Gaan-Ngai festival of the Zeliangrongs : Its socio-cultural significance

-Dr Budha Kamei
Contd from previous issue
Raangpatmei: The last day is called Raangpatmei, gate opening; (Raang means village gate and Patmei, to open). In olden days, the village gates were closed during the festival to secure from enemy attack or raid. On this day, a ceremony called Raren Loumei, worship of Seven Bothers Gods, presiding deities of the village, gods of different aspects of nature like the God of fire, wind etc., propitiation of evil spirits not to disturb men is performed by offering fowls, wine, water, ginger, egg etc. for wellbeing of the whole village community. It is carried out by a priest outside the Northern gate of the village, the seat of Kaipi Bambu, upper village deity. A complete genna known as Neihmei (prayer) is observed during the period of the sacrifice. The chickens are cooked at the ritual place and consumed by the elders of Pei, old women and children who are not yet admitted in the boys’ and girls’ dormitories. T.C Hudson has rightly stated that in Zeliangrong society food tabus are not rigidly imposed on either the very young or the old. Adults are prohibited from eating these chickens. Appointments and retirements of person, handing over of charges, etc, in connection with religious-cultural matters concerning the village are announced at this place. Such announcements which are believed to be made in front of the gods have strong customary sanctions behind them. Raren Loumei may be interpreted as send off the deities because the members of Khangchu blow horns of the mithun at the Daanshanpung on the first day of Wakching communicating to gods and men regarding the coming Gaan-ngai festival.
Buhkaomei: After the completion of Raren Loumei ceremony, the village elders return at the Peikai with a Hoi procession where a priest holding a big cock and performs Buhkaomei, calling of the soul invoking Tingkao Ragwang to extend protection to the people of the village from death and danger and provide welfare to the village and its people. The pieces of cooked chicken will be distributed to every household of the village.
Thei-Kadimei: In the festival, Thei-Kadimei, ritual farewell is given to the persons who died in the previous year in the form of parting meal provided by concerned family to his/her friends. It is believed that the departed soul does not leave the village until the parting meal is over. The grave is beautified and drinks and eatables are also placed on it as a way of sharing the meal with him or her. It may be interpreted as a farewell banquet– a send off one who is unwilling to go at the termination of which the deceased is formally but firmly shown the door. Therefore, Gaan-ngai is the festival of both the living and dead.
Joupan Keimei: A libation is a ritual pouring of a liquid (milk or other fluid such as rice) as an offering to a god. It was common in many religions of antiquity and continues to be offered in various cultures today. In Gaan-ngai festival, every rite is concluded by offering of holy wine to Tingkao Ragwang, Ditingmei, Kaipi Bambu, Kaiba Bambu, Kairao for well being and prosperity and propitiation of wine to evil spirits not to give trouble to men.
Cultural activities: Festival competitions include various forms of contests such as drum beating, singing, dance etc.  In Gaan-ngai festival, the boys and girls of the dormitories perform various types of dance and music.
Dance (Laam): Dancing is not an invention of man, since birds and monkeys dance. Dancing is perhaps the earliest form of expression of joy of man. When society did become more organized, various forms of dances were set aside for various occasions. In all community festivals, they enjoy the festivals with merry-making, feasting, dancing, and singing. Usually, the unmarried boys and girls of the dormitories in colourful traditional attire actively take part in dancing and singing. It is believed that dances are of divine origin as men learned them from gods. The steps in most folk dances are simple, such as walking, hopping, skipping, and whirling; others have intricate patterns.
The dances performed in the Gaan-ngai festival are also known as Chapa Laam. They are Khangbon Kadi Laam, farewell dance to Khangbon (leader of the Khangchu), Thei Kadi Laam, dance in honor of the dead, Tamchan Laam, Tuna Kadimei Laam (farewell dance to a bride), Pazeimei, dance waving of sash etc. Dances like Laophun, Laoreo, Laotai, Laodi Laam etc demonstrate the movement of hand depicting the seed sowing, weeding, cutting of paddy plants and harvest are included in the Chapa Laam. Man learns from nature the form of dancing based on the movements of birds, animals and insects. Dances of imitation of animals and insects are Gaa Laam, crab dance, Khoiguna Laam, bee mating dance, Kit Laam, cricket dance, Raengdai Laam, dance of hornbill, Goichei Bang Laam, the dance of movement of the horn of the bull, Apang Laam, huluk (monkey) dance of plucking fruits, Tareng Laam, spinning dance etc. All the festival dances are accompanied by relevant songs and musicals instruments like drum, cymbals, gong etc.
Folk song (Lu): The folk songs of Zeliangrong would be what Vansina has defined oral traditions as “documents of the present” also inheriting “a message from the past.” The oral traditions cover all verbal testimonies that are reported statements concerning the past. The folk songs form the essence of the Zeliangrong culture. It is believed that song is divine origin. Men adopted the songs sung by gods. Their songs express their love, their hardship, hope, frustration, victory etc. Festival songs are also known as Chapa Lu. In the festival, singing of song competition between girls and boys is performed at Luchiu at the night time and no song will be repeated by any singer. On the other hand some boys will go around the village singing songs in praise of the might and courage of the people of the village. The participants are entertained with drink by individual families. This is called Kairong Lonmei (guarding the village).
Drum beating (Khong Baimei): In addition, they perform beating of different types of traditional drum, Khong and playing of harp, Rah jaimei in the festival. The way of life of the people is reflected in their various dance forms, dresses, songs and different types of drum beating.
Customary Activities: Rites of passage, in the form described by Arnold Van Gennep, mark the transition from one life stage to the next. They may be given special relevance by being part of a festival event. These may include forms of initiation into age groups, such as childhood, youth, adulthood, and initiation into occupational, military, or religious groups.
(a) The transition from childhood to adolescence varies from society to society. In Zeliangrong society, when a child reaches the age of fourteen or fifteen years old, he or she is introduced to the particular dormitory. The initiation rite is performed at the festival of Gaan-ngai in which a piece of meat known as Janphop will be given to him or her by the leader of the particular dormitory as formal recognition of its member. This is called Khangchu Kailu Thaimei. Initiation is “one who has entered the stream of wider and deeper consciousness”. It is a rite which separates the boy or girl from the sexual world and incorporated into the world of sexuality. Traditionally, after initiation, a boy or girl is considered as physically and socially matured person because he or she has the capability of reproduction. 
(b) Promotion of boys and girls from minor to major status.
(c) Promotion from khangbon to Gaanchang, Gaanchang to Banja and filling up of vacant posts of Pei, village council. These posts are not given by resolution or appointment order but by songs, dances and cultural activities
(d) Newly married women are formally admitted to Mathenmei Kaibang, women institution and become members of the same. They are responsible for the maintenance of peace within the parameter of the village.
(e) Deceased families offer gifts to the dormitories concerned in the name of the deceased. 
Gaan-ngai also does serve as an annual assemblage of the community where status quo is conferred to members of the village at different levels having social and administrative implication.
Games and Sports: Festival usually includes rites of competition, which often constitute in the form of games. Even if games are commonly defined as competitions regulated by special rules and with uncertain outcome (as opposed to ritual, the outcome of which known in advance), the logic of festival is concerned with the competition and the awards for winner; the rule of the game are canonic, and its paradigm is ritual. The parts or roles are assigned at the beginning to the persona as equals and undifferentiated “contestants,” “hopefuls,” “candidates.” Then the development and the result of the game create among them a final hierarchical order- either binary (winners and losers) or by rank from first to last. Games show how equality may be turned into hierarchy. Athletic or competitive sporting events include individual or collective games of luck, strength, or ability. These have been considered a corruption of older plays of ritual combats with fixed routine and obligatory ending. In their functional aspects, such games may be seen as display and encouragement of skills such as strength, endurance, and precision, required in daily work and military occupations; such was for instance the rationale of medieval mock battles. In their symbolic aspect, festival competitions may be seen as a metaphor for the emergence and establishment of power, as when the winner takes all or when the winning faction symbolically takes over arena, or the city in triumph.
On the first day of the festival towards evening, at the Daanshanpung, village jumping ground, the young boys perform Taophai Danchammei, competition in stone throwing and long jump in the presence of the villagers. These sports will be introduced by the Nampou or Nampei with a sort of religious hymns for wellbeing and prosperity of the village. The winners of the sports are not given prizes but they are required to pay Shon (fees) for declaring and acknowledging his power and ability. Stone throwing is believed to make the heavenly granary’s door break. Long jump on the other hand is believed to make the swelling earth spread by the force of the jump which is equivalent to distribution of paddy for mankind. Therefore, the purpose of stone throwing and long jump during the Gaan-ngai festival is to receive plentiful harvest.
Maintenance of good behavior: Discipline is sternly enforced by the elders for young boys and girls. An act of issuance of whip locally called Thingngun Kadimei is performed at the Khangchu. The objective of issuance of whip is to teach boys to obey what the elders say, to accomplish the works assigned to them. As a customary practice, an arrangement is made to beat the boys nominally exhorting to pay much attention to work. The young boys request the elders producing a bottle of wine not to beat them. If the request is accepted, they may be exempted from beating. The girls’ dormitory also follows the same rule. In case the boys are to be beaten, a junior Gaanpi will handle the whip’ whereas at the girls’ dormitory, the twisted cloth called Pheilaak is handled by Tunapi. It clearly indicates the authority that the elders have in community and the respect that needs to be given to the elders.
Peace and harmony: Worship of Tingkao Ragwang and communal meal (Jeigantumei) is performed in the festival to preserve and promote unity, love and brotherhood of the community. Unity of the community is recognized as a key element in festival participation. By tradition, participatory actions during Gaan-ngai festival are main platforms through which the Zeliangrong express and shape their ideas about identity, religion, social relations, and belonging.
Conclusion: Culture is the way of life of a social group; the group’s total man-made environment, including all the material and non-material products of group life that are transmitted from one generation to the next. The two aspects of culture have been reflected in the celebration of Gaan-ngai festival. In other words, Gaan-ngai is an extension of the religious beliefs and practices – rites and rituals for the whole village community. The system of worship of Tingkao Ragwang, Zeliangrong pantheon gods, village presiding deities, goddess of paddy and ancestors are reflected in the festival. In other words, it is a unique cultural phenomenon, a form of aesthetic expression of the Zeliangrong antique religion and philosophy. As a multifaceted cultural phenomenon, Gaan-ngai is the time of expression of artistic talents, physical strength through martial arts, dance and music. Socially, Gaan-ngai promotes peace and unity within the family system and the society as a whole. By participating in the festival, people settle disputes and misunderstandings. Thus, Gaan-ngai festival serves as an institution through which the Zeliangrong religion and culture is sustained.
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