Zeme Naga

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Rani Gaidinliu

Zeme Naga is one of the sub-groups of Zeliangrong people. The Zeme inhabits the Northeastern states of India. Zemes reside in Dima Hasao of Assam, Tousem Sub-Division of Tamenglong district and Senapati district of Manipur, and Peren district of Nagaland. They are also thought to be residing in Tripura but it is yet to be documented.They have close ethnic/cultural affinity with three other cognate tribes, viz. Liangmai, Rongmei and Inpui (Puimei) Nagas of Manipur, Assam and Nagaland. Zeme professes 'Paupaise' (indigenous belief system), 'Christianity' and 'Heraka'.

In Manipur, Zemes and Liangmais together were recognised as "Kacha Naga", while the Rongmei and Inpui (Puimei) as "Kabui". Zeme and Liangmai tribes are recognised as Zeliang by government of Nagaland (excluded Rongmei and Inpui (Puimei). The word "Kacha" is wrongly spelled. The actual word is "Ketsa" which originally is an Angami Naga word for thick forest. In 2012, the Zeme along with the Liangmai, Rongmei and Inpui in Manipur have been recognized as separate Schedules Tribes by the Government.

People, society and institutions[edit]

The people[edit]

The term “Zeme”[edit]

Zemi, Nzemi, Zeme, Zemai, Zemei, Ziama, Jemi, Yemi, etc. are the different way the name of the tribe is spelt by different writers. In North Cachar Hills ‘Nzeme’ (nesal ‘N’ is sounds before many words in Zeme vocabulary) is the original name of the tribe. The term ‘Zainme’/ ‘Nzainme’ stands for ‘people’. ‘Zeme’/ ‘Nzeme’, as this group of people call themselves, probably derived from the term ‘zainme’. The original name of the tribe was ‘Zemai’/ ‘Zemei’. The contemporary term ‘Zeme’ is a corrupt form of the same. The Zeme Nagas are again known by different names among different other Naga tribes. The Angamis call them ‘Mezama‘. They use the same word, but with slight tonal variation, to call the Rengma Nagas.

Synonyms, ethnic and religious sub-groups[edit]

Arung, Cachcha Naga, Empui, Kacha/Kutcha, Mezama, Sangrima, Sengima, etc. are various synonyms of Zeme Naga. There are, at least, three independent Naga tribes, viz. Liangmei, Rongmei (Kabui) and Maruongmei (Puimei) who are ethno-culturally and linguistically quite akin to the Zemes. J. H. Hutton writes:

The only tribes of the southern group which are located inside the Naga Hills administrative district are the divisions of the Kacha Nagas, the Zemi, Lyengmai, and Maruoung-mai. These tribes are stituated to the south of the Angamis and have been very much influenced by them, the Zemi having been long virtually subject to the Angami village of Khonoma. The Angami dress is worn, though the kilt is merely put round the body and not fastened between the legs, and in some villages the exogamous clans have the same names as those in Khonoma…The languages are quite distinct from the Angami, and each of the three divisions has its own. These Kacha Naga tribes seem to be closely allied to the Kabui tribe in Manipur, and some of the Kacha Nagas are situated as far south as the North Cachar Hills.

In Manipur, Zeme and Liangmai together are called as ‘Kaccha Naga’, while Inpui and Rongmei Naga as ‘Kabui’. In North Cachar Hills (Assam) the name ‘Kaccha Naga’ is used to refer to any of the Zeme constillation of tribes, although Zeme Nagas are mainly found in the region. Koireng Naga, concentrated in Manipur, is again very close to Kaccha and Kabui Naga groups. According to some, Kaccha Nagas are divided into three sub-divisions, viz. Zeme or Yemi, Embo or Empeo or Aroong (whome the Angami Nagas call Sengima), and Kwoirang or Liyang (may be Liyangmei) Nagas . In Manipur, Kaccha Naga, Kabui (Inpui and Rongmei) and Koireng Naga are separately listed as scheduled tribes.

The Nagas in North Cachar Hills are also referred to as Empeo or Impeo. Soppitt has suggested that the original migration of the Kachcha Naga population from their ancestral place called Em… has earned them such a name . In North Cachar Hills, Impoi, a village, is believed to be the first settlement of the Naga people . Either the name of the village ‘Impeo’ has derived from its earliest inhabitant of Kachcha/ Zeme Nagas who were then called ‘Empeo’ or the Nagas in the district came to be known as ‘Empeo’ as they first settled in a village called ‘Impoi’. The first assumption is more likely to be the fact, as in Manipur there is a section of the Kabui Nagas who call themselves as Inpui or Impoi who might be one of the section of this tribe still retaining their old name.

The Nagas of North Cachar have also been referred to as Aroong Nagas . Alexander Mackenzie reported six distinct tribes of hillmen, viz. Hill Cacharis (same as Hill Kacharis another name of the Dimasa Kacharis), Hozai Cacharis (same as Hojai Kacharis or the Dimasas), Mikirs (Karbi), Old Kookies (same as Old Kukis), New Kookies (same as New Kukis) and Aroong Nagas to be found in North Cachar Hills. Regarding Aroong Nagas it is said that they are an inoffensive tribe, probably an offshoot from the Kutcha Nagas (same as Kaccha Nagas), who have settled down to peaceful habits . Aroong Nagas in North Cachar Hills must be the Zemes, the most numerous Naga group inhabiting the region, but may include one or the other of their kindred tribes.

The early inhabitants of North Cachar Hills are again reported to be Siames, a people described as “small and black”. Ursula Graham Bower collected some information on this tribe according to which they are the early inhabitants of the area.

“Zeme legend attributes all these to the Siemi, a people described as “small and black”, who are believed to have made the valuable golden-yellow beads called ‘deo-moni’ from the “Gareo” bamboo by a process involving the use of fire; and to their refusal to disclose this secret process is ascribed their persecution and destruction by the Kacharis. Tradition conflicts as to when they vanished from the hills, one story relates that they had gone when the Zemi entered the area and that only their deserted villages remained, and another that survivors lingered on at Hange after the Zemi immigration and even intermarried with the Naga colonists”.[citation needed]

Again, some scholars believed that the Siames were Zemes in general, but they knew the art of making ‘Teluiteu” or “Telateu” (a kind of Zeme necklace) out of soft conch shell. Siame meaning artisan, the section of the Zemes who knew the art of making necklace is given the name of Siame. Their artistic works in the forms of stone pillars are still to be found in villages of Melangpeu, Boloson, Asalu, Impoi, etc. in the North Cachar Hills .

There is further confusion with regard to the Nagas in North Cachar Hills, as ‘Merwangmai’ or ‘Maruongmai’ is also used to refer them. Mr. J. P. Mills have described the Naga tribe in the district as ‘Maruongmai’. G. Makuga, however, put “Rongmei” as to be the shortend form of Maruongmei, which is another name of Rongmei tribe . Ursula Betts, however, commented that the term ‘Maruongmai’ or ‘Maruong’ is used of the Central Nzemi (i.e. Zeme Nagas in North Cachar Hills) by the Kabuis, and not by themselves .

The term ‘Zeme’ was used by Ursula Betts to refer to all the tribes under the great Zeliangrong Naga constellation. According her, Zemes are known by slightly different name in different localities extending from the east of Manipur to the west of North Cachar Hills. The Northern Zemes inhabiting Nagaland call themselves as ‘Nzemi’, but the Central and Western Zemes refer to them as ‘Nremi’ literally meaning ‘the Upper Men’. The Western Zeme inhabits the relatively low and hot plateau-land west of Haflong who represent a late migration of Northern Zeme driven out by Angami Naga pressure in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth Century. They are more close to the Northern Zemes than the Central Zemes. They call themselves ‘Nzemi’. The Central Zeme calls them ‘Nkhangmi’ literally meaning ‘the Lower Man’. The Central Zemes, inhabiting between western part of Manipur and the southwestern part of North Cachar Hills extending up to Haflong, call themselves as ‘Zemi’.

Under the unification drive inspired by political motives, the Zemes, Linagmei and Rongmei tribes have been collectively given the name as ‘Zeliangrong Naga’ only recently in 1947 . The name ‘Zeliangrong’ has derived from the first three syllables of the three kindred tribes namely (i) Zemei or Zemi, (ii) Liangmei or Lyengmai, and (iii) Rongmei (earlier named as Maruongmai). Of course, the term Zeliangrong invariably includes another tribe called “Inpui’ Nagas . In Nagaland, where Zeme and Liangmei are mainly found they are recognized as ‘Zeliang’ tribe.

By religion, the Zeme Nagas are of three distinct groups now. The Pereses – the section of the Zemes who profess the traditional Zeme faith more or less unaltered; the Herakas – the section of the Zemes who profess the reformed brand of the Zeme religion propagated by Jadonang and Rani Gaidinliu, and the Christian coverts . In North Cachar Hills, the majority of the Zemes now profess Heraka. Unlike the Dimasas, the Zemes have never been much influenced by Hinduism until the days of Heraka reforms. Elements from both Hinduism and Christianity have been incorporated among the Zeme Herakas. The Heraka system, which is originally conceived at the socio-religious milieu of Manipur, has absorbed many Hindu as well as Christian elements .

Origin of the word Kacha Naga[edit]

Zemes living in the western part of Kohima are known as Kaccha Nagas. The word ‘Kaccha Naga’ is said to have derived from wrong transcription of a term by Europeans. There is a popular tale in this connection. It is said that when the Britishers entered North Cachar Hills through Dimapur, they made Asalu a Headquarters. The visitors then started to move towards Kohima, but could not succeed due to thick forest. The people of the Asalu village stated that those who lived there were Kahegame (meaning the headhunters in the Zeme language). The Britishers did not proceed further, but came down to Dimapur side and entered Khonoma (the people of Khonoma village are Angamis). They derived this name from Kahegame, which they had learnt from the people of Asalu village, but the people of Khonoma village (Angami) even today call themselves Thenemi. The British convoy enquired from the Angami inhabitants of the Khonoma village, as to who had been the people living to the Western side of their territory. The Angamis stated that no one lives in that lonely area, but there were only “Ketsa Naga”. ‘Ketsa’ is an Angami word to mean forest. When the Britishers moved into the Western areas (i.e. the Zeliangrong area) they found some people living there and they mistook them as “Kacchas”, as mentioned by the Angamis, and named them as the “Kacchas Nagas” .

There is another popular opinion regarding the origin of the word ‘Kacha’. The plain people, like Bengulies and Assamese, used to call the Nagas inhabiting in the Cachar Hills (the present day North Cachar Hills district) as “Kachar Naga”. The term ‘Kachar Naga’ subsequently became ‘Kacha Naga’ by vocal distortion. Mention of Cachari (Dimasa Kachari) Nagas is found here and there in the writings of Colonial historians and ethnologists where it is mentioned that they are the subservient to the Angamis . It is already established that Zeme Nagas had long been under subjugation of Angami Nagas, which clearly tells that the Cachari Nagas as mentioned above are no other people but the Zeme Nagas of Cachar Hills.

Racial, linguistic and cultural affinity[edit]

Zemes are believed to have originated from an ancient stock of people who are now represented by Konyak Nagas at the other end of the Nagaland. The Zeme Nagas are middle-sized or middle-statured people who resemble to any Mongoloid tribe inhabiting the North East. Mongoloid eye-fold, short-medium stature, straight hair, and scanty beard and mustaches are marked Mongoloid features. J. H. Hutton observes ‘ulotrichy’ among the Nzemi (same as Zeme) tribe to a noticeable degree. In which context he expressed that it is still an open question how far the ancient stock displaced by the Angamis was composed of elements of Negrito origin. C. A Soppit’s account on ‘Kachcha Naga’, the only extended ethnographic description on this tribe in English language till then, describes their physical features and characters, as he writes:

“The Kachcha Nagas do not compare favourably in physique with the Angamis, being, as a rule, of much less muscular build, though well made and active. They are simple and honest in character, with a ready appreciation of honour. In appearance they compare favourably with Dimasa Kacharis and Kukis, having often well-cut features, and bright, intelligent faces, though flat noses and high cheekbones are not uncommon. The tribe is not very warlike” .

J. H. Hutton seems to be more elaborate on describing Kaccha Naga features. To quote him:

“The Kaccha Nagas – the Zemis included – are the well-known Indo-Mongoloids who came down to the north-eastern parts of India many centuries ago. There are some special characteristics in their physical appearance, which resemble the Mongolian. They have sharp slanted eyes; a thick black hair and they are well built, strong and healthy. Their complexion is generally of a ruddy color though the color varies slightly from one person to another. But it may be said that the people of both sexes have an exceptionally fair skin. The color of the eyes is always brown, the lips are sometimes fine and sometimes thick, the hair is generally straight though cases of wavy hair are not uncommon. A beard and moustache are seldom seen and shaving them is a common practice” .

During fieldwork, once I sported a thick mustache on which I received curious attention from many onlookers. Those who were acquainted with me passed laughing remarks. Others quite blatantly advised me to get them shaved. There were even others who innocently enquired if I was a Muslim. Mahammadan fellows often sport mustasless beard. A thick hairy Caucasoid easily draws curious attention from scanty haired Mongoloids.

According to Grierson, the Kachcha Naga or Empeo speak a dialect belonging to the Bodo-Naga sub-group of the Tibeto-Barman language family. In Naga Hills (present day Nagaland), there are said to be three dialects of Kachcha Naga, viz. Inzemi, Sengima, and Yema. The last name is also pronounced Jema, and becomes Jeme (same as Zeme) in North Cachar Hills. Grierson put the Kachcha Naga or Empeo dialects as to be the connecting link between the three groups of Tibeto-Burman languages, Naga, Kuki, and Bodo, and he lump Kachcha Naga, Kabui, Khoirao, Mikir, and Bodo dilects into one linguistic group named ‘the Naga-Bodo sub-group’. Kachcha Naga or Empeo dialects are again most closely allied to the Lotha and Angami tongues.

As it is already mentioned, culturally the Zeme Nagas are very close to Rongmei (Kabui), Liangmei and Inpui/Impoi(Kabui) Nagas. If all Nagas are considered to have separated from a common ancestry at some point of time, which is easy to derive on the basis of cultural, racial, and linguistic commonalities found among Nagas, the separation of Zemes from Rongmeis, Liangmeis and Inpui/Impois must have had happened comparatively recently. The Zeme Ngas in many ways are akin to Angamis. It may be mentioned that Lieut. R. Stewart, by mistake, considered Kachcha Naga, to be nearly the same as the Angamis . Their similarities with the Angamis in several common cultural traits are most probably borrowed recently from their contact with them than being come down from their common ancestry. Since Zeme Nagas once lived in close territorial proximity to the Angamis and once they were under Angami subjugation, most probably, there had been exchange of cultural elements between them resulting commonalities as they are found today. J. H. Hutton in his “The Angami Nagas” has pointed out that the Kacha Naga tribe is apparently derived from much the same stock as the Angamis, and in dominant Angami belt it is difficult to say what customs are originally Kacha Naga and what have been imposed by Angamis .

Population and distribution[edit]

As Census of India stopped publishing caste and tribe wise population except those of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes after independence, and when the different tribes under Zeliangrong in different combinations are recognized as scheduled tribe in these states, the exact population of each of the independent tribes of this group is not possible to extract. The total Zeliangrong population (including Kabui i.e. both Inpui and rongmei), Kachcha Naga, and Zeliang as they are separately published in Census of India) is expected to be approximately 0.25 million, which constitutes about 10 per cent to the total Nagas. Other independent Naga tribes having population more than 0.2 million are the Sema, Konayak and Ao Naga.

Specific tribes of Naga still remained confined to their respective geographical pockets of concentration. Other than Zeliangrong tribes, the Tankhul Naga in Manipur, the Sema, Lotha, Chakhesang, and Ao Nagas in Nagaland are the other Naga tribes who are found outside their pocket of concentration. Wide distribution of the Zeliangrong tribes across the three states of Indian Union may be attributed either to the pressure of aggression from other Naga tribes (as it is well documented that they were under Angami oppression) or to their being one of the ancient tribes in the region (as according to the “Age-Area Hypothesis”, wider distribution means greater antiquity). Contrastingly, however, wide and sparse distribution with regard to some recent immigrant Kuki/Hmar tibes is a reality. These people being recent migrants unable to find suitable settlement pastures and therefore dispersed off far and wide across the northeastern States. The situation perhaps is not the same for Zeme Nagas being one of the ancient migrants to this region. The districts of Kohima in Nagaland, Tamenglong in Manipur, and North Cachar Hills in Assam together, in fact, form one contiguous area, both geographically and ecologically. The Zeliangrong group of tribes is mainly confined in this pocket. Ursula Betts described the settlement pattern of this group, which I cannot do better than simply to quote.

“The north-eastern extremity of the Barail and its highest peak, Japvo, lie just inside the Angami Naga country. From the Angami border westwards – for the greater part, that is, of the Barail’s steepest and most spectacular length – the main range and its subsidiaries are inhabited by the Nzemi, Lyengmai and Kabui Nagas. They are closely related and are often referred to, particularly in early accounts, as the Kacha or Kachcha Nagas, a term of obscure origin. The Lyengmai live on the southern slopes of the Barail below the Japvo massif. The Kabui are to the south of them, on the parallel ridges running down through what was until 1949 Manipur State. The Nzemi lie to the north and west of these two tribes and occupy the main range itself, its terminal peaks in North Cachar, and the eastern edge of the plateau beyond Haflong. To the south of the Nzemi country are the plains of Cachar, thickly populated by immigrants of Bengali origin. To the west are the Khasis, of Mon-Khmer stock and speech; to the north-west are the Dimasa Kacharis, a valley-dwelling people whose territory, following as it does the course of the Diyung River and the lowlands on either side of it, drives a deep wedge into the Nzemi country and all but cuts it in two. These Dimasa Kacharis finally settled in the Diyung Valley in the middle of the sixteenth century, after being driven down the Assam Valley by the dominant Ahoms. Among the Nzemi east of the Jatinga gap there are scattered villages of Thado and other Kukis; west of the gap, among the Nzemi of the plateau, there are a few settlements of Biete and Rangkhol Kukis” .

In the State of Manipur, Kachcha Naga and Kabui (i.e.Inpui and Rongmei Naga) are separately recognized as scheduled tribes. Both the Kabui Naga and the Kachcha Naga are mainly concentrated in Tamenglong district of Manipur. A sizable chunk of the Rongmei population is also found in Imphal district (now divided into Imphal East and West). The Kachcha Naga population outside the Tamenglong administrative area – their home – is found in Senapati district of the State. Total of estimated population of each of the Rongmei and Kachcha Naga tribe in Manipur would be approx. 50,000 souls. In Nagaland, the Liangmei Naga of the Zeliangrong constellation is mainly found, and they are almost solely concentrated in the district of Kohima. There is also a sizable concentration of the Zeme Nagas. Their together population is expected to be 70,000 souls. In Assam, the Naga population is solely concentrated in the hill district of North Cachar Hills where the Zeme Naga is the single largest Naga tribe sharing more than 90% of the total Naga population. Any conservative estimation of Zeme Naga population in this district would be around 9,000 souls.

Social history[edit]

How and where the Kacha Nagas have come from is still shrouded in mystery. From folk narratives one can draw some speculations that their ancestors probably had migrated from the direction of Japvo Mountain to the present day Nagaland and spread further towards south . Some scholars have connected them with the headhunters of Malay and races of the southern sea on the one hand and to China on the other. What caused their dispersal from their original native soil is a difficult question to be answered. The Zeme Nagas probably had migrated into their present abode in Barail range in search of brines (salt). Their historical association with ‘salt’ perhaps is still surviving in their collective sub-conscious mind. At present, there is no such difficulty in getting the supply of food salt, which is not only easily available but also a cheap commodity. However, it is amazing to note that the people are in habit of storing salt sachets for several months if not years. Salt packets are often used as local currency. These can be easily exchanged for any other goods. Standard packet of salt is also used as measuring weight. In bride price, salt is included as one of the offerings. J. H. Hutton reported that of late when the Angami Nagas no longer were manufacturing “Naga salt”, they used to purchase the same from the Kacha Naga, Sangtam or Tangkhul country. The Naga salt said to have medicinal properties denied to ordinary salt.

In North Cachar Hills, the Zemes are living for many centuries now. Laisong, Asalu, Shongkai, Peisia, Haijaichak, Khangnam, Baladhan, Hangrum, Thingje (Thungje), Longkai, etc. are some of the ancient Zeme Naga settlements distributed all along the western part of the North Cachar Hills district bordering Tamenglong district of Manipur. Impoi is believed to be the earliest Kachcha Naga settlement in the region. During the days of Dimasa Kachari rule, the Nagas were subjects to the Dimasa Kachari kingdom. And they had good trade relations with the Dimasa Kacharis. Some scholars argued that they have probably migrated to their present location in North Cachar Hills from neighboring Mountains of Kohima by a rout down the Barail range and reached North Cachar Hills when the Dimasa Kachari kingdom at Maibang was well established . By all probabilities, however, it seems that the Zemes might have had settled down in the hills of North Cachar much earlier than the wandering tribes of Dimasa Kacharis and Kukis entered the region. At least, since 13th Century the Zemes have been living on the Barail Hills. When the Dimasa Kacharis invaded the area, they asked the Zemes as to whom this land belonged to. The Zemes replied “Gechingpeu-ka” (Gechingpeu = the eldest of the eight sons of Hejale; Gechingpeu-ka = Gechingpeu’s, in which the last word suffixed as such is done in local Hindi dialect). That means the land of the eldest of the family of eight. And it is argued that the name ‘Barail’ has derived from ‘Bara’ i.e. ‘big’.

Zemes have had close interactions with Angami Nagas, as they lived at close proximity to one another sharing common space. The Zemes are called ‘Sengima’ by the Angami tribe. ‘Mezama’ is another name of the Kacha Nagas, to which Zeme is included, as is called by Angamis. The Angamis also use this term to refer Rengma Nagas, but in that case the pronunciation is slightly different . For long time, the Kacha Nagas were under Angami sovereignty, and even as they had migrated to the areas in North Cachar Hills, the supremacy of the Angamis over them continued until recently. It has been rightly pointed out that the Kacha Nagas owed virtual allegiance to the Angamis. They had to pay a kind of tax, which amounted to Rs.2/ per household per annum, or in lieu of the same they used to pay one basket full of paddy. Over and above, they had to assist the Angamis in their devastating raids on the plains. In some cases the Angamis had made their settlement in the Kacha Naga country, and where such settlements were made, the Kacha Nagas were to pursue the Angami pattern in matters of village organization and administration. The Angamis forced them and super-impose upon them their customs, dress, ornaments, etc.

The close similarities between the Western Zeme inhabiting the West of Haflong and the Northern Zeme inhabiting at the border of Angami territory in Nalaland speaks for the more recent migration of the Western Zemes from their Nagaland home. Apparently, the Zemes have entered into North Cachar Hills through several weaves of migration. For long time, they have been virtual subjects of the Angami people. Their migration into North Cachar Hills could possibly be linked to Angami subjugations and atrocities. Mr. Mackenzie writes:

The history of North Cachar is indeed, as has been shown, intimately connected with that of the Angami Hills. The tribes of Cacharis and Kutcha Nagas living in the eastern part of North Cachar were for many years harried by the Angamis”, (p. 145)…“Angamis carried on raids against the Zemes who thus had to migrate further and further away from their original place of settlement till they came down to Barail range in North Cachar Hills. <?blockquote>

Arguably, their settlement pattern as a long chain extending right from the eastern border of the North Cachar Hills district bordering Manipur and Nagaland down up to the west of Haflong speaks for migrations in waves through a particular rout. The Zemes living on the western part of the Haflong town demonstrably should be the latest migrants from Nagaland, as they have been driven out by the Angami aggression. They exhibit closer ethnic relations with their counterparts in Nagland.

Social organization[edit]

Settlement pattern[edit]

Zeme villages are found situated comparatively in the interiors of forest than those of Kukis’ (or Thadoes) and of Hill Kacharis(Dimasas)’. Contrasting patterns are found among different tribes with regard to their preference for settlement. As the different species occupy different niches in a tree to survive without any direct contest with one another, the tribe men in North Cachar Hills seem to have carefully worked out a similar modality for peaceful co-existence. Like other Nagas, the Zeme Naga choose hill summit for their village settlement. The Kukis, Hmars and their kindred tribes construct platform houses on slanted ridges. The Hill Kacharis or the Dimasas prefer plateau (or flat ground), gorge or other low laying areas .

Quite invariably, Zeme villages are found nearby natural water source, preferably a running stream. However, the Zemes like other Naga communities habitually construct their houses on hill tope, which is never compromised for any other reason, even for the water facility. Other non-Naga tribes in the region are found to prefer settlement along hill ridges, which are usually being close to water hole/ stream, instead of being right on the summit, which being not often that close to such conveniences. Indigenous engineering of water canneling, however, brings water right up to the settlement. Although seemingly a modern devise, but actually an age-old practice that water is often channeled in from several meters away at source through the long chain of half split bamboo tubes put together into a narrow conduit.

From village defense point of view, construction of villages on hilltop has many advantages. In head hunting days, the people were very suspicious and watchful on every movement of any outsider. Their settlement perched on the hill summits is the best location to organize the required village security . Traditionally, for the purpose of defense, the village fences were well constructed often by using heavy stone slabs. On the forest line, careful nurturing of certain poisonous plants that cause blister and irritation on skin is the most popular and inexpensive way of securing the boundary. Even nowadays, the huge village gate clad with vegetative stings and other signs of danger are the clear remnants from the bygone days of ghastly Naga head hunting. Traditionally, in front of every bachelor dormitory a huge dugout drum is invariably found drawing attention of every new comer into the village. This is hammered to produce heavy “dong… dong… dong” sound to draw attention of the villagers either inviting them to join to a community feast or as a warning sing to take the required defensive position in event of the village is under attack (microphone has taken its place in recent time). Collective memory about things that once involved the people so much intimately, in fact, continues for years even after the situation has been changed in reality. In the days of head hunting, a person hardly would venture into territory of an unknown village without running the risk of getting caught and killed. The fear is still continuinging in their minds. Initially I could not understant why my field assistant, a Zeme by tribe, was absolutely unwilling to go to some of the interior Zeme villages like Hangrum. Also that once a young Zeme girl involuentary labeled me as to be a ‘brave one’ while she came to know that I went Chaikam all alone on my own.

In North Cachar Hills, Zemes construct their huts rather haphazardly spreading over wide undulating topography. Like many other tribal communities in this region. Zeme villages are homogenous. No two different tribes are found dwelling in any single village settlement. Within the same tribe the converted section (e.g. Christians) constitutes a separate village unit. The villages are, however, composite in respect of kinship and clan organization. People belonging to different clans do reside in a single village. In a large village, particular clan members often construct their dwelling huts at close proximity so as to form a homogeneous cluster. Such a segment within a village is popularly referred to as ‘Khel’.

In terms of population size, in North Cachar Hills, tribal villages are found to be very small. The average number of households in a village ranges from twenty to thirty . There are, however, exceptions. The village of Laisong - inhabited by Zeme Nagas, now all of them converted Christians - has about 100 households. The families being mostly of nuclear type, the total number of persons inhabiting a village is not that large. In case of shifting cultivation, ten to twenty times more land are required than what is cultivated at any given season. Therefore, if ten bighas of land are require per family at any given time of cultivation, then for a village of twenty families, the total land requirement would be in between two thousand and four thousand bighas, which is quite a large size. Thus, the population distribution and density are automatically happens to be very scattered and scanty.

Village political organization[edit]

In Zeme vocabulary, ‘kelo’ is the term stands for village or village organization. Socio-politically, the Zemes like other Naga tribes are strongly village oriented. Their village organization is stronger than their clan or tribal organization. Of course, in case the village is huge, any segment within it where all the residents are of one clan could be more strongly organized centering its own chief or headman than the whole village as an entity. In this respect I am quite agreeing with J. H. Hutton’s observation on Sema Nagas. To quote:

“Clan feeling exists, as does tribal feeling, but it has no organs. The basis of Sema society is the village (apfu, agana), or part of a village (asah), which is under the control of a chief” .

Unlike the Dimasas whose social organization is dominantly clan oriented, the Zeme villages are mostly the self-sufficient organizational units and are more strongly configured at that level. Their village organization like other Nagas is conspicuously stronger than their clan or tribe level unity. Every village is an independent unit in terms of its political, economic and social entity.

Zeme village political institution is with reservations a democratic set up . The executive members of the village council are selected by popular opinion. However, owing to their specific socio-economic status certain people (e.g. Kadeipampeu) are automatically incorporated into the council. Otherwise, every adult villager (both man and woman) is automatically a general member (Bakiangna) of the council. The council is lead by the village headman (Mataipeu). The other executive members of the council are the assistant village headman (Mataicheipeu), secretary (Rausuipeu), village priest (Tingnapei, Tingkupau ), landowners (Hangdeu mpaube,Kadeipampeus), etc. The village elders from among the executive members decide the village headman by a voice vote. But, in case of several dominating clans involved, reaching to a consensus may not be that a simple way of going. The male folks represent the whole of the administrative unit of the village council. The women are not allowed to transgress much on the council’s vital affair. These days, the Zeme village headman especially the Gaunbura gets government recognition and is entitled to receive a monthly remuneration. This has further institutionalized the village administration bringing it right into the threshold of State politics.

Building a new village[edit]

Settlement of a new village requires lot of precautions. Specific rituals are performed to bring good omen. It is believed that the world is full of evil spirits. So, selection of a new settlement is not that easy, for the site could be an abode of evil spirits.

In earlier days, construction of a new village was made only on the auspicious day of Liamagakeu celebration. The works initiated well ahead of the day when the people would finally occupy it. The appropriate site is selected following a divination trick, which follows to clearing the jungle and leveling the ground. The most important work, however, is to magically cordon off the area so that it is protected from evils. Immediately after selection, the notional or symbolic village boundary is drawn. Construction of the sacred long jump site called Hejodekung (Hejo meaning long jump and Dekung meaning stone) ceremonially starts the village construction . The Hejodekung is used as the starting podium from which a jumper takes his leap. The game of long jump symbolizes strength, youthfulness, and vigor. This is not only a game, but signifies prosperity of the village and its people. Since days immemorial, this is played in Zeme villages as a sign of prosperity. Once the preparation of the long jump site has been completed, Desong, the village guardian spirit, is invoked by releasing a handsome cock in his name. This is performed at the newly made long jump site .

The next turn is murong building – the bachelors’s dormitory. This is the most gigantic architectural making in any Zeme village, which is constructed next to the long jump site. Then only individual dwelling houses are constructed one by one. The collective works of the people make the village construction possible within a forthnight.

The people wait to occupy the new village until the auspicious day of Hegasaura. They take refuge in a makeshift camp somewhere outside the village boundary (the notional village boundary demarcated by magical spell) at night. On the day of Hegasaura observation, the people finally occupy the new village. Then, a grand ritual is performed in which the supreme god Herawang is propitiated. The ritual is performed at the long jump site by sacrificing a mithun or a buffalo, preferably be in black with white patches on its forehead and tail. The sacrified animal is to be consumed within the same day. Any excess meat must be burnt off. In this ritual Herawang is propitiated for blessing for a happy and prosperous life in the new village.

The next day is Hegazaotaura. This and the remaining rituals of the annual Liamagakeu celebration are performed in the new village. It needs to be mentioned here that since construction of a Zeme village requires lots of preparations and elaborate ritual performances, shifting of a village site perhaps was never a frequent practice. In this context, the concept of “cycle migration” among the Zemes, as observed by U. G. Bower, seems to be unrealistic, although historic shifting of village site has been well documented among this tribe . Jhum cultivation has rightly been called shifting cultivation, as the cultivatior shift plot at a regular interval. However, shifting of the entire settlement is not a practice. Zeme villages having rigid foundation in the form of having sturdy physical as well as notional boundary cannot be expected to be abandoned so easily. Contrary to Bower’s observation, H. B. Rowney has rightly observed: “…Nagas are not a migratory people, like the other hillmen around them, their villages are stationery and unchanging, and those marked in Rennel’s maps of 1764 are still to be found.”

Bachelors’ dormitory and Maidens’ sleeping quarter[edit]

The general term used by all Nagas to refer a dormitory is ‘morung’, which is an Assamese word . In Assamese, the youth dormitory is also called ‘deka-chang’. Nagas are unique in having separate dormitories for both boys and girls. Among the Zeme Nagas, the boy’s dormitory is called ‘Hengseuki’ and the girls’ one ‘Leuseuki’. However, unlike Hengseuki, there is no independent housing to accommodate the maidens. Physically, the girl’s dormitory is non-existent. The Zeme girls in fact are accommodated in the house of an elderly woman, preferably a widow, where they sleep at night. Usually there used to be several batches of girls living with as many different elderly women in a village. The elderly woman acts as the guardian and caretaker. She is entrusted to impart all necessary trainings to the girls to their ideal womenhood. On the other hand the boy’s dormitory is accommodated within a huge building, the most spectacular structure in a village. Hengseuki building in its size and shape is much elaborate and differs characteristically than an ordinary dwelling hut. The front side of the dormitory house is elevated skywards considerably. Every boy on reaching an age is automatically given the membership of a dormitory, and since then he continues to sleep there at night until he is married. However, the boy’s dormitory is a highly organized institution serving multifaceted purposes. It was the only institution to impart necessary training to the youths on different skills. Members of a dormitory used to be divided into a number of age grades, each undergoing for specific training and taking specific responsibilities for the functioning and welfare of the dormitory vis-à-vis the village.

Zeme village is always a self-sufficient and highly organized system involving their social, economic and political life. Traditionally, the village council used to sit in the boy’s dormitory. It was responsibility of the dormitory organization to provide warriors for defending the village as well as to carry out any punitive/ offensive attack against an enemy village. The dormitory youths remained watchful over the village for securing it from any surprise attack . The collective labor of the Zeme bucks is organized through the dormitory for doing different works like house building, village road construction, forest clearance, etc. Like several batches of girls’, there could be more than one boy’s dormitory in a village, particularly if the village is quite a big one inhabited by different clan groups. The dormitory members are entrusted with responsibility of organizing different community level celebrations. The ‘hengseoki’, rightly to be called a corporate body, organizes dance program, repair the village pipeline, make new water troughs and clean the village paths. The hengseoki youths are also hired by rich men in the village for works like to bring the harvest or to construct a new house. The fee received for such works goes to the ‘hangseoki’s fund for feasts and festivals. This corporate body also helps each member in turn in weeding or harvesting activities.

In early 1990’s, when I was doing my fieldwork there was no dormitory institution survived in any of the villages in North Cachar Hills. This institution has already succumbed to the pressure of modernization and of tribal reforms. Among the Herakas, the bachelor’s dormitory most probably has reformed into a new institution called Paiki . And there is no trace of any maiden’s sleeping quarter still working in any of the Zeme villages, I have visited visited. From the accounts of Mr. J. P. Mills’s tour to the district of North Cachar Hills in 1927 it seems that dormitory then was one the most important public institutions in a Kachcha Naga village. Mr. Mills left us valuable account on this, now extinct, Naga institution:

“From Thalorami we went up to Guilong, a flourishing village of over forty houses. The “Dekachangs” were fine. By the ceremonial fire stick is kept a long pole notched for every head of game brought in. the only carved posts are the king-posts at the back. On them there is a spiral pattern. Plumb in the middle of the village street is a monolith set up three years ago…Other monoliths were so old that no one could remember who had put them or why. The present-day custom is for rich men to build round stone sitting-out places. Another curious feature was a long heap of earth onto which men jump from a sloping stone after the harvest is in”.

It is evident that until 1960’s the institution of dormitory survived in North Cachar Hills, at least, in some remote villages. Existence of it was reported in the village Survey Monograph (1961) published by the Office of the Registrar General of India. Some excerpts are being quoted here, as follows:

“The ‘hengseoki’ is a big rambling building towering above all the other houses in the village. The front eave of the house points skyward. The roof is thatched and the whole structure is supported with strong wooden posts, 8 inches in diameter, raised about 20 feet above the ground level. The thatched roof is fastened from inside the house to fine split bamboo rods running parallel to one another and resting on strong beams placed across the roof. At some points, the beams are supported by cross pieces of bamboo. Cane strips are used to bind the bamboo pieces to one another. It is worthwhile mentioning that not a single nail is used in the construction of the ‘hengseoki’ or any other house in the village. Near the lower ends of the roof, some stout wooden beams are tied lengthwise so as to keep the roof strong and stable. The outside front wall of the ‘hangseoki’ is made of fine polished knitted bamboo frame while the inner side of the wall is of rough and unpolished split bamboos, which are not closely knitted. The sidewalls are also of rough split bamboo frames and the roof hangs low over it almost touching the ground. The back portion of the house is completely shut by a wall made of split bamboo. There is only one door of split bamboo measuring 6 feet by 3 feet located in the middle of the front part of the house. The ‘hangseoki’ has one big hall provided with benches (bamsua) on either sides and a big fireplace in the center. Immediately after passing the great hall, one comes across a small room attached to the hall where the leader and headmaster (mezeipeu) of the ‘hengseoki’ stay” .

Social life[edit]

Zemes like other Nagas are traditionally self-sufficient at their village level organization. Their organizational unity centers on the village organization, which is socially, economically and politically self-sufficient. Clan and tribe level solidarities are rather secondary so to say to their village level solidarity, which is conspicuously contrasting to Dimasa Kacharis’ social organization. The different types of prayer, offered at different levels by Herakas have broadly been organized involving their family and village level societal consolidations. Prayer at family level consolidates solidarity at family level, while prayer at village level does the same at village context. However, there is rarely any such ritual that consolidates clan or tribal unity. In olden times, when the practice of head hunting was rampant, the Zeme villages constantly were at feud with each other. So their villages were required to be more organized than tribal organization. At this point, the Zeme Nagas are quite opposite to what the Dimasa Kacharis are.

The new religion among the Zemes calls for unification of the different Zeliangrong tribes. With this aspiration every year (or in alternate year) the Zeliangrong Heraka Association Conference is organized involving all the Zemes irrespective of their sub-tribal, clan, and village level affiliations. The annual pilgrimage to Bhuban Hill temple by Herakas also contributes towards unification of the tribe.

Family, descent and inheritance[edit]

Zeme family predominantly is of nuclear type consisting of the married couple and their unmarried offspring. About 65 per cent households among the Zemes are of elementary family type composed of a married couple and their unmarried children. Only about 11 per cent of the households are of joint family type, where the couple is living along with their married sons or daughters.

The Husband or father is the head of a family. Children of either sex leave their family of orientation one by one as they are getting married. The youngest son most often continues to live with his parents. He looks after the old parents, and on their death he inherits the residential hut, although such property does not have much value.

Zeme society is partri-centric. Both descent and inheritance are reckoned through father’s line. Individual properties among the Zemes are very few and far between. Only some precious ornaments and household articles are considered to be personal. Landed properties (except the recently introduced registered ‘pata’ ploughable land) being nominally possessed, their inheritance is insignificant. The original village founders nominally acquire land that constitutes the village. Whoever subsequently comes and settles down in the village does not acquire any land unless either any of the original landholders donates a portion to him or he acquires that by a token purchase. Such traditional landowner is called Kadeipampeu literally the father of the land. Possession of land by Kadeipampeu is nominal. Anybody in the village can use his land without taking any prior permission. The Kadeipampeu, however, may expect some returns of the commodities produced in his land as gift, which in no case is an obligatory. Nowadays, this custom of paying some return, however, has already become obsolete.

The precious personal properties like ornaments, garments, instruments, weapons, etc. are mostly buried along with the owner on his death. Since the youngest son ultimately lives with parents, the residential hut and the household properties go to him. In this regard a form of ultimogeneture down the male line is found . A female generally does not acquire anything, but the parents can give articles to their daughters while they are still alive.

Kinship terminology[edit]

The Zeme Naga kinship terminology is similar to the South East Asian type. Except one’s own father, father’s elder brother, mother, wife, son and daughter, all other relations are referred by classificatory terms. There are only 11 distinctive terms used to define all the different types of relations. These are viz. Acha, Anai, Apai, Apau, Apui, Apeu/Apei, Akina, Asi, Ana, Anau/ Nang-Pui, Hena/Geching-Peu. Anai is used to define only female relations; while Apai and Apau are to refer grandmother and grandfather’s class and Apui and Apeu/Apei are to refer one’s mother and father. In rest of the cases term pui in the case of female and peu/Pei in the case of male is suffixed, as per the sex of the person addressed.

Relations belong to one particular generation with reference to Ego are usually referred to by a classificatory term. Quite amazingly, in some cases totally contrasting terms are used to the relations of equal genealogical status. For example, “Anai” is used to refer Fa Si, Mo Br Wi, Mo Br Da, Wi Fa Si, Wi Mo, Wi Mo Si, Wi Mo Br Wi, etc. Here, except the Mo Br Da, all the status is one generation above Ego. Wheres, Mo Si, also one generation above Ego, is referred to by “Acha”, a term otherwise used to refer relations below Ego’s generation (i.e. children, grand children, and great grand children’s class). In using kinship terminology, it seems that the father’s side and mother’s sides is also taken into consideration. Cross cousin and parallel cousin are not given an equal status. Fa Si Da/So is coined by “Acha” i.e. equivalent to children and grand children, while Fa Br Da/So is by “Akina” i.e. equivalent to brothers and Sisters. Literally, Parallel cousins are given equal status to Ego’s own brothers and sisters, while Cross Cousins are lowered below Ego’s generation. This perhaps ovately speaks for the weightage that is given to one’s Parallel Cousins in kinship relation. Quite contrary to this practice, the Mo Br Da is called “Anai”, which is usually used for status one generation above Ego. Mo Br So is called both as “Acha” as well as “Apau”, which seem to be even more incongruent. This practice, however, could signify the ambiguous status of the said position. Fa and Fa Br are called “Peu”, but in case of Fa (elder) Br “Hena-Peu” or “Geching-Peu” is used, as a term of reference, but such distention is not made while addressing him. In their myth of origin, the eldest of the seven brothers is named as Geching-peu. Only in the case of brothers and sisters class, the age factor is counted. If the person is senior to the Ego in real age then Akina-pui/-peu is used, or else it is Asi-pui/-peu.

Table: Kinship Terminology among the Zeme Nagas

Kin Types //Term of Reference //Term of Address

* So So), (So Da), (So Wi), (Da Hu), (Br So), (Si So), etc.// Acha (suffix pui for female; peu for male)// Usually by name * Fa Si), (Mo Br Wi), (Mo Br Da), (Wi Fa Si), (Wi Mo), (Wi Mo Si), (Wi Mo Br Wi) etc.// Anai For elderly male and female// Peu and Pui are used * Fa Mo), (Mo Mo), (Mo Br Wi), etc.// Apai// Same as terms of reference * Fa Fa), (Mo Fa), (Mo Br), (Wi Fa), (Wi Fa Br), etc.// Apau// Same as terms of reference * Br), (Si), (Wi Br), (Wi Si), (Fa Br Da), (Fa Br So), (Si Hu), etc.// Akina & Asi (If the addressee is younger than the Ego in actual age then he is referred as Asi)// Same or Peu / Pui is used in case of elderly man and woman, while in case of younger one by name * Fa// Apeu// Peu * Mo// Apui// Pui * Wi// Anau/ Nang-Pui// Taknonymy is used * So) and (Da)//Ana (also Acha)// By name * Fa (elder) Br// Hena-Peu/ Geching-Peu// Peu

NOTE: A (my) + Cha (children) = (My children) Son and Daughter

A(my) + Pau (grand father) = (My grandfather) Grandfather

A(my) + Peu (father) = (My father) Father

Clan organization[edit]

The Zeme word ‘pezatzi’ or ‘hejat’ is equivalent to the English word ‘clan’. In their vocabulary, pekibaume stands for class (i.e. rich/ poor/etc.) and pajzat is equivalent to Hindi ‘jati’, but idiomatically can also be used to mean ‘lineage’, ‘clan’, ‘tribe’ or ‘nationality’. However, the word ‘mekai’/‘mei’/’mai’/‘mi’, which is suffixed with clan name perhaps stands for ‘the people’ or ‘the descendents’. For example, ‘Pa-mei’, which is the name of a Zeme clan, perhaps stands for ‘the descendents of Pa’ – where ‘pa’ is the name of the clan.

Zeme society is divided into several exogamous divisions of patri-clans. Originally Zeme clans perhaps were organized around totemic beliefs and practices. There is no trace of matri-clan system among them. However, in North Cachar Hills, ‘Puimi’, a Zeme word, is held to be equivalent to the Dimasa’s ‘julu’ (the generic term for their metri-clans). And Pame clan of the Zemes is considered equivalent to Dimasa’s Langthasa. Long time interactions of the Zemes with neighboring Dimasas in North Cachar Hills might have influenced each other resulting borrowing of some Dimasa terms by the Zemes and vice versa.

Pamei and Newmei are two major patri-clans among the Zemes. Other clans are apparently seemed to have derived from these two original pari-clans. Thus, the Zeme society fundamentally is organized around moieties or two major clan systems – the Pamei and Newmei . Ursula Bower, although she was not exhaustive, had described total of twelve clans among Kabuis of Manipur. These are namely, Dhakmekai (seems to be same as Dhakmei), Gonmekai, Panmekai, Luongmekai, Marringmekai, Liepmekai, Thaimekai, Paumekai, Pamekai, Khandakmekai, Marrangmekai, and Gaingmekai. Many of these clans are no longer traceable. Of these clans, the first seven do not marry each other, and they seem to constitute one cognate group. The next four clans in the same way constitute the second major group of the tribe. Gaingmekai is a clan which marries with all other clans. If Gaingmekai is an aberration then the Kabui society is clearly segmented into two broad divisions regulating marriages. In Bower’s description of clans, there is no mention of the Newme clan among the Kabuis, which slightly conflicts with the concept of Pamei and Newmei divisions. There are mentions about moiety system among the Nagas, in general, and also among the Zeliangrong group of tribes. The following would substantiate this fact:

1). Stephen Fuchs wrote: “All Naga tribes show traces of an original dual organization which may even have existed in the form of a three-phratries’ system. Thus the Angami Nagas have two phratries (kelhu) one of which is again sub-divided.”… “The Lhota Nagas have a similar system of three nominally exogamous phratries; in practice, however, they observe only clan exogamy.”… “The phratry exogamy is more strictly observed by the Ao Nagas; their Kinship system is very intricate, as instead of two, they have three marriage classes.” “…traces of a dual organization can also be detected among the Konyak Nagas” .

2). U. V. Betts wrote: “The Kabui Nagas have a division into exogamous moieties, each moiety comprising some six clans; there is a third unit, comparable to Nkwoami, which marries into either moiety” .

3). Betts had described Kabui folklore regarding the origin of the moieties. According to which, Nriami and Neomi (may be same as Nriame and Newmei – the two important clans of the Zemes) are to be the two moieties. The story goes as “Nriami was the son of a female spirit called Hera-tingrang-pui. One day an egg fell from the sky and landed near Nriami then claimed that he was the elder and therefore the master, but Neomi disputed this, saying that he came from heaven and so was the more important. Neomi married Nriami’s daughter. In the course of time their descendants multiplied and spread out from Nui, their place of origin, and became the ancestors of all the Nzemi, Kabui and Lyengmai” .

Among Rongmei Nagas, Pamei, a clan, is divided into several sub-clans viz., Kamei (Kaamei), Phaomei, Singongmei, Kamson, Malangmei, Khangdangmei, Thankang, Daimei, and the Pamei itself. All Pamei sub-clans, except Malangmei, have one single totem, the wild green pigeon (Ahuina) that is the tabooed food for the entire clan and its sub-clans. Malangmei has separate totem in the form of the black monkey (Paang). Newmei is also found among all the four cognate groups, which is also divided into several sub-clans viz., Gonmei, Panmei, Rammei, Dangmei, Abonmei, Thaimei, Rongmei, Gonthangmei, etc. .

In another view, the Rongmei Nagas society was originally divided into seven clans, of which three eventually emerged as principal clans, viz. Kamei, Gaangmei and Gonmei . Mr. Makuga, who himself a Rongmei, wrote the details of the folktale of seven brothers and their killing of a monstrous python. The python was an evil spirit that devoured their lone sister, named Lhu. According to this tale the seven clans of Rongmeis were created from the seven brothers, and named from the seven important acts that they performed in killing the python. The narrative suggests that the name of the first clan “Gonmei” was derived from the word Gontangmei meaning the destination as one of the brother first reached the destination in pursuit of the python who later became the first man of the clan. The second clan “Kamei” derived from the word Kamson meaning the weakest, as youngest of the seven brothers, the weakest one first caught hold of the python . The third clan “Gaangmei” derived from the word Gaangmei meaning gain/ vistory, as one of the brothers announced their victory over the python. The fourth clan “Dahaangmei” derived from the word Danghangmei that signifies to a process of butchering python (?) without shedding off any blood, as one of the brothers cut the python in that manner to distribute its meat among the villagers. The fifth clan “Kalangmei” derived from the word Kalang meaning the separate shares, as one of the brothers distributed the meat into separate portion among the people. The sixth clan “Maringmei” derived from the word Mairngmei meaning to keep the fire burning, as one of the brothers keep the fire burning i.e. Mairingmei, while others were busy in cutting and distributing the python. Finally, the seventh clan called “Remmei” derived from the same word Remmei meaning the remaining portion of the meat, as he was given the remaining portion of the meat as his share .

At present, there are several sub-clans under each of the three principal Rongmei clans. Such as, (i) Gonmei is divided into Gonthangmei, Gondaimei, Dahaangmei, Paalmei, Maringmei, Thaimei, Longmei, Remmei, etc.; (ii) Gaangmei into Pheiga, Kaipee, Kaibaa, and Kamang Gaangmei; and finally (iii) Kaamei is divided into sub-clans of Kamson, Paomei, Paamei, Malangmei, Kaamei, etc.

The Zeme terms ‘me’ or ‘mei’ stands to mean a tribe or jati and ‘cha’, possibly derived from ‘acha’ meaning the children, indicates the descendents are often suffixed with the clan and sub-clan names respectively. So on the basis of the ending of a name it could be ascertained whether it is a main clan (i.e. me or mei) or a sub-clan (i.e. cha). In North Cachar Hills, the following main clans and their sub-divisions/ sub-clans are found:

1. Pamei / Panme / Panmei/ Npame (probably the eldest of the clan) 2. Newme (the youngest of the clan)  : At present the Newme clan is further divided into seven sub-clans, viz. Hegonachingcha, Samnagangcha, Nchucha, Herengcha / Rengchame, Disuang/ Diswangchame, Newraume, and Tingbumcha. 3. Kwame 4. Nriame: At present Nriame is further divided into two sub-clans, viz. Nchepeuriame and Bowriame. 5. Heneume 6. Zainme 7. Ngame /Game 8. Dainme 9. Garengchame 10. Zuipuiname

In addition to the above main clans and sub-clans, there are some minor clans (minor because they have very small population) recorded in the district. These are Kezamriang, Namnangcha, Keleipaicha, Hangpongcha, Namtunglungka, Dapucha, Itutcha and Tasongcha. Many of them are likely to be sub-clans under one or the other principal clans of the Zemes, but exactly with which clans they originally belong could not be traced. The process of fission and fusion involving the different Zeliangrong tribes resulting mixing up of their clans perhaps had happened time and again. In North Cachar Hills, Panmei (or Impanmi) is believed to be descended from immigrant bodies of Kabui Nagas. Similarly, Ngami (or Gamei) is said to be almost certainly a clan of Angami origin. Ngami believed to be simply the Central Nzeme name for the Angamis. Incorporation of population from the slave trade of the Angamis reported to have further created smaller clans, such as Ndaimi (i.e. Daime) and Hasanmi (a clan that I could not record). Their dialects do differ spatially even within a few miles area, which easily could lead to formation of regional types. Further, remixing (fusion) of population, within and outside, does further create diversities in nomenclature. Therefore, documentation of clan system for the entire Zeme society becomes difficult.

Moieties no longer regulate marriage rules. The people perhaps have forgotten that such a system was ever existed among them. Of late, some of their principal clans have been sub-divided into smaller clans, as disproportionate size rendered them inviable to regulate marriages. The Newme clan, being too large, smaller clans cannot provide bride to all eligible members of this group. At the same time finding groom for Newme girls in other smaller clans has equally become a problem. Thus, the Newme has been subdivided into seven smaller clans (or sub-clans) from seven hypothetical descendants. The people maintain exogamy rule only at the sub-clan level. Nobody marries within any of the Newme sub-clans, but the same is allowed between any two sub-clans within it. Breaking up of large clans into several smaller clans, as found here, could enlighten our understandings on the general process of clan formation by fission/ bi-farcation process. Such findings, at least among the Nagas, are not new. J. H. Hutton had described almost a similar phenomenon among Sema Nagas. The following quotation would substantiate this:

“The twenty-two clans have been given in the list as exogamous, but although these twenty-two are still recognized as the genuine Sema clans, many of them have long ceased to be in any sense exogamous. The smaller ones, Katenimi, Kibalimi, Khuzhomi, Tsukomi, Wokhami, Wotzami, and Chekemi, still appear to remain exogamous, at any rate as a general rule, as also the Ayemi, who even avoid marriage with the Chekemi as being too nearly related”….“The Muromi also are said to be still exogamous. Of the others the Awomi have, as already noticed, split into two divisions which without compunction intermarry with one another as well as with outside clans. A further split in the Awomi was attempted in the last generation by Kiyelho of Seromi, father of Kivilho, the present Awomi chief of that village. He said that his ancestors, though incorporated with the Awomi clan, came from Yetsimi and were not of the same stock as the original Sema nucleus, and that in future he and they would intermarry with the rest of the Awomi at will and form a separate clan” .

Many of the Zeme clans apparently do match with Rongmei Naga clans, if one ignores minor spelling variations that otherwise may occur quite naturally in a highly tonal Naga dialect. As for example, Gaangmei, Paamei and Kaamei clans of the Rongmei Nagas may be same as to Game/ N-Game, Pame/ Panme and Kaamei respectively of the Zemes.

Games and sports[edit]

The Zeme boys and girls play several kinds of games known since time immemorial. Many of their games are endowed with specific social and religious values. Major activity of youths in a dormitory is centered on the different games that are played in the morning and evening every day. Many of the athletic games like long jump, wrestling, etc. apparently seem to be of Western origin, but these as purely traditional sporting activities. Long jump has got a profound significance in the Zeme socio-religious life. This is considered to be a sign of vigor, prosperity, and youthfulness. Whenever a new village is constructed, the long jump site is made as an integral part of it. A new village begins its life only after performing a ritual at the long jump sites. Many games are played in connection with their annual community celebrations. Such games are played with the hope of bringing prosperity and youthfulness to the village community life.

Among the games played by the Zemes, the following may be mentioned :

A. Hejo/ Hezua or long jump: The long jump site called “Hejo” is constructed invariably alongside the village dormitory. A big mound of loose earth called “Hejondang” measuring about 4 feet in width and 30 feet in length is kept secluded for this purpose. A slab of stone called “Hejo-dekung” is laid at one end of the mound. The athlete runs towards it from some distance, pauses for an instant on the stone for balancing the body and take the jump. The distance covered by a jumper is usually measured by the marks made by the feet where the jumper lands on the mound.

B. Teri: It is a race run along the slope of a hill outside the village.

C. Hetung: The two (or two groups) contestants held the opposite ends of a pole measuring about 5 foot facing each other, and each try to push the opponent backward until he fall down on the ground. The contestant who pushed the other one on ground is declared the victor.

D. Hepua or wrestling: In this game two persons competes in which one tries to lift the other by the waist and throw him to the ground. The successful person is the victor.

E. Mapei Kaube: In this game a pig’s skull is hung on a pole of about 8 feet high. The pole is well greased with fat or oil. The competitors are to try to climb up the pole and take away the pig’s head. Whoever is first to do so is declared as the winner.

D. Ngsuhiabe: This is a spear throwing game. At some distance a target is fixed and the contestants are supposed to hit the same to earn points.

Phases of life[edit]


The newborn baby is washed with Luke-warm water immediately after birth. The baby is not washed again until the fifth day. An experienced old woman in the village attends the delivery. For such services, women are given token remunerations during the celebration of the annual Liamagakeu. Strict pollution involving the mother and the newborn baby is observed till the performance of 5th day ritual, until then the mother is kept in isolation. During this period, the mother sleeps separately in a separate bed and uses a separate hearth for cooking. She, however, could share the same living room along with other family members. The members of the household observe tingna for these five days. At the end of the fifth day, the mother stealthily disposes off all the cooking utensils at the back of the house, which were used by her during tingna. While the mother performs this act, the husband stays near. He keeps vigil so that none could watch her throwing the things away. Even the husband is forbidden to watch his wife, as she does the act. During five days tingna, the members of the household cannot work in their own field, but they can in other’s. The mother of the child stays strictly at home during the period. Any food brought from outside must not be taken and the members of the household must live on food, which is available within the precincts of the house. If at the time of delivery the father happens to be out of the house, he is not allowed to enter until sunset .

On the fifth day, a ritual called Henapeikanaube or Kebapopatpe is performed in which Herawang is propitiated. In this ritual a cock is sacrificed. Before performance of the ritual, the father shaves the head of the newborn (if he is not present, someone of the equivalent status can do the job). On this date, the child is given a suitable name. This name giving ceremony is called Hezi’ntak. Relatives and friends are invited to a feast preferably on pork and their compulsory national drink – zau. Name identical to any relation who is still alive is never given. However, name of a dead relative is preferred. Ancestors who had done heroic deed are of the usual favorite. It is believe that if the child is given the name of any living relative latter would die soon for a substitute of him has arrived . The naming ceremony completes with the ritual performed for the well being of the newborn. Another ritual called Pebamteura is performed on the 1st full moon day following the birth. It is believed that during fetus stage when the baby is still in mother’s womb it does not require its own pulse. But, once the umbilical cord is severed, the baby becomes independent. The baby no longer can survive without its own pulse. In Pebamteura ritual, the parents of the newborn invoke (or perform a magical trick or both) supernatural beings to incorporate the newborn’s pulse into its body. In this ritual, a fowl is sacrificed (a cock in case the baby is a male, or a hen for the girl).

In the reformed religion, birth is welcome though a little different set of cultural responses. Naming of the newborn is done on the very day of its birth. However, if the baby is frequently weeping without any known reason whatsoever, it may be straightforwardly considered that the proposed name is not suiting the baby. In such an occasion, on the fifth day of its birth a second name is given, which subsequently becomes the name of the child. On this day, a prayer is offer by Paikiana youth (the youth of the paiki), and following that the mother and the baby become pollution free. In the household, a small gathering is arranged in which drinks of local rice beer is served. If the person is rich enough, he may invite the whole village to an impressive dinner. Herakas do not sacrifice any animal, and the concept of pollution involving the mother and the newborn until fifth day is not that strongly observed. During pollution period now the mother can do almost everything except going to sacred places like temple or paiki. The family members of the newborn and also the youths who offer prayer on behalf of the newborn on the 5th day do obrserve tingna.

Marriage: initiation to reproductive life[edit]

Age at marriage[edit]

Adult marriage is the usual practice. Males in the tribe usually do not marry before 18 years of age, while for the female it is slightly lower. Based on statistics from four villages, the average age at marriage for male is found to be 25 years, while that for females is 19 years.

Rule of spouse selection[edit]

The Zeme society similar to many other Nagas said to be originally divided into two vertical segments of moieties. Such vertical divisions have now become obsolete, as in marriage regulations this is no longer counted. The village organization has also nothing to do with marriage regulation. The people are free to marry both within and outside the village. And marriage within the village is more prevalent . In marriage, the rules of clan exogamy and tribe endogamy are maintained . Monogamy apparently is the usual tribal practice. I never had come across anybody with two spouses at the same time. No case of polygami is ever hared among the tribe, at least in recent time. C. A. Soppit, in his account on Kachcha Nagas, however, mentioned that a man is allowed two wives, though it is rare to find a man with more than one. But, more than two is never recognized . Polygyny has been recorded to be quite frequent among other Naga tribes, particularly among the chiefs and wealthy people. A Sema can marry his father’s wife, of course, other than his own mother . Cross cousin marriage on both paternal and maternal sides (i.e. Fa-Si-So/Da and Mo-Br-So/Da) is allowed, but not a compulsory preferential type. Parallel cousin marriage only on the maternal side (i.e. Mo-Si-So/Da) is allowed. Marrying one’s Parallel Cousin on the paternal side would be equal to marrying within the same patri-clan, which is always prohibited. Divorce and Remarriage for both sexes are in vogue. Among most of the Nagas, divorce is as simple as anything could be by that name, and so is the case among the Zemes. If both the parties agreed upon, it could happen even without any public intervention. Dissolution of marriage requires returning of the bride price. In the case of widow remarriage, her in-laws would charge bride price from her new husband. But, when the woman leaves her in-laws’ house, on her becoming widow, her natal has to repay the bride price. Once I asked an elderly Zeme in Mahur much to my innocene than being rude to ask such a blatant question that whether one is required to marry a widow or they could simply live together on mutual consent. I received a sharp reply, "How could a man go into a woman without getting married?" after a pause he continued, "Men are not animal".

These days, infringement into clan exogamy rule, particularly involving certain clans (e.g. Nriame, Newme) and tribe endogamy involving their kindred group (e.g. Liangmei, Rongmei) are quite frequent. Of course, such marriages are not solemnized following tribal custom. Most of such derelictions are results of love affair ended up with elopements. Marriage by elopment without violating the rule of clan exogamy and tribe endogamy, however, is the most prevalent type of marriage among the new generation Zemes. One of the reasons to prefer this type of marriage is low expenditure incurred in the process. Some of the numerically huge clans are now losing their ground, and have got bifurcated into smaller functional divisions or sub-clans. The people now often marry within the main clan, excepting one’s own sub-clan.

In several occasions I was mockingly given proposal to marry a Zeme girl. In one occasion, a lady even argued that Zeme girl, being expert on all kinds of domestic works, would be a better substitute for a Benguli, latter being lazy at home. Perhaps, I could have married a Zeme girl without much dismay of the Zeme society. A similar act involving any Dimasa girl would be possible under no circumstance without inviting infuriated wrath of the community. But, even if succeeded, it would never be possible to live as a member of the tribe. Compare to Dimasa Kacharis, clan organization among the Zemes has never been so rigid. Strong clan tie perhaps does not allow the Dimasa Kacharis to violate its norms in marriage regulations. In the whole of North Cachar Hills, I came across only one or two instances where Dimasa girl eloped with non-Dimasa boy and the infuriated society reacted duly by excommunicating the poor girl from mainstream life. Such a girl no longer is taken into the Dimasa society. On the contrary among Zeme Nagas marrying outside the tribe is not rare. Zeme girls are often found married with Hmar, Kuki or even non-tribals like Bengali, Nepali and Hindi speaking boys, and quite comfortably settled down in the same society. Presence of certain amount of lexity in marriage custom and in sexual life makes the Zeme society quite a unique one and sharply contrasting to the Dimasas.

The marriage process starts through family level dialogue, which is perhaps the most common practice everywhere. The proposal usually comes from the boy’s side. In olden times, once negotiation was settled, the boy was to work on behalf of his would be father in law for minimum one year. During this period he used to reside in his would be in law’s hut. This custom is called Henaumbangbambe. In traditional context, the whole wedding ceremony was more of a social affair than a religious one. In the new religion, of course, marriage is solemnized in Zeme temple (kelumki) under auspicious role of a priest (Tingkupau). The custom of paying bride price (Kelakchakpe) is still prevalent. The traditional practice of offering virginity price (Pmsanggei) is, however, the most unique feature of Zeme marriage custom. This practice speaks that the society encourages girls to be virgin, but at the same time does not deplore her for doing otherwise. In Zeme society an illegitimate issue is not rebucked, but accepted without any fiasco . Sexual liberty equally for both man and woman speaks for better-poised gender relations.

The wedding process: Negotiation to nuptial consumption[edit]

These days, the marriage procedure has become much simpler a practice than what the people once used to observe. Marriage by simple love and elopement is as simple as anything could be by that name. At best, the boy’s family simply gives a feast to the village community.

The customary procedure, however, is a very elaborate system lasting for many days starting from negotiation process to the final consumption.

Mutual selection of life partner is the usual way of going. The celebrations give the right opportunity for the young boys and girls to come together and eventually to select their mutual life partners. Among Heraka Zemes, apart from other festive occasions, the Rani Gaidinlieu’s birthday celebration is one of the occasions for making courtship. Once they make up their mind, their parents are involved to finalize the matter. Negotiation marriage becomes rarer, as marriage by love and elopement becomes a common practice. In one of the Gaidinlieu’s birthday celebration I took part. I spend the whole night dancing with the youths in great marry makings. Next day, to my utter surprise many of the girls with whom I had develope some acquaintances and with whom I spend the previous night in marry-making were no more available in the village. They eloped with their respective fiancés. Similarly, some youths in the village brought their brides from outside. In Asonghaju, among several other Zeme youths Phartik was one in the group of my close associates. He was an illegitimate boy . His mother never disclosed the secret of her affair. Phartik, a hanky young boy of not more than 20 years had eloped with a girl of another village. A couple of days later, he returned along with his bride, a girl seemingly much older as well as overweight than he was. He did not require giving any penalty feast. But, Phartick might have had given a small feast to his friends and relatives later on, which I could not verify before I leave the village. In customary practice of “marriage by elopement”, the couple is to be brought by the boy’s parents only after giving a promise to the village community for a tribal feast.

Social negotiation for marriage begins with parental interactions. The boy’s parents either send proposal to the girl’s parents or visit straightforwardly the bride’s residence for the purpose. The first one is the usual practice. The girl’s parents never press their views upon her, but only consult for her opinion. In the case when the boy and the girl are already mutually agreed, as happened in most occasions, such a negotiation is only a formality .

The customary practice of wedding begins as the process of the groom’s party (consisting of his parents, relatives and friends) arrives at bride’s house. Usually the party comes a day in advance. At night, the bride price (Hemipeibe) is settled through mutual negotiation. There are of course lots of mock arguments between both sides. The boy’s side wants to give less, while the girl’s demands more. Such arguments continue for some time, and ultimately it is accepted. Everybody knows what should be the amount as per the tribal custom. For the chief’s girls, for commoners, the price is more or less fixed kind. The negotiation is merely a part of the wedding celebration. The bride price is paid both in cash and kind. The offering is presented formally on a traditional ball metal dish called Tiakok. The boy’s side brings the said utensil for this purpose.

On the scheduled day of wedding, a healthy cock is sacrificed. This customary practice is called Nruipidapebe. The bird is sacrificed by throttling its neck for some shamanic observation. The omen is calculated as good if the right leg of the bird goes across left. The reverse is considered awful. The bad omen, however, would not prevent the wedding celebration, nor would dampen the spirit of it. This only may brew some anxiety in the minds of relatives of both the parties assuming that the spouses may not be absolutely happy from the union. The whole matter, however, is left to god . The sacrificed cock is cooked and the feast is consumed.

Feast is the most important deliberation in any community gathering irrespective of it is a ritual celebration or a civic function like wedding. The bride’s parents slaughter several big animals like buffalo, pig, cow, goat, chicken, etc. Their kin and kiths also join hand contributing different animals and birds to the feast. Many others who attend the wedding bring along with them different livestock as wedding presents. A major part of the flesh (raw and cooked) nicely packed in banana leaves, is parceled to the boy’s village. If the girl’s parents are economically challenging, the village youths would join hands to gather enough subscriptions from the village to meet the expense.

Next day, the marriage procession returns. The newly married couple and the groom’s party joined by some of the girl’s relatives and her parents set out for the groom’s village on foot march. This anyway would be a gala procession tracking down the forest path. Residence after marriage is ‘patrilocal’, in which the girl has to move out to her husband’s village for settlement. Just before the party leaves, the bride’s father slaughters more livestock to be taken to the groom’s village. A Zeme girl starts weaving cloths from the day of her first thought of getting married. On her loom she captures her dream in the form of a special cloth ‘Paiso’ for her would be groom. The groom dresses up on Paiso on the wedding day.

In the convoy, the bride carries Dekui-zao (local alcoholic drinks) filled in Mpaumeila (a gourd container nicely decorated by wrapping a specific piece of cloth called Henepai around its neck). The other participants in the convoy carry meat, local drinks (dekui-zao), and other endowments presented to the newly married couple. Cloths weaved by the bride on her maiden days are carried on in an outstanding way of displaying. These are put up on a bamboo pole to be carried horizontally by two bearers so that on reaching destination, the onlookers can glimpse on the colorful cloths weaved by the bride to capture their great admiration. The set of cloths carried on this special way is called Paikangpomeibe. The husband of the bride’s elder sister gets an important place in the party. He is given the prestige of carrying the head of the most prestigious kills – a pig or a buffalo. For this role he is called Kebak-Peipungpeu or Kebui-peipungpeu or in short Pungpeu (i.e. kebak = pig; kebui = buffalo; Pei = head; pung = the carrier; Peu = father or equivalent to father). Wealth is displayed by showing the type of livestock killed in the wedding feast. In absence of sister’s husband, the prevelage of carrying pig’s head is shifted to a close kin of equivalent status. The convoy is lead by the groom, followed by his bride and then all other participants.

As the party reaches the village, some iron utensils are kept at the doorstep so that the newly married couple enter into the house crossing over them. Iron stands for qualities like cool/soft as well as hard/solid/strength. The bride and the groom are thereby supposed to imbibe the characters of iron – cool (i.e., good temper, free from disease and illness) and hard (i.e., solid on their marital bond and physical strength) .

To commemorate the occasion, a gala feast is arranged by the boy’s parents. Parcels of meat and drink brought in from the bride’s village are consumed in the banquet. The evening is passed with lots of fanfare and entertainments. Pungpau now demand price from the boy’s party. A very exorbitant demand than what would finally be given is pressed as a customary practice. A drama similar to the one already enacted at the time of finalizing the bride price is once again staged with role reversal of the two parties. The groom’s representatives vociferously refuse to pay that much. They throw the animal heads on the ground complaining that they can’t give so much for so little. Such oral riddle goes on as part of entertainment till both the parties are exhausted and finally a deal is settled. Nobody wins or loses at the end, but the participants get much amusement from the debate. While such mock presentations were going on, at some point of time, the boy’s party enquires from the girl’s parents if they would like to take ‘Pumsanggei’ (virginity price). The matter is confirmed after consulting the bride. Virginity is a social value. Therefore, it is prestigious for the parents to take its price. It is believed that the girl would never tell a lie on this matter for fear of bringing a devine curse on her marital life.

The gala feast concludes the wedding celebration. The bride stays for some days at the house of her husband. During this period she is not allowed to use any of the articles that she has brought from her natal. Whatever she needs is provided from the husband’s side. After some days, the bride’s father gives another feast called Mpuimi in which the newly weds are especially invited. The couple receives blessings from the elderly members of the tribe. This act eventually completes the wedding ritual. They finally return to the groom’s village. The girl can henceforth use any of her belongings.

Death: Journey to other world[edit]

In Zeme concept, death is a fate of misfortune resulted from spirit mal-tricks. No sooner a person dies, a male member in the family go out with a knife on his hand and starts shouting outrageously calling on the name of the evil spirit responsible for the death. He violently moves around, leaping and jumping, and often thrust blows with the knife on different posts of the hut and on objects around in a great fury. This way he denounces the evil spirit responsible for the dead, and also thereby try to frighten the spirit so that it dare not to cast his evil influences once again upon the family . His infuriated uproar, however, automatically broadcast the news of the death that eventually draws the necessary attentions from the villagers – the kin and kiths inhabiting there.

After death, as the Zemes say, the soul of the deceased go to the dead men’s land called Heruimaram. In olden time, the concept of hell and heaven was not so conspicuous. Nowadays, the Heraka Zemes have more clear ideas regarding Hevean and Hell, as introduced by Jadonang.

Corps is buried observing elaborate rituals. The body is handled with care and attentions. It is bathed on lukewarm water. The water boiled along with some pieces of bark of a tree called MPUP. The meaning and reason of this practice is not clear. The deceased is offered with foods and refreshments. The journey to Heraimaram is long and arduous. The dead man would require sufficient foodstuff in the journey. Dekui-zao along with a few pieces of zinger is offered in a bamboo container. It is kept beside the corps’ head. Boiled rice is offered, in the same way as he used to be served while he was alive. The offering is called Taklu-Kuabe literally ‘rice for the dead’. A fowl is killed and hanged above the bed on which the corpse is lying. This ritual is called Hekokeibe. The path leading to the dead men’s land (Heraimaram) is neither completely dark nor completely illuminated, but somewhat likes the pre-dawn period. The spirit of the bird so sacrificed will suppose to guide the deceased by its cockcrow, as a bird of its kind always does under half-dark and half-day situation. A pig is killed to feed the deceased. A curry is prepared on all vital organs of the animal (e.g. the heart, liver and kidney) . A round bead (black in color), used in Zeme necklaces, is cut into two halves and placed over either of the eyes. Belief in life after death is the key behind such elaborate mortuary rituals. The practice of placing two halves of the black beads supposed to assure perfect eyes in the next birth. The black bead represents the black eye ball. Similarly, a few pieces of white conch’s shell are placed over the deceased’s teeth for good white teeth in next birth.

Most of the key individual belongings (e.g., dress, utensils, knife, etc.) of the deceased are offered as his grave-goods. The ritual of offering valuables in the grave is called Dekatiambe. Drinks and food staffs sufficient for the journey to Heruimaram (Heraka) is also given in a basket called NKA. The Nka is to be filled by the village priest ‘Tingkupau’ or by an elderly person of the village. He, while packing the basket, utters “Hekeun neuje teunuai” meaning “take this meal as given on it”.

The following provisions of edibles are given in the basket:

a. Rice-beer or zao is offered in a gourd container called Hechitla.

b. Raw rice is given in a container Teumakbichei (any container on which rice grain is kept is called Hebichei, which is of two types: one on which rice is kept for storing purposes called Teumakbichei, and the one on which grain is kept for current use is called Teubichei). In the case of offering grain to the deceased in Teumakbichei, the practice symbolically denotes that the grain would be used in future.

c. Cooked rice is offered, which is carefully rapped on plantain leafs. As many as seven or eight packets are given. The belief is that on the way to Heraimaram, the deceased would encounter with his ancestors who predeceased him, and he must offer these cooked rice packets to them for receiving their blessings and guidance in the new land. The seniority order of the ancestors is to be counted while offering such gift. On the way to Heraimaram, the first destination the deceased reached is Hekaunneuje – the place where the moon sleeps during day. He meets his ancestors there. He offers the pack of rice to his predeceased ancestors. Only one packet of rice is kept for his self-consumption, and another one for his favorite pet (a dog or a cat) accompanying him on his journey to Heraimaram. At Hekeunneuje, the deceased take his first meal along with his favorite pet on his long journey in the dead men’s world.

Goods to be offered are separately packed in a basket, which is to be done by an old man or by the Tingkupao. The following other items are offered:

a. A packet of salt wrapped in banana leaf is offered. The deceased should offer this pack to the inhabitants of Heruimaram to make them pleased. The inhabitants of Heruimaram would help him to gain a place over there.

b. A few spines Ntit-chi and Gareuchitu (name of plants) are given. Some fruits of Ntit are also given in the basket. It is believed that on way to Heruimaram the deceased would encounter with Tingchurik-pui (literally the mother of ugly warms). Tingchurik-pui is an ugly woman with long dirty hair infested with filthy insects. She does not allow any deceased to bypass her without serving her. One has to clear her hair. However, since the job is a very dirty business, nobody likes it to do the same. Plant spines and Ntit-chi (i.e. fruits of Ntit) are given so that the deceased could cheat Tingchurik-pui – the ugly women. With the spines some pinches are given on the Tingchurik-pui’s head, and at the same time the fruits are crushed; the pinching effects and the crushing sounds so produced are as if insects are picked up and cracked. This way the deceased get release from the ugly woman without doing any work at all.

A basket, packed with these above-mentioned items, is offered to the deceased as the old man or the Tingkupao utters “Inenang dekati am azeajao kelu delei” meaning “everything has been offered to you so everything for us should be good. Once all the parcels are packed, the old man act as if to offer some more salt, but nothing more is actually given.

Now the corps is ready for burial . In the graveyard bed, the body is buried on filling the grave. A basketry container filled with paddy husk is placed over the burial and set it on fire. The final meal is served to the deceased over the burial. This meal is offered every day until the next annual Hegang’i festival is held in the month of November or December. A memorial stone is placed over the burial on the 32nd day of the annual Liamegakeu observation called Keringi.

In 1942, Ursula Graham Bower described her observation on funeral rites from Laisong. I may quote some excerpts from her noting:

“The man died at dawn. Many of the villagers were in the fields, so arrangements were made by his own dekachang only, and no mithan was killed, as he was poor. The grave was a square pit in very stony ground. A hollow the length of the pit (which was about 7×7×7&nbsp ft) about 3 feet wide and 2 high was scraped out of one side at the bottom. The coffin was of white wood, very shallow; the hollow could not have been more than a couple of inches deep. The body, covered with one old cloth, lay in it, tied to it with bamboo thongs, with the shield on top, covering the body completely….Once laid in the grave, a basket with food, grave-goods etc. was laid at the head. The hollow was then closed by large slabs stood on edge, the crannies being well filled in with smaller stones. Stones and earth were then flung into the pit, and the shaft filled with earth. During the filling in, an old woman (any old woman will do) poured some of the funeral zao kasang from a laoki into the shaft. When it was all filled in and a mound left, bamboo panjis were stuck into the mound and all caught hold of them in turn, saying (so I was told later), “There will be rice in the fields. There will be no bad dreams.” When all had finished, the bamboos were pulled out & thrown away (should have been broken, but I did not see)” .

The Heraka Zemes do not perform any sacrificial rite. However, a prayer song is sung on completion of the burial. And since they do not perform the annual Liamegakeu festival, as their ancestor used to do, the memorial stone is placed on a suitable day.

Some of the customary beliefs and practices followed by the Zeme Nagas in connection with disposal of corps are as follows:

a. In burial pith the deceased is placed pointing his head towards his dwelling house.
b. If a person dies falling from a tree, the death is considered as to be good; as such a person goes to stright to Herawang. A person died falling from a tree is called Hingbang-chit-chaibe.
c. The Perese Zemes consider a woman died on her pregnancy to be of good luck as such a soul goes straight to Herawang. This is not the same among the Heraka Zemes. I also have a doubt, as among other Nagas such death is considered as to be not good.
d. If a newborn baby dies before the fifth day of its birth i.e. the initiation ritual of a newborn, the body is not buried as like an adult observing full burial customs. Such a death is buried simply without any ritual observance, and preferably at a place close to the house.


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