If I have a time machine, the first thing that I would do is sneak back a century and explore the lifestyle, culture and tradition of my forefathers. Changes that have occurred after the advent of Christianity and Western Education to this otherwise isolated hills are almost incomprehensible. It was so hard for me to believe the stories that my grandpa used to tell me about his childhood, adolescent, youth and the prevalent lifestyle, rituals and social practices. I often tasked dad to validate that there are some truth in the stories and tales that grandpa narrated to me. For dad, it was not that hard to believe as he grew up seeing and living some of the experiences of the times that are now lost forever. One of the stories I remember is about the rituals people used to perform before erecting totems and stones, which were symbols of prosperity those days.
As Tangkhuls are basically an agrarian society, wealth in olden days was computed in terms of food grains and livestock of the family. So a rich man is someone who has a surplus of food grain and cattle. Life was that simple. Erection of totems and stones was a luxury that only the rich could afford to do. The process involved feasting for weeks and even months of the whole village at the expense to the man who erects these symbols of prosperity. Many erected stones stand even today to remind the younger generations of the glorious past. However, there are only few moss covered wooden totems (poles) left even in interior villages, which would soon rot away erasing remnants of the past that was so different.
Erection of totems as I was told is done only by people who are rich and mainly by the eldest in the family or the clan. When it is decided that a family is going to erect totems, the news is made known to all the relatives, the whole village and subsequently the neighboring villages too. Preparation for the occasion include, searching for a witch doctor/priest, collecting spotless sacrificial animals(biggest to the smallest), bulk brewing of wine and beer (for the villagers and guests), bulk grinding of rice and other food grains, etc. Once these initial preparations are done, village elders along with the witch doctors go scouting to find the right trees and stones to be brought home for erection.
Trees and stone selection as I was told was not done randomly. Necessary sacrifices were offered and are felled based on what the tree or stone spirits reveal in dreams or through a medium. Only unmarried trees and stones are to be selected and felled. This is one part where I choose not to hide my sarcasm, unable to comprehend how trees and stones can possibly speak or could have spirits in them. Anyway, there are too many things that I don’t understand and may never understand about the past.
After the sex of the tree or stone is determined, the objects as I was told are adorned with the appropriate costumes of male or a female. Cross dressing entails serious curse upon the family which was believed to last for generations.
After felling the trees, the young men in the village are tasked to carry home the trees and stones in single pieces. The drinking and eating celebration starts with coming home of the first tree or stone and ends when all the totems are erected following strict sacrificial procedures.
Animals that are considered perfect in every aspect are sacrificed throughout the erection ceremony. There are folk tales that suggests even human beings were sacrificed at the time of totem erections. However, my grandfather didn’t mention about this particular thing. Maybe he didn’t want me to know that people then were inhuman, or maybe human sacrifice was discontinued at some point of time. It was strictly mandatory to sacrifice animals and fowls from the smallest to the biggest. Missing out a single animal was believed to be a bad omen which has an associated curse, which would run in the family for generations. Scary as it sounds this one seems to be true as there are families where some of the siblings have some abnormality that people believe is the curse inherited from totem erection blunders.
This is one of the practices that were still prevalent till the late 19th century. With the advent of Christianity, the practice became odd and conflicting with the new faith. There is nothing I can connect this practice with the Tangkhuls of today. The time gap and difference between the present and the semi distant past is too wide. It is more like the past Tangkhuls disappeared one fine day like the Incas and Mayans and the present Tangkhuls suddenly replaced them. I am a Tangkhul, one of the many who are struggling to connect with the past.
Note this is a draft version that Google allowed me to post; If there are any grammatical mistakes or Typos, shoot a mail to Eric Schmidt and Google.
Blog by kayanghan (Old Tangkhul.com Users Username)