Chaga Ngee: The Blessed Festival
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Liangmai ethnic people are one of the indigenous people of Manipur. They are an agrarian society. During the olden days jhum cultivation was viable and productive. Perhaps one of the reasons was that the forest and the land were virgin and fertile and the people hard working. The annual harvest was always a good harvest surplus for almost every house-hold.
Different kinds of festivals and feasts of merit are celebrated by the villagers throughout the year. It is usually celebrated in order to appease the god to invoke his blessing or thanksgiving to mark the end of every occasion. Every festival involves huge amount of rice-beer and other edible items. All the villagers are able to afford or to sustain and participate during the festivity. With the exception of “Chaga” which is for the male group only, everyone participate in the festival.Chaga is one of the most important festivals. Many Liangmai elders have opined differently about the meaning of “Chaga”. Some say it is a festival of the sanctification, preparation for war, war festival and seeking God’s blessing for the next year. But most of them agree that it is a process of sanctification of the body and mind to get blessing in whatever form for ambitions one aspire to have. In short one can call it a blessed festival.
Chaga is annually celebrated during the autumn season, Chariuting, Chaga Hiu (month of Chaga) which usually falls in the late part of October or the early part of November. It depends on the sighting of the moon as the Liangmais follow the lunar calendar. For the Liangmai villagers every month is a month of festivals. Except for a month called the Chahiu Sinbo (Molomas-doubling of a month/presuming two months as one). This Chahiu Sinbo will be observed during the rainy season after every 7-8 years when the plants, flowers or the seasons do not tally with the counting of the months. During this month there is no festival, rituals, feast of merits etc.
During Chariu Ting (autumn season) particularly in the month of Chaga Hiu, the Liangmais believe that God has blessed the land; the climate is neither hot nor cold, but is moderate, the field, the plants and the trees are productive. The jhum fields are harvested, granaries are filled up with vegetables like pumpkin, yam, gourd, chilly, ginger etc. are in abundance and are cultured and preserved for future use. Even domesticated and wild animals are healthy. In other words God is happy and have blessed everything. Therefore the Liangmai people during this season take the opportunity to be blessed by the gods.
The main objective is to appease the Charawang (god) and to seek his blessing. Each individual tries to purify/sanctify themselves. Everyone hopes to be blessed and bestowed to become a great warrior/hunter/wealthy/great lover as desired by an individual and to be free from sickness and misfortune. Each individual looks for good omens or signs during Peng Kepbo for the coming year. The preparation made by each individual for ‘Chaga’ is very meticulous compared to preparation made for other festivals and each must be committed to please god. The men folk themselves initiate to purify the mind, body and soul and must remain cleansed but a mere pretension will have to face the wrath of god.
The Singku (chief priest), Pakhangpi (leader of the morung) and subordinates take initiative in observing and maintaining the lunar calendar. They also observe seasonal chirping of birds, blooming of flowers particularly Chaga Rapen (Chaga flower) known today as the Christmas flower. The Chaga calendar is strictly maintained with the first appearance of the moon during Chaga time. The day of the festival is counted by marking it by color (using charcoal) or given a cut mark by a Chaheng (matchet) each day (daily by a member of the morung) on a wooden plank or pole purposely shaped for use and placed in front of the Khangchiuky. This cut mark is called Chaga Hengsa. Thus the priest is able to fix a particular day for the commencement of the festival. The attempt is to get a full moon in the festival and is known as Chagah Hiu Pahbo.
It is believed that one who sees the first sight of the moon is fortunate and he will be blessed to fulfill his life ambition. Therefore everyone eagerly observe the heavenly bodies and clamour to be the first person to see the moon. As soon as the new moon is sighted every villager takes great precautions from falling sick or getting injured. Venturing out for hunting or going to distant places is avoided and even mothers caution their children not to venture out and remain alert while playing on the eve of the festivals less they fall prey to unforeseen ill luck or injuries. It is taboo to be sick or injured and remain bed ridden during the festival.
All the members who are to participate in the Chaga have to abstain from certain from certain food habits. Particularly creeper vegetables like pumpkin, gourd, cucumber, varieties of beans and even vegetables from the forest. It is believed that consumption of such will hinder him or make him stumble. These creepers will entwine their legs while going for head hunting or hunting wild animals or participating in village sports. Abstaining from these vegetables continue until the Chaga is over.
RESTRICTION TO SOME MEN
Some men are also debarred by customs, such persons are men whose wives are pregnant, Kasaipuimai i.e. those persons who carried or accompanied dead bodies to neighbouring villages, those family members who are on Tadiabo ritual (Family who still believes in living together with the death soul till the end of year.)
RESTRICTION FOR WOMEN
All members who are to participate in the Chaga will not have physical contact with women. To get blessing from the god one must be ritually purified or sanctified. This restriction will continue till the Chaga is over.
RESTRICTION FOR TRAVELERS
During Chaga, travelers from outside the village are not welcome. Traditionally, travelers shy away from such villages who are celebrating Chaga Festival. In case, if any person enters unknowingly, they will not be allowed to leave the village till the festival is over.
PREPARATION FOR CHAGA
[dropcap]B[/dropcap]efore, the advent of the full moon of Chaga Hiu all the materials required during the festival are well stocked particularly rice and meat. As the moon of Chaga Hiu is sighted, Pakhangpi, the leader of Khangchiuky or morung (boys dormitory) will initiate the members for various sorts of assignments. The assignment is the collection of materials to be used during the festivals like gathering of fire-wood, banana leaves, bamboo tumblers or mug called Chaga Piang, bamboo for making bamboo plate called Chaga Kuang. The place for collection of such materials is already ear-marked by Singku and leaders of the morung.
Pakhangpi will assign these various works to its junior members in groups. He will give proper direction and assign particular water-holes call Dui Khun for collection of water, Chapaipiu (Bamboo grove), Chagum Lee (banana leaves), Chagum Bee (banana trees), fire-wood and other works. The assigned persons will rinse their mouth, wash their face, body etc. and will fetch water. Other groups will procure other items as assigned to them. All the members who are to participate in Chaga will stay in their respective dormitory. In some Liangmai villages there is a group call “Chaga Phoam”. This is a group of male members belonging to the same clan or grandfather. They are a separate group who will perform their own Chaga. On the last day they will join with other group in khangchiuky.
The senior members who had stayed back at Khangchiuky will rinse their mouth and wash their face body etc. When all the members have completed their assigned duties and the members who are to participate in the festivals are assembled, they will come out from the Morung led by Singku (Priest) and stand at the court-yard. The priest will ward off evil spirit. They prepare themselves to invoke upon the god Charawang for his blessings, power and success of the festival. Young boys who are not yet qualified to join the Khangchiuky will imitate their elders in their dormitory called Chung Khangnaky. Almost every mother will rear a special rooster. During the Chaga these young boys enjoy with various sports as well as cock fighting which is the highlight of the festival of the young ones.
BEGINNING OF THE FESTIVAL
The first day is call Chaga Zao Thoubo Nai or the day of pounding rice for Chaga. On this day, rice is pounded to powder for making rice beer. On this special day pounding of rice is helped by the women-folk. The process of getting the finest rice powder is done by women with the help of winnowing fan for consumption.
The second day is call Zao Madungbo Nai or day of fermenting powdered rice. This powdered rice is put on a wooden pot called Kaphup along with hot water. This is also helped by women-folk.
The third day is call Chami Malap Wangbo Nai or day of making new fire. On this day all the fire of the entire village will be extinguished. The new fire will be made by the priest or Pakhangpi by rubbing on a day wooden piece by a bamboo or rope. This new fire will be rekindled by each male house holder and taken to their homes.
The new fire in their own hearth marks a new phase of life in the village. After that, restriction of intermingling is relaxed. In some villages, fire in every household hearth will be extinguished. Every family will take the new fire to light their extinguished hearth.
The Liangmais laid great stress for omen while making this new fire. The rope used in the fire will be split in two parts by the heat and fire produced in the process of rubbing vigorously. The burnt end of the right hand side will be observed properly and interpreted with its observance as follows:
1. If the burnt tip of the rope where the outer covering is burnt less than the inner layer there will be discord and differences in the coming New Year.
2. If the burnt tip of the rope is split into many parts there will be lots of quarrel and disease.
3. If the burnt tip of the rope is split into many parts and a small fiber is bent then during hunting spearman will first spear the prey.
4. If the tip of the rope is burnt in a straight line life span of many people will be short and.
5. If the right and left side of the rope are split into two equal parts it is a good omen. They believe the Chaga Ngee is going to be good and so also the coming New Year.
The lady of the house will, well in advance, give enough Kabiu (ginger) to the priest. From amongst the ginger the priest will sort out Majat Biu (new ginger shoot from the right side of the planted ginger), make a plate called Chaluih (Folded banana leaves like a plate to contain article) from Majat gum (piece of banana leave peel off from the right hand side of banana leave) and rice-beer will be poured in Chaluih where Majat Biu is already placed. The Liangmai community gives importance to the right hand side because majority of the people are right handed and accustomed in movement and feels stronger than their left counterpart.
All the members/participants will come out in the courtyard of the Khangchiuky. They shout in unison. “Oh! This year, with the coming of new year, Oh! Let my enemy warrior who may come swiftly like a squirrel may you fall down in front of me. I will throw you out like my Majat Biu and eat my Tathethou Thuan Patbo (throwing out of Chaluih containing ginger and rice beer) which I am throwing out.”
All the members will re-enter the Morung. Pakhangpi will pick up Majat Biu and place it on his right thigh and break it with his right hand fist by banging on it. Then, he invoke upon God that all his members are free from sickness, and are able to withstand against attacking warriors, while hunting in the western side of the village, that they are able to spear a bear whose head is as big as Karap (hanging basket above the hearth), wild boar whose teeth is the longest. In the east they will be able to spear a reindeer whose horn is as big as Marao (gourd). Every morning and evening let them bring home meat like bringing in vegetable and pour rice beer.
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n some Liangmai villages, Tathe Thonbo ceremony is led by the eldest member of the group. He has to frighten the spirit of the enemy with the following solemn proclamations:-
“Hey, tingkum, jari wangja, athe thon sune. Aky Rambow ga athiu-arimai atu atainija kabamai, atu mikremai, pami ka-lnga mitheng pon matang lujiu tagoi/taweng bambose athe wang tiulo, (tathe thon padjiu pakhangmai kahu Chin chin khaoi). Abiu thiu e, atei phuatle, aba sha e azou niang nge. Wang leng tiulo thaa, atei – azou saklu atampi sui wangl”Rough translation: “With the coming of the season, let me make this solemn proclamation, my enemy who are loitering around my homestead like long tailed beast, come and take my food. (The winter food will be thrown out, the members will shout to the spirit of the enemy with howling). My ginger is hot rice whited is tasty, my beer is fine sweet, my pig is fatty, come and take my food to your stomach and be my hunted head.
At night time in the morung the participants of the Chaga will drink rice beer and meat to their fill. They tell stories, brag and make belief story about their conquest to the village damsels. They will sing all kinds of dirty songs not presentable with the opposite sex.
At nightfall when almost everybody is asleep a girl may discreetly hang a bouquet of flowers (Marigold) at the side of the verandah for her lover. Then, she will go to Khangchiuky and hurl pebbles of stone unseen. On hearing the sound the members of Khangchiuky will come out and bless the unseen lover and acclaim, let the girl be send off with a Kabui (Mithun) on her marriage, Kapiuki Nakylo (let your house be a plank house), Chabien bow nagulo (May you be the owner of the big granary), Kham Kamakboky ga miloh (Marry into a family where doors are open i.e. marry to a family where you are wanted and like by your future-in-laws) and Aliu thoi jaijiu mara sathiu miniuwe (respect our blessings and you’ll be free from sickness and disease).
During the night girls from Liuchiuky (girls’ dormitory) will try to steal fire-wood. But, such incident is not considered as stealing. Perhaps, it is a gesture to distract man from his concentration in devotion to God.
The festivals begin when rice and meat are well stocked and collection of materials required like water, banana leaves, bamboo plates, fire wood etc. are stored in its proper place to coincide with the full moon.
The fourth day is call Peng Kepbonai, a day when every member of Khangchiuky will have to shoot or hurl a dart called Chapithu made of a weed called Ading or Maram targeting a human figurine call Peng. All the villagers remain vigilant during the day and night on the eve of Peng Kepbonai against wild animals. For it is a bad omen if domesticated animals fall prey to wild animals.
Boys wanting to foresee their future through a dream may collect the wooden chips. Particularly, the chips being chipped out for the head side of the Peng before it touches the ground. In some villages boys will try to collect the chips before touching the ground from the place where the tree is cut. He collects the chip in his shawl before it touches the ground. He will wrap up the chip in a banana leaf. He will put under his pillow and sleep on it in the Khangchiuky (Boys dormitory).
In the morning when he opens it, if it is found to be like powdered rice he will have a good married life with his lover. If the chips found are wet like dew, it is believed that the future with his lover is going to be bleak.
When a human figurine is carved out of the wooden log it is call Peng. After decoration of Peng the men folk will carry the peng around the village with Hoi-ing. They will bring back the Peng on the proposed site and tie on a high pole. Every participant will have darts or small arrows made of Ading or Maram, a typical grass (bamboo family) read found in the hills. With this dart they will aim at the Peng. The priest of the village will announce the commencement of the game to all the villagers. All male members who can shoot at the figure have to take the spike made of reeds kept ready for the show.
They will converge at the central place and from there they will march towards the site where the figurine is erect with howling/shouting in the manner of the bee marching. As they reach the site, one of the Khangkiang has to perform a rite invoking the almighty to enable his village youths hit their targets. He will shoot first and followed by everyone who will attempt at his wished target painted in the figurine. The Singku or Pakhangpi will attempt first. He yells and shouts hoping that the dart hit the eyes of his enemy, let it hit the kidney, the heart of his foe.
Peng is divided into five parts:
1. Papi (head) is call Charibai (bull for warrior), whoever is able to hit the head with his dart will be a great warrior.
2. Pahguang (neck) is call Tathiubai (bull for hunter), whoever hit the neck will be a great hunter.
3. Pagah (chest) is call Aliubai (bull for girl or damsel), whoever hit the chest will have many lovers.)
4. Ahbum (stomach) is call Chamiubai (bull for grain), who ever hit the stomach with his dart will have a rich harvest and will be wealthy and lastly.
5. Parun (below the stomach) is called Majiubai (bull for adversity), who ever hit below the stomach falls prey to sickness, injury, death, fines etc.
These were the beliefs in the olden days among the Liangmai people. Therefore, every participant attempts at a particular target or bull according to his desire and needs. The youths usually attempt for Aliubai. Every participant avoids Majiubai but if luck is against him or he is pre-destined to be in adversity, he never misses the dreaded target.
After everyone has had their try, they will shout in unison that, “I have defeated my enemies.” With this chanting the most important part of the festival comes to a close. All the members will look for another omen. The bamboo tumbler used by every individual during the festival will be split vertically with a Chaheng into two halves. If the split bamboo tumbler splits apart and both fall face down it is not a good omen. If both split parts fall face up it is good omen for the individual. If one half falls face up and the other half falls face down it is equivocal.
The fifth day is the last day and it is called Chaga Pahbonai that is sighting of the full moon. There will be a grand feast where there is re-dining together after 3-4 days. Several dishes of meat and rice beer will be gathered at Khangchiuky and the elders will enjoy it. They narrate stories and sing songs related to Chaga festival to pass it on to younger generation. It is also a day for sanctification called Maram Phiabo. Every person who had joined in the Chaga celebration is cleansed or sanctified by a ritual led by the Singku. A leaf called Mahram/Piume whose leaves edges are very sharp will cut the arm of every member to be free from any evil during the Chaga.
Intermingling of men and women are permitted again. Young boys and girls enjoyed the day by playing games of their interest. Some village youths go for picnics in the deep forest, the highest hill of the village. The boys will place two white wooden planks intersecting each other tied on top of the tallest tree of the hill. This signifies that the Chaga festival is over. Travelers can enter the village, the village gate will be opened and visitors are welcome.
Some villagers say that it is a sign of warning to the enemies that they are blessed by the Gods with power and they are prepared for war with the strong belief of victory. On their return journey, they collect banana leaves and wild vegetables. They will distribute it to every household and share their food with each other. They also march to the house of the eldest bachelor and spinster. They will praise him/her and ask to offer something for their Morung. This is called Akhangting/Aliuting tu thonbo (Praising the eldest bachelor/spinster). It is very important for the village because the age of the younger generation could be ascertained along with the age of these two elders based on the rotation of the jhum field.
Junior boys will sing songs of victory over their enemy led by the elder ones call Khangting by going around the whole village. Later in the evening the grown up boys will join them in full costumes in singing till mid-night after which the grown up boys will visit the girls dormitory singing and asking them to forgive whatever excess they might have committed during the festivals and release the girls from religious forbidden activities of weaving and other crafts during the celebration. However, food restriction on the part of men will still be in force till another rite call Aliambo sanctification led by the priest at Aliam Phung (ritual place).
Every man will cook special dishes of various meats fish and delicious items according to his abilities. These special dishes are presented to his married sisters it is a token of love where married women takes great pride for it in front of her in-laws. In some villages the male members in special hand basket called Tapha Kuang and for the girls a basket called Chape ngeu. Inside the basket special food items of various meat of domesticated or wild animals are placed. They will carry their own basket to their morung and enjoy with their friends. The girls since being left out of during the festival also enjoy in their own Liuchiuky. They also carry their own food basket like the boys to enjoy with their friends.
During the evening before sunset Pakhangpi again assigns junior members to fetch water again. They will go to the water hole wash their mouth and face and fetch the water. Elders will also wash their mouth and face. With this the festival comes to an end.In the evening members of Khangchiuky and Liuchiuky march through the various homes of the village, singing and praising each other. They will ask for rice beer from the various households that they pass through.
There is another day called Chaga Leibonai on the sixth day. This is the day where the participants are village elders or aged ones. They will enjoy the day and by consuming the unexpended rice beer and meat etc. This sixth day is very insignificant because it is confined to the aged ones only.
MORDERN CHAGA NGEE
The changing times have led to a cultural change in the way of living, food habits, attitudes and religious beliefs to the Liangmai community. Secondly, in the modern times with the hectic life one cannot spend 5-6 days in celebrating a festival. The Liangmai Arts and Culture Association organised a seminar on “Chaga” in 2004 at Chiang Village, Tamei Sub-division, Tamenglong. It was attended by prominent leaders representing various social, political and religious organisation of the community.The main objective of the seminar was to promote a festival of the community. The said festival was to suit with the modern life style and religious beliefs and to promote and protect its cultural identity. After a long and intense deliberation “Chaga” was chosen to be cultured to fit in the modern life.
The traditional form of celebrating “Chaga” which lasted 5 to 6 days is shortened to a 1 (one) day festival. It attempts to incorporate all important tenets of the festival and to fit in with the modern Christian life.
In Nagaland, the state Govt. has declared 30th October every year as a state holiday on the day of “Chaga”. In relation to it The Liangmai Arts and Culture Association has taken initiatives in celebrating Chaga festival every year on October 29 and 30 every year.
On the 29th October every member belonging to the same family tree will gather together. The head of the family will lead the gathering. It is a family worship, a worship to forgive and to forget and to start a new life renewing their family ties, confess to each other, clear all misunderstandings and to start anew without any misgivings.
On the 30th morning the villagers come out and organise social work. They repair the foot paths, water-holes and clean the entire village. Every house-hold will put off the time in their hearth. A new fire will be made under the leadership of the Pastor and village elders. From this newly kindled fire all households re-kindle their hearths. This is to signify the start of a new life free from all evil.
In the afternoon, there will be singing of folk songs, games, and sports for both the young and the old. The traditional form of Peng Kepbo may be re-enacted as a part of sports without any ritual.
In the evening every male member may invite their married sisters for a grand-dinner. “Chaga” has become a very important festival for the Liangmais. Firstly, every Liangmai irrespective of sex, young and old have a chance of participating in a traditional festival. The community is enlightened about its rich cultural heritage. Secondly, it is a chance for every individual to wear their traditional dress, shawl and sing folk songs etc. Thirdly, it gives a chance for closer bonds among the family lineage in a jovial atmosphere. Lastly, it also provides ample opportunities to at least dine together with brothers and sisters in a year.
The writer is the president, Liangmai Writers’ Research Forum, Manipur. He can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org