Reviving one’s culture: Building a Lengcheng Shim

Miwurlung production

Imagine yourself living 200 years ago. We would find ourselves in an absolutely contrasting world. However, how you picture the scenario will depend on who you are and where you’re from. I am an Indian belonging to the Tangkhul Naga tribe by birth from North East, Manipur.

The world knows India for it’s diversity both religiously and ethnically. What sets India apart from other countries is its variety of languages, religions and traditions across its regions. India has 22 official languages, and according to the census, the total number of mother tongues spoken in India is 1652.

Tangkhul Naga is one of the many tribes among this diversity. Though Christianity is now the major religion of the tribe, ages ago, they were idol/nature worshipers, and their culture revolved around traditional beliefs and omens they envision from sacrifices made to their deity. Although the traditional beliefs and culture they followed has now changed drastically with the advent of Christianity, origin of the tribe, culture and identity is not forgotten. There are still few younger generations, making sure their identity, culture and origin is revived even though the greater younger generations are swayed by modernisation.

From Ringui Village Ukhrul District, Manipur, AC Rinshing, originator of Miwurlung Production, one of the few, rare individuals who ardently believes and hopes in reviving the traditional and cultural practices of his tribe is working on an important project – building ancient traditional house, which he later intends to document in a film.

Ukhrul Times brings to you an exclusive prelude to the much bigger thing that’s coming.

“To keep alive the culture God gave us, to identify its uniqueness and to showcase our cultural artifacts, I am building a Lengcheng Shim“.

A brief description of what a Lengcheng shim is:
Lengcheng shim (lengcheng – pieces of plank) is the house of an elite, and this type of housing can be constructed only by man of noble birth. The following are its distinguishing characteristics.

(i) It is decorated with lenchengkui (house horn), and (ii) Its roof is planked with shingles (oblong wooden tiles, about 61 cm long, 30 cm wide, and 5 cm thick) boards that bear the pictures of warriors, buffalo heads, and women’s breast.

Even though a person is rich and of a noble birth, he cannot construct a Lengcheng house according to his whims and fancy; he has to propitiate and consult the kameo (deity) for it. He goes for chicken and egg omens, listen to the calls of those insects and birds whose calls are considered meaningful, and when proved positive, he reveals his desire for the house construction to others.

He then starts stocking rice, rice beer and buffaloes that will be consumed by the workers. Next, he makes necessary arrangements for wooden posts, ridges, planks, shingles, etc. and here he is duly assisted by his neighbors, friends, and relatives who do the work without demanding wages. When all the housing materials are thus collected, all the villagers or members of the same ward, as the case may be, come forward and the construction of the house starts. The house builders work, eat, and drink for days together till the endeavor is completed. In case of a person from a noble family desires to construct a Lengcheng house, but he is neither the village chief or the eldest family of a clan, he is prohibited to carve the posts and planks of his house.

The construction of lengcheng house is an expensive undertaking, for, though the housing materials are contributed by friends and relatives, buffaloes and a good quantity of rice are consumed. A special one day feast called pareikom (parei = wives; kom = collection) has to be given to the wives of the village where rice-beer, rice and meat are liberally served. While constructing lengcheng house, the village sharva (priest) is invited who supervises all the rituals associated with the endeavor from that day till the completion.

Although we do not tread on the heels of our ancestors’ rituals in building the house owing to the generation gap and contradicting beliefs we now have sought, our sole purpose and priority in building the house is, with all respect, to make known of it’s significance.
Every pillar erected has its own name and story to tell. 7 pillars each are erected front and back of the house, each standing 16′-18′ high and 3′ widh. Every carving on them has ancient cultural significance and were carved in 15 days within 3months. I solely believe it is God’s grace to have the strength to bring those enormous trees home from the depths of the forest.

One tree is sawed/axed into 2/3 planks and thus we make 2 or 3 pillars out of one tree. The location of the trees were beyond belief to be able to axe them down let alone bring them home. We carried the tools on our back and had to walk by foot for almost an hour to get to the site from the road where we got off the ride we took from home and ventured into the location of the trees which were rough terrain and lopsided. It took us days and even weeks to axe/saw/drag them home.

Some of the trees took the strength of more than 20 individuals to drag them down the road. It was a very challenging task.

However, the labor and time we are investing to building the Lengcheng shim will not amount to the labor our ancestors have invested during their time. We are only starting to build one of its kind, which is already very challenging but it was a dwelling house for our ancestors . The means we now have , they did not. We use chainsaw to cut the trees and vehicles to carry them home while our ancestors toiled with their own hands and labour with their might which is beyond what we can comprehend.

Call it the initial civilization process, our ancestors had “Longshim“, a place for the boys and girls to learn, which we now call “school” which then, well to do families would host for them to gather and learn in folklore, (handicrafts, housekeeping, weaving, babysitting,traditional dance, war dance, how to make weapons and tools, how to hunt for food, how to wage war, how to defend when the village gets attacked) every act/rule of their custom and tradition to the respective gender. That was education then .

We lived by certain rules and regulations and was very independent economically. Such was the lifestyle. It is indeed impossible to go back to that lifestyle however, I believe it is our duty to do what we can to keep it breathing in this age when it’s mostly forgotten by the greater number.

With what I’m building, I intend to give a visual impression of my traditional folklore and showcase my cultural artifacts including different kinds of skulls, both animals’ and human’s which I am collecting and making sure it’s relatable for the younger generation to learn our cultural roots and traditional significance.

It has been years since I originally initiated the idea of building a Lengcheng house with my brother and it was only in 2019 that we were able to begin building it. The thought of bringing the idea to life was nowhere near and lacked intention. But while building a set for a scene for my documentary film “Shongchon” we were motivated enough that we could pull resources and even do it bigger. (Watch shongchon trailer.)

Miwurlung production

With selfless help from family and friends, we finally began bringing our ideas to life. Some even offered financial help selflessly and just when work was progressing, the pandemic hit hard which has come as a major setback. Despite the situation, we are doing our bit every day to complete the project. What we have been doing, so far, is just a mere beginning of what we aspire to build.

With God’s grace, I hope to build a couple of dozens more. I’m only beginning to contribute in maintaining history which I take no credit of because it is our very responsibilty to do so. And I urge the younger generation to contribute in reviving and maintaining your culture in however way you can. The closer we are to our origin, the closer we become as one.

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