for every man to get married to continue the society although he is expected to follow the certain norms of the society.

It is an important characteristic that women are expected to be virgins before marriage. Procreation of children without social and religious sanction of a marriage is scowled. At any age varying with climate and race and stretching from about the ninth to the fifteen year, the child enters upon the age of puberty. Among the Zeliangrong, 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. J.P. Mills says, unless physically deformed or an imbecile every Naga marries. 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 ancient 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. The style of coiffure is a symbol of identification between a girl and a married woman. Jeremy Tylor says, “A good wife is heaven’s last, best gift to man, –his gem of many virtues, his casket of jewels; her voice is sweet music, her smiles his brightest day, her kiss the guardian of his innocence, her arms the pale of his safest, her industry his surest wealth, her economy his safest steward, her lips his faithful counselors, her bosom the softest pillow of his cares”.

Monogamy, the union of one man and one woman, is the common form of marriage in Zeliangrong society. Polygamy though not prohibited, is a very rare case and concubinage is not at all, tolerated. Polyandry is totally absent. Child marriage is not existed and adult marriage is the rule. Widower or widow remarriage is allowed in the society without any loss of respect or social stigma in actual practice.

There are definite rules regulating whom the members of the community may and may not marry. They strictly follow clan exogamy; that is a man must have his spouse outside his own clan. Endogamy, marrying within the tribe is the rule. But, nowadays they are encouraged to have wife from outside the tribe. They are divided into four exogamous clans namely; Kamei, Golmei, Gangmei and Longmei. 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.

When the parents of a boy are in search of a bride for their son, boy’s mother will first ask for the hands of her brother’s daughter if any, better before looking for other girls. It is also obligatory on the part of a man to offer his daughter in marriage to the son of his sister. Marriage with father’s sister’s daughter is not permissible”.67 Like Meithei, they are not permitted to marry people of their own kin and to violate this rule, it is taboo. There is no evidence of any linked marriage among the Zeliangrong: “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”. The society prohibits such oblique marriages.

Marriage constitutes the most important of the transitions from one social category to another, because one of the spouses it involves a change of family, clan, village or tribe and sometimes newly married couple even establish residence in a new house. In Zeliangrong society, a girl after her marriage leaves her natal family and undertakes womanhood by changing her clan to that of the husband.72 According to Fustel De Coulanges, for a girl a marriage has been for her a second birth; she is henceforth the daughter of her husband. A girl after marriage normally shifts to her husband’s residence bringing with her resource of knowledge and experience. In the real sense of the term Noushonmei is the change of family and clan name of the woman to that of her husband. She will worship the ancestors of her husband’s family not those of her own parents.

The systems of marriage that prevail in Zeliangrong society are (a) Khamthan Noushon (arranged marriage) and (f) Saam Taunmei (Elopement).

Khamthan Noushon, arranged marriage is regarded to be the best form of marriage in the society. There are two types of arranged marriage namely; (i) Tuna Noushon (girl marriage) and (ii) Luchi Noushon (woman marriage). The main processes of the arranged marriage are:(i) Lakpuilamkeo Keomei (opening by womenfolk); (ii) Nouthanmei Khatni Noutimei (proposal for marriage and bride giving day); (iii) Manthing Lemmei and Nouman Manmei (settlement and payment of the bride price) and (iv) Noushonmei (wedding ceremony).
Lakpuilamkeo Keomei:

Generally, in arranged marriage, initiative is taken by the boy’s parents. The first duty of the parents of the boy is to trace the clan of the intended bride to ensure that they are not from the same clan because marriage within the same clan or with blood relation is a dreaded taboo. It is getting confirmed that they are not from the same clan only then; the parents of the boy will start to act under the customs of the society. Formally, the proposal will come from the boy’s family. If both the boy and girl are from the same village, the necessary formalities are quite relaxed. But, if the girl belongs to other village, the necessary procedure is that some respected elderly women of the boy’s village will go to the girl’s house taking with them a Laogai and a jar of wine. The women on behalf of the boy’s family will talk to the girl’s parents asking the hand of their daughter for the boy. They will offer the wine to the girl’s parents. In the meantime, one of them will keep the Laogai on the bed of the girl’s parents or anywhere inside the house which can be seen easily by the girl’s parents. This act symbolizes that the girl is being proposed. This process is known as Lakpuilamkeo Keomei.
If the girl’s parents are not willing to accept the proposal, it is a custom to return the Laogai to the boy’s family within five days. If it is suitable for the girl, the same will not return. If the Laogai is not return within seven days, it means the proposal is accepted then; the boy’s family will continue the process of engagement. In this connection, two respected elderly men having living wives of the village are selected by the boy’s family as Nouthanpous, meaning negotiators. They will act as go between until the marriage is solemnized. The ancient Chinese saying: “Without clouds in the sky, there is no rain and without go between there is no marriage”.

Nouthanhutmei khatni Noutimei:
News will be conveyed to the parents of the girl that on this date or day, people are coming to meet them. On the appointed day, the two Nouthanpous will go to the house of the girl and talk to her parents on behalf of the boy’s family. The day on which the final words are given by the girl’s parents in favour of the boy is called Noutimei, meaning the bride giving day. On this particular day, a date is fixed to declare the list of bride price.
Manthing Lemmei and NoumanManmei:
On the fixed day, the bride’s family will announce the list of bride price. The items and number of articles in each item will be counting by breaking pieces of sticks. The counting will be done by the Lugaan, son-in-law of the bride’s family. Thus, the bride-price is settled. This is called ManthingLemmei. The same pieces of sticks will be handed over to the Lugaan of the groom’s family. At the end of the settlement, a date is appointed for the payment of the bride-price.

Nouman:
Nouman means bride price in local dialect. It is referred to the gifts presented by groom’s Kin to that of the bride. It may be interpreted into two ways: labour price and soul price. By a marriage, a productive member of a family is lost. Compensation is to be given in the form of bride price to the family for the loss of a daughter by the groom’s family. Indira Barua writes, the bride wealth compensates the bride’s family for the loss of an active member, because among the Indian tribes, the female members of the household make a substantial contribution in the production as they are active members of agricultural and other household works This compensation is not for the use of the bride. It is utilized by the family because sometimes, it is employed to get a wife for a son of the family. And in some societies, even the father of the bride uses it to marry himself another wife.

The payment of the bride price is permitted to the groom right to marry the bride and the right to her children. In most patrilineal societies, a marriage is marked by the transfer of bride wealth (in cattle, spears, money or other goods) from the groom’s family to that of the bride. Bride wealth ensures that the children of the union shall be legitimate and affiliated to the husband’s clan or family. Bride wealth is not, of course, purchase of a woman but a means of legitimizing the marriage. The payment of bride price, a woman has to lead to remain a wife rather than come back to live as a sister in her parental family. Bride price is commonly also a guarantee that the young wife will be well treated in her new home.
Bride price is an important part in their marriage system. (To be contd)

Source: The Sangai Express

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