Danger of losing many cultural practices is real, we must act now
The danger of losing many of our cultural practices is real. Many of today’s generation have no idea how to do most of the things that our forefathers devotedly practised and preserved for several years and decades that unfolded before their eyes. Especially coming from a farming background, many Naga generations have naturally inherited these precious gifts, which, they have learnt as children, just observing their parents and grandparents do things, and picking it up along the way.
However, with changing times, the young people of today have absolutely no connection or the least familiarity with the traditions that were once part and parcel of their very roots. In the last edition of Hornbill Festival, it was with this concern that Re-Touch, “a tour of hands on re-visit to the traditional culture and craftsmanship of Naga ancestors, to learn and to impart the knowledge” was initiated by three young people. They had observed during this time that many young Nagas had no idea how to hold a dao, something that came naturally to the older Naga generation.
Interestingly, the fact that we are losing so much of these precious gifts and practices of our forefathers, has stirred the need and interest in both individuals/groups and institutions alike to revive the once vibrant cultural practices of the land. From the art of basket making to how farmers till the land; the way stories were shared in traditional morungs to how folk songs were sung; the art of playing traditional games to how attires were worn, each piece having a significance of its own. If not all, some of these aspects are now taken into consideration in every cultural day or event that is being initiated in schools and colleges or by tribal and village organisations.
And it is also with this same intent that Zhavame village, located about 80 km from the state capital and falling under Phek district, organised its first-ever 'Zhavame Day' from January 6-7, 2020, also coinciding with ‘Thuni’ Festival, the premier festival of the Poumai Chakhesang from the Razeba area. This area, comprising of only four villages form the minority, and share the same dialect with the larger Poumai community in Manipur.
Thuni is a festival of new harvest and is celebrated in all the Poumai villages in grand ceremonial gaiety from January 5 every year and continues for several days. It is a time when people offer their gratitude to the supreme God for blessing them with a bountiful harvest and good health all throughout the year. Thüni is also a time to pray for God’s blessings for another bounteous harvest and beseeching a healthy life. Most importantly, it is a festival of equity when both the rich and the poor; the old and the young share from the same barrel of rice beer and eat the same food. Thüni is also a time to find lifetime friendships in which they exchange the hearts and kidneys of the killed animals for the festival.
“Thu” literally means “new” and “ni” stands for festival. Hence, it is a celebration of new things whether it comes in the form of fruits, vegetables or paddy.
Different rituals precede the celebration of Thüni some of which include the pushing down of big pile of firewood (Sükho); indigenous way of making fire (Mila) and subsequently making a bonfire out of it, which signifies originality, peace, purity and equity.
Thuni can be jointly celebrated or can be hosted by a well-to-do couple. When the latter hosts the festival it is called “Feast of Merit.” The “Feast of Merit” (Zhosou) is a feast offered by a couple to the whole village in order to acknowledge their blessings of wealth and prosperity. In such feasts, meat, local brew, rice, etc are offered to the villagers in plenty, although performing the feast of merit is also not a show of pride but prosperity and generosity.
In the process of the celebration of Thüni, there are many rituals or taboos before, during and even after the feast. Hence, no rich persons can perform the ‘Feast of Merit’ unless they are also ready to sacrifice and persevere.
Any couple who have performed the feast of merit are given the distinct right to wear the prestigious shawls, namely, “Hapidasa” and “Saparadu” and also entitled to use “kike” and “hapiteh” to adorn their traditional homes.
With the advent of Christianity, a lot of rituals and ceremonies are no longer practiced. Thuni Festival, however, remains an important event in the lives of the community and is still celebrated with great solemnity. The custom of every young and old dressed in traditional attires continue to remain one of the highlights with at least a day of celebration with dancing troupes, folk singers, folk story tellers, rendezvous and so on. And in that manner, Thuni Festival also strives as an institution of learning.
In the same spirit of the festival, the two-day Zhavame Day was held under the theme “Culture: Retrospect, Revive, Bequeath”. It was a rare occasion as every citizen of Zhavame village dwelling in towns and cities made their way home to the village to once again learn and sing old songs, play games that their forefathers entertained themselves with, to pound rice the traditional way, or blow the traditional horn and many other activities that were once richly associated with the very culture of Zhavame in the olden days.
All decked in their full traditional attires, Zhavame village on these two days depicted a close picture of what it would have looked like during our forefathers’ time. The two day festival brought together young people of Zhavame to one common ground, learning songs that they never knew, playing games that were purely traditional, competing in events like pounding rice or traditional sound making, folk songs and the like, many of which came across as a new kind of learning.
Setting aside a day or two like these purely for traditional extravaganza may seem like too much effort and resources have gone into making it a success. A lot of hard work and preparation had gone into it especially for those dwelling in the village and every member who had been a part of the organizing team. But the experience gained from it would certainly go down in the memory of many Zhavame people as one of the most enriching cultural experiences. And we must continue in our endeavor to learn and preserve as much cultural knowledge as possible.
(Vishü Rita Krocha is a poet, author and a journalist by profession with experience in the field for over 10 years. She also runs a home-based publication house called PenThrill Publication House. Views expressed are her own)