Asserting the rich and vibrant cultural heritage passed down from forefathers, known cultural activist, Ningshimyao Pearl urged youngsters how Tangkhul being taught till class 12 and one MIL at college level is inadequate and why introducing honours degree in Tangkhul as specialization subject at university level should be the goal.
Pearl lamented the radical shift in today’s younger generation taking far less interest made a clarion call to give due importance to their mother tongue, saying when this is done, the value of our culture would be realized and its paramount significance appreciated. “It must be taught to our young minds right at their formative years as it is one of the basic keys to unlocking our rich culture,” she said.
Ukhrul Times caught up with Pearl concerning Tangkhul culture with special focus on impacts of western missionaries on folk songs, cultural practices, heritage and promotion of the language spoken by the community and villages republic, as it used to be.
The activist acknowledged and lauded the efforts put in by the Tangkhul Literature Society (TLS) for reviving and preserving the rich Tangkhul language and appealed the society to encourage upcoming leaders and writers to churn out more published works on the subject.
“In my observation, to make the Tangkhul subject more engaging and interesting for the learners, besides making it more colourful and pictorial, thorough explanation of the folk tales depicting social, ethical and moral lesson needs to be drawn and introduced,” she added.
As an example, Head taking was an integral part of our past cultural practices for valid reasons, not because our forefathers were savages and wild. Head taking, among varied reasons, was practiced when a villager or clans man insulted, looked down upon another, or committed serious crime. It wasn’t a wanton out of control practice. Before a person was slayed and head chopped, warnings were served to the offender to own up to the crime committed according to our customary law. It was only when such warnings were ignored, head taking was actioned. Head taking was also practiced during eminent security threat to village from foes, Pearl mentioned.
The word, savagery was far from what our ancestors practiced. Their beliefs and tradition dictated honour and as such, it was advised not to display the head taken for no reason. Head taking happened for valid reasons, for breach of village code. Killings and savagery acts on the contrary are much more prevalent in modern world of today. The actions of today’s so called civilized world have not just destroyed human lives but harmed the whole environment. The barbaric bombing of Nagasaki and Heroshima in world war 2, war between countries to secure borders and nations have had devastating impact on our planet.
Stereotyping and misrepresentation of the native people by outsiders, in our case by Christian missionaries, colonial officials, ethnographers, researchers did many good things to the Tangkhuls but it was not done without damages. In fact, the negative impacts on indigenous people’s culture are as deep as the positive impact of western education and Christianity they brought with them.
Tangkhul folk song is believed to be divided in seventeen types. The folklores of our origin, chosen time to getting married, built house, plough, sow and harvest, maran kasa (feast of merit) etc. All these ways of life are clearly depicted in our folk songs, she pointed out.
However, the folk song of Tangkhul tribe was banned by the western missionaries which resulted in massive decline and loss of our ways of life, as the foreigners misinterpreted our folk songs which they thought was not aligned with their superior philosophy. The folk songs we have today is a collection of few that survived the onslaught of the Christian crusaders in that sense, she added.
On Tangkhul cultural heritage, she said that it is broadly classified into two types – tangible and intangible heritage. Hao Shimsak (Traditional house), traditional attire, artifacts, spear, arrow comes under tangible category, while bio-diversity, governing and belief system, folk song and cultural dance are intangible heritage.
Our belief system is not animism as recorded by western researchers. It’s just a ritual where we think we have had our own creator known as Zingwungwo (Creator). We were not worshippers of rocks or trees. If our ancestors were worshipers of such articles, animism label would not be wrong. But this clear distinction was misinterpreted by some of the western researchers in their works.
Our ancestors believed that there were many spirits — bad and good, man lived with the spirits. It is believed that since spirts are stronger than man, man had to please the spirit their whole life. However, our ancestors believed in one supreme God called, ZINGWUNGWO, who is the creator of all things. This supreme God is above all spirits and living beings. Therefore, it would be wrong to identify our ancestors’ practice of religion as animism, and wrong to call our ancestors as animists.
When Christianity dawned in our land, we embraced and converted to Christianity sans much uproar and without much difficulty adopted the new western faith because our ancestors’ belief systems, in terms of moral values, ethics, teachings and above all, religion were not far apart from Christian teachings as it was so much in sync with Christianity.
Awo Raihao, Hunphunwo who was a wise and visionary leader accepted the new religion brought by Christian missionary, William Pettigrew. Had it been rejected the story would have been quite different. Given the symbiotic relation between the two beliefs system of Tangkhul and Christianity on the matter of Creator, the seed of Christianity was planted and began to flourish in Tangkhul region. The credit for the radical paradigm shift in religion rest upon Awo Raihao, Hunphunwo.
Further down in Chingjaroi village, a republic headed by abled and wise Aunga Avanshu fell in line persuaded by Hunphunwo. Precisely because of these influences, Chingjaroi women were listed among the first batch to receive baptism and western education.
Our ancestors were environmentally conscious. They shared good relationship with nature. In return, nature provided the best of everything that they could offer. Today’s generation would do well to revisit and relearn a lesson or two about man and nature affinity, Pearl maintained.
Ningshimyao Pearl A. Shimray is a cultural activist. She is presently the Convenor, Shanvai Chonvai committee, (traditional attires committee) Tangkhul Shanao Long (Tangkhul women’s League).