Poumai Naga

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Poumai Naga
Glory Day celebration of the Poumai Naga.jpg
Glory Day celebration of the Poumai Naga
Total population
187,180 (2011 census)
Regions with significant populations
Predominantly Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Mao Naga

The Poumai Naga is a community predominantly inhabiting the Senapati District of Manipur, though there are villages that fall in the Nagaland state, situated in the northeastern part of India. Poumai is one of the biggest and most dominant Naga tribes in Manipur. Poumai Nagas are spread out over 100 villages that have been broadly divided into three blocks: Paomata, Lepaona and Chilivai. The people are known for bravery, fidelity and wisdom. The language spoken by the Poumai is called Poula which is literally translated as 'language of the Pou. The Poumai in general follow Christianity.

Tribe recognition[edit]

Poumai Naga, as a separate tribe, was recognised by the Government of India in 2003. Prior to that they were club together with the Mao tribe with whom they shares lots of cultures and history.


Poumai Naga is a major Naga tribe with a population of 1,79,189 as per 2011 census; and 10,000 in Phek district, Nagaland and remaining which means maximum peaple of the Poumai naga are inhabitants of Manipur. There are 94 Poumai villages, of which 85 are revenue-recognised villages and 9 are unrecognized. The Poumai villages wholly cover three sub-divisions namely, Paomata SDO/BDO, Purul SDO/BDO, Chilivai SDO/BDO, Phaibung and 1/3 of Mao-Maram, Tadubi Sub-Division, some of the villages are under Kangpokpi Sub-Division and some in Phek District of Nagaland. The Poumai Nagas have many festivals, dances, songs and performing arts. The most popular dances are Asah-do (prosperity dance), Rieh-do (war dance), Tahta-do (ploughing demo dance), Mate-do (seed sowing dance), and Chachu-do (harvest dance).

The Poumai were recognised as one of the distinct Naga tribes in India by the Government of India in 2003. According to the Ministry of Law and Justice, New Delhi, Paomata, Lepaona and Chilivai, taken together are recognised as the Poumai Naga tribe. The following act of Parliament (The Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes Orders (Amendment) Act 2002) received the assent of the President on 7 January 2003. The Schedule Tribes Orders were amended in the manner and to the extent specified in the Second Schedule in Part X of the Act - Manipur - Poumai Naga, Tarao, Kharam and "Any Kuki tribes". Prior to the recognition of the Poumai as a separate tribe it was under one roof with the Mao known as the "Mao Tribe".

Poula Language[edit]

Poula[3] is classified as a member of the Angami-Pochuri, and this clade represents a leaf under the Trans-Himalayan language model. Little linguistic work has been done on Poula. However Poula as a language is recognised by the government of Manipur and it is being taught in the school upto Standard 10. There is a dearth of written literature in Poula language. Some written Poula appeared in form of the Bible and Christian hymns, translated by the Bible Society of India in 2009. Prior to that a Poumai Literary Society was formed in 2007 with the intention of producing reading materials in the language. In order to standardize the language, the Poumai Literary Society has attempted koineization, which was not successful as it was not possible to account for all the varieties of the language. This was partly due to the fact that the Poula language and its varieties have not been identified, described or analyzed yet. To standardize the orthography, we first need to understand the phonlogy of the language.
Phonetics and phonology
Phonology of Poula lacks syllable coda and also disallow consonant clusters in onset position. There are 25 consonant phonemes in Poula.
Consonants in Poula

Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Palatal Velar Gottal
Stops p pʰ b t tʰ d c cʰ k kʰ g
Nasal m n ŋ ŋ̊ʰ
Tap or flap ɹ
Fricative s ɕ ʑ h
Affricate tɕ dʑ
Approx ʋ j
Lateral l

Vowels in Poula
There are six vowel phonemes in Poula.

Front Central Back
High i y
Mid e ə o
Low a

In Poula, the phoneme /ə/ is written with the grapheme 'ü' (now, many use it as 'ii') in Bible and Hymns which was devised by Bible Society of India. In addition Poula lacks high back round vowel [u] as a monophthong,[4] but [u] is present in nexus of diphthong; for example pou [pəu] `father'. Poula is a tone language, however tone is still not marked in the orthography. There are four tonemes in Poula.
Poula Tonemes

Word Tone Gloss
/na˥/ High-falling 'baby'
/na˦/ Mid-Rising 'later'
/na˧/ Mid 'things'
/na˩/ Low 'paint'


The stick took root and sprouted into a Wild Pear Tree and was called "Khyataobii" at Makhel

According to the Poumai folklore (with regard to the story of migration), the roots of the tribe originated when one of their forefathers thrust his walking stick on the ground at the meeting place {before their departure from Makhel (Mekhro)}. In the course of time, it is believed that this stick took root and sprouted into a large tree (wild pear) and was called "Khyataobii". The people of Khyako, called "Tenyimia" by the people of Nagaland, hold this tree in reverence till today and in the event of any branches breaking, they observe genna with all solemnity (no one is allowed to work on that day). In the wake of this migration, the Makhel community today is scattered over different geographical areas. Some have settled in different part of Manipur while others have settled in Nagaland and elsewhere.

Oral historical accounts reveal that the first Poumai settler in Makhel was Khyapou Dukhuo and Supou Paoyuo, the settler at Saranamai. The Lepaona group settled down at Koide under the chieftainship of Napou-Rakhuo. The Proupuozei group (Proumai) migrated from Makhel and settled at Proufii (West of the Khyouchi-Liila range) for a short period and resettled at Phaofii (Kodom). One can gather from these accounts that every village has a founder or a pioneer. One significant point about Koide village is that it has a "Holy Well" known as Shodzikhao on the eastern side of the village. It is said that the water of this Well is used for the sanctification of birth rituals, important gennas and marriage ceremonies. The Well, which remains perennial throughout the year, exists even today.

With generations, the Poumais spread out to different regions. The Maram and Thangal tribes migrated towards the southwest and the Paomata, Lepaona and Chilivai moved towards the eastern side and settled down at Sütü, now known as "Saranamei". From here, one group moved farther east and settled down at Nafü, also now known as Koide.

Locations of villages and social background[edit]

Poumai villages are strategically perched on hill tops or ridges for security reasons as tribal warfare was very frequent in those days. Stockades and fortified trenches were constructed around the villages to defend and thwart surprise attacks by enemies. However, tribal warfare was suppressed with the power of the British. Traces of such constructions can still be seen today.

Generally, due to head-hunting practice, Poumai traditional villages are strategically located on the hills. Houses are usually built in rows facing each other. Each house with a garden in the backyard, grows vegetables, fruits, sugarcane, bamboos, etc. Boys and girls sleep in groups in a house called Khoukivei or Reipeiki. The houses are decorated with buffalo skulls and man-on-the-planks sculptures.

Powers and functions of the chieftain (Mave-o)[edit]

Every Poumai village is independent. The village is nominally ruled by the Mave-o (Chieftain) and he may best be described as "nominal head" of a small state. He is the custodian of customs and traditions. Though every decision is proclaimed by him yet he does not act like king or dictator. All the decisions are taken through open discussion with clan representatives in his house, hence clan elders are highly respected in the village. His power and function is based on simple principle "if the chieftain is poor the villagers as well as the village prosper".

Whenever a rich man in the village throws a feast, a limb of the slaughtered animal and two tins of paddy are given to the Chieftain as a gesture of respect and gratitude. On such a day, the rich man is allowed to wear the prestigious shawl Hahsha called Yeshosha (a white shawl with big stitches in the middle). A stone would be erected to commemorate the occasion. The Chieftain also announces and initiates the time for cultivation.

Family life[edit]

The Poumai Naga family life is patriarchal in nature. The father is the head of the family and he not only represents the family in all matters but is also the bread earner of the family. The mother's duty is to raise the children properly and to look after household chores such as cooking, washing, and collecting firewood. The children look after their parents' daily chores so that a sense of responsibility can be developed which will come in handy in their lives later on. In fact, from morning till dusk the children are surrounded by educational activities.


Thounii Festival

Thounii has multifaceted meanings and significances. The name of the festival derives from the word 'Thouniikhou' which is the first month of the year. The word “Thou” means “new”; “nii” means “festival”. Therefore, it can be translated as “New year festival or the festival of dawn”. It is celebrated after storing up paddy and all kinds of food grains and crops. The festival is an occasion of thanksgiving to our deity for good harvest and good health. One of the reasons why Thounii is considered the biggest and grandest festival is because of the attribution of pleasant climate, availability of abundant foods, drinks and festive mood of the people. Thounii also marks the initiation of a new village settlement after considering the various aspects and observation of omens, dreams, signs, divinations, etc.

In the past, Thounii celebration lasted for five days commencing from 18th to 22nd of Thouniikhou. The first day of the festival is known 'SHAA’. The day was marked as the preparation day for the festival. The house, village surrounding, street, public park, etc. were cleaned, repaired and set in order for public gathering. The prepared rice beer vessels for the feast were tasted and blessed on this day. In the evening the family members sat down together and baked bread on a flat stone and were mixed with sesame cream for better taste.

The second day of the festival is known 'CHIZIIYU' means the sanctification of house. All animals for consumption during the feast were slaughtered and divided among relatives and neighbours. Libation and Oblation were performed at the corner of the house called Rii (family altar) by head of the family with cooked meat and rice beer served on plantain leaf to the family deity as thanksgiving for the bountiful harvest. The guests, sisters and relatives from the neighbouring villages arrived in the evening and the feast of eating and drinking began by lighting bonfire in public ground.

The third day is known 'SHEPAO' means sent off the guest. The brothers presented cooked meat to newly married sisters which were offered to her husband's relatives. The guests, sisters and relatives who attended the festival were dropped off till the village boundary. The youth played and participated in traditional games and dances during the day time and re-gathered in the evening at public park for drinks, singing, dancing, narrating stories of heroic deeds of forefathers, history of origin, migration and listened to the exhortation of the elders.

The fourth day is known 'NIIDAI’ means day four of the festival. The menfolk went around the village whooping in full traditional attires and the whole villagers came to the public ground in the evening with their rice beer and food stuffs. The youth collected firewood and made bonfire at night where the villagers gathered and shared their foods and drinks with one another. Eating, drinking, merriment and various cultural events continued.

The fifth day is known 'NIINGOUTO' means the last day of the festival. On this day, the village menfolk went to the jungle to chase and catch a particular bird called 'Seitu' with bare hands. No weapons like gun, bow, arrow, spear or catapult, etc. were used while catching this bird. The one who caught the bird was considered the lucky man of the year. He beheaded the bird and body was then thrown to the group which torn into pieces and shared among the group members and the members who did not got the flesh piece were shared the feathers and stained blood on their pole. As they returned, they went around the village in whoop, signifying victory over the adversary and later the pole were erected at the village gate. When no bird was caught on the first day, hunting continued the next day till the bird is caught. Thus, the festival came to an end. Thounii heralds the coming of spring and reminds the farmers to go back to work in the fields.

Musical instruments[edit]

The Poumais have only a few musical instruments:

  • Hraoloubüii/Gaigou: a single stringed Banjo made of a dried bottle-like gourd shell
  • Chü: indigenous flute made of bamboo
  • Hakai: buffalo horn
  • Ahbe: a wind musical instrument
  • Hachha: a wind musical instrument
  • Ahtsii: a wind musical instrument

The Hraoloubüii/Gaigou, Ahbe, Machha and Makai are usually played by man. Traditional folk songs are sung with or without the accompaniment of instruments.


At the turn of the century, with modernity yet to make its entry, men's dress was very simple. It consisted of a kilt and a cloth. Most of the time they remained half-naked except on grand occasions. During festivals, they wore Roh-lai (diadem), Vee-hoxzü (a colourful bird's feather), Phao-hah, paongi (ivory bangles), etc. Women wore Lakiteisha (a black shawl with red and green stripes), Poüpumü (a white-skirt with black and green stripes), Bao-sa (bangles), Baoda (a brass bangle), and Toutah or Tou (necklaces). The grills could also be woven from the barks of nettle.

Food and drinks[edit]

Wild boar and Indian muntjac killed during a hunt

To the Poumais, food means cooked rice. They eat three heavy meals a day. As well as rearing domestic animals for food, they also hunt wild animals and birds. Rice beer, called Pou-yu or "Pou-zhao" in Poumai, is a very popular drink among the Poumais. They have been skilled in brewing it from time immemorial. Most of the elders, both men and women, chew tobacco. Some of them also use hooks or hubble.[citation needed]


Amongst the tribesman of Poumai, the inhabitants of Onaema(Oinam Hill) make the earthen pots and utensils called Pouli. Some of the utensil items made by them are the tooly (rice pot), vuly (curry pot), naikhaoti (curry bowl), khouli (pitcher), duki (oar) and ngaki, (a big jar for fermenting rice beer).


Important rivers like Vourei ( Barak), Ngarei ( Laini) and Phaomai Sorei (Iril) originate from hill range and provides water to all the regions of Poumai.


Week Days

Rahtho Sunday
Tapayu Monday
Philikhayu Tuesday
Vekouyu Wednesday
Thaosoyu Thursday
Kidzüyu Friday
Hahpayu Saturday
Ngheipokhou January
Siihpakhou February
Tainiikhou March
Naakhou April
Ziikhou May
Laokhou June
Laikhou July
Ngehkhou August
Zaliipokhou September
Dorupokhou October
Doniikhou November
Khoushokhou December


  1. ^ "A-11 Individual Scheduled Tribe Primary Census Abstract Data and its Appendix". www.censusindia.gov.in. Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner,India. Retrieved 18 November 2017.
  2. ^ Veikho, Sahiinii Lemaina. "Poula phonetics and phonology: An Initial overview (Poumai Naga)". North East Indian Linguistics (NEIL) 7.
  3. ^ Veikho, Sahiinii Lemaina; Khyriem, Barika (2015). "Poula phonetics and phonology: An initial overview". North East Indian Linguistics 7,47-62, Canberra, Australian National University: Asia-Pacific Linguistics Open Access.
  4. ^ Veikho, Sahiinii Lemaina; Sarmah, Priyankoo (2018). "Vowels and tones in Poula". Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman Area. 41 (1): 22–45. doi:10.1075/ltba.16022.lem.

External links[edit]