Luirim Traditional dresses are emblem of allegiance, marking the person out as belonging to a discrete cultural unit and often indicate a person’s standing within the community. Clothing are far more than mere protection. Its designs and functional values conveys, communicate, identify the individual and community, signaling tribal affiliation; marking the occasions of rites and ritual ceremony and of the seasons of the year. Luirim kachon is one of the most remarkable Tangkhul traditional shawls, which signify social status in the Tangkhul society. It is an exclusive men’s wear, entitled for the royals and meritorious.
Those entitled with the honour of wearing the shawl are the ‘Khayaiwo’ (chief of chiefs), Awunga (village chief) and eldest of clans and lineage (Amei kharar) which ultimately constitute the ‘Hangva’, the highest body of the village. This shawl therefore, naturally becomes the dress code of the hangva, the highest house of Tangkhul village, Hangvashim. Usage of the shawl however is also entitled to the person who performs the feast of merit, ‘marankasa’ (construction of carved house, erection of genna post, pulling of log bed called bedkhok). The shawl is used in performing rites & rituals like wrapping the bones of the dead while recycling the old burial site; to honour the death by covering the body or the coffin; a prestigious gift by the bride on marriage; used as display of wealth in the exhibition of feat (otrei kasa) during harvest; and also to marked the feast of merit
Weaving is traditionally carried on by every Tangkhul Women. Weaving a particular textile does not confine to certain linage or area though there may be cases where weaving concentrate mostly to western Tangkhul areas due to various reasons such as climatic condition for cotton cultivation, fertility of soil, socio-economic factor, topographical settings and so on.
In the past production was mostly for utility of the house hold, war compensation and for tribute. Production for commercial marketing was not known but rather a barter system for essential commodities. Even today, Tangkhul weavers produces certain looms including Luirim kachon on demand as it is considered an identity of the wearer and that common people seldom place an order even though it is highly admired and coveted.
Historical Background of Leirum phee: Myths and legends are the back bone of history. Based on the traditional folk stories and oral narrations, we have the background and origin of Leirum phee from the Tangkhul community, passed on from Hundung Chief to the Meiteis which become apart and partial of their cultural tradition. The Meities called this Luirim Kachon of the Tangkhul as “LEIRUM PHEE” also known to them as Mungphee or Haophee. According to Loiyamba Shinyen, the 12th Century Constitution, Khullem Chandra Sekhar Singh P. 31975. Weaving of Leirum Phee by Thingujam Lineage are said to be of Hundung/Hungpung origin. This account is reinforced by the oral collection of two octogenarians YL Vangam from Hungpung, and Stephen Angkang from Lungphu village in 1995 explicitly narrating the Legends of king Pakhangba, on the occasion of his peace mission to the hill, following the fight between the hill and the plain was accorded with the gift of Luirim shawl, was very pleased that he wished to call it Leirum phee, meaning living together, and had pledged to used by all the Meiteis rich and poor alike at the time of marriage.
There are other narration of oral history by Muttua Bahadur, 7.2.1976 and Dr. Lokendra Arambam 18.7.1996. According to their interpretation, the story of Nongpok Ningthuo, a Tangkhul king who fell in love with Panthoibi, a Meitei girl, whom the family compelled her to marry Khaba, was eloped by Nongpok Ningthuo from the groom’s residence. At the time of elopement, Nongpok Ningthuo had worn Luirim shawl with which securely wrapped the belongings of Panthoibi.
According to Meitei traditional dresses, based on the thesis, 1991 Sobita Devi, Leirum Phee was first presented to Angom princess, Nongmoinu Ahongbi by her parents, on her marriage to Khui Tompok (154-264). The Angoms had affinity with the Tangkhuls, claimed to be of Hundung origin.
The Meities used Leirum phee on the wedding of their daughter as phiruk, bed spread of the couple on the first night, on their death, during Lai Haraoba and Meira-Haochongba and During the phamkaba of the ningthuo.
Additional archival sources, namely Cheitharol Kumbaba – Royal Chronicle beginning from Nongda Lairel Pakhangba (33-154AD); ReignofKingIrengba (984–1074AD); KingLoyumba (1074–1112AD) production of Leirum Phee; KhuiTampok (154–364AD)
To conclude, a few important points needs pondering. According to Hungpung Tangkhul tradition and Meitei tradition, Tangkhuls and Meiteis shared mutual relationship of cultural traditions of Luirim Kachon which dates back to time immemorial; the origin of the people; the feud; the inter-marriage; the customary rites and rituals.
Therefore, should there be dispute over the legitimate ownership of the shawl, whether or not it’s Leirum phee or Lengyan, it is still the same Tangkhul luirim kachon. Shouldn’t there be a need to redefine or re-do our history? Until this historical prerequisite is corrected with honour, the princely honour and respect once accorded will hold no significance. The customary and cultural practices will cease to have its value. Hundung (Hungpung) and Meiteis cordial relationship as brothers would only diminish.
Having shared the traditional heritage and cultural tradition of the Tangkhuls with the Meities since time immemorial does not in whatsoever quantifiable proportion give away the legitimate rights and ownership of LUIRIM kachon.
Dr. Sinalei Khayi, is an authority on Naga customs with Ph.D in cultural studies. Professor in Dept. of History, Pettigrew College. Views are personal.