The Lamkang Naga Tribe Theology Religion Essay
Lamkang is one of the oldest nineteen Naga tribes living in Manipur. They are mainly concentrated in the southern part of Manipur in the district of Chandel. According to 2001 census, the population of Lamkang in Manipur was 4524. They are recognized as a scheduled tribe by the government of India since 1956. They speak Lamkang dialect which belongs to the Tibeto-Burman group of language while communicating within the tribe; and other langauges such as Manipuri, Nagamese, English and Hindi to interact with people outside their tribe. They can be easily recognised from other Naga tribes or for that matter any other tribes in Manipur by looking externally at their traditional attire.
Origin: As in the case of other Naga tribes, the origin and migration of Lamkang tribe into their present homeland is not known. …………………. there is no written account about the origin of Lamkang tribe. However, according to the folklores and legends of the tribe, they emerged from a cave somewhere in the east. A huge tiger was waiting at the entrance of the cave to devour them. It was Benglam who by adopting ingenuity, tricked the tiger with his bow and arrow; thereby enabling smooth passage of his people. Even today, there is a cliché in Lamkang called ‘Benglampa jalthurthu’ and a folksong which literally supports this origin theory.
The origin and migration of the lamkang according to oral tradition is that, after coming out from the cave, they first settled in Khurpii village. From there, they further spread to Kokpii, Pheidul, Damdul and Arhong village, etc. Though the exact date and route of migration could not be ascertained yet legend has it that they migrated from somewhere in the east. In the past, they were quite populous and prosperous, flourishing well.
Legend has it that Lamkang was not their original name. It was given by a Meitei king’s subject who came across a Lamkang man clearing the road with his dao. When Lamkang man was enquired about something by this passer by, he without understanding replied in Lamkang dialect saying he was clearing the road (lam) with his dao (kang). So, that was how he came to be refer as Lamkang. They however, prefer to called themselves ksen and this term is mostly today amongst themselves. But to the outsiders, they are generally recognised and known as Lamkang.
In the past, they mostly settled in the hilly terrain spread across Chandel district and only few villages were found in the foothill regions. But there has been a paradigm shift in their settlement post Naga-Kuki clash (i.e 1992) and now, majority of the Lamkang villages are compactly settled in the foothills or for that matter in the district headquarter of Chandel. In recent times, there are around fifty or more families living in Nagaland as well.
At present, there are 39 Lamkang villages in Manipur. The lone Lamkang village in myanmar have now shifted to Chandel headquarter after the village was torch down by the Kuki militants in the 1992 Naga-Kuki clash or the ‘4th Khongsairaal’. However, few individual families are still found living in segregation in Myanmar.
As far as oral history is concerned, the Lamkang people were peace loving, friendly and hospitable tribe. They were never known to have any major warfare with their neighbouring Naga tribes in the past; although inter village clash was recounted often. Their major warfare ever recounted in the past was only with the Khongsai/ or the present day Kuki. According to Lamkang oral version, the Khongsai or present day Kuki were nomads who migrated very late into their territory. This oral account of Lamkang is supported by ‘Cheitharon Kumbaba’ in which it was mentioned that Kukis migrated into Manipur in the 17th and 18th century. In those days, Lamkangs had a very big territory in their homeland and being hospitable and generous, they gave shelter to the Khongsai immigrants and let them reside in their land. However, no sooner had they made their settlement, trouble started brewing between them. The conlict reached its zenith point when Khongsai attack Heika village, the biggest lamkang village then (numbering 500-600 houses) in the 1850s. According to this account, the lamkang feast of merit known locally as ‘Totlang kakam’ celebration was going on in Heika village and many other Lamkangs from different villages had also come for the festival as was customary. They were all drunk with rice beer and merry making, totally not prepared for any kind of warfare. However, the Khongsai or Kukis knowing full well that the feast of merit was going on, attack and killed them almost wiping out the whole villagers. Those other lamkangs who had come for the festival were also killed along with the local villagers. Many elders still recount this story and how lamkangs would have been more in number if it wasn’t for that incident. In the oral history of Lamkang, this incident is generally called the famous ‘Khongsairaal’ or when translated ‘Khongsai war’. In fact, the names of two hero, Sankhil Thamsen and Thamnok (two brothers) who resist and fight back the Khongsai all by themselve, could still be recalled. When taking their names, the face of any Lamkang would glow with pride.
Social life: Lamkangs are highly social minded people. The bond of social cohesion and collectiveness was very strong among them. Any social festival in one village was shared and celebrated with other lamkang villages. In olden times, they would help one another freely in house construction, jhum cultivation, and all other kinds of manual work. If anything misfortune befall on one family, the whole village would come together and helped that family.
Kinship: Kinship ties are very strong in lamkang. Lamkang society though patrilineal, maintains strong affinal ties with the matrilineal side as well. Maternal uncle shares a special kind of relationship with his sisters’ children and has an important social role in the latters’ life. For example, in any kind of social function be it marriage, customary feast, naming ceremony, etc, the neck of the mithun or pork killed on that occasion is traditionally reserved for maternal uncle and his presence and blessing is a must for the good fortune of niece and nephew. Even, on occasion when malevolent forces seem to possess his sisters’ children, the maternal uncle would be summon to perform certain rites to ward off evil. It is believed in lamkang that a person with strong background of maternal uncle is shun by evil spirit.
The ancient Lamkang tribe was divided into two moity viz Langkhin and Khurthuw. They were an exogamous group and marriage within one’s moity was strictly prohibited. According to legends, it was belief that clans from Khurthuw came into being from the hole of the earth. So, insects or animals that came out from the hole of the earth were a taboo for the clans of Khurthuw. Likewise, clans from Langkhin were belief to be the children hatched from the egg of the sun that was laid on top of a bamboo tree.
Somewhere along the way, the two moity splitted into four exogamous phratry viz Suwngnem-Sankhil, Dilbung Khular, Edar and Khowl. The first phratry had Suwngnem and Sankhil as its clan, the second as Dilbung Khular, Edar has three clans-Tholung, Jangvei and Shilshi and Khowl has Leivon, Kangten and Surte as its composite clan.
The one peculiar aspect of Lamkang culture and tradition is that of christening pattern in new born male child. When a male child is born, the christening of the child would be in correspondence with the term each clan/lineage had adopted. The male child will have a prefix of his mother’s clan added to his name. The prefix adopted by each of the clan is given as follows:
2. Khular Shel/Khal
3. Dilbung Bung
4. Shilshi Khum
5. Tholung/Jangvei Dar
6. Kangten Wang
7. Leivon Shet
8. Surte Rang
This tradition has been in practiced since ancient times though the origin of it is still obscure. The advantage of this system is that it helps in tracing the root of maternal line. Besides, a man though unknown in any Lamkang village could expect the unusual hospitality and could even partake in the kin-reunion feast held by his mother’s clan in that village as that person is well received and treated as one’s kin or ‘Mardu’ by his mother’s clan..
Another interesting tradition of lamkang is that of naming a child. Though, the child may acquired their official name during naming ceremony yet a ready made kind of common pet name awaits every child depending on their sex. For example, a first born son will be called Momo, second as Koko, third as Bebe, fourth as Angang and the fifth son as Thamtham. Likewise, in the case of girl child, the same order is followed as Tete, Toto, Shangshang, Peipei and Thamtham. If a couple has more than five sons and daughters, the process is repeated from the first by adding a suffix ‘Nok’ such as Monok, Konok, Benok, etc. in case of boys; and Tenok, Tonok, Shangnok, etc in case of girls. So, every single person in Lamkang retain this traditional pet name. This pet names are used as terms of address and terms of reference within the family, village or within the tribe.
To make distinction between older and younger ones in terms of address, the prefix ‘a’ is added to the pet name who is senior to the ego while someone younger could be addressed directly without any prefix for both the gender. In terms of reference, the prefix ‘k’ is used for older ones for both the gender while the prefix ‘k’ and suffix ‘pu’ is used to refer to younger men; and the prefix ‘k’ and suffix ‘nu’ to refer to younger women. It may be mentioned here that in lamkang society, it is considered impolite and rude to take someone’s official name directly, so the use of such pet name to either address or refer a person according to seniority helps in maintaining respect and regard in the society.
Though this is the general order in giving the traditional pet name yet certain clan and lineages may skip or interchange the order. The advantage of keeping such name is that any person is able to identify who is older or younger in the family by the order of such names.
Family is the unit of production and consumption.
Marriage: The Lamkang marriage practice is a rather interesting institutions having both religious and social aspect. For Lamkang, marriage is a must as they believed that the ultimate purpose in life is attained through marriage, which subsequently give rise to procreation as well as orientation. The wealth of Lamkang in olden days lies not just in the property one acquires but also in the number of children one procreates. The more children one has, the better is his social standing.
Generally, marriage takes place between four exogamous phratry and sexual relation within the phratry is regarded as incestuous; as such breach of the rule is strictly punishable under their customary law. In pre-Christian era, the violators if any were cast out from the clan and village. They were ex-communicated. It was believed that tigers normally preyed upon such violators and as such, great fear was placed upon clan/phratry endogamy. Monogamy is the general rule of marriage. Traditionally, tribe endogamy was and is still the preferred norm of marriage but there is no customary law to check tribe exogamy; and in recent times, tribe exogamy is on the rise. This could be due to globalization impacting the tribe.
The most preferential form of selecting one’s prospective partner is to choose from one’s maternal clan. For a boy, such marriage is called “mnujuur klo’ while for a girl it is called ‘mpu khu kran’. It was very much popular in olden days and violaters of this in case of men, were penalised with fine. This practiced is still prefered and continued today to some extent but it is not strictly maintained anymore.
Three types of marriages are observed among the Lamkang Naga tribe.
The first is the traditional form of marriage by service. Here, the boy serves his father-in-law for three years. Every year, a customary feast ‘kphal’ is given by the groom’s side; and at the end the three years service, a grand final customary feast ‘kphal’ is given at the bride’s village with the invitation of guests from other villages as well. A pig, a jar of rice beer, along with traditional shawls and kilts is mandatory as it is considered bride price. The entire expenses of ‘kphal’ is bored by the groom’s family and clan. All the manual works in ‘kphal’ is taken up by the groom’s side/villagers.
This kind of marriage is rarely seen in Christian era and though the practice of ‘kphal’ feast is still relevant today, it doesnot strictly adhere to the olden days practices as rice beer for example is strictly banned. Priest in olden Lamkang is now replaced by a Licentiate Pastor or by a Reverend/Parish Priest, etc.
The second type of marriage is by mutual consent. It may be noted here that, in Lamkang society, both the girls and boys are given liberty to choose their own life partners. In this type of marriage, if both the boy and girl after having known each other for quite sometime decides to get married; the boy’s parents will visit the girl’s house with a jar of rice beer, chicken, etc to seek the girl’s hand in marriage. This is called ‘chla zu ksuwn’ and is usually done secretly between the two families only. The rice beer and chicken is offered to the boy’s parents and if the gift is not accepted, it is understood that the proposal was not accepted. Otherwise, date and time of the second meeting would be decided if the gifts are accepted.
The third type of marriage is by elopement or ‘kchen’. This took place as a result of strong opposition from both the parents of the two lovers. Here, the lovers elope to some other place and return to the boy’s residence after lapse of few days. Then, the parents of the boy along with some relatives will go to the girl’s residence and break the news about the elopement and ask for the girl’s hand in marriage. If both the party agreed, then, the couple can start their new life. This is still very much practice even today.
Marriage by capture is the fourth type of marriage. In olden days, if a men likes a woman, he along with some of his friends would wait upon and capture the girl forcibly and lives with her. This type of marriage is no longer in practice.
In all the types of marriage, ‘kphal’ or customary feast is a must and is given with much pomp and grandeur. However, in Christian era, Christian wedding has replaced all other types of marriage except elopement which is still very much prevalent in present day Lamkang. In Christian wedding, the use of rice beer is no longer relevant and ‘kphal’ feast need not be given as mass feast has already been given on the day of marriage itself. Only, in the case of elopement is ‘kphal’ feast mandatory.
‘Kphal’ signifies payment of bride price and a Lamkang woman who marries without ‘kphal’ feast is considered as some one without price or in other word, without value. More the number of mithun killed, more is the value attach to the bride.
In all the types of marriages, proposal always starts from the boys side. It may be mentioned that many of the traditional practices in marriages are still retained today as far as it is within the Christian ethics. Only those practices that is against Christian morals such as drinking of wine, worship of other god, etc are given up.
Political Organisation: The political organization of the Lamkang tribe is democratic in nature and as such, chieftainship is not inherited. It is elected by the villagers on the basis of merit from time to time. In olden days, village chief was called ‘Khu krung’ but after the Hills Area Act 1955 was passed for Manipur village authorities, the term for chief came to be known as ‘khullakpa’. He is assisted by 5-10 other colleagues depending on the size of the village. No tax or tribute of any kind is paid to the village head or chief neither in olden times nor in present times in Lamkang village.
The main function of the village chief/authority is to manitain law and order and look after the affairs of the village. All disputes are settled by the respective village court first and if agreement is not reached, then it can be taken outside the village court. The property and resources of the village is temporarily kept under their control.
There are two types of land ownership in every Lamkang village. The first one is common ownership of land which comprises of the reserve forest area surrounding the village. This area is under the control of the village authority. Any activity within the reserve forest is prohibited except with the permission of the authority. This reserve area is mainly kept for the expansion of village household. For example, if a newly married couple do not have land to establish a new home, he can request the village authority to allot him site for constructing a house. In such cases, he is permitted by the village authority to select any site within the reserve area and establish his home without paying any money. The only criteria necessary in such situation is that he should be a legitimate and active member of the village.
The second type of land ownership is individual. Here, the land which is beyond the village reserve area is, individually own by families/clan members of the village. This area is mainly used for the purpose of carrying out sustenance activity such as shifting cultivation, collection of firewood, etc. However, this area though owned by individual is under the overall control of the village authority.
It is the prerogative of the village chief and his associates to decide the site for jhum cultivation.
Inheritance: Lamkang society is patriarchial, patrilineal and patrilocal. Descent is traced throught male line and being a patriarchal society, the sons inherit family’s property. The property both moveable and non-moveable, is equally proportioned among the sons though, the youngest son generally inherits the parent’s house. The sons after marriage moved out from the parental home to establish their own. So, it is the youngest son who takes care of his parents. In that sense, Lamkang society can be called ultimogeniture.
There is another inheritance called ‘clan inheritance’. When a clan or a lineage has no more descendants, the next immediate clan claims and inherits the property. However, it is noteworthy to mention here that a daughter could be given a share of the parent’s property if the latter wishes to do so.
Economy: The economy of the Lamkang is self-sufficient. Agriculture was and is the largest and primary mode of production from olden days till today. Both shifting and wetland cultivation is practiced by the people. In olden times, Lamkangs practiced only shifting cultivation but with the shift of their village location to the plain areas in the late 1940s and 1950s, wetland cultivation was also taken up. In fact, in recent times, wetland cultivation seems to be gainning more popularity.
Besides, agriculture the educated Lamkangs have taken up white color job and today, many educated Lamkangs are seen working in both government and private sector in different parts of India other than Manipur.
Religion: The Lamkang people in the past were animistic. They believed in the existence of soul and spirit in almost every being. They also have the concept of a supreme being ‘Kuruwng’ in local dialect who is considered creator of the universe and is benevolent. The life of Lamkang in pre-Christian era was filled with rituals and without which, nothing could be undertaken. For example,
However, with the advent of Christianity in Lamkang in the early 1920s, these beliefs and practices started slowly vanishing. Today, cent percent of Lamkang follow Christianity. The people of Lamkang follow two denomination of Christian viz Baptist and Roman Catholic.
It may be note worthy to mentioned here that unlike the common misconception about Christian conversion in India, Christianity in Lamkang was not a result of materialistic lured. In fact, it was the opposite as pioneers of Lamkang Christians (as recorded in the Lamkang Christian souvenir) had to endured a lot of persecutions and hardships from their parents, kins. Some were even ostracised from their village but despite that, they stood firm in their personal conviction and took upon themselves to secretly shared and spread the good news about Christ and the Kingdom of God to other fellow members of their society. In course of time, many Lamkangs started getting converted slowly and steadily as they were strongly attracted to the ideology of a benevolent supreme God who would guarantee them eternal life. The attraction to the Christian ideology was mainly because Lamkangs already had the concept of a benevolent supreme being and it wasn’t hard for them to identify this supreme being with the Almighty God of Christians.
Focus group discussion
Interview: personal, telephonic
Secondary sources: unpublish work by Lamkang writers.
Limitation: As I did not do proper field work, many of the details could not be obtained at length. However, whatever little is presented in this paper is written from the insider’s perspective and as such, could be regarded as the most reliable source pertaining to this tribe.
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