Lifecycle ceremonies of the Zeliangrong of Northeast – Part 3

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Dr Budha Kamei

From previous issue
Theimei (death):
Theimei (death) is the last crisis in the life cycle of an individual. It signifies the total cessation of life process that eventually happens in all living beings. The usual theory of the process of death is the separation of the soul from the body.99 However, the soul may move out from the body before death as in dream. Illness is held to be such a moving out from the body. The only distinction between such a separation and that of death is that the later is final. The moment when the final separation is accomplished, the liberated soul takes flight. It is believed that the soul commonly escapes by the natural openings of the body such as the mouth and nostrils. Among the Zeliangrong, death of a man is believed to be the departure of soul called Buh permanently from the momentary body for its journey to the land of death locally called Taroilam. Thus, death is not the end of life, but it is just a change of way of life of the soul.

Regarding the origin of death, the legend of the Zeliangrong speaks, ‘there was once a time when men did not die, for there was a wonderful tree whose bark would cure all ills, would even bring the dead back to life. One day, the children brought the bark from the wrapping in which it was kept inside, and put it in the sun while they played. The sun stole it, knowing full well its wonderous power. Their faithful dog rushed after the thief and ate him up. But so powerful was the medicine of the bark that the sun recovered even after this rough treatment. Since then men have died because they no longer know the tree of life’. Thus, the people explain regarding the origin of death of man.

The process and the moment of death are regarded as occasion of the most serious crisis in many religions. The Zeliangrong people take so much care of the sick man. When death approaches, all the close relatives are called and gathered around the man for biding farewell. The relatives who assemble there will pray to Tingkao Ragwang to allow him entry in ‘His Heavenly abode.’ At the same moment, it is a compulsory duty on the part of the family members (parents or children) to try their best to comfort the dying man to let his soul depart peacefully. This is called Teimumloumei. Thus, the person passes away. When death takes place, they announce the fact by loud cries. The ancient Tibetian Budhists saying: “When you are born, you cry, and the world rejoices, when you die, you rejoice and the world cries.”

Like other Naga tribes, the Zeliangrong also remove a sick man out of bed and allow him to die on the mat. It is supposed to avoid the death pollution upon the bed. Similarly, direct contact between the corpse and the earth is prevented to keep away from pollution.
Albert Smith writes, “Tears are the safety-valves of the heart when too much pressure is laid on it”. The women are the principal mourners, and they continue to sob and shriek and mourn until they are forced to cease from absolute exhaustion. During funeral ceremony, women and children lament and the father stands apart, a picture of silent grief. William J. Goode says, the solidarity of the family is temporarily broken by the removal of an integral part, and the collective mourning and ritual serve to realign the unity in an emotionally satisfactory and socially approved manner. As soon as the soul leaves the body, the person is declared death then a ritual called Kahoroumei is performed by an elder of Pei, village council who presents there. The elder who acts as priest very close to the head of the deceased will pronounce: Ho-Ou-We Kumeipu/Kumeilure Rampingreo Kumeipu Aai Naiye, meaning: ‘you go without fear’. The words Ho-Ou-We signifies toward Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God that this man is no more. And the word Ho symbolizes chanting the name of Tingkao Ragwang. This is followed by another ritual called Gu Kashet Keimei, ginger offering. In this ritual, the same elder with a piece of ginger and a plantain leaf cup of water will pour near the fireplace called Mhaimng for the departed soul111. The main objective of this ritual is believed to show the dead man the right way to go (on his way to Taroilam) as pure as clean and cold water.

Among the Zeliangrong, the dead body is not interred only by the family. All the villagers take part in the funeral. Under this obligation, a formal announcement is made by an elder of Pei to make it known to all the villagers. This is called Kailong Kaomei. As soon as the news reaches one’s ear everyone stops their works as a mark of condolence. Moreover, it is a taboo because the dead is unclean and it also pollutes the whole village which ultimately demands purification. No marriages, festivals or any public worship can be performed within the village until the funeral has been completed. The villagers will bring gifts such as wine, rice, money to the bereaved family as a sign of sympathy.

Then, the dead is bathed with a haircut by using the Khoi, a kind of tree bark. This is called Duiloumei. In olden days, the bark of Khoi was used in washing or bathing. It is believed that if the dead is washed with Khoi, it is clean and pure. Bathing the body is a universal symbol of inner purification. Another idea of cleansing the dead is to avoid the defilement of death. If the deceased is a male, washing and dressing is carried out by male folk and in case of female; it is done by the womenfolk. After bath, the dead is adorned with new cloth and placed on his bed called Kalangdai saying: ‘Ho-ou-we.’ The whole body is covered with a traditional cloth like, Masinphei or Mareipan or Pheingao or Leirumphei. It is believed that if the dead comes with a bath, he is well-received in another world. (To be contd)

Source: The Sangai Express

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