Traditional village administration of the natives of North East with special reference to Zeliangrongs
Dr Budha Kamei
Contd from previous issue
Divorce (Noumumei): Divorce is the complete division of a marriage tie and that permits remarriage. In the opinion of William j. Goode, divorce may be seen as a personal misfortune for one or both spouses in any society, but it must also be viewed as a social invention, one type of escape valve for the inevitable tensions of marriage itself. In every society, divorce takes place although the prevailing rules or social norms discourage it. In Zeliangrong society also, divorce is permitted by custom, but it is very rare. Bareness, adultery on the part of the woman and maltreatment toward the woman, biological defects like impotency on the husband are assumed main causes which may lead to the division of the mates.
The procedure of divorce is that, the Pei, village council is convened and it is done on the initiation of the man or woman who wants to get divorce by giving a Jar of wine to the Peikai, house of Pei. The elders of Pei will try to reconcile them.
At last, there is no hope of reconciliation between the two; the initiator will get divorce from his or her partner. If the husband introduces a divorce, he has to pay a buffalo (Mashi/Jaoshi Goi), a big brass vessel (Napkok), and a hoe (laogai) to the wife as compensation and it is sought by the wife, she has to return the bride-price (Nouman) to the husband.
The woman along with the buffalo, a laogai and a brass vessel will be sent to her parental house escorted by the Changloi of Pei. If the divorce comes as a result of adultery committed by the wife, she has to give one mithun (Goichng) or at least a pig (Guak Akhat) to the husband’s relative apart from the bride price and either belongings of the husband."Persons who may have no wish to seek sexual satisfaction outside marriage have been forced to commit or to appear to commit at least one act of adultery in order that the marriage may be dissolved.”
However, such act may not be found in simple societies. After divorce, children are supposed to remain with the father. The young and nursing one can stay with the mother until the child can eat and drink solid food. After three years, when the father retakes the child, he is required to pay a buffalo to the former wife, which is supposed to compensate for the cost of bringing up the child locally called Nagongjang.
The village council plays very important role in bringing two people together for life and it also has the role in giving to their separation.
In Kabui society, a divorced wife and husband are permitted to remarry only after a purification ritual called Charungchuk.
This ritual is performed at the residence of the husband in which an elder or priest purifies the couple offering a black colour fowl or dog to God with relevant hymn.
The omen is read by observing the legs (fowl) or spleen (dog) of the victim. They are further consecrated by contacting a slice of the mixture of Chukgah, a kind of turmeric, leaves of Kah plant, Ngeinem, a kind of thatch grass, Sampripra, a kind of grass and blood of the victim.
Murder (Meibairoimei): In olden days, head hunting was a widespread practice among the tribes. Head hunting is quite different from put to death. Head hunting has its own laws and therefore breach of other customary laws becomes a crime as murder is not covered by the law of the head hunting. Murder within the clan is very rare, but murder in the village occurs in the past.
Murder is a serious crime in Zeliangrong society and the punishment of a murder is banishment from the village. Moreover, a heavy fine is inflicted on the criminal. Such serious cases are decided and settled in the house of the murdered. Once the case is referred to the Pei the afflicted family will not be allowed to take revenge on the family of the killer as the Pei announces Khamdanmei, a customary ban against the use of force. The logic of the Khamdanmei is to avoid bloodshed in the village. All the clan elders of both parties are summoned immediately through the Changlois, messengers of Pei to present in the house of the killed. The elders of Pei negotiate to settle the case as quickly as possible. The kind of fine imposed varies according to the types of the cases occurred. However the family of the murderer has to pay compensation to the family of the killed in the form of kinds as per customs of the Zeliangrong and the said compensation is required to pay within the period fixed by the Pei. If the stipulated period expires one can take revenge. The customary compensation of a human loss consists of ten items such as pot (Takhian Lai) for head (Pijang), hoe (Laogai) for teeth (Hujang), goats’ hair (Juhu) for hair (Meisamjang), necklace (Tariutu) for intestine (Meireijang), shawl/cloth (Phei) for skin (Meigijang), cattle (Goi) for body (Pumjang), bronze plate (Jeisenkuak) for bottom (Lingkokjang), Neckband (Beih) for shoulder bone (Guangkamjang), armlet (Nathang) for intestine (Meileijang) and beads (Tuthuliang) for eyes (Meimikjang).
This is locally called Charum Khapmei. A plot of land is to be given to the family as part of compensation for murder of treachery. As punishment, the murderer (Meibairoimeipu) is excluded from the village. Sometimes, the family of the murderer also vanishes from the village because of harshness of the crime. This is locally known as Kaipui Phukmei (to uproot the crump).
Inter-village dispute (Namnei Agaimei): There are two mechanisms for attempting to mediate between two villages to avoid fighting; first mechanism is the oath and second is mediation through an old man.
Oaths are also performed within the village. In 1936, a dispute did arise between Totok and Wangching villages relating to an alleged trespass which signified hostile intentions. The two parties agreed to take oath. From each side a man went to a tree trunk which had been struck by lightening, spoke the oath while his hand touched the tree, and then bit into the tree. The oath of the Wangching man said approximately, ‘We went to Chi to see the dead man. Totok fired shots. Gha-wang you can see it all. May you strike me down if I tell a lie.’
After this oath both parties were satisfied. In fact, oath is a part of the feud process; it may delay aggression/violence but cannot be in all probability replace it. According to second mechanism, an old man from a village may act as an intermediary or a go-between in a dispute between two villages.
During the colonial rule, Lambu (often translated as herald) also acted the role of a messenger as he is held to be sacrosanct and shall not be attacked. He takes no independent initiative of his own towards negotiating a settlement. But in times of serious violence, the sanctity of the Lambu is not respected.
In other words, his role is not structural, in the sense of automatically being a part of the dispute, but it is an option that may prevent fighting. As a matter of practical politics, it is usual when reconciling two villages to insist on the return of the heads (Rihpi), for by this means a recrudescence of the feud is effectively prevented.
In general, a Pei has authority over its own village. Inter-village disputes are therefore, usually settled by the joint sitting of the council of elders of those villages affected by them, and to prevent any future hostilities between villages, the elders of those villages have to arrange for truces and alliances known as Guot promising herewith that members of the villages entering into the truce shall maintain a peaceful co-existence and anyone who violates the terms of the agreement is liable to be punished. Guot is usually arranged and conducted somewhere at the border of two hostile villages. In the truce and alliance, a purification ritual known as Rihchuk Shumei is observed by sacrificing a big fully black colour dog (Shimu) to God; it is carried out by a priest. The blood of the dog is removed and mixed with Kathainong(a kind of leave), Chukgaa (a kind of turmeric), Shampripra (a kind of grass), and Ngeinem, (thatching grass); the mixture of it is known as Gaa. It will be put in a big cup made of banana leaf known as Chukkong. All the members present there will contact a slice/piece of Gaa at their temple (Gaaroumei) by saying my body is not the abode of sin go away. The priest after the ritual recitation purifies the present members with Ten Mhaimit, a kind of thatching grass and then throws away the Chukkong in direction of sun set (Neikeiroubektho). This is called Shiangkok Ganmei.
The victim is consumed by the present elders after offering holy wine to TingkaoRagwang. The interpretation of the ritual: Sacrifice is a worship of God. By sacrificing they invoke to God to witness the truce and alliance made between the two villages. Contact with Gaa means they are free from sin of killing/murder. Eating together or communal meal is a vow not to commit bloodshed in future. It is also said that a feast may be the means of setting the seal on an important event such as of cementing an alliance between groups. It is a rite of incorporation. The priest acts as a medium and he throws away the Chukkong in the western direction as east stands for life and west, dead. Another means to avoid inter-village hostilities, the Zeliangrong encouraged to get marry girls from outside the village because marriage gives a “man friends among his enemies.”
But in case, the inter-village dispute is unable to settle amicably, the only option to settle the dispute is resort to fighting, where rattling of daos and spears will be the final arbiter of the dispute. The village who won the pitched battle is the winner of the dispute, and the case is invariably dismissed.
Oath and ordeal: When human discernment proves inadequate for deciding a dispute, divine guidance is usually sought through oaths and ordeal. In other word sometimes the cases are vague and can not be settled peacefully then the Pei resorts to taking of oath and ordeal. This is called Sengding Dingmei. The important oaths and ordeals are Ganrih Tao Sinmei(oath on a meteoric stone), Kamang Neih Kaimei (biting the tiger teeth), Bambukhou Sengding Dingloumei (oath in the name of village presiding deity), and Duilupmei (diving). Usually, oath and ordeal are directed by and under the direct supervision of the elders of Pei.
With the introduction of modern judicial system in the country, traditional oath and ordeal systems were no longer in use. In traditional society, politics, judicial and religion are interdependent.
Conclusion: After observing the above facts, one can state that each Zeliangrong village is a distinct social, economic, cultural and political unit. The Pei headed by Nampou does act as the village government, a court of justice, an authority on religious affairs and the Supreme Command on defense and security of the village. It is true that the Zeliangrong village government is one fine form of government of the people, by the people and for the common interest of the people. The village council or the Pei does continue to function as usual in Zeliangrong inhabited areas, either in the original villages (hills of Manipur) or in the plain and Cachar, Assam. The village council deals with the religious, social and customary laws in the Zeliangrong villages. The continuation of this institution will mean the preservation of a vital component of the ethnic identity. It has now become a social institution as it no longer controls over the land, but the village council (Pei) acted as a law enforcement body during the British rule.