Structure and function of the Zeliangrong society

Dr Budha Kamei
“A society is a collection of individuals united by certain relations or modes of the behaviour which mark them from others who do not enter into these relations or who differ from them in behavior.”1 To T.B. Bottomore, society is a group of people having a political independence along with distinct economic, religious and familial institutions. He does explain polity, economy, religion and family as the main structures of a society. The social members have independent relations in their way of life. This relationship is made in all cultural activities such as social, language and kinship. Through this relationship a homogenous society is formed under a particular culture. A.L. Kroeber opines, a society is a group of inter-related individuals. All the scholars have different opinions about the definition of society. In short, a society is a group of individuals having a distinct culture and bound together into one homogenous group and they exist through their activities in various ways of life.
Every society has a social structure though there are many changes in their patterns and functions. Social structure is a much of social alignment, as that, fresh relations were not in operation, the society could not be said to exist in that form. E. E. Evans Pritchard restricts social structure to the interrelations of group explicitly excluding inter-personal relations. According to E. R. Leach, social structure consists of a set of ideas about the distribution of power between persons or groups of persons. S.F Nadels describes social structure in these words: “Structure indicates an ordered arrangement of parts which can be treated as transportable, being relatively invariant, while the parts themselves are variable.” A.R. Radcliffe Brown opines, “social structure is the continuing arrangement of persons in relationship controlled by socially established order in which members have co-relations among each other under social rules and it is to be followed by all.” Thus, a social structure is a component body of certain elements, such as social, political, religion, economic, kinship, diet, art, education, language, morality and so on. The elements are made by the social members. These aspects of social structure have certain functions and under these functions the social relationship is established. These aspects are interrelated and inter-dependent on each another in their functions.
The basic needs of human being such as food, cloth and shelter are supplied by the society through the economy. It is through this that society developed into different stages such as primitive, pre-agrarian, agrarian feudal, and so on. It is an inseparable part of social structure. The political institution is the means of maintaining order and protecting the society from enemies. Knowledge and learning in a society are acquired through education. The children learn the social rule from their family and their environment. The place of man in universe is interpreted by religion. Religion is a part of social organization because it develops the morality of the people. The spread of education and economic system lead to the introduction of religious sects associated with high philosophy. Among the primitive people there was no high philosophy of religion because they believed in natural phenomenon. Language is the only medium for exchanging and interaction of ideas and thought among the members of the society. Thus, all these structural aspects are interdependent and interrelated among each other. Society is a system of usages and procedures of authority and mutual aid of many groupings and divisions, of controls of human behaviour and of liberties.
The Zeliangrong has well-knit social system since ancient times. Unlike some other tribes, they did not migrate from one place to another frequently. In olden days, when circumstances did compel, they shift from one place to another and in that case too, they moved to a little distance from the original place. They are, in fact known to love permanent dwellings, and one wonders as to the way of the life style in which they live in by gone days. R. Brown writes, “The Kowpois (Zeliangrong) are much attached to their villages as the former homes, the present graves of their ancestors are held in much esteem; and a village is only abandoned with the greatest reluctance.” A village is a socio-economic and political unit. The foundation of the Zeliangrong society is based on the kinship and clan system.
A society may be divided into a number of clans, then into lineages and again subdivided into a number of families. Family is the smallest basic unit of the society. Family is a group of persons with close kinship ties, usually parents and their children, some of whom generally live together in the same dwelling. It is believed that family is evolved from primitive promiscuity through various forms of plural marriage to monogamy. However, the evolution of family may differ from society to society. There are four main functions of the family i.e. reproduction, maintenance, placement and socialization of the grown ups. Without reproduction, society would become extinct; without economic cooperation among family members, life would cease; without education of children, there would be no cultural continuity. There is a fifth function which is often recognized and considered universal status provision. It refers to the fact that in all societies every legitimate child has recognized rights, privileges, obligations, and chances for success acquiring from his family’s position in the social structure. Thus, family is a constituent part and a body of individuals who are descended from the same blood.
Kaikhun/Tampi means family. Kaikhun comes into existence with the marriage of a man and a woman. They will act together for the common good of the family so long as the members of a household live together under the same roof and they are expected to produce children, care for them, and help train them in the ways of their culture. The mother of the family plays the important role in running the household affairs. Being a patrilineal society, the father is the head and exercises authority over all members of the family and the family is known by the surname of the father. T.C. Hodson writes, the household is a true social unit, as is proved by the fact that the head of the family has to perform certain religious duties. In the past joint family system consisting of grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, brother and sister is a common practice. They believe that joint family system lead to harmonious family relationship. With the modernizing trends family is becoming a nuclear family consisting of husband, wife and children. Yet lineage, family and kinship ties are still very strong. There are three types or forms of family like Koukai, extended family, Bomkai, nuclear family and Maipuikai, widow family. In Koukkai, the grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, brother, and sister live together, they share common kitchen, property and work collectively for the common good of the family. In nuclear family, there is only parent with their children. The married couple does establish a family when their parents give permission to settle for their own. But in some cases, they set up it in their own will without the consent of the parents. Maipuikai is a family where the husband is no more and the family is looked after by her husband’s brothers. If proper care is not made available, the lineage/clan members should take care of her future by extending all possible help and care to the widow concerned.
Clan :
There is no class and caste system in traditional Zeliangrong society all are treated equally, no consideration for poor or rich, high or low. The society is arranged into clan system. A. R. Radcliffe Brown has termed a clan, a “group which though not actually or demonstrably (by genealogies) a lineage is regarded as being in some ways similar to a lineage. It normally consists of a number of actual lineages.” It is said that a clan is an exogamous division of a tribe, the members of which are tied together by a belief in common descent, common possession of totem or habitation in a common territory. They are divided into four totemistic clans namely; Kamei, Gonmei, Gangmei and Rongmei. Every clan has a totem which is a symbol or emblem of a clan or family and it is a food taboos either an animal or bird, or tree or plants. The totems of these clans are Ahuina (green pigeon) of Kamei, Loingao bird of Gonmei, Tiger of Gangmei and white pumpkin/dog of Rongmei. Each major clan is subdivided into a number of lineages. The lineage is a socially binding and an intermediary unit in between family and clan. Kamei clan is subdivided into lineages like (1) Pamei/Kamei (2) Phaomei, (3) Siangongmei, (4) Ngaomei, (5) Khandangmei (6) Malangmei, (7) Kamson, and (8) Daimei. Gonmei clan has (1) Gonthangmei (2) Gondaimei (3) Remmei, (4) Maringmei, (5) Dahangmei, (6) Panmei, and (7) Thaimei. Gangmei clan also has lineages such as (1) Kamhang Gangmei, (2) Pheiga Gangmei, (3) Sidou Gangmei, (4) Jukhao Gangmei, (5) Goijaichang Gangmei, (6)Taokhondai Gangmei and (7) Pongring Gangmei. But in the case of the Rongmei clan there is no lineage.
The most important element which keeps different clans of the Zeliangrong tribe closely connected is the system of marriage which does not allow that husband and wife to belong to the same clan. In all respects, these clans are socially equal and intimate since there is not any sort of discrimination in dealing with each other in their day to day life. There is no restriction on inter-dining or inter drinking among them. Nowadays, many clan associations grow up in the Zeliangrong society. Clanism is a danger but it provides the base for unity.
Marriage :
Marriage is the union of a man and a woman for reproduction and to continue the society. In Zeliangrong society, marriage is considered as sacrament. Without socio-religious sanction a marriage is invalid in the society. They follow clan exogamy and marriage within the same clan is a taboo. For such a taboo marriage, no ritual ceremony (Mailakmei) is performed and the couple is out caste or derecognized in the society. The couple is not allowed to participate in socio-religious functions of the society. The basic idea of marriage is to produce legitimate production. Marriage is performed by ways of elopement (Jaipakmei), and engagement (Khamthan Nouson). Bride price is compulsory. Monogamy is the rule and polygamy is not prohibited but it is not encouraged. No child marriage is practiced. Divorced is permitted but is very rare. The matter is brought to the knowledge of Pei, village court.
Kinship :
The term Kinship system explores for a system of kinship and marriage or kinship and affinity. 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. 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.
Kinship usage :
This includes the study of behaviour patterns of different kin. In all societies some sort of avoidance is found in kinship relations. In this relationship the behaviour of the members and their actions are determined by various regularly practices. These include observance and avoidance of acts and conducts by the members. Avoidance refers to the practice where a number of kin is to avoid a type of relationship towards a particular kin. It is indicative of a particular type of respect or a particular type of relationship.
Avoidance :
In the avoidance relationship the two kins should avoid each other. Avoidance is observed to prevent any error on behalf of the subject in adult life in the observance of the norms of sexual conduct. According to Radcliffe Brown, whenever people come in contact with each other, the possibilities of corporation as well as conflict are always equally present. But there are certain kinds of kinship where hostility is regard as manifest if to put restrictions on the growth of intimacy; and hence the kinship usage of avoidance. In Zeliangrong society, daughter in-law and parent in-law avoidance, son-in-law and parent-in-law avoidance and brother-sister avoidance are maintained.
Joking relationship :
Joking relationship is a relation between two persons in which one is by custom permitted, and in some instance required, to tease or make fun of the other, who in turn is required to take no offence. In short, it is the reverse of the avoidance-relationship. On the other hand it may be an indicative of equality and mutual reciprocity. Among the Zeliangrong, joking relationship is found between a man and his wife’s younger sister or between a woman and her husband’s younger brother. In each case the two may be potential mates.
Some types of joking relationship are also found among the Zeliangrong. They are as follows:
1. Relationship between maternal aunt and the nephew.
2. Relationship between grandfather and the grand daughter.
3. Relationship between grandfather and the mother’s brother.
Teknonymy :
When a child is born, the parents are henceforth no longer addressed by their own names but are designated as the infant’s father and mother. This usage is called Teknonymy. Among the Zeliangrongs such system extends upto the grandfather and grandmother. For example, a child called ‘A’ is born to a couple of ‘C’ and ‘D’ then ‘C’ is known as ‘A’ s father and similarly D’ is also known as ‘A’s mother. Likewise ‘A’ grand parents are also known as ‘A’s grand father and ‘A’s grand mother. It is a tradition found among the Zeliangrong that they should follow this rule regardless of the sex of the first born child i.e. the child ‘A’ may be first son or daughter. The practices of naming the parent (or other relative) from a child was first conceptualized and interpreted by Tylor, who coined a Greek divative, teknonymy, to label this curious phenomenon. (To be contd)

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