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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Ritual Institution



In sacrificial rituals, office of the “Siampi” (priest) was the most respected office in the society. There were three types of priesthood such as “Tual Siampi” (communal priest), “Tulpi” (clan priest) and “Siampi” (household priest).  The priests were exempted from paying tithes, taxes and social work in a village.
“Tual Siampi” was the one who offered sacrifices on behalf of the village community.  Usually the founder of village settlement served as the communal priest who ministered once a year during the month of March (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:169). The ceremony was called “Tual Biak” meaning community worship.  The whole village community took part in it and it was a sacrifice to the spirits of agriculture for prosperity of a particular year. Usually a pig was offered and the head was posted on a post in the middle of the village or the place where offering was conducted.
Each clan had a priest who is called “Tulpi.” When sickness came in a family the clan priest, the “Tulpi” was called who performed sacrifices on behalf of the family. The “Tulpi” was expected to visit all the clan families even if the clan was scattered and lived in different villages. “Tul” means simply a pointed rod or stick. “Tulpi” means a big pointed rod and probably means “big priest” the one who ritually killed the sacrificial animal by use of a pointed rod or stick (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:169).  No cross-clan “Tulpi” or common clan priest was existed among the Zomis.
“Siampi” means a priest who performed lesser rituals. In case of the same clan living and scattering in different villages, it was not always possible for the “Tulpi” to visit all the clan families for sacrifice. To assist the “Tulpi” a household priest performed minor cases and this lesser priest could be termed as household priest (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:171).  The hierarchy of Zomi priesthood intimately resembles that of the Leviticus priesthood (Deu.18:6).  Accustom to priestly office, the Zomis had no difficulty in accepting the concept of the office of Pastors in Christianity. The priest acted as a mediator between man and spirits as a Pastor acts as a mediator between man and God.
Pusha Ritual
“Pusha” was traditionally referred to as ancestor worship even though the type and manner of worship may vary from one tribe to another. “Pu” means grandfather or ancestor, “Sha” means spirit referring to worship of ancestors. C. Chawngkunga, the former Art & Culture Minister of Mizoram says that it is one kind of religious sacrifices offered annually to ancestors for blessings in agriculture (Chawngkunga 1997:85). However it may be inappropriate to call ancestor worship since Zomi concept of “Pusha” was one of the many sacrifices of animism. Sing Khaw Khai was in the opinion that “Pusha” was a household benefactor to which sacrifice was made annually in the hope of securing its pleasure and favor (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:187). “There is no Zomi traditional source which mentions the origin of either the belief of ancestral spirit as having a strong effectiveness or the rite of its offering. Therefore the origin of Zomi belief in the blessing and cursing by the parents (cf.Deut. 27:16) probably had a historical relation to this ancient tradition of the O.T” (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:188).
“Pusha” sacrifice contained two rites: “Tonh” and “Innsungpi.” “Tonh” is a grand feast offered by a family which will be dealt later. “Innsungpi” is annual rite performed in the inner part of the house.  To understand better it will be helpful to discuss first about traditional house.
Zomi traditional house consisted of four parts: an elevated platform leading to the house called “Innka” and next is “Innliim” or verandah. The door at the entry is called “Kongpi.” Entering the door was a living place connected with fire place where visitors were entertained and also served for eating place. In the middle of the house stood the main post called “Sutpi” dividing the outer part and the inner part of the house. By the fire place was the bed of the owner in the inner side followed by store room called “Beemkawm.” This was the place where all the food grains were stored in a big basket called “Beem.” On the back wall near Beemkawm the skulls of animals offered for “Pusha” rite were fixed or tied. These skulls were regarded as sacred. For the annual “Pusha,” a blameless, male piglet was offered in the inner house at the foot of “Sutpi.” The “Tulpi” killed the animal, cut the flesh and boiled the meat in a place arranged for the purpose. Some parts of the lung, the kidney, the heart and the intestines were offered after cooking. The rest of the meat was consumed by the priest and members who participated in the rite. The parents of the family were anointed with the fat of the pig as a sign of purification. The family observed the rite by confining at home for a period of seven days. A wooden pole and a bamboo pole were erected at the gatepost indicating the on going “Pusha” sacrifice and no guest could be entertained during this period. The meal prepared for the occasion was of millet called “Sian-an” (holy meal) and the drink was a fermented millet called “Zu siang” (holy drink). The rite was supposed to be a holy rite and the meal, the drink and the people who participated were supposed to be clean or holy by purification rite. The skull of the animal offered was kept as sacred at the back wall of the house. Closed relatives like married daughters and their husbands called “Tanute” only could participate in the ritual ceremony. The meat sometimes was portioned to members of relatives such as son-in-laws and father-in-laws (Sing Khaw Khai 1984: 189-190).
“Pusha” ritual had a similarity to that of the Lord Supper initiated by Jesus Christ (Matt. 26:24-30; Lk.22:15-20). As the elements in the Lord Supper the bread and the wine are regarded as sacred after dedication prayer, the elements of the “Pusha” ritual were also supposed to be holy like the parents, the skull of the animal, the drink and the meal. The Lord’s Supper is observed in remembrance of sacrifice accomplished by Jesus Christ and the “Pusha” ritual was observed in remembrance of the ancestors for their blessings.
Tonh Ritual
The word “Tonh” came from the word “Tong” which means a person attained a highest social status by providing a grand feast called “Feast of Merit” (F.K. Lehman 1963:178). It was also known as “Zunung” or “Thunung” in some sections and “Khuangchawi” in Mizo. However it should be understood that it was not a feast of merit in isolation but it was a part of “Pusha” ritual rites.  Sing Khaw Khai termed it as “Tonh Sacrifice” instead of “Feast of Merit” (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:191).  Due to its grand performance due preparation was required to serve the people with meal and drink. It was a grand feast that only wealthy person who had many animals and a lot of food grains could perform it. Fermentation of “zu” drink should begin at least three months ahead of the feast. Animals killed for the feast included one or more mithuns and other domestic animals.  Mithun was regarded as the biggest domestic animal for sacrifice. The number of mithuns killed depended upon the wealth of the performer.  Kam Hau was said to have killed 50 mithuns while performing the “Tonh” feast (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:191). In case of male mithun a full-grown with clear horn called “Sial Kisiang” was selected for the purpose. Other closed relatives like father-in-laws, son-in-laws and relatives usually made a contribution of cows and pigs of their own ability in addition to “zu” drink.  The “Tonh” feast took seven days of which the first three days were the main ceremony.  During the sacrificial performance all villagers and invitees from other villages were fed with meal and drink.  In some areas it lasted nine days of merry making: eating, drinking, and dancing (Lian Sakhong 2000:149).
The first day was called “Innka dawh ni” or preparation day. On this day relatives or “tanute” added the supporting posts of the elevated front platform called “innka” where drinking and dancing would take place. To feed the workers cows and pigs were killed on this day. A sacrificial pillar made of the best kind of tree available in the area called “Song” (pillar) is carried home from a country side. A bamboo pole including a long branch with leaves also collected and erected along with the “Song” post in the centre of the court yard.
The second day is called “Pansik ni” meaning the actual ritual ceremony commenced. A couple of small pigs were killed at the foot of “Sutpi” in the centre of the house for offering to the ancestors.  The sacrificial animal mithun was killed in the court yard by the family priest after pronouncing his ritual prayers. It was killed with spear by piercing right at the heart of the animal. The parents of the house were consecrated by anointing with the blood of a sacrificial animal followed by a day of confinement in the house as a symbol of consecration (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:195). “Numerous sacrifices are also made to house spirits at special rites inside the house… the prayers at each of these sacrifices asked for prosperity and welfare: “Give us the goods of the ‘Zo’ country” was their prayer (Lehman 1963:179).
The third day was the most important day called “Zupi ni” or “Sapi ni”. “Zupi ni” means a day of great drinking and “Sapi ni” means a great day of eating meat. It was the most important day of the ceremony. Singing, drinking and dancing occupied the day.  On this day the sacrificial pillar and the bamboo pole, having been anointed with oil was put up at the center of the yard which was called “Tonh Mung” (Tonh Pillar). At the moment the “Tonh Mung” was being erected the priest would call the names of the couple to be ancestral parents by pronouncing ritual rites (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:196). The father-in-laws would lead the dancing, followed by relatives and then all other participants of the ceremony. One of the most popular “Tonh” songs is recorded by former Zomi Captain Zel Khai.
1)     Ka sumtualah sawmsial ngul lum ee,
Phung in bawm ee, miza in bawm ee,
2)     Phung in bawm ee, miza in bawm ee,
Khua suang paal ee, vaza in bawm ee. (Zel Khai 1954:146)
Translation (mine):
1)     A mithun is lying dead in my yard as a dead snake,
Gathered a multitude of people from far and near.
2)     Gathered a multitude of people from far and near,
A multitude of dancers surrounded the sacred post.
For most of the participants singing, drinking and dancing occupied the Tonh ceremony day and night.
The fourth day was called “Khek leh ni” in which the animals contributed by the son-in-laws (tanute) were killed as a continuation of the ceremony.  The actual feasting function began to conclude from this day and had no sacrificial importance. The fifth day was called “Sip ni” or day of rest in the same manner of the rite of solemn rest in O.T. (Lev.23:39).  It was the day when the parents of the house observed the consecration in a most strict manner. In other sense complete rest was observed by the performers on this day. Villagers stayed home cooking the portion of the meat they received from the ceremony. The sixth day was called “Sian hon ni” meaning the performers were free from the ritual consecration. It was believed that the consecrated couple was free from demonic influence from that day onwards. Close relatives like son-in-laws came to the house, prepared the heads of animals killed during the ceremony for meal. They joint the family in eating and drinking. The seventh day was the closing day when they prepared the tongue of the mithun and other animals killed for the feast. It was called “Salei huan ni” (day of cooking tongues). The son-in-laws cleaned the house, washed the utensils and the ceremony came to a close from this day (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:197).
The “Tonh” feast had religious as well social significance in the life of the Zomis.  When the performers die, the animals killed would go with them in the “misi khua” (place of the dead). By having many animals with them they attained high social status in the world after life. It was also believed that animals sacrificed during the “Tonh” feast were sent to “misi khua” as present to the people of “misi khua.” The people in “misi khua” were pleased to receive those presents and blessed the performers in return. The beginning of ancestor worship appeared to have originated from this concept of belief. The performers attained social status in lifetime as well as life after death because they fed such many people in aggrandizement out of their wealth and occupied prominent place in the society (Lehman 1963: 179).  On the other hand the “Song” (pillar) and bamboo pole erected together as one post represented the husband and wife of the performers. It was believed that the marriage became unbreakable or inseparable by the seal of consecration not only in life but also in life after death. “Tonh sacrifice served to uphold the concept of marriage as unbreakable and inseparable contract” (Sing Khaw Khai 1984:1989-199). The traditional religious rite of “Tonh” sacrifice served as a moral code in line with the Christian principle of marriage in the Bible (Gen.2:24, Matt.19:5-6).
Childbirth Ritual
Childbirth is the beginning of life and a blessing to the parents. Childless parents are regarded as a curse and having no male issue is a serious clan breaker as in the time of Old Testament. When a child is born a family priest is called who killed two chickens and offered his petitions to the spirits. It is called an introduction of a child to the guardianship of spirits (Stevenson 1970: 157). Boring ear takes place early as possible. “When a child is born its ears are bored with a porcupine quill or hair pin” (Carey and Tuck 1976:191). Boring ear has two significances: one is a mark to be of human being. If it is not done the spirits will mark it and die in infancy. Another reason is a sign of belongingness to a particular clan.  When the baby is about a month old the hair is shaved and kept for some years. After three days naming takes place with a special dinner provided by the name giver who is called “Mindap.”  In case of a male child the grandfather names the name taking his last name. In case of a female, the grandmother gives the name taking her last name. For example my father was Khup Khaw Nang, and my son is named Nang Suan Khai taking the last name of my father. My mother is Dim Niang and my first daughter is named Niang Sian Lun taking the last name of my mother (Carey and Tuck 1976:191). Each syllable signifies the life and achievements of the name giver (Khup Za Go 1985: 8). Naming a child after grandparents is a mandatory to maintain the family line through a male child. Other children can take the name of uncle, niece etc. Unlike other tribal groups (Mizo, Hmar, Haka) a Zomi cannot simply choose name according to one’s own will. Some families even kill a pig and make feast with relatives and friends called “Nau min phuahna” or feast of naming a child. Closed relatives such as brothers of the child’s father will give a meal prepared of meat or chicken to the child’s parents called “Antawi” meaning “bringing food.” They prepared food at home, rice, meat and soup as good as possible and bring to the child’s parents. The reason behind it is to feed the child’s mother with good food for early recovery from childbearing. When closed relatives have a newborn child the same “Antawi” is repaid in the same manner as it is received. This “antawi” is one of the opportunities and responsibilities of kinship.
Funeral Ritual
Funeral rite is a farewell accorded to the deceased. There are two categories of funeral rites: one is for the hero and the other for the normal person. At death, the body is washed, clothed with the best he had. The difference is in regard to the couch in which the person is carried.  The first is called “Laangpi” great stretcher with a seat made of bamboo where the corpse is placed in a sitting position (Carey and Tuck 1976:192). A crown made of bamboo decorated with a mixture of feathers of birds killed during his life time like Hornbill called “Ngakngiasawn” meaning a bunch of cock’s feather is placed on his head. The crown has very significant symbol. C. Laitanga lists the items that made up of the crown with their symbols.
Tukpaak  (front head flower)              – An enemy killed and “Tonh” feast.
Vaphual mei (Hornbill feather)           – A number of mithun killed.
Sawn (usual feather)                           –  Bear and Bore killed.
Sawn laikang ( white half feather)      – Tiger and Wolfs killed.
Sawnkai (full-grown feather)              – Elephant and Rhinoceros killed.
Akngiasan (Red Cock feather) – A number of deer killed.
Sakuhling (porcupine quill)                 – A number of porcupine killed.
If a deceased person did not kill the above mention animals, he is not qualified to be honored with crown (Laitanga 1982:191). This crown has similarity with the crown to be received in heaven as promised in the Bible (James 1:12).
A clothe meant only for a hero called “Puansan” will be spread around the body as if he is wearing himself. On the funeral day, the body is taken out from the inner house to the courtyard singing songs of warrior accompanied by dancing from the crowd. People feed on every pots of “Zu” placed in rows in the yard contributed by each family in the village and on meat from animals killed as “Kawsah.” While the corpse is taken out of the house, head of the family will pronounce all the achievements and performances done during lifetime called “Hanciam” and all the guns in the village fired one after another in honor of the deceased. Songs composed by the deceased will be sung and all the animals killed will be recounted in song. The body is taken to a cemetery placed in a box raised some 4 feet off the ground and supported by posts. To protect from sun and rain a “thatch roof is constructed and under the coffin a fire is lighted to dry the corpse. The fire is kept burning for a week and then the corpse is left in the coffin and exposed to the air” (Carey and Tuck 1976:192). The bones are collected after a year and placed with other bones of the family in one grave. Women from time to time visit the bones bringing some food to feed the dead which is called “Daihawh.” The visit of Mary and her sister to the tomb of Jesus has similarity in purpose. The visit is a sign of love and concern for the deceased as western people bring flowers at the tomb of loved ones.
The second category of funeral is called “Langneu” meaning small stretcher. A man who is not a hero cannot be given a big stretcher but small one. The corpse is placed in usual manner and no crown of “Ngakngiasawn’ is provided. It is a distinction of social status between a hero and a normal man. The difference between the two can be understood by the crown of a hero.

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