The Rongmei (Ruangmei) is a major Naga tribe. Majority of these indigenous people is found in the Tamenglong district of Manipur state, and they are also found in a contiguous area but in different states of Assam and Nagaland in North-East India. They were divided when the official boundaries were set by the Government of India. They shared the same history and traditions with the tribes Zeme, Liangmai, and Inpui. Most Rongmei live in the Tamenglong district of Manipur. Some of the Rongmei reside in Imphal valley, the capital city of Manipur. In Nagaland they are settled in Kohima, Dimapur and Jalukie. In Assam the Rongmei are found in North Cachar and Silchar areas. The Rongmei are patrilineal and patriarchal. The Rongmei dance is the most popular dance of Manipur. Gaan-Ngai is their biggest festival, celebrated annually in December or January.
One of the indigenous tribe of Manipur, the Rongmei (a popular name used by neighboring tribes such as Meitei, Kuki, Pangal etc., but linguistically and phonetically it is Ruangmei, according to the way they call themselves) were in very good relations with other communities like the Meitei and the Pangals. They are settled in every nook of Manipur. Rongmei tribes have their different and distinctive socio-cultural, traditional and linguistic variants and also genetic identity. However, in spite of these associations, this Rongmei tribe also have their individual endogamous groups.The four major clans are the Gangmei, Kamei, Gonmei and Pamei followed by other sub-clan like Malangmei, Phaomei, Maringmei, Riamei, Daimei, Panmei, Dangmei, Thaimei, Ruanghmei(pronounced slightly differently from the official tribe name Rongmei). Kamei and Pamei are same major clan.
Ruangmei is a combination of two words RUANG and MEI meaning SOUTH and PEOPLE respectively. Thus Ruangmei stands for the southerners. The ancestral home of the Ruangmei lies in the mountain ranges in the Tamenglong district of Manipur and adjacent mountainous areas of Nagaland and Assam. The Ruangmei settlement area within the territory of Manipur is the southern portion of the vast tract of Zeliangrong Naga country and hence those who settling in the southern part of their habitat within Manipur call themselves the Ruangmei (Rongmei), the southerners. (Life style, Indian tribes: locational practice, Volume 2: By Shiva Tosh Das). In present day literature, the word kabui has been widely used within and outside Manipur, and the name Ruangmei is less known to the other communities. The original home of the Ruangmei of the Manipur lies in the Tamenglong area which is a vast tract of hilly region situated along the western borders of Manipur. The Ruangmei started to be called "Rongmei" in the Manipur valley. It is reported that many early settlers in the valley of Manipur came from Tamenglong area. The earliest settlement of the Rongmei in Imphal is more than a century old. In terms of race and language, the Ruangmei fall under the Tibeto-Burman family of the Mongolian race. It is believed that a number of Mongoloid groups, including the Kabuis, used to inhabit the upper course of the Chinese rivers of the Yangtze and Hwang Ho. According to the writings of British era ethnographers, they are one of the twenty-two tribal communities who belonged to the Manipur state. Today also, this Ruangmei tribe has been enlisted as Rongmei Tribe of the twent-nine tribes of the Constitution of India. Now, Rongmei is the recognized name for Ruangmei people.
The Ruangmei territory was conquered by the British in the nineteenth century. Under the leadership of Haipou Jadonang and his successor Rani Gaidinliu, they rebelled against the British rule in the 1930s
The social and cultural features and practices of the Rongmei tribe are determined to a great extent by the physical environment which surrounds their habitation. They live in close communication with nature, and their natural environment has a major influence on their lifestyle. The villages of the Rongmei are usually small and the habitation is scattered. Each village has a headman called Khulakpu (Khulakpa). There is a house of commons called the Peikai. All problems are expressed and sorted out here. The people are allowed to express their different views, following which the decision is taken. Theft and violent crimes are uncommon. The social system of the Rongmeis is patriarchal, and each of the clans enjoy equal status. They usually try to maintain exogamy.
Apart from the traditional Naga systems of marriage, they also have their own unique marriage rituals. Some distinct systems may be mentioned here. Noumang-mei-Nou-kao is a system which allows a boy to stay at a girl's place for three to four years as her husband. This system is followed with the agreement of both parties and, after the completion of the time agreed on, the boy returns home. Chamemei is when a girl is married without her consent as repayment for some debt or obligation. Naokakhaomei is the ritual which dictates that at the death of a man, his closest brother will have to marry his widow and look after the family.
As regards dressing habits, the Rongmei wear a lot of ornamentation. Both men and women have pierced ears. While the males usually wear feathers in their ears, the women traditionally wear brass rings. The traditional dress of women usually includes the Phe-soi (shawl), though traditional attire is fast being replaced by modern clothes.
Religion of the Rongmei tribe
The religion of the Rongmeis has been greatly determined by basic human need, and is often seen to include magic and mysticism. The traditional religion of Rongmei is known as Tingkao Ragwang Chap-Riak (TRC)or Pu-pouh chapriak (meaning ways of our forefather) . Many of the tribes still follow traditional tribal practices. They believe that sacrifices are necessary to appease the deities, since otherwise they might incur their wrath and this will ruin their crops. When the Christian missionaries arrived, majority of the Ruangmeis converted to Christianity. Christianity has existed here for 150 years. However, some of the Ruangmei people still follow the ancient traditional practices. In Assam, a significant number of the Rongmei are followers of POUPEI CHAPRIAK. Recently there were clashes between the Hindu Rongmei and the Christian Hmar tribes in Assam.
According to the 1991 Census, 46.60% of all Naga living in Assam were Hindu (?) (7,155 out of 15,354). In 2001, it declined to 37.62% (8,165 out of 21,706). In recent decades there has been lots of Rongmei who have profess their faith as Christian.
As with everything else, the various festivals of the Rongmei are closely linked to their physical habitat and are also a celebration of religion. The celebrations usually reflect the different agricultural stages. The celebrations usually include an expression of physical prowess and talents. Some of the important festivals are- Gan-Ngai, Rih-Ngai (Chaga Ngai) and Gudui-Ngai.
Gaan-Ngai is celebrated following the harvest season, in December–January. Full form of the festival is called Chakaan Gaan Ngai. Chakaan means winter; Gaan means moonlit night('Gaan' does not refer to young male though the spelling is the same); Ngai means festival. That is why this festival is celebrated according to the Lunar Calendar. In the past, it was celebrated on a moonlit night at the bottom of the hills where villages were established. This festival is also a romantic festival specially for boys and girls. Festivities are held for five days. The festival commences with the blowing of the traditional horn. A fire is made by the ancient system of the friction method and it is distributed among the different households. Song and dance is held on a large scale, interrupted by feasting. Gaan-Ngai is the greatest festival of the Zeliangrong people who inhabit in the State of Manipur, Assam and Nagaland. ‘Zeliangrong’ is the combined name of three cognate tribes Zeme (Zemei), Liangmai and Rongmei. Puimei, another cognate tribe performs the same festivals of the Zeliangrong.
Gaan-Ngai is called Hegangi among the Zeme, Gin-Ngi among the Liangmai and Gaan-Ngai among the Rongmei and Puimei. The name, Gaan-Ngai literally means the festival of winter season (Gaan orGanh means winter or dry season and Ngai means festival). It is derived from the name of the winter season like Chakan Ganh, Gan-bu or Enganh. The festivals of the Zeliangrong people are based on the different stages of agricultural operations; pre-operation and post harvest. The Gaan-Ngai is a post harvest festival. When the granaries are full, the landscape is dry, and the whole village is free from all agricultural works; people turn to celebration, festivity and worship of the God and honouring of the dead. This festival is also a new year festival as it marks the end of the year and beginning of the new year. Every tribal new year festival is marked by the production of new fire either by friction of wood and bamboo or friction of the flint. The Gaan-Ngai performs the production of fire, Mailapmei.
The Gaan-Ngai is a festival during which those who died in the previous year are given ritual farewell or departure; their graves are beautified, dances are performed in their honour,feast is given to the community in honour of the dead. Gaan-Ngai is thus the festival of both the dead and the living. The Gaan-Ngai was usually performed between the month of October and December depending on the progress of the agricultural operation. However, the Kabui Naga Association, the progenitor of the present Zeliangrong Union decided in 1947 that Gaan-Ngai be performed on the 13th day of the Meitei month of Wakching as per the Meitei Calendar (Chandrabda) of the lunar year. Since then, due to efforts of the community leaders, it has been performed on 13th Wakching onwards.
Gaan-Shanmei (heralding of the Gaan-Ngai): The duration of the festival varies from place to place. But in the beginning of the month in which the Gaan-Ngai is to be performed, the village elders will announce the coming of the festival by blowing the buffalo horn or the mithun, informing the community to make the necessary arrangement for the festival. This is called Gaan-Shanmei (Heralding of the winter season or the Gaan-Ngai festival).
Ngai-Guangmei (starting of the festival): Gaan-ngai is based on the religious belief of the Zeliangrong people (worship of Tingkao Ragwang, the God of the universe). The whole culture, religion and social life are interwoven in the performance of Gaan-Ngai.
The first day of the festival is called Ngai-Gangmei (Starting or coming of the festival). It starts with the omen taking (Danjaomei) rite at the abode of the village deity (Shong or Bambu) outside the village gate, performed by an elder through the offering of egg and ginger. He will perform divination by ginger to know the future of the new year.
Sacrifice to Tingkao Raguang: All the village elders, men, and youth will gather at the boys' dormitory (Khangchu). The girls will gather at the girls’ dormitory (Luchu). An animal, either a pig or a mithun, will be sacrificed as an offering to the Supreme God, Tingkao Ragwang. This will be preceded by a competition to catch the pig or the mithun. After the sacrifice of the pig, the spleen will be examined to see the omen for the future. There will be community feasting at the dormitories. A feast will be preceded by an invocation to God by Ho-Hoing.
Hoigammei (Hoi procession) In the afternoon, there is the Hoigammei procession. Every male—the elders, married males, youths and children—puts on their best ceremonial dress, and, holding spears, participate in the Hoigammeiprocession. It starts from the boys’ dormitory, proceeds to the village gates shouting Ho, Ho (Ho-Hoing) and then to the village jumping ground (Danshanpung). Competition in stone throwing, long jump and wrestling are carried out in the presence of the whole community, the inauguration of the stone throwing and long jump being performed by a village elder.
Mailapmei (making of new fire) The procession goes to the boys' dormitory where the new fire is produced by the wood and bamboo friction and the fire will be distributed to every household, or several teams of youth visit the individual families to produce the new fire. Every family will perform the Napkaomei ceremony (worship to God for plentiful harvest) as a thanksgiving for the good harvest and prayer for good agricultural production in the coming year. The evening will be spent in merry making, drinking, eating and singing in the dormitories.
Ngaidai (The great festival) The second day is called 'Ngai-dai' (the great festival). It is also popularly known as 'Tamchan Ngai' (The performance - of Tamchan dance). The senior members of the boys' dormitory and family members of both the boys and girls who passed in the previous year will present the Tamcha (gift in the form of food, drinks, meat, vegetables and rice) to their respective dormitories for partaking by the members. The parents of the dead members give thetam-cha in remembrance of their deceased. There will be feasts in the respective dormitories.
Tamchan Dance In the evening, girls will perform a dance in the selected families. This dance is known as 'Tamchan Laam' (Tam means chutney of vegetables; chan means 'request'; Laam means dance, dance requesting for Tam). Because of the performance of the Tamchan dance, the day is also known asTamchan Ngai. If there is no such dance, there is usually a singing competition between the boys and girls dormitories. Merry making continues.
Tuna Gaan-Ngai The third day is known as the Tuna-Gan-Ngai (Festival of the youth). This day is important for both the dead and living, and for the strength and prosperity of the village.
i) The dormitories will perform Thei-Kadi-Laam (Dance in honour of the dead) at the selected families where death occurred in the previous year. The family will prepare the graves of the dead to whom offering in the form of food and drink will be made. The dead will be given a ritual farewell. The performance of the dance in honour of the death is performed if the deceased happens to be a member of the dormitory. But it is not compulsory.
ii) The dormitories perform Khangbon Kadi Lam (a dance in honour of the elder members of the dormitories being promoted to a higher age grade position known as Ganchang).
Rangteng pammei (Ritual of reaffirmation) On the third day or on the eve of the Long ruimei (Hill trekking) when there is no dancing, a ceremony known as the Rangteng pammei is performed. This is a ceremony to strengthen and confirm the village against the elements and forces inimical to the village. Rangtang pammei literally means 'embracing' the village gates.
Khunnummei (offering at the hole of the village gate) In the afternoon, the head of the settlers' clan of the village as Nampou (owner of the village), the chief functionary will go to the village gates and will dig holes in which he offers an egg and iron pieces with the chanting of hymns. It is an affirmation that he is the descendant of the founder of the village and prays for the affirmation of his position and strength of the village. This has social and administrative significance. It is the reassertion of the chiefship of the head of the settler's clans which should be accepted by everybody in the village.
At night, when there is complete silence in the village, the Rangteng Pammei ceremony will be performed. During the day, a wooden pole will be prepared, the gaa creepers and canes will be collected by the youth and kept in the village gates. In the night, the wooden pole of the village gate is raised by the head or an elder of the settler's clan which is the family of the rangteng Pammei at the right side of the village and with appropriate hymns chanted. (It is not to be audible to the gathering).
Two warriors dressed in ceremonial warrior dress, holding dao and spear cut the village gate pole (Rangteng Khumei). It is followed by the Ho-Hoing of the gathering to scare away the wild beasts and evil elements followed by a complete silence. The two warriors report to the elder, 'Our village is protected and safe it will be prosperous'. The gathering at the village gate will respond by shouting 'gaiye, gaiye, gaiye (meaning good four times). Then the Ho-hoing and again the response of 'gaiye' four times. From the village gate, the gathering proceeds shouting Hoi to the village jumping ground. Then the refrain of 'gaiye, gaiye, gaiye, gaiye' will be repeated and it is over. They return to the dormitories in a Hoi procession. In the villages which are not established by a founder clan, it is not performed.
On this day of the festivals, the traditional dances of different pattern will be performed by the youths (boys & girls). On this day, the dance, merry making, songs of the Zelian-grong are performed. The essence of the aesthetic sense of the Zeliangrong people and their culture are found expressed in a grand form.
Longkumei: Hill Trekking The fourth day is called Long Kumei or Long ruimei (Hill Trekking) performed by the boys, girls and members of the dormitories in a nearby mountain range. They will offer girls, sing songs (Long-Luchenlu) and janting tam (Hetam in Zeme) made of boiled pork.Gakting Tam is an item of boiled pork pounded with garlic, onion, chilli, ginger and salt and made into round balls. They return to the village and perform dance in honour of those boys and girls who have been chosen as the phak gwang or namlengwang. The kings and queens are adorned with phak grass. The families of the chosen boys and girls in whose honour the dance is performed will offer money, wine, drink and other eatables.
Napchanmei The fifth day is called Nap-chanmei, offering of pig and fowls to God for good harvest and prosperity followed by the feasting at the dormitories. Individual families may perform this ceremony. A pig is sacrificied at the boys' dormitory to the God and a fowl is also offered.
There will be feasting with the invocation of God by Ho-Hoing, after the feast, there will be song competition between the boys and girls and merry making. There will be Kairong Lonmei (Guarding of the village with youth singing village guarding songs). Those who participate are entertained by the individual families.
Rangpatmei It is the last day. In the early morning, there will be a ponnimmei, exchange of gifts in form of money, and necklace, bangles among the members of the boys and girls dormitories as a mark of farewell, marking the end of the happy Gaan-Ngai. Rangpatmei is the offering of sacrifice to the deities of the pantheon of Gods worshipped by the village concerned. A sacrifice known as Ralen-loumei will be performed. The village priest and the elders will perform this sacrifice in which three categories of Gods are worshipped by the Zeliangrong people with offerings of fowls, egg, ginger and water. It is performed at the village deity's abode.
i) The eight brothers of the Ragwang who are the members of the pantheon of Zelian-grong Gods below the Supreme God, Tingkao Ragwang.
ii) The Gods and deities worshipped by the particular village.
iii) The Gods of different aspects of nature like the God of the wind, fire etc.
iv) Propitiation of spirit not to disturb men.
A complete genna or neihmei is observed in the village during the period of the sacrifice. The elder will eat the chicken cooked at the ritual place.
Bukaomei (Calling of the Soul) The elders will return to the village Pei (office of the village council) and perform another ceremony known as the Bu-kaomei (calling of the souls) to Tingkao Raguang. A big cock will be sacrificed after chanting the hymns invoking Tingkao Raguang, the Supreme God to extend protection to the people of the village from death and danger and provide welfare to the village and its people. The cock will be cooked and eaten by the elders and pieces of the meat will be distributed to every household.
Thus the Gaan-Ngai comes to an end. The community prays to Tingkao Ragwang as a Thanks giving and for future prosperity (Good harvest), the soul of the death leaves the households and go to the land of the death (Taroilam), the village reinvigorates its energy by affirmation of strength and unity, rejoices in the performance of dance, music, merry making and festivities.
Gaan-Ngai is a great festival, a unique cultural phenomenon, a form of aesthetic expression of the Zeliangrong religion and philosophy. It is also an institution through which the community sustains their cultural heritage and way of life. Gaan-Ngai is the essence of the Zeliangrong culture.
The Rhi Ngai (Chaga Ngai)
Rhi Ngai like a war festival, celebrated only by men. During this time, the men have to stay separate from the women, and even food cooked by the womenfolk is not taken. Strangers are not allowed to enter the village during this time.
The Gudui-Ngai (Mariang Ngai)
This festival is celebrated during the sowing season, sometime in April. During this time, people celebrate by drinking the juice of ginger, after having cleared the fields for sowing. A tug-of-war is held between the men and the women, symbolic of the competition between the Gods and Goddesses. If the war is won by the girls, it is a good omen, symbolic of a good harvest.
This festival is also intended for the youth to socialize,providing an opportunity for them to know more about the opposite gender and find a suitable mate for themselves.
Dances are one of the prime forms of celebration among the Rongmeis. A number of different dances are performed during different festivals, distinct in their step and style of performance. Colourful costumes are worn by the dancers, replete with various ornaments and even hornbill feathers. Dancers continue to perform throughout the day and all through the night, accompanied by thudding drums and a viloin-like instrument called the Nrah.
The Rongmei (officially called known as Rongmei) are among the earliest inhabitant of Manipur. The rich variety of their clothing reflects their rich cultural heritage. The Rongmei dance with their colourful costumes is a well known tribal form of tribal performing art. The Rongmei dress is categorised on the basis of gender (Male and Female) and age gradation ; child, youth, married and elder woman.
The staple food of the Rongmeis is rice. It is eaten twice a day with meat or vegetables. The Rongmei are fond of meat and non-veg. Meat and even skin are often dried over the fire and stored for future consumption. Where drinks are concerned, the local brews are Jou and Jung Ou. During celebrations and festivities like marriages, Jung Ou is the drink of choice. Among beverages, tea is quite popular.
The economy of the Rongmeis is agrarian in nature. Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for the people. Jhum cultivation is practised in a great way here. Pigs and stock are also maintained by the people. These serve a dual purpose of consuming the plant wastes as well as stock for sacrifice during periods of festivities and scarcity. The Rongmei are greatly skilled in bamboo, wood, blacksmith and pottery works. The raw materials for the same are easily available here. Bamboo baskets, mats, shields etc. are manufactured in a great way here.
- Hmar leader held in Barak Valley for Ronmei murder - Times Of India. Articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com (2011-07-27). Retrieved on 2013-07-28.
- ST-15 from Census 1991, ST-14 from Census 2001
- Gaan Ngai - the post-harvest festival of the Zeliangrong tribe of North East India, India-north-east.com