Graphic and plastic arts of the Zeliangrong of NE

Dr Budha Kamei
Introduction :
The Zeliangrong are one of the natives of Northeast India. Racially, they belong to Mongloid stock and speak the Tibeto-Burman language. Tradition says, the Zeliangrong ancestors originated from a cave recognized 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; the Rongmei to the South, Zeme to the West and Liangmai to the North. Most of the Naga traditions point to Makhel as their original home and from Makhel, they migrated to different directions. On the basis of traditions and linguistic history, it has been identified that the original homeland of the Zeliangrong and other ethnic groups of Tibeto-Burman family was in South West China. As the Zeliangrong are “Tibeto-Burman, they must have lived with other groups of the same family in South West China about 1000 B.C and migrated to their present habitat(Northeast)” through various routes in batches and at different periods. The present article attempts to look into the graphic and plastic arts of the Zeliangrong inhabitants of Northeast.
Methods and materials :
The present study has adopted inter-disciplinary method particularly the application of knowledge of both history and anthropology. The data have been collected from available primary and secondary sources and also information collected from well-informed informants of the Zeliangrong community.
An art may be defined from various angles. It may be the product of a stylized kind of human behavior. Thus, the search of beauty expressing in the form of art is universal in human experience. Art is a part of life and cannot be separated. It may be found in various forms like verbal art, stylized art, approaching art, graphic and plastic art and so on. Verbal art includes myths, legends, folktales, proverbs, riddles, narratives, poetry, music, complements and insults when it takes elaborate and especial forms.
Myths are often counted as the most important variety of verbal art. Strictly speaking myths deal with the supernatural beings while legends bear the meaning of semi-historic narratives (i e. the accounts of the deeds of heroes, the movement of the community or the tribe etc.) which has an exposition of the basic value system of the society. In fact, every tribe has several myths about its origin. In such myths, gods and human beings and godlike men lived together in an abnormal world. Similarly, the Zeliangrong people have myths with regard to their origin.
Legends bear the meaning of semi-historical narratives that accounts for the deeds of the heroes, the migration of the people and the establishment of local customs, typically with a mixture of realism and supernatural or extraordinary in the society. Moreover, legends are sagas of individual (s) or societies and they are considered to be the real historical accounts. It provides clues as to what constitutes ethical behaviors in a culture. Most of the legends are related with the religious, political, economic, social and extra ordinary activities of the heroes.
Folktale (popular story of a community which is handed down orally from one generation to another) and folklore (study of the traditional beliefs, tales, proverbs, riddles etc., of a community) are mostly imaginative and more entertaining than awe-inspiring. Their main function to the society seems to appear to be entertainment. They deal with human situations in which gods, deity, heroes and heroines have their due place. Thus folktales and folklores are said to be tribal literature which contains the ideas of the people about the various natural beings and objects. Really speaking man’s reaction towards nature is clearly shown in the folklores. In this way folklores are also the important means to know human culture.
The present study is mainly on the graphic and plastic arts of the Zeliangrong. It is very interesting to note the different forms of the Zeliangrong graphic and plastic arts. It includes carving and engraving in the wood, stone ivory etc., sculpture in wood, clay modeling and toy making, painting, textile, basketry, ornament etc. The graphic and plastic arts, found among the Zeliangrong culture make them distinct from the other groups. The art of carvings, paintings, decorative pieces etc., have a multiple reflect to each society (for example it reflects the customs, economy, religious peculiarity or the way of life of the group etc.) Such carvings and paintings are found on the household utensils, personal ornamentations and memorial stones.
The different art forms that are existed among the Zeliangrong can be discussed under the following heads:
1. Dance, music and songs; 2. Find arts and 3. Crafts
The Zeliangrong dances can be categorized as (a) The ritual dance, (b) The festival dance.
The dance, music and songs have great importance in the Zeliangrong socio-cultural life. Folk songs remove their dullness at the time of working and after works; they also sing songs at dormitories and different occasions of the village. In addition, the costumes of dancers, style and gestures make the Zeliangrong distinct from other ethnic groups.
Ritual dance :
Ritual dances are antique dances that express the ideas or emotions of an entire community such as a village or tribe. According to Lucile Armstrong, “Ritual dances were evolved for a purpose. That is, to accomplish a special wish, or strives to bring to man a vital necessity. These necessities were: food, safety, averting evils such as natural disasters— drought, diseases, etc.—and for the continuity of the species.” Dances performed in Taraangkai, Maku Banru and Matui are ritual dances. Dances performed during Maku Banru are Hoi Laam, Hoi dance, Joumon Kasukmei, girls dance carrying wine bowls, Goipi Thenglam, dance of cutting the mithun head etc. The Hoi Laam is an intricate dance form performed by the males both married and unmarried invoking Tingkao Ragwang, the Supreme God by shouting different refrains of Ho-hoing. There should be no stoppage of the Ho-hoing. The other forms of Hoi Laam are Gaan Hoi Laam, Kaiku Laam, Bang phen Laam, and Ponsa Laam. Dances performed only by the females in the ritual ceremony are Joumon Kasukmei, Chani Phanmei Laam, Zoulian Thanmei Laam, a sort of solo dance etc. Joumon Kasukmei Laam is the beginning of the female dance form in the Banru ritual dance. Dances performed both by boys and girls together are Kaibon Sangmei Laam, Kaibon Duimei Laam, Banzai Laam, Mui Lu, Rih Lu, Khongphung Laam etc. accompanied by a song of the same name. Baanzai Laam is performed by boys and girls by joining hands together similar to Thabal Chongba of Meitei dance. These group ritual dances are performed throughout the night under the supervision of the song master locally called Lupou. The female dancers wear a special head dress called Sanadong in addition to their dancing costume.
The forms of dances performed during the Matui ceremony are Hoi Laam, Haan Sengmei Laam, Pajeimei or Pheigoumei Laam, waving dance cloths by standing etc. In Haan Sengmei Laam, a circle is formed by boys and girls, who move round, singing at the same time, the boys heading the circle, the women bearing bamboo tubes which they rap on the ground in a hop, using alternate feet. The movement is slow at first, gradually increasing. (To be contd)

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