Tamenglong District, which is predominantly inhabited by the Zeliangrong community is widely known for the colourful festivals that are celebrated with pomp and gaiety. The Zeliangrong are proud of their rich cultural heritage which is reflected in their beautiful art ftom especially dance and music performed during their great festivals. These festivals are closely linked up with their religion which is associated with their economic vocations, social and cultural ethos. Therefore, the Zeliangrong festivals which they call Ngai(in Rongmei, Ngi in Zeme and Liangmai= rejoicing) are multifaceted cultural phenomenon. As N. Saha rightly said “The Zeliangrong people observe series of festivals throughout the year”.
According to Brown, “In their festival and dances, the costume for the men consists of kit-shaped piece of red cloth round the loins a scatch wool cravat of gay (grey) colour is worn as a scarf around the waist, goisters white cloths with marked spots are also commonly worn. Tensil ornaments and long feathers are worn on the head, and a favourite ornament with the man only a bread(bred) quady coloured, natural butterfly wings attached to an spreading wing like from each ear. The following features are characteristic of Zeliangrong festivals.
It is an extension of their religious belief and usage. Festivals are regarded as a rite and ritual of the whole village society. The system of worship of the supreme God, gods and goddesses of the pantheon, village deities and ancestors is reflected in the festival.
Since the Zeliangrong are mostly agriculturists, their festivals are performed reflecting different stages of agricultural activity. Festivals are performed to mark certain agricultural activity of the village according to seasons. The festivals are an expression of the joy and happiness of the ever toiling Zeliangrong people. This is the occasion of the expression of their artistic talents, physical strength through martial arts, dance and songs.
The festivals make the different social organisations of the Zeliangrong village involved in the organisation of the festivals. Of all of them, the male dormitory (Khangchiu) and girls dormitory (Kailu) take the major role in the whole activity. Despite the decline of the dormitories, during the festivals it is a very much functioning institution. Somebody calls the dormitory as the Ngaikai, the house of festivals.
The Zeliangrongs have festivals performed every month of their lunar calendar year. There are little variations in festivals among the Zeliangrong of the upper region of Peren sub-division of Nagaland, Haflong range of Assam and Tamenglong district of Manipur. The chronological arrangement of the Zeliangrong festivals are as follows:
|Hena jaungi (Ketoungi)
|pok pha ngai
The explanation for the festivals of the Zeliangrong which are performed by every Zeliangrong Villages are given below:
|Performed in December-January(in Manipuri month of poinu and wakching for convenience sake). It is celebrated for five days.
|(War festival) January-February for three days.
|(Children ear boring festival) February-March for one day
|(Offering feast for guest) worship of God and goddesses of wealth and calling of the soul of paddy for bountiful harvest in April for one day
|(Ginger soup drinking festival) in may for one day
|Ganthan-luithan bapmei ngai
|(Testing of new vegetables) falls in spring season known as spring festival for one day.
|(Festival of the rainy season) falls in June-july for one day
|(Bread festival) July-August for one day
|(Pre-harvest/rest festival) falls in September for one day
|(Festival for the dead) peformed in a few villages in November for seven days.
Here is a summarised introduction to the different festivals celebrated in the district.
- GAN NGAI: It is the most important festival of the Zeliangrongs performed in the dry winter season after the harvest. Gan ngai means the festival of the season of gan (dry winter season). Though according to some, it is the mixed festival of (Gan= mixture) dead and living. It is called the Chaga-ngi in Liangmai. According to Gearge Watt, “These are first the Enghan(Gan ngai), which happens in December. During the five days of its continuance all the inhabitants of the village, dressed in their best attire, keep up the dance and song, interrupted only by short intervals of repose and breaks dedicated to feasting”.
It is a festival heralding the New Year as fresh fire by wood and bamboo friction is produced and distributed to every household. The spirits of the dead during the previous year are given parting farewell. Dances are performed in honour of the dead. Dances are performed for the fake Queen and Kings chosen among the boys and girls. Those who are going to be promoted to higher age grade are given farewell dances. There are competitions in sports and games. Like stone throwing, long jump, spear and motar throwing. The beautiful Zeliangrong dances are performed during the festival. There are singing competitions between the boys and girls. The beautiful village guarding chorus singers are unique feature of the Zeliangrong life where art and military defences are integrated.
- RIH NGAI (WAR FESTIVAL): Rih Ngai is a ritual festival for purifying the village and menfolk who are warriors of the village. George Watt says that “Rih Ngai performed in the month of January which lasts for three days. In one day or first day during this festivalthe men and women fetch separately the water that each may require. The men having killed pigs take a portiuon for themselves and give a portion to the women; they cook and eat separately, the men in the house of the head of the family, the women each in their own house. An effigy of a man made of plantain is hung on a tree, and at it they throw pointed bamboos or sticks. At this festival, the graves of the ancestors are sprinkled with the national drink, and on its of land for cultivation and general welfare in the ensuing year”.
According to T.C. Hodson, during the Rihngai festival the Zeliangrong people observed the omen. So as to identify whether the omen is good or bad “they erect outside the village an image of a man, made either of straw or of the stem of a plantain tree, and throw spears at it. If the spear hits the head, the successful marksman will take a head while, if he hits the belly of the image, the crops will be good. Further, colonel McCulloh remarks, “This festival is said to be in honour of their ancestors, but only the visible sign of this is sprinkling the graves with their cultivation as a ceremonial relic of former times”. In the festival of Rih-ngai “Rihtak ganmei” and “Rilianbui phianmei or Chongphianmei” are performed. This performance is for purifying the village.
- NANU NGAI (EAR BORING FESTIVAL): Nanu ngai is performed for registering the children born in the previous year, in the house of old women (Karapei kaibang). It is associated with fertility cult, elferly men and women often sing fertility songs. Children engage for their dormitory known as “Niak Kaibang”(Mud Dormitory). The children collect muddy and paste a piece of mud to every house by throwing. Elderly women went to the water pond early in the morning to fetch water for the newly born babies who are going to bore their ears. The killing of two chicken to examine the omen of hen’s legs also performed in this festival. The significance of having killed two hens is- one for “sangdai” and the other is “sangrou”. The elder men have to keenly examine the moving of the legs of the hen or fowl whether right or left. If the legs of the fowl move right side, the omen meant for the prosperous life, healthy life and longevity of the child.
According to George Watt, “In February there is a festival of three days’ continuance, at which all the children born since the last festival of the kind have their ears bored”. This festival is especially for children and blessing for the newly born baby.
- GINKI NGAI (GIN-GUEST, KIMEI-ENTERTAIN): Ginki Ngai is performed to entertain the God and goddesses of wealth. Napkao (calling of the soul of the paddy) is performed by the village community and by the individual households. To entertain the guest here they meant is not real guest but the spirit of the ancestors and the soul of those who gone ahead(expired) of the family. All varieties of food items would be prepared toi the door side(upper frame of the door) fo the house and the eldest of the household performs it as Ginkimei.
- GUDUINGAI (GU-GINGER, DUI-SOUP: Gudui ngai is performed during the seed sowing season or festival. George Watt says that “During this festival the clearing of the jungle on the land they intend to sow, and when that is done, they drink the juice of ginger at a festival called from the circumstance gudui jangmei”. It is said that the drinking of juice of ginger is to purify blood and healthy sake throughout the year. They drink in the name of God. The worship of supreme God Tingkao Ragwang for good harvest and bountiful crops. The soup of the chicken sacrificed for God is mixed with ginger juice is drunk. Therefore, is called Gudui ngai(festival of finger). In the afternoon, there is a throwing of flower (bouquets) among the boys and girls followed by tug of war (or rope pulling competition). It is symbolic representation of similar competition between the male and female deities for the possession of the paddy. If the girls win the tug of war, it is the indication of good harvest in the coming year.
- GANTHAN LUITHAN BAPMEI NGAI: This is more a performance of a ceremony in which all the deities are worshipped by the zeliangrongs of the particular village offered sacrifices for having taste new vegetables in the year.
- TUN-NGAI(FESTIVAL OF THE RAINY SEASON): This festival is performed during the rainy season when the youth and girls are engaged in cutting the jungle and clearing the water pond, making the resting place on the path of farming known as “bamduanmei”(Megaliths) and “Kangbian Ramei” as a social service. They collect a sum of rupees among themselves for a kind of feast.
- TIAN-NGAI(FESTIVAL OF BREAD): The groups of girls gather together in the Luchiu and prepare bread and entertain with the bread. This merry making performance is known as Tian-Ngai.
- POK-PHA NGAI: This festival is performed when the paddy is getting ripen and the villagers get some rest before the main and major harvest. The villagers get the seed and test known as napgui lamei and “napthan bapmei” testing the first seed of the paddy. It is a festival marked with relief and expectancy of good harvest. People worship the Almighty God for the bountiful and abundant harvest.
- CHAKAK NGAI: Chakak ngai is performed just after pokpha and before the Gan Ngai. The tombs and graves of the dead are properly cleaned and maintained. The spirits of the dead are entertained. The children are shaved and scrapped off, and blessed by old people. The evil spirits of the village are driven off by the village priests though they do not have prie-dieu. In Zeme society, in this festival everyone show and observe condolences to those who expired before the festival and the dead of the previous year. No merry making should be entertained in dormitory of boys and girls. Howling, music and dance are restricted. The bereaved family members could join the society only to the festival when they took bath as a sanctification duty.
- BANCHATNGAI: This festival is observed only by several villages of Zeliangrong like Luangrang (Nungnang) village. This is the festival of “Duangjoumei” right after the major harvest. Duangjoumei means witnessing and observing the granary. The village elder go round to each granary who got the highest in number. The man who got the most will offer a quality rice beer for them and consequently blessed upon.
- MATUIMEINGAI: “Matui” is a big youth annual festival of Zeliangrong Nagas held right after harvest. This is accompanied by feasting and community dance. The Matui festival is irregular festival as it is mainly organised by youth only for their own expenses and extra ordinary merry making festival.Besides the annual festival which are observed every year, there is the feast of merit an action of distribution of surplus wealth as the anthropologists would like to describe wrongly. This sacrifice of charity to fellow villagers is known as “Taraang or Banru dungmei”. This extra ordinary feast is an occasional festival which is performed only by the bold, brave, wealthy, philanthropist and generous person to please both man and God.
- ORANGE FESTIVAL: Orange Festival is celebrated every year in Tamenglong District in the first or second week of December every year with great fervour by the general public of Manipur. The festival has been organised and started since 2001 with the initiative of Shri. K Moses Chalai, the then Deputy Commissioner of Tamenglong and continues till today in a befitting manner by organising at the District Level by collecting oranges from different parts of Tamenglong district. It was later declared in 2004 as State Level Orange Festival by Shri Ibobi Singh, Hon’ble Chief Minister of Manipur and Shri. Gaikhangam, the then Minister (Power and Hort. & Science, IPR). In 2013, the then Governor of Manipur declared the 9th of December every year as the day of the Orange Festival. Accordingly, the Orange Festival 2014 was celebrated at Tamenglong District headquarter on 9th December 2014. This vibrant and colourful festival is a feast for lovers of oranges as different varieties of the fruits and handicrafts are displayed in abundance for sale. The main objective of the festival is to promote the objectives and interests of the orange growers in the district which is the only suitable location to grow in large scale in Manipur.