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The Chothe tribe is one of the Old Kuki group of clans found in some parts of Manipur, India. Some historians and anthropologists had recorded them as "Purums" which is a misnomer. At times the Chothe have been confused with the Purum of India.
Chothe villages form an executive body to administer themselves. Often an opposition group will also be formed to help scrutinize the functioning of the governing body of the village. Whenever a new Chothe village is established, its leaders are elected through competitions participated in by the representatives of each clan of the tribe. Then the posts are distributed according to the merits of the competitors. The governing body of a Chothe village is called "Hloukal." The Hloukal hold its meeting at a meeting place called "Ruisang" built of wood and thatch. There are usually seven different posts in the Chothe village government. Each of these seven posts is held by the seven main clans.
Apart from the Hloukal the Chothes also have another body called the "Loumi" represented by the same clans of the community. The body also has seven posts which are transferable from one clan to another. This body acts as the opposition to the village administration. The Loumi participate in all meetings called by the Hloukal. In general, the Hloukal cannot make important decisions without the consent of the Loumi. The Loumi also has the right to dismiss any member of the Hloukal but only with the support of its own members and the elders of the village. This system of semi-democratic self-administration tradition has always been a part of Chothe history.
SOCIAL ORGANISATION It is interesting how the Chothes established their villages and administer themselves. When they choose a place for settlement, the priests and elders perform various forms of rituals. Bad and good omens were predicted through these rituals. In one case, the neck of a cock was slit with a knife, leaving it half-alive and let go within the location chosen for settlement. If the cock fell dead on its right side, it was interpreted as a bad omen (SHII), that is, it was not good to settle in that particular place. If the cock fell dead on its left side, it was a good omen (CHANG), that is, it is fortunate to settle at the place; and they would settle in that place. After constructing their houses, it was time to choose leaders to administer the village.
Under the strict observation of esteemed elders, competitions were held to fill up the posts in the village administrative organization that consists of a governing group (Hloukal) and opposition/steering group (Loumi). The Chothe tribe has seven major clans.
CLANS SUB-SIBS Makan---Kankung, Kankung, Laishi. Mareem---Rimphungchong, Rimkung, Rimkelek, Piling. Yuhlung---Trangkim. Khiyaang---Aihung, Lungkung, Khiyaang-Inpi, Khiyaang-Inte. Thao---Thaokung, Thaorun, Thaochungchung. Rangshai---Teyu. Parpa-Rakung---No sub sib.
Each main seven clans would nominate a representative in such competitions who were to follow strict rules and regulations. The first one to see the sunrise or stood first in any other competition was made the village chief, Hulaak. Like this, the competitor who came in second rank would hold the post of the village’s assistant chief, Luk-laak. The remaining main posts and other subsidiary posts would be distributed among the rest of the competitors, based on their ranks in the competitions.A competitor may be substituted by another man from his own clam depending upon the wisdom and consent of the village elders. The officials given the said posts collectively form the governing/executive committee called Hloukal.
In the case of the steering or opposition group Loumi, its officials were selected from the rest of the competitors. The chief of Loumi belongs to the clan that holds the position of Changrui in the Hloukal. In that reversed order, a clansman belonging to the Hulaak in the Hloukal would hold the lowest post in the Loumi establishment (i.e. Changrui).The administrative posts of the governing establishments (both Hloukal and Loumi) are semi-democratically transferred from one to another. This traditional form of administrating themselves had existed since ages. To speak in other words, this tradition of self-administration was adopted since they set foot on this earth.
Each of the seven clans hold one of the seven posts created in both the Hloukal and the Loumi. Both Hloukal and Loumi have seven prominent posts each.
The posts in the Hloukal are Hulaak (Chief) Luklaak (Assistant Chief) Yupaal-Ulin (in charge of religious rites and festivals) Yupaal-Naopang (also in charge of traditional rites and customs) Keirung (in charge of granary and stocks) Shelrung (in charge of economic and financial affairs) Changrui (in charge of propagating information)
Another group of the same seven clans will form a committee called Loumi. This Loumi acts as the opposition or steering group in the village administration. It observes the functioning of the Hloukal.
The posts in the Loumi are Hancha (Opposition leader) Hithaang (second opposition leader) Hunchal Yupaal Asuh-arang Tlongthichoi-Ulin Tlongthichoi-Naopang
There is no definite tenure for any of the posts in the administrative establishments. All the posts are transferred from one another. When the chief (Hulaak) likes to retire, he will transferred his post to his assistant, Luklaak. The Luklaak becomes the chief and hands over his earlier post to his immediate subordinate. This system continues until the post of Changrui is vacant and taken over by a clansman from the one who had earlier been the chief. The tradition continues uninterrupted for ages. The opposition group, Loumi also follows this same system. A Chothe village has a traditional community hall called Ruisang, where the Hloukal and the Loumi hold meetings. This Ruisang also serves as the village court.
Whenever there is a meeting or function in a village, it is mandatory that the Opposition leader, Hancha be given a special spot to sit or just next to the village Chief.
To change a village Chief, the members of the Loumi or those of the Hloukal call for a meeting. Then, the Chief vacates his office and his Assistant would replace him. The same tradition applies in the case of the Loumi too.
If a villager commits any crime and attracts the attention of the Hloukal, the administrator in the Hloukal and representing the clan, to which the accused belongs, would be compelled to resign from his post. His vacant post will be filled by his immediate subordinate till another man belonging to his own clan takes over the post of the Changrui.In the hierarchy of the village organization Hloukal, the post of Changrui is regarded as the lowest.
Different forms of punishing criminals were practiced in the olden days. In one case,
Another group of people called RUI assists the village administrators. The Hloukal appoints them. The duties of the RUI include serving and ushering people; perform errands, and others as instructed by their superiors. This Rui was again divided into Rui-Ulin and Rui-Naopang, that is, Senior and Junior groups. There was a post called Rui-tolpa. It means the youngest of the Rui members or the lowest ranking member of the Rui.
Notification for a meeting or important event is announced by a village crier, called Ahu Paochel. The Changrui appoints the Ahu Paochel from time to time. In many cases, the Changrui himself takes over the duties of the Ahu Paochel. He roams around the corners of the village and shouts aloud the information. He normally chooses evenings as the suitable time to announce information. The villagers are bound to return from their works, in the evening.
The word ‘King’ (Areng) was also used to address a village chief. A function with much pomp and fanfare is held in honored of the newly elevated Chief. Dances and songs areperformed in the new Chief’s lawn. The villagers carry the Chief on a palanquin to participate in festivals.One song sang in such function goes like this, ‘Kareng-o, ahra-o kareng-o Reng-o, sansum ahra-e, kareng-o Reng-o, sansum ahra-e, kareng-o Satai phon-ang ahra-e, kareng-o Satai phon-ang ahra-e, kareng-o
Kareng thingphun thingnah yaam trai ahra o, kareng-o Rello huiva, hring-ah bawm ae kareng-o Rello huiva, hring-ah bawm ae kareng-o Kung-ah saisim aw, hring-a chun-ae, kareng-o.
IMPORTANT VILLAGE OFFICIALS: The earlier Chothe village also had ‘Athiempu’ (Priest) who led all kinds of rites and festivals. Athiempuwas the only one who could communicate with the gods, particularly the Lunchungpa. He had the ability to go to the wilderness and bring back the soul of a dying person. His official residence is called Laphaal. Everyone feared him. The Athiempu would occasionally perform rites at the main entrance gate of the village called Palthong.The rites were performed to bring good fortunes and ward of evil spirits. He sacrificed rice, eatables and animals like cats to the village deity, Lungchungpa. Heads of the animals sacrificed to the village deities were stickup in poles.The seat of the deity Lungchungpa is called Laaman.
Renchang assisted in selecting songs and led in singing in festivals and rituals. Sahpuserved in the worshipping place on behalf of a clan. Each clan took turns in serving in the place of worship. Asheiassisted in organizing rites of the festivals andWelchangassisted the YupaalUlin in religious rites.Huludengpawas a village official who was responsible for offering a portion of wine or eatables to the deities before a festival or rite commenced. Potchoipa oversaw the things meant for the dead. There were Potchoipa-Ulin and his junior, Potchoipa-Naopang. Yuzong-Ulin was the Chief winemaker (or head of winery) and assisted by Yuzong-Naopang.
OTHER MANDATORY ORGANISATIONS OR SITUATIONS: BLACKSMITHY: A Chothe village used to have an official blacksmith called THIRSUH. The residence of THIRSUH was also known as THIRSUH INN. He too had students to replace him when he retired. He and his co-workers were responsible for making tools and objects needed in the villagers. ATOO (spade), ATOOTE (garden spade or smaller version of a common spade), CHAMTLUN (sword that was bended on its upper flat body and had pointed tip), CHAM(sword of an ordinary design), AREI (axe), SEI (spear), THAL (bow), THALRU (arrow), SANGKAI (small and long dagger with curved shape), were his common creations. The Chothes had spears of different shapes and sizes.
YOUTHS’ DORMITORY: An early Chothe village used to have a common granary managed by the Keirung.A youths’ dormitory called KANGSHEL SANG was also a main part of a village. It was normally constructed near the main entrance of the village (Palthong). The Kangshel Sang was divided intotwo groups, Kangthar-Ulin (senior group or leader of Senior Bachelors’ group) and Kangthar-Naopang (junior group or leader of Junior Bachelors’ group). Their main role was to protect the village from the attack of outsiders, whom they called Tairam mee. They took turns in sleeping in the dormitory at nights. During the nights, they locked the doors or gates which they termed as Kulvul Kal.Kangthar-Ulin was the overall head of the groups; he had disciples or followers known as RUI or ROOI.The word, RUI, is sometimes used to address a person as a comrade.
There was a tradition called ARUI YONG where the Kangthar-Ulin sought for his replacement. He visited homes, selected one of the infants to replace him in the future, and offered his own necklace (hri) to the child. He informed the child’s parents that, the chosen would be his RUI. He then started addressing the child as ‘CHIMRUI’ which means ‘compatriot’. As the child grew, the Kangthar-Ulin offered meats and other items to the child’s parents and took the child under his care and tutelage. When the Kangthar-Ulin, the head of the bachelors, got married, he would vacate his post. Therefore, he would pass on his responsibilities to the child he had nurtured. Offering gifts, advice and instructions, the Kangthar Ulin passed on his post to his heir or replacement. In turn, the new Kangthar-Ulin would offer gifts and specially made wine to the former Kangthar-Ulin and expressed his gratitude and farewell in the form of songs.
In the olden days, discipline was one of the most important qualities expected from a person. It was considered a sacrilege when a man disobeyed or questioned the instructions of a person older than him or holding an office of high rank. When a man was found not to respect his elders or village officials, burning firewood was used to thrash him on his back.
NORMS OF MIGRATION: The Chothe people still practice this unique tradition pertaining to a person emigrating from one village to another. When a resident of a Chothe village desires to settle somewhere else, he needs to give prior information to the governing establishment of the village in which he presently lives. The authority would instruct him not to leave any dues if he happens to have. At the same time, the spot where he had settled would become the property of the village, unless the man chose to let any of his relative of the same village to settle. Traditionally, a person desiring to leave the village has to offer a swine of six feet long, a large jar of wine, and other things to the village authority. This tradition is called PAALROP KANNA or HU HOUNA.
On the other hand, a person who wants to settle in a Chothe village has to take the permission of that village’s authority to do so. He has the right to select a spot in the village for settling, but the authority has the right to veto his choice. He has to offer swine, rice beer, and wine among others as required to the village authority. This tradition is called HULUTNA.
According to 1991 census, the population of Chothe tribe in Manipur was 2571. In the Census of 2001, it was reportedly increased to 2676.
Present day Chothe have shunned most all ancient customs and traditions except the system of self-administration and marriage customs, since the advent of Christianity in their midst 60 years ago.
The main festival of the Chothe is Harvesting festival (sasuhang) along with Christmas, New Year, Good Friday, etc. Dance and Music are their cultual life both in religious and recreational events.
SOCIAL ACTIVITIES: The annual calendar of the Chothes was, at one time, mostly reserved for festivals and merry making. Their prominent festivals were SHANGHONG RIN, CHULTUK RIN, YAANGPAL-KA RIN, AYU-HAILENG RIN, YAAR RIN, SALAH RIN, KUMYAI RIN, etc. Here, Rin means festival. All of the festivals were celebrated once a year. Most of them were celebrated for seven consecutive days. Different types of rites were performed for each of the seven days.
ABOUT THEIR FESTIVALS: Shanghong Rin is a harvest festival celebrated in October, in honor of the harvest goddess Sabuhong.Chultuk Rin is a festival of yeast, celebrated in September,for three days or less. Ayu-Haileng Rin is festival in the month of March for three days, where rats were hunted to sacrifice them to their deity, Lungchungpa.Yaangpal-ka Rin is a festival of youths, and it is celebrated in the month of August. Salah Rin is a festival observing the separation of death and life, and it is celebrated in May. Yaar Rin is a festival celebrated in February, to appease the deity Lungchungpa.Kumyai Rin literary means, a half-yearly festival.
If an outsider participated in any of these festivals, it was mandatory that the guest participated in the festival until it concludes. Failing which, the guest will meet dangers and sicknesses on his way and even misgivings could befall on his family. The guest was not even to cross over from one village to another during the festivals.
Prior to the celebration, it was customary to collect rice, rice-beer, fowls, and other animals for offering to the village Chief, as well as for their communal feasts. Villagers dividing themselves into village elders, senior and junior bachelors, priests and priestesses would offer these things. Songs and dances were performed. The Tang-Ulin and the Tang-Naopong exchange verses of songs pleading for the village’s chief permission. The village chief would then formally give his consent to begin the celebrations. The wizard or priest was a prominent individual in all these festivals. The Tang-Ulin, after formal rituals, would offer prayers to the deity, Lungchungpa and formally announced the commencement of the festival.
The men make baskets of bamboos and the womenfolk collect firewood from the jungles and then sell their products at the nearest market to meet their daily needs. They no longer maintain their ancient weapons, tools and dress.
They do practice cultivation and other agricultural works, but most of the paddy fields are owned by the other communities.
Health and sanitation
The Chothe have no dependable health centers near their villages, so the nearest is the district hospitals. Though most of the Chothe villages are situated a few miles from towns and accessible by roads, they still live without electricity and proper sanitation system.
The Chothe have a unique system of rules regarding who can marry whom. Among the Chothes there are bride-giver clans and bride takers clans. If a man wants to marry he has to take his bride from those clans whose women he was meant to marry. There are seven major clans in the Chothe society community. They are Parpa,Thao, Mareem, Khiyaang, Rangshai, Makan And Yuhlung. For example, a man from the Parpa clan can marry women from the clans of Mareem, Rangshai, Yuhlung but not those from the remaining Thao,Khiyaang, Makan clans. Men from these remaining clans are traditionally destined to marry the Parpa women. A Khiyaang man can marry a Thao woman but a Thao man cannot marry a Khiyaang women. That is, a man cannot give his sisters in marriage to those clans from whom he was supposed to take his bride. However, in the present generation, there are many who are breaking these traditional marriage laws. They are fined by the elders and the village authorities in the form of material and money. Because of the traditional marriage laws, many young couples prefer to elope. So, traditional marriages and ceremonies are becoming rare in Chothe society
CHOTHE SYSTEM OF MARRIAGE: A man from a Chothe clan cannot just marry another Chothe woman, as he wanted. In ancient days, our ways of marriage would have been zealously adhered to. At one time, a Parpa man was allowed to marry a Thao woman. Yet, since centuries back, it was the other way around. Now, men from Thao clans marry the women of Parpa clan. There are bride-givers, and bride-takers,breaking the law and manipulating or otherwise, was a taboo. In the olden days, a person breaking this sacred tradition was exiled from the village. He or She was even sometimes speared to death.
The exact details about the dresses, trends, and rituals concerning the marriage process during the ancient days are all but forgotten. However, some folk songs concerning marriage in the past centuries still survive in oral forms.This song was sung when sending off a woman in a wedding blessing her to bring good fortunes and healthy children in her husband’s family.
“Awni zuiki hla aw, Ove zuike hla aw, Awonni moa e Avontale chu o, ove zuiki hla aw, Shangte zuisuk aw, Phungte zuishuk aw.”
The following song is sung by the bride’s family the moment she was married off, expressing the pains and heartaches when separated. “Avon simshuk senu aw, Avon traichang senu aw, ngaithei nung-ae. Avon simshuk senu chu aw Avon traichang senu chu aw, Aisan lonna, ngaithei nung-ae Avon simshuk senu ae, Avon traichang senu aw, ngaithei nung ae Avon simshuk senu aw, Avon traichang senu aw Arei lonna aw, ngaithei nung ae.
The following song is sung by the woman’s future husband. He expressed gratitude and respect to the woman’s parents when he was to take his bride home. “Pi-aw sangchee kok hra nasi aw Ka-lawm lemo hlarui aw pi-ngei aw Pi-aw phungchu phung-ha narui ae Pate-ah saha rui aw, pi-ngei aw.
The next song is sung by the friends of the bride, young girls and boys teasing each other on the day of the wedding. “Chongpu sing-in ri ah aw, Ngakthei thinglu nilnu aw Tusa aw reirang chinme chimrui o Reem hu-ah reirang ah aw Naho reirui naho reitrui paam chao-ui.
The following is sung when the bride’s parents formally visit their daughter in her husband’s house for the first time after the wedding. “Ahu zeeng inn jungnu aw, Tairam zeeng inn jungnu aw, Nahu dangso vengnu aw, chimrui aw Hudang-a chu vengnung ae Tairam ah mee vengsing ae Hoilai saling suksing ae, chimrui aw.
Incidentally, people of this modern age are freely violating these sacred traditions of marriage. Nevertheless, the archaic laws remain the same as they were. Eloping by lovers is discouraged in Chothe society. A Chothe man can choose a bride from the bride giving clans. A man from the bride giving clan cannot legally marry a woman from the bride taking clan.
BRIDE-TAKING CLANS-----BRIDE GIVING CLANS Mareem---Thao, and all its sub-sibs. Khiyaang, and all its sub-sibs. Thao---Parpa, Makan and all its sub-sibs Parpa-Rakung---Mareem and all its sub-sibs, Rangshai and its sub-sib, and Khiyaang-Inpi Makan---Parpa. Khiyaang, and all its sub-sibs. Mareem, and all its sub-sibs. Khiyaang---Thao and all its sub-sibs, Parpa (its sub-sib Khiyaang-Inpi cannot marry a Parpa woman). Yuhlung---Thao and all its sub-sibs. Raangshai---Khiyaang and all its sub-sibs.
When a man likes a woman from a bride-giving clan to be his wife, his family elders would carry with them Jars of Rice beer, traditional clothes, eatables, and sometimes animals to the woman’s elders. They would ask for the woman’s hand. Eventually, the man and woman would be engaged to one another. According to traditions, the man would stay in the woman’s residence for three years. There would be no form of interaction between the couple during this time. In fact, the man had to stay for doing odd jobs for the woman’s family like grazing the cattle, help plough fields, construct or repair the house/sheds etc. He slept outside the house at a corner of the door (THONGKING). He ate at a corner of the woman’s residence (LUCHUNG THONGKI). This system is called Numei Lo trun.Even after these three years, if the woman’s family is not impressed with the works of the groom-to-be, they still have the right to cancel the marriage between the two.
For some period, this tradition of working for a bride was stopped. Instead, the man would offer the woman’s family large numbers of cattle, swine, and paddy fields among others. The Raangshai clansmen were said to have introduced this new trend.The Raangshai clans were very influential at that time. A new system called Mankat was also introduced during that time.
Under this MANKAT system, when a man marries a woman, it was compulsory for the man or the man’s family to give fees that used to include spears, clothes, paddies, and others as mandated by the elders of the woman’s family. The family of the woman is the recipient of such fees.
Soon, the gap between the rich and poor became wider. The poor could hardly find a bride under the new marriage law. People composed folk songs about the ills of this tradition too. A song goes like this, ‘Rangshai chu-o shiel thul dawn-e, Ove Honril Namei man-ang Honril man-e, kaloh senu-oh Ove sarah hujing-o, traichangnu-o Rangsai chu o, sum thul dawn-e, Ove Honril man rang, Honril man-e, Kalo senu-oh Ove sarah hujing-o, traichangnu-o.
(The song speaks about the wealth owned by the Raangshai clans, and of the plight of the poor who could not find a bride).
However, when the Chothe settled at Ngente kingdom, they discarded this law. From there, they again introduced the earlier NumeiLotrun tradition in their society.
(NB: The present generation of the 21st century has re-introduced the MANKAT system with some modifications. The NUMEI-LO TRUN is not, understandably, appropriate for the present world).
Their marriage customs also say that, a man cannot marry a woman just because she belongs to a bride-giving clan. The woman should be in such a position that she can address the man as ‘Uba. “UBA” means brother-in-law. There are various types of addressing one another in the Chothe tribe, known as AKOK-LAM. For instance, a Paarpa man was addressed as Paivon, a Makan as Kanvon, a Khiyaang as Yaangvon, a Thao as Thaovon, a Mareem as Reemvon etc.
Generational gaps cause such situation that, sometimes the woman of his age and belonging to the bride-giving clan happens to be related to the man as a ‘daughter-on-law’. That is, the woman actually belongs to the generation of his ‘sons’. There are even cases when a woman much younger to the man from the bride-taking clan is related as an ‘aunt’ to the man. That is, the young woman actually belongs to the generation of the man’s mother. However, the marriage between such couple is legitimate.
The man from the bride-taking clan has to offer cattle and other mandated things (tradition of formal way of addressing one another called AKOKLAM LALNA) to the woman’s clan elders and legitimately marry the woman.
RUMAN BAK: When a man elopes with a woman, he will have to offer swine of six feet and Jars of wine among others. If the couples are customarily marriageable to one another, the man needs to offer only the required fines. This is called Ruman Bak. The elders of the woman’s clan would be the recipient of such fines. Cases of elopement by violating the traditional marriage laws often resulted in fining unspecific amount of cattle, things or money, troubles and even violence. In this Ruman system, the man offers his future father-in-law a SUMRING, the size of five palms. That is, the man uses his palm to measure the size of the Sumring.
In return, the woman’s family gives the man, their future son-in-law a large rooster, shirt (LINGLOOT), and a spade. The rooster is to bring good health to the son-in-law and the shirt to bring wealth and fortunes. The spade is for digging the man’s own grave.
MARRYING OUTSIDE A VILLAGE: If a woman marries a man settling outside her village, the man has to, apart from the usual fines, offered a six feet long swine to the woman’s village authority. This tradition is called Phungtang-ram. The village authority is the recipient of this fine. The palm of the right hand of a village elder is used in taking such measurements.
- Anthropologist, 9(2): 161-162 (2007), S. Jibonkumar Singh and H. Vokendro Singh, A Genetic Study on the Purum (Chothe) Tribe of Manipur