THE TRADITIONAL & SOCIAL LIFE OF YIMKHIUNGRU TRIBE COVERING FAMILY LIFE, VARIOUS PROFESSIONS, TABOOS ETC.
The Yimchunger tribe is one of the major tribe in Tuensang district. It is also one of the recognized tribe in Nagaland. Like the rest of the Naga tribes, the Yimchungers have mongoloid features. The tribe occupies the eastern region of the district. In the east, the tribe has boundary with Burma. In the north it has boundary with the Khiamniungans and the Changs. In the west it has boundary with the Changs, the western Sangtams and the Sema tribes. In the south it has boundary with the eastern Sangtams and the Pochury tribes. The Yimchunger tribe has six different dialects namely:
- The Langas
- The Tikhirs
- The Mukokrus
- The Chirrs
- The Longphurus
- The Phunungrus
The Langa dialect is used as major (common) language.
- Social Structure:
There is no caste system practiced in the Yimchunger tribe. The Society comprise of the family, clan, khel and village. Family is the smallest unit, which has affinity with many families of the same blood (clan). The society composes of the many clans, which then form khels. A village may consist of many khels or a few khels. Each village is established under the leadership of a strong man who is then considered the Godfather of the village. He is respected and given due tribute and respect. He is also regarded as the village headman who governs and runs the administration of the village. Many lieutenants who execute orders assist him. Almost all villages run the administration in the tradition of the modern democracy system. The customary courts settle almost all type of cases. Penalty varies according to the nature of the case. Every family is required to contribute at least male member for the village defense purpose. Women are regarded as helpmate of men. They cannot inherit properties nor have any say in the administration of the village. Women are expected to behave as true feminine and cannot overrule men. They are expected to posses the art of cultivation, cooking, home management, care of children and look after the welfare of men folk.The Yimchunger tribe does not practice slavery in any form. The people are sturdy and hard working.
- Manners and Customs:
The Yimchunger tribe has got its own manners and customs. For instance – when a male child born; he is given a name normally on the sixth day, and on the fifth day for a girl. It is mandatory that this be followed. Before the naming of the child, both parents of the child remain indoors. They cease all outdoor activities; the mother is fed with all delicacies like meat, eggs, milk, vegetables, fish etc. to recoup health. The earlobes of the babies are pierced later on. It is customary and mandatory that this is followed.
Earlier, when death occurs the people left the dead bodies on a raised platforms which would be subjected to heat, rains, wind, birds and insects etc. Now a – days people bury the dead in the common cemetery earmarked for such in villages or towns. Earlier, people would bury the dead in their homes, garden or compound, whenever death occurs in a family, relatives and friends gather to mourn for the dead, farewell speeches are given out from the loved ones and the coffin is carried away in a precession. Farewell feast in honor of the dead is thrown. The quality of the feast depends upon the status and wealth. Generally, the family members don’t go out for any work outside their homes for at least a week after the burial. It is customary and mandatory that an animal is killed and its meat distributed to all relatives and neighbours. All utensils, plates, cups and spoons used for cooking funeral meat is cleaned and kept. The ritual ceases with this last process.
- Social Life:
- Law or inheritance:
As per the law of inheritance of Yimchunger community, only male heirs are entitled to inherit landed and immovable property. Women are not permitted nor entitled to inherit. However, the discretion lies with the father whether to be given to daughters any landed or immovable property. In case the majority of the offspring is male the father may decide to bestow some of the property. Normally, the daughters inherit jewelry, dresses and other articles like various seedlings, pots, plates, cups, weaving articles, various types of baskets and domestic animals. Those items are handed down to their daughters and so on. If there are many sons, he decides the quantity of property to be divided among his sons born to him. Normally, the eldest and the youngest inherit the major share of the property. In case a man dies without a male heir, his property is automatically taken over by his brothers and sons, which may be further divided among the closest blood cousins. In case a man dies with some debts, his children and blood cousins will clear off on the day he dies to the debtor.
The landed and immovable property can be sold or purchased but customary laws do not permit it to be transferred to any other village. No property is permitted to be sold to non-locals. Each village has laws restricting selling of landed and immovable property to members of other villages except on very rare cases. Each village, khel, clan or group of families is permitted to jointly own landed and immovable property which becomes the joint property. No individual can sell it off or decide to do anything without the consent and decision of every member.
Before money (currency) was introduced, the people carried out business transactions on barter system – in which, the selling item and the proposed item to be purchased should possess equivalent price. Before the market salt came into use the people used to manufacture local out of salt water, which was collected from the salt water springs in the forest. On evaporation the salt water due to high heat salt was collected as a result.
- Dress and ornaments:
Long back, the Yimchunger people only used loin clothes to cover themselves. From dresses made out of cotton, tree barked and leaves it gradually led to wearing of dresses made out of animal’s skin. It was only after the civilization brought the use of present day fabrics made up of superior quality that the people started using it till today. However, the Yimchunger people even in the earlier days knew the art of dyeing the fabrics locally. The dye could be obtained from some particular plants. Since olden times, the Yimchungers have varieties of shawls for both men and women and also varieties of mekhela for women. Only those men who could chop a man’s head could wear the warrior’s shawls known as “RONGKHIM” in Yimchunger dialect. The person would then be officially declared a warrior and only then he could be entitled to wear this particular shawl. But, recently because of abandonment of head hunting ways of system for such method for entitlement has also been abolished. Now everyone can wear these prestigious shawls. Men-folk wear earrings made up of ivory and also arm bracelets and wrist bracelets made up of ivory and super fine quality cane. Only the warrior and rich could afford ivory. Of late, everyone could afford it. Head gear consist of fine hairs of animals and men; a pair of wild boar teeth, feathers of hornbill and the head gear is woven out of finest cane or bamboo. Nails of tiger and bear would be attached to the string of rope to the bottom of the headgear. On the shawl, beads of cowries’ shell would also be woven. Again, these particular shawls could be worn only by the warrior, venerated and rich man. Even currently, only the rich, the affluent and the educated ones wear this particular shawl. Poor and low status people cannot use it. Men-folk used anklets made up of bear’s skins and also wore leather belts on which is attached the Dao boxes made up of fine quality wood. During ceremonial dances a small basket is attached to the rear of the dao box. The small basket would further be attached by a good bunch of long silky hairs mostly obtained from women. Men folk were fond of tattooing on the chest and arms. Tattooing was confined only to these two regions. Men folk also wore necklace made up of fine beads of precious stones, shells, ivory of various colors. They also wore tiger teeth and necklaces made up of brass, copper and silver. There are also other good varieties of necklaces worn by men. Women also wear lots of varieties of necklaces of ruby, jade, sapphire and varieties of shells. The rich and the affluent wore a prestigious necklace called “KHINULAK”. Women wore the fine bracelets made up of brass, copper, lead and zinc. Earrings made up of quarts, ruby, emerald, sapphire, copper, brass and silver were used. Tattooing was confined to fore head, chin and legs. There are lots of varieties of shawl, mekhela worn by women. Varieties of baskets, bags and weaving tools are used. Women used walking sticks made up of brass or iron. Men used spear made up of fine iron or other alloys. Animal skins, hairs would be attached to the spear for better grip. Long before men folk started using half pants/long pants they used a loin cloth called “LANGTAM” which is woven by cotton threads. During special ceremonial dances men used to attach a spherical disc made up of brass, steel to the front portion of langtam. It produced a jingling sound, which gave tune to their singing while dancing.
- Dwelling Houses:
Before establishment of towns almost all villages were established on hilltops. This was primarily done and necessitated for defense purpose. Moreover, diseases and sickness were believed to be less on high altitude. Roads connecting villages were narrow and people use to construct houses in clusters. Sanitation and hygiene condition was poor. Man and animals lived under the same roof. Houses were constructed with structure of wooden posts and bamboo. The roof would be of palm leaves or thatch. Ventilation system was poor. A house usually would consist of three or four rooms. However, drainage system was good. Floor was always kept clean and dry. In olden days, people used pots and plates made up of clay; cups and spoons made up of wood or bamboo. Now people have started using pots, plates and cups made up of aluminum, steel, brass, copper and other alloys. Earlier, beds were made or carved out of a single log. Rich and affluent section of people used these types. Ordinary beds made out of bamboo and woods were also used. Now people have started using beds made out of superior materials like steel, brass, good quality wood etc. Generally, in the front or back of the house a ‘machang’ or platform is constructed for leisure and rest. A separate barn houses were also constructed to store grains. Earlier people used to go to jungles to ease off since no latrine system was made available.
- Food Habits:
The Yimchungru people are fond of kholar (kidney beans), which grows abundantly. There are varieties of kholar out of which is best quality known as “JIPHUYAK” is available only in the Shamatore belt. People also cultivate rice, millet, kachu, corm, rhizome, cucumber, bumpkins, bottle gourds and the naga dal in abundance. The people don’t lack in any of the crops. Besides fruits like papayas, oranges, banana, guava, big lemon are grown. The people also rear various domestic animals like pigs, cow, dogs, goats, sheep, buffaloes and poultry. The mithun is considered rich man’s animal and his wealth are measured by the numbers of mithun he possess. The people eat all types of meat except snakes, house rats and lizards. They also eat all types of birds, fish and some particular insects. Varieties of plants along with its shoots, leave are eaten. Rice beer is one of the main drinks of the Yimchungru people. But, of late Christianity considers drinking of rice beer unreligious. Locally produced tobacco was commonly used for smoking and preparation of other intoxicant drinks. Drinking of fresh milk of cows or goats was confined to rich and affluent section only. It was not commonly used. It was considered luxury items.
- Community Life:
Yimchungru people are communal in character. They have well-established customary laws and social set up. The people don’t live an isolated life. They work, play and do all activities together as one community. The community lives is filled with many activities such as games and sports, hunting and fishing and also have fair and festivals etc. The people play lots of outdoor and indoor games. Outdoor games include top-spin, cock fights, hide and seek, spear throw, shot puts, running race, tug of war, wood chopping, pole climbing, wrestling, football, target shooting. Women play games with the seeds of sword bean, swing competition, hide and seek, cooking competition, musical chair competition, storytelling etc. Locally made mouth organs are used to produce music, both men-folk and women have varieties of traditional songs and melodious tunes can be sung for games competition and also sung during dances and ceremonial occasion.
The people are also very fond of hunting and fishing. Before modern guns came into use, the people used bows, arrows, poison darts, spear, slingshots and varieties of traps for hunting and trapping wild animals and birds. For fishing, traditional method was adopted in this method diversion of watercourse was done to catch fishes. Another method was to put juices of crushed plants into the river or stream, which act as poison for the fishes leading to their death. Spear improvised harpoons were used to catch fish. Another method was the use of big stones, which should be smashed against another stones in the river or streams with great force, which would result in the death of fishes. Another method was to keep baskets made up of bamboos or canes across the river where the fishes would be trapped in the baskets. There are some well-experienced people who can catch fish just with bare hands also.
The people also have fairs and festivals. Fairs are held in the villages where the people can sell their produces and also both domestic and wild animals. Before currency came into use the people practiced barter system. In this method the people would exchange with goods possessing equivalent price. The Yimchungru people have lots of festivals out of which the “MEDUMNIO” festival is regarded as the longest and biggest festival. Lots of animals are killed for meat, rice beer consumed and young boys and girls get engaged. The roads are cleaned and some animistic deities are given due honour during this period. The important deity was attributed to “RIJABAH”. The festival is marked by lots of merry making, eating and drinking. People share with whatever they have with those who visit them during this festival. The festival lasts for 7 days, which begins from the 2nd of August to 8th of August every year. There are also festivals such as khedi house construction festival (Wunthsu neo), post – harvest festival or winter festival (Neo to neo), Tsunglak neo/Tsungrhak neo, etc.
- Engagement, Marriage, Divorce and Morals:
The Yimchungru people enjoy great freedom in regards to choosing a wife or husband. Society does not permit great sexual freedom before marriage. Those caught are subject to penalties, which are imposed by the authorities. Boys and girls are freely allowed to mingle but sexual freedom is restricted. Pregnancy outside the marriage is considered taboo. The women and children of such conjugation are looked down by the society. However, it can be legalized by formal marriage ceremony. But one has to go through the whole process of marriage rules and regulation. Grown up boys and girls are not allowed to sleep in the same room of the parents formally: no secret marriage could be just ignored by the society and family members. The process of engagement and marriage procedure varies from one region to another. However, the accepted and the common practiced is enumerated as below:
When a boy decided or chooses a girl for a wife, he informs his parents and relatives about it. A family meeting is then holds and decided to send an emissary to the girl’s parents for proposal. This begins the engagement process. The emissary may be a close relative of the boy either from the father or mother’s side. The emissary takes along a gift, usually a dao, spear, shawl or some other costly article to the parents of the girl. The emissary and the parents of the girl and relatives discuss over the proposal. Whether the decision from the girl’s side is positive or negative the emissary returns and informs the boy’s family about it. If the proposal has not been accepted, the matter is conveyed to the boy to choose another girl. If the proposal has been accepted the parents of the boy now personally go to the house of the girl to meet the parents and also see the girl. In this stage the boy’s parents take along an animal as a gift in honour of the acceptance. Date for the engagement ceremony is fixed and thereafter returns back home for further arrangement.
It is pertinent to mention that before the boy’s emissary is sent to the girl’s family and the close relatives of the boy thoroughly discuss about the lineage, position, status and background of the girl’s family. In case of doubt or has reservation about it, disapproval is made known to the boy who is asked to choose another girl. When the proposal is brought by the emissary of the boy, the girl’s side also sits for consultation and discussion keeping in mind the factors to be looked into the boy’s side. If the conditions are favorable or otherwise, the matter is conveyed through the emissary.
The Yimchungru community does not allow or permit marriage within the same clan or cousins. It is highly regarded immoral and a taboo. Violators are excommunicated and their children are always looked down by the society. For the engagement ceremony, the boy’s side and the girl’s side jointly arrange a party. The boy and girl are formally engage to be married soon. They are made to eat from the same plate but they are not allowed to sleep together on one bed. A certain period is set aside for arrangement of the real marriage ceremony. Formerly, no church marriage was conducted. It was something like court marriage. The boy’s side had to pay some amount of money or in kind to the girl’s parents. However, the price set by the parents of the girl could be negotiable. The real marriage ceremony is marked by celebration of eating, drinking and merry making. In the evening, parents and relatives of both sides sit jointly to encourage and warn the newly wedded couple the positive and negative aspects of marriage life and other social life. The boy is advised and warned by his relatives and family members the consequences of mal-treatment, adultery or indifferent attitude towards his wife and her relatives; likewise the girl’s side also does the same. The next few days is devoted to sharing of meat and gifts between the girl and the boy’s relatives and family. The newly wedded couples are invited by the relatives of both side for formal introduction and feast in honour of their marriage. This is a welcome gesture shown by both side to show that they had been accepted as a member of a new family here after.
After the marriage ceremony, the girl does not immediately leave her father’s house to live with her husband. She is supposed to stay back for some weeks or months to help her parents for the last time. During this period, she weaves shawl, bag and other cloth items for her new home. When the time approaches for her to leave for her new home, she is escorted right up to her husband’s house by her close relatives, brothers, sisters and friends. Her parents and relatives make sure that she is sent with all necessary gifts and articles entitled to her. Her mother advises and confides all the secrets of home keeping, husband and child caring. On reaching her new home, after some few days her relatives who had escorted her are given a warm farewell. She then settles down to look after her new home and the future. This finishes the marriage procedure.
Normally, every mother asks her share of gift or price of the girl from the boy’s side for having brought up the daughter. This is called the “BERU TUN” (mother’s price) in Yimchungru dialect. The mother’s price may range from pigs, cows and mithuns or may also ask in cash. It is customary for the Yimchungru people that this share is given at any costs unless the mother refuses or may decide not to take. If the mother’s share is not given or is taken, the husband in case ill-treats his wife is liable to penalized by his wife’s family members. The husband’s ill treatment cannot be condoned off simply like that.
The society does not impose any restrictions to polygamy. The rich and affluent can marry two; three wives provided the husband could afford to maintain the wives and children. In modern society, religion do not advocate for polygamy. As in every society and community, adultery, bigamy and infidelity occasionally crops up. However, customary rules deal strictly with such cases. Divorce does take place but it is allowed only on grounds of adultery, bigamy and infidelity of either spouse. Normally it is the commission of such by women, which accounts for higher divorce rates. Adultery and infidelity of wife is not easily cordoned off or forgiven, rather punishment is harsh. The divorce is given to the wife. The following rules and terms are followed for a divorce to take place:
- If the wife is the culprit, the husband normally straight away decided to send her back to her parent’s house giving the reason for her family. The wife’s side has to recover (pay back) the price paid to her family by the husband before marriage. She is not entitled to claim children or any property from the husband.
- If the husband is the culprit, he has to pay heavy penalty to the family of the woman with whom he has committed adultery; this is in case he decides not to marry her. But, if he decides to marry he is not required to pay. If the husband decides to divorce his wife because he wants to marry a new wife he has to pay heavy penalty to the family of his wife. He may have to part with his property and may also part with some of his children. Normally, when divorce case comes up family members and relatives of both sides sit again jointly and finalize the problem. Only two possibilities come up: either the matter is compromised (patched up between the husband and wife) or the matter ends in final divorce.
- Religious, Superstition, Belief:
Before Christianity religion penetrated Yimchungru land, the people did not profess any known religion. They were neither idol worshipers nor worshipper of the Christian God of today. Initially they were nature worshippers. Gradually the worship turned to animistic worship.
The people believed that, there is a creator – male and female. These creators are a good, kind, benevolent, supreme, all knowing and all seeing and present everywhere. The people called the male creator “THRUNPUH” and the female as “THRUNBE”. They had no particular rituals, prayer or worship to this deity. They regarded the creator as God who created this world and everything in it. The creator is the judge and is responsible for every birth and death. Everything is attributed to him. In other words, this creator is responsible for everything. The people also believed that evil (satan) also exist and this evil spirit live in dark places, forest, rivers, mountains and deserted lonely places, they called the evil spirits “ARIMRI”. The male spirits were called “ARIMPUH” and the female “ARIMBE”. The people regarded all diseases, curses, accidents, misfortunes and other calamities responsible by these evil spirits. Hence the people use to follow some animistic rituals to appease the evil spirits. The people also believed that the dead persons has a ghost and also given to believe in the existence of various other friendly and malevolent spirits. The people also believed in omens, superstitious, dreams, second sight. tiger man and tiger soul, bird man, snake soul and bird soul; soothsaying, prophecies, magic cure, sorcery, witchcraft and supernatural powers. Mythology abounds with various savings that the people even have had interactions with other beings from another world. There are myths, legends and stories of inter- marriage, physical relationship with them and even children beget of them. People trusted and frequently required the services of “THUMURU” (Local quacks) who would attend to all delivery cases and also believed to cure all sickness and diseases. The local quacks are believed to possess supernatural powers of even communicating with the unseen spirits of dead people. They are also believed to escort back the soul of sick people from the way of hell or heaven. The people also believed that heaven exist for the good people and the hell for the bad people after death. The people also believed that soul of the parents pay occasionally visits to their children to see how they live.
Dreams played an important part in people’s life. Good dreams made them happy where as the bad ones warned them of dangers and misfortunes likely to happen. Another superstition the people believed is the fore casting of good luck or ill luck by using small pieces of sliced tree branches. It is similar to the use of deices to forecast the luck or otherwise. Some people are believed to practice sorcery and witchcraft to settle score with enemies or on payment to do so from other people (customer). The people however dreaded and hated this sort of evil practice. Hence, anyone found and proved practicing this evil practices were ex-communicated or even exterminated the whole family or race.
Another belief of the people is the existence of humans possessing tiger souls and snake souls. People fear and avoided those who were supposed to posses such souls. They are believed to get even with those people who are not in good terms with those possessing such souls. If the tigers or the snake is killed, the person possessing it also dies. However, the tiger or snake is believed to guard and protect family members or the entire village from enemies, dangers, wild animals etc.
Following are some of the superstitious beliefs and omen of the Yimchungru people:
- It is inauspicious for the people to undertake a journey or any other expedition the next day after a big festival or event.
- Raw meat even offered by an enemies should not be returned back to the sender, it should be thrown away, give it away or destroyed, otherwise it may cause ill luck or ill health.
- It is inauspicious to see snake in copulation.
- When snakes enter homes and hearth it brings bad luck or ill health.
- Crowing of cocks before midnight is regarded as inauspicious.
- The people believed that whosoever touches, burn, gather or used wood, plants which are hit/strike lightning may fall ill.
- Whenever a tiger or a leopard is killed the flesh is made to be eaten outside the gates of the village. Thereafter those who had eaten flesh of such animals are not allowed to entry into the village for three days. Breaking the rules brings ill health and bad luck to the village.
- It is inauspicious to see a live porcupine or an ant eater during daytime.
- Meat offered in honour to the dead is supposed to be consumed totally. It is inauspicious to keep any leftover.
- After a visit to a funeral service/ place on return one has to wash hands and feet before entering house. It is inauspicious if one does not follow the rules.
- Wild animals entering into a village or a house is regarded to bring ill luck or calamity.
- Snakebites, dog bites and lightning strikes on humans are considered inauspicious.
- The dead bodies of those who die because of drowning are not permitted to be brought inside the village. They are made to be buried straight away in the cemetery. It is inauspicious if this is not followed.
- It is believed that keeping of luck stones and tails, nail, teeth, skin feathers bring good luck.
- It is believed that, whenever a soul bird (Khenthurak) sounds, death is imminent to some people in near future.
- Insect bites and stings on human genitals are considered inauspicious.
- Lying on snakes or snakes crawling over humans while asleep is considered inauspicious.
- Rainbow seen near swelling houses is considered inauspicious.
- Ghost or spirits of person supposed to have seen is considered inauspicious.
- A snake, cat or cow-crossing path while hunting, fishing trip is considered ill luck.
- It is considered inauspicious to see the genital of a cock.
- It is considered inauspicious to wear a un-pattern shawl. Warriors and men folk should not wear such shawl.
- Men folk are not supposed to touch weaving materials before under taking any hunting or fishing expedition, in order to avoid ill luck.\Men folk are advised to avoid sexual intercourse with women the night before one under take hunting, fishing or head hunting trip. It is supposed to bring ill luck if this is not followed.
- Seeing a naked person in dreams means that the person who was dreamt may fall ill.
- Seeing a man’s or woman’s genital in dream means that, someone has spoken great ill of the dreamer’s reputation. Seeing human feces also mean the same thing.
- Wearing warrior’s shawl in dreams that victory is in the offing.
- Dormitory/(community houses)log drum:
The Yimchungru people did not have dormitory system, rather there existed community houses called “Kheang Yam’ situated in the center of the villages where every capable and healthy male members gathered every night and slept in rotation. This was necessitated as a precautionary measure; to be ready for any eventuality, like sudden attack from enemy, natural calamity or for any other emergency law and order problem, which may arise in the village. Women never slept in the community houses. The community houses served as dormitories for men folk. Here, the male members shared ideas, suggestions. It kept them united and they developed a sense of oneness. Log drums carved out of a single big log used to be kept inside the community house. The sentries were made in rotation basis that would sound/ beat the drums timely. There are different beats or a number of beats on the log drums which signify different meaning. The beats indicate and informed people of time. It also passed messages from village to another village. It warned people of dangers from approaching enemies etc. People also performed certain rituals before carving out such log drums and also before installation in the community houses.
The Yimchungru people also practiced blacksmithery. But, it was confined to certain group, clan or family. The secret of the trade was not shared to other people. Every one cannot be a blacksmith. The blacksmith manufactured dao, spear, spades and digging tools. However, the people did not possess the technical knowledge of perfection like the modern day machines produce.Most of the Yimchungru men folk are experts in making handicraft items. The community houses are one fine example of central place where men folk make varieties of handicraft items while on duty or leisure.
The Yimchungru people by and large practice jhuming system of cultivation. Field terracing was not practiced till recently. Due to rugged condition of terrains; terrace field cannot be carried out extensively. There are two great rivers, which flow through the center of the Yimchungru land. The Zungki and the Yai River. But both the rivers have not served any purpose due to its deep flow making it impossible to navigate for agricultural purposes. However, of late two Hydel projects have come up which could be of great benefit in days to come. The Likimro Hydel Project in Pungro area and the Huhrongke Project in Shamatore area. The Saramati, the highest mountain in the state in Pungro area of the Yimchungru land: moreover, the Pungro area boast of minerals like coal, lime stone, nickel, chromium, steel, iron ore in Bokphur and Mimi belts. The ONGC has carried out extraction works in these areas. A variety of flora and fauna exists in the land. Cultivation and the use of narcotic drug plants are known among the people. The famous Mithun and Tragopan is found in plenty in the Saramati belt. Ginseng, the wonder plant is also found in the Saramati belt and on the high hills in some regions of the Yimchungru inhabited areas.