Imphal, Jan 4: Poumai Naga, one of the major ethnic community of Senapati district is all set to organize a grand reception programme for Chief Minister N. Biren Singh and his colleague on occasion of the ‘Poumai Thouni’ the oldest customary festival of the Paumai Naga on January 5.
The reception programme is scheduled at Thingba Khunou in Senapati district. Besides, Chief Minister N. Biren Singh, Works Minister Th. Bishwajit Singh, Tribal Affairs Minister N. Kayisu and PHED Minister L. Dikho are also attending the reception programme.
The Poumai Naga is a very old Naga tribe settled in trans-border of Manipur and Nagaland. The generic term “Pou” is the name of the ancestor and “mai” means “people”. Thus, his descendants are known the Poumai Naga.
Poumai Naga has a rich cultural heritage having many customary festivals like Thounii, Taitounii, Loukanii, Rounii, Daonii, Khünii, Paonii/Paoki, Laonii, Donii, etc. celebrated on different occasions at village and regional levels. Thounii is one of the oldest and the most popular customary festivals of the Poumai Naga Tribe. It is celebrated on 5th of January every year with much gusto, pomp and gaiety.
Thounii has multifaceted meanings and significances. The name of the festival derives from the word ‘Thouniikhou’ which is the first month of the year. The word “Thou” means “new”; “nii” means “festival”. Therefore, it can be translated as “New year festival or the festival of dawn”. It is celebrated after storing up paddy and all kinds of food grains and crops. The festival is an occasion of thanksgiving to our deity for good harvest and good health. One of the reasons why Thounii is considered the biggest and grandest festival is because of the attribution of pleasant climate, availability of abundant foods, drinks and festive mood of the people. Thounii also marks the initiation of a new village settlement after considering the various aspects and observation of omens, dreams, signs, divinations, etc.
In the past, Thounii celebration lasted for five days commencing from 18th to 22nd of Thouniikhou. The first day of the festival is known ‘SHAA’. The day was marked as the preparation day for the festival. The house, village surrounding, street, public park, etc. were cleaned, repaired and set in order for public gathering. The prepared rice beer vessels for the feast were tasted and blessed on this day. In the evening the family members sat down together and baked bread on a flat stone and were mixed with sesame cream for better taste.
The second day of the festival is known ‘CHIZIIYU’ means the sanctification of house. All animals for consumption during the feast were slaughtered and divided among relatives and neighbours. Libation and Oblation were performed at the corner of the house called Rii (family altar) by head of the family with cooked meat and rice beer served on plantain leaf to the family deity as thanksgiving for the bountiful harvest. The guests, sisters and relatives from the neighbouring villages arrived in the evening and the feast of eating and drinking began by lighting bonfire in public ground.
The third day is known ‘SHEPAO’ means sent off the guest. The brothers presented cooked meat to newly married sisters which were offered to her husband’s relatives. The guests, sisters and relatives who attended the festival were dropped off till the village boundary. The youth played and participated in traditional games and dances during the day time and re-gathered in the evening at public park for drinks, singing, dancing, narrating stories of heroic deeds of forefathers, history of origin, migration and listened to the exhortation of the elders.
The fourth day is known ‘NIIDAI’ means day four of the festival. The menfolk went around the village whooping in full traditional attires and the whole villagers came to the public ground in the evening with their rice beer and food stuffs. The youth collected firewood and made bonfire at night where the villagers gathered and shared their foods and drinks with one another. Eating, drinking, merriment and various cultural events continued.
The fifth day is known ‘NIINGOUTO’ means the last day of the festival. On this day, the village menfolk went to the jungle to chase and catch a particular bird called ‘Seitu’ with bare hands. No weapons like gun, bow, arrow, spear or catapult, etc. were used while catching this bird. The one who caught the bird was considered the lucky man of the year. He beheaded the bird and body was then thrown to the group which torn into pieces and shared among the group members and the members who did not got the flesh piece were shared the feathers and stained blood on their pole. As they returned, they went around the village in whoop, signifying victory over the adversary and later the pole were erected at the village gate. When no bird was caught on the first day, hunting continued the next day till the bird is caught. Thus, the festival came to an end. Thounii heralds the coming of spring and reminds the farmers to go back to work in the fields.
Poumai Naga was one of the oldest Naga tribes with a glorious past. They were amongst the most advanced communities who played the lead roles in promoting economic activities before they came into contact with modern civilization. They were a self-reliant, self-dependent and self-sufficient people who produced food-grains for their annual needs. They also produced salt, chilly, rice, crops, grains, potteries, crockeryies, clothes and tools, etc. and even exported to the neighboring villages and communities as economic activities and the articles were named after the tribe known as Pouli (Pot), Pouvo (Pig), Pouphou (Spade), Pourei (Axe), Pouhou (Spear), Pouyao (Rice bear), Pouraokhao (Bread), Pouhih (Rainproof), Poutai (Salt), Pousoushi (Chilly), Poubao (Barn), Pourou (Bakkit), Pouro (Carrier), Pouzha(Mat), Pousü (Basket).
With the coming of Christianity, modern education, science and technology the traditional technologies and cultural practices of Poumai Naga are vanishing out which the younger generations could not get the opportunity to see the richness of our culture. In view of reviving and promoting the traditional technologies and practices, there shall be exhibition-cum-sales of Poumai handicrafts, handlooms, food products, exposition and demonstration of cultural events during the festival.