Traditional village administration of the natives of North East with special reference to Zeliangrongs
Dr Budha Kamei
Contd from previous issue
Marriage with another man’s wife (Langdai Noukasoumei): If a man gets married with a woman whose husband is alive, such a marriage is called Langdai Noukasoumei. This kind of marriage does happen sometimes in the society. Such marriage is considered a serious crime in the society and a sin in religion as marriage is a sacrament.
The outcome of such marriage was usually killing or dismantling the house of the abductor by the disgraced husband and his relatives, unless the Pei is immediately informed by giving the punitive fine (a pig with jar of wine) to proclaim Khamdanmei. Violation of this customary sanction Khamdanmei means imposition of a huge fine (a big pig of 5-10 cubits), but no one goes against the Pei. There is a custom to be followed by the avengers in demolishing the culprit’s house.
Usually, a Zeliangrong traditional house is divided into three rooms; the front room is called Kaijao/Gaanmeikai where men sleep. The avengers are permitted to destroy only the men’s house because the next room is Tumeikai, women house where female members sleep. If they break this rule they will be placed heavy fine and also be treated as offender. Such a serious case is settled by the Pei; the family of the abductor will have to pay a punitive fine (a pig with a jar of wine) to the Pei, a compensatory fine (Chanao Mundom) in the form of one buffalo/cow/bison and also a reconciliatory fine (Nousou Goi), one cow/buffalo/bison to the family of the injured husband. Moreover, the family of the culprit has to request to the injured husband to exonerate his son or brother. The Pei will also punish the agent (Munthun) who helps the abductor by putting a punitive fine. This is locally called Munthun Rukhou Guak Phentumei. It is a custom that the main accused wife abductor has to repay the price of the pig and wine to his agent (Munthun) soon after. In addition, the abductor has to refund the bride price (Nouman) of the woman in double to the injured husband. Among the Todas, the village council was “chiefly occupied with the various complicated transactions which are always arising out of the custom of transferring wives from one man to another. This custom is the chief source of disputes and at times the council may sit for several days before one case is settled.”
Adultery (Nou-Gan Kachumei): Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a partner other than his/her spouse is locally known as Nou-Gan Kachumei. Historically, adultery has been considered to be a serious offence by many cultures. In the same way, adultery is a great offence in Zeliangrong society. If the case of adultery is caught in the act, both the man and woman could be killed at the spot and the matter comes to an end. In such cases, the injured husband on receipt of secret report or on his suspicion naturally looks and waits for an opportunity to spear the seducer to death and even his own wife in moment of high temper.
Similarly, in Malaita in the Soloman Islands the charge of adultery is normally visited with death by spearing. T. C. Hudson says that adultery is a cause of divorce on such ground as proved incompability on temper. According to M McCulloch, “The adultery, if he did not fly the village, would be killed; aware of the penalty attached to his offence dare not stay, and is glad to leave his house and property to be destroyed by the injured husband. The family of the adulteress is obliged to refund the price in the first instance paid to them by her husband, and also to pay her debts.” The act of adultery has brought sometimes disorder within the village. The village is regarded as ‘one place’ and its members share an important area of common life. Lewis Henry Morgan observes, after marriage the “husband treated his wife as his daughter, and not as his equal. Moreover, he had the power of correction and of life and death case of adultery.” He may beat his wife and attempt to inflict violence on the offender. But, it is he who is responsible for this happening as he fails to look after his wife properly. Adultery within the clan is very rare, though, if it occurs, it strikes at the very foundations of clan unity. It is, in fact, a most serious offence which sets brother against brother. For this reason, the clan elders usually try to settle the matter within the clan as far as possible without referring to the Pei.
According to Zeliangrong custom, if a person commits adultery, punishment is given to both of them. Physical torture (Kng Chapmei), shaving hair of the woman (Kapi Gotkokmei), confiscation of properties (Kapot Kachei Lamei) etc. are the kind of punishments. Shaving is commonly performed at the village jumping ground (Daanshanpung) or main road of the village (Changdai) so that the villagers can see the act easily. It is one of the severe and humiliated punishments awarded to them who committed serious crimes like adultery and immoral act in the society. The man is turned out of the village if he is a habitual offender. Sympathy is with the injured person.
But, should the injured party remain obdurate, he is likely to forfeit the support of his fellows, his obstinacy being held responsible for prolonging the dispute and jeopardizing village solidarity. If the matter is to be compromised, then the seducer will have to pay heavy fine inflicted by the Pei. Usually, the penalty consists of: (1) a punitive fine (Luangwarak) to be paid to the Pei, (2) a buffalo, and (3) a cow to be offered to the family of the injured husband. Meijinlung Kamson writes, “An adulterer, if he wishes to take the woman, must refund the bride-price to the offended husband, and other fines to the council for the offence.” If the adulterer could not pay the fines on time he must be expelled out of the village. However, adultery is tainted, for a man to accept the fines will seem equivalent to selling of wife’s flesh and therefore, the fines in terms of animals are suggested to be given to the Pei. It is said that “in adultery cases the husband has suffered the insult, and likewise in abduction the husband…is the injured person.” On the other hand, the husband of the adulteress and his party have the right to demolish the seducer’s house. As a consequence, the seducer not only aware of the heavy penalty, but also the fear of that husband’s party usually vanishes from the village.
Adultery is an act of criminal. It is stated that “criminal intercourse with a married woman … tended to adulterate the issue of innocent husband….and to expose him to support and provide for another man’s children. Thus, the purity of the children of a marriage is corrupted, and the inheritance is altered.” The law often uses the word adulterate (d) to describe contamination of food and the like. The laws of Manu of ancient India has stated that “Though destitute of virtue or seeking pleasure elsewhere, or devoid of good qualities, yet a husband must be constantly worshipped as a god by a faithful wife;” on the other hand, “if a wife, proud of greatness of her relatives or (her own) excellence, violates the duty which she owes to her lord, the king shall cause her to be devoured by dogs in a place frequented by many.” It is also said that adultery is the highest invasion of property and claimed, in regard to the aggrieved husband, that a “man cannot receive a higher provocation.”
To be contd