It is often assumed that the rationale of people’s activities, the myths and customs of a society can be traced in the concept they have about the universe around them. It usually attempts to advance understanding of the way people or the society relate to the various entities of the universe around them, inside or outside of their body, animate or inanimate and the way they perceive their action – benevolent or malevolent, and their relative position in the hierarchy – conceptualized as instrument for forecasting or divination.
The effects of five main primal elements viz, Either, Air, Fire, Water and Earth can be seen so beautifully intertwined in the myths and customs, the folklores and the folk arts of every society that these appear just natural to them. A Naga way of life is always full of struggles- even in the contemporary times. And this struggle for existence is amply reflected not only in the socio-political fabric of Nagaland but also in the multifaceted art manifestations- be it visual art form like- dance form or folk song or creative arts like weaving and handicrafts.
In this article, the entire flow of the cultural milieu of the Nagaland, particularly the art and craft forms, is presented in a sectionalized format which is tried to be integrated by weaving together the following micro-themes of myths and legends into a cohesive holistic story.
MYTHS & LITHS:
(Story about Origin and Identity)
As per the myth, the Nagas unlike other groups of the region came from the rock- a symbolic metaphor for the sturdy people as they are.
Historically, the Nagas were not known by the names of the tribes they are today, rather by the name of a group of villages or ‘KHEL’. After the 1816 invasion of Assam by Myanmar, the area along with the Assam came under the rule of Myanmar. But from 1826 onwards, through the East India Company initially and by 1892 directly also, all of the modern day Nagaland except Tuensang district, came under the British rule.
Originally, of the Indo-Mongoloid race, the fourteen major naga tribes are the Angami, Ao, Chakhesang, Chang, Khemungan, Konyak, Lotha, Phom, Pochury, Rengma, Sangtam, Sema, Yimchungar, and Zeliang. The Chakhesangs are further subdivided into Chakri, Khezha and Sangtam. Each tribe has its own specific language and culture. There is no caste system but each of the naga tribes is divided into as many as twenty clans – in fact, bigger the tribe, more is the number of clans.
Nagas have different stories about their origin – but most of them point towards their origin from hill or rock. The Angamis, Semas, Rengmas and the Lothas subscribe to the KHEZA-KHONOMA legend. According to this legend, in a village named KENDMA, there was a huge stone slab that had magical properties. Grains and farm-produce spread over it for drying in morning used to get doubled in quantity by evening. The three sons of the old couple, that owned it, used it by rotation. One day there was a quarrel between the sons regarding whose turn it was. The couple fearing blood-shed, set the stone on fire, which as a result got cracked. The spirit contained within the stone escaped and the stone lost its magical properties. The sons thereafter left the village to bring the spirit back in different directions but never returned back and became the forefathers of the Angami, the Sema and the Lotha tribes.
According to another legend, subscribed by the western Angamis, the first man evolved from a lake called ‘THEMIAKELKUZIE’ near Khonoma village. The Rengmas believe that until recently they and Lothas formed one tribe. The Aos and the Phoms trace their origin to the LUNGTEROK (Six Stones) on the Chongliemdi hill.
The whole life of an average naga revolves around the hills and rocks and after death also practice in vogue till early twentieth century was to give them Stone-Urn burial and placing megalithic menhirs.
The Angamis traditionally build a fireplace with three stones. Before building a new house also, the man of the house builds an inglenook. When the construction of a house has only thatching left to complete, the fire is brought from the house of a KIKA KEPFUMA i.e., a man, who has performed the LESU ritual and thus has earned a right to put horns on his home – earning thus a higher social status. If there is no person in the clan of the house-builder, the fire is brought from the house of any person, none of whose children has died. This fire is considered sacred and thought to carry good luck from the person whose house it is brought, to the person having the new house. Owner of the new house bears a ceremonial dress and carries a spear during this ritual. In the fireplace only wood is burnt and if possible it is not allowed getting out. Even now in tribal villages, it is considered a serious crime to put a man’s fire out.
In Angami tribe the culmination of marriage ceremony is denoted by construction of a fireplace. On the third day of marriage the bridegroom sends three stones to the bride for construction of the hearth at their new place of residence. Then, both the groom and bride go to forest to collect firewood. The firewood collected by them only is burnt first in their new house signifying the start of the conjugal life for the new couple. There also exists a notion of pure and impure fire in every tribe of the Nagaland and so does the superstitions associated with it.
At childbirth, the mother is kept separate from rest of the household and a separate hearth is built for her in the same room as the general hearth. This is still practised among the non-Christian Angamis. The building of a separate hearth relates more to the liminality of the status of mother and the polluting effect which the process of giving birth may have on the household hearth.
At the time of an illness, especially an infectious one, fire was burnt in the door-way to ward off the spirit of illness.
… TO BE CONTINUED …