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The Kingship System of the Mao Naga


The Mao Naga tribe inhabits the northern part of the Manipur State- Senapati district bounded by the Angami and Chakhesang Naga tribes in the north, the Maram and Zemi Naga tribes in the west, the Tangkhul Naga in the east and the meiteis in the south. Like any other ancient tribe the history relating to Naga in general and the Mao in particular is steeped in both oral history and legends. There is no authentic written document or any historical record as to the habitation, language and script. The Mao Naga tribe is very peculiar comparing with the other Naga tribes regarding ‘the institution of the kingship’.

We learn from history that ‘might is right’ and that the strongest man would become a leader or a king. But in the history of the Mao Naga’s kingship, it is not the same. In Mao society, kingship began with three brothers namely Kahre-o, Robve-o and Pfose-o. They all vied with each other to settle in Mofuzhu, presently Pudunamei village. The mother, however, was very fond of her youngest son, Pfose-o and she wanted him by any means to settle down in Mofuzhu. She, therefore, thought out a plan. It is this: - the one who returns first after giving a cut mark on a particular tree will have the right to settle down in the Mofuzhu. Accordingly, the race began on the appointed day at a particular hour. The youngest son, as instructed by his mother, cut Chunghosii (its colour turns into light-dark when it is cut) and the other two brothers cut Rhus javanica (omosii, its colour turns into white when it is cut). They adjudged the youngest as the first and then he was allowed to settle in Mofuzhu. The youngest son came into prominence and became the king of the village and other villages as well.

It is important to note that in every Mao village there is a king or chief, who is the supreme authority in the administration and in religion, and who generally manages arbitration between litigants. The king is respected by everyone and is considered only next to God, His representative on earth. It is also believed that God has given more wisdom to him than anyone else and his will is considered as law. He is a man well-known for his personal prowess in war; in diplomatic affairs, in powers of oratory, religious life, etc and his commands are obeyed by the people, in so far they accord with the wishes of the community. In case of dispute or crime, the village chairman, who is the right hand of the king, and the village authorities decide the seriousness of the crime and accordingly, punishment is imposed to the one who commits a crime. The village chairman and village authorities are appointed by the people with the consent of the king.

It is said that the Mao Naga has some settled form of government from the time Ememei or Mao began to settle as a village. They have their own distinctive system of government compared to the other tribes of Nagas. The Kingship system is the most important institution in every Mao village.

The dignity of a king or chief, Movuo in Mao language, is hereditary. In practice, it has been seen from the very beginning that the successor is normally chosen from the incumbent chief’s family. The eldest son succeeds his father. If he (king) has no progeny, his younger brother’s sons- the one with greater quality and ability, personal appearance, religious purity and reputation of valour- can assume the rank. Again, if the sons of his younger brother are not capable to be a king, then any person (usually from the same clan) could be chosen who is known for his bravery, skill in diplomacy, power of oratory, health, good in domestic chores, etc. A king remains in his post till his death. If he is too old to rule his people, he selects a person, usually his own clan, to rule under his charge. It is important to note that in Mao Nagas society no woman can become a chief in the village.

According to the Mao traditions, Pfoseo has to perform all types of religious functions for the good of the villages. Whenever any village performs religious function, Pfosemei or Podunamei king sends his delegate as a representative in their function. However, this practice nowadays has faded away with the coming of Christianity. As a supreme head in religion, he observes gennas as the days of prayer for the economic prosperity and social welfare of his people. In some important gennas if the people fail to observe or obey what they are supposed to, he will impose the same genna again on the following day. Every Genna, therefore, which is proclaimed by the chief, ought to be observed obediently by the people. Whenever the genna is going to be observed on the following day, the chief proclaims at the top of his voice late in the evening on a particular stone at the place called Mani Kasa fii especially in Pfosemei village (Mani-genna, Kasa-proclaim, fii place).

When Genna is observed, the chief prays and performs rituals for his subjects to keep them away from all kinds of sickness, death, poverty etc. There are fifteen important monthly gennas (Ochre lei thin koru) which are to be observed. They are:
1. Ora (means god) mani- on this day, egg is offered to God at the village gate. This is observed in order to free the people from sickness and from death.
2. Tokho Mani- is observed for the good crops, fruits and domestic animals.
3. Pforeshii Mani- is observed that people may be freed from greed and their goods may also last long.
4. Omikazhii Mani- that people may not set fire to other’s house which may cause loss of property and lives.
5. Khehrukashii Mani- that storm may not destroy their houses and properties.
6. Pirii Mani- that the hailstones may not destroy their crops…
7. Ochiikozii Mani- that people may come out of their lethargies and sluggishness and may become prompt and dynamic in society.
8. Ojii (earth) kathi (death) Mani- that the parched- creviced and sterile land becomes fertile and also prays for good rain.
9. Okheshii Mani- that the wild creatures may not destroy the crops (on this day no one is allowed to kill any creature nor even allowed to cut a leaf or grass);
10. Odziikokho Mani- that the rainy season may come on time so that people can cultivate their crops;
11. Omopra koso Mani- that the crops or vegetables may grow fast;
12. Osiira koso Mani- that trees may grow well and bear good fruits (on this day no one is allowed to set fire in fields or forest);
13. Ochiikazhii Mani- that the good weather may overcome the bad monsoon;
14. Molukosii mani- that the earthquake may not destroy property and life;
15.Phehri Mani- that they can defeat their enemies, succeed in hunting and be freed from sickness…
16.
The king observes some more obligations for the intention of his subjects’ welfare. He always sets aside the following days in a Lunar Year for prayer and fasting, so that his beloved people may receive God’s blessings and live a peaceful and harmonious life: 26th January; 11th to 14thth February; 12th to 15th March; 28th July; 25th to 29 November. In addition, the chief also observes a number of taboos. They are: the chief has to abstain from sleeping with his wife on the Genna day; has to leave the house door open; has to abstain from eating sacrificial meat; has to avoid eating food with others; can’t stay in warring village; can’t eat nor rear female pig or bitch; can’t curse others; can’t beat others; can’t marry women accused of theft; can’t steal etc.

There is a myth about the king which says that he should not shit in any other village. Even if he happens to go to a far off place, he has to come back and shit in his village. The significance of this myth is that the king is expected to take care of the village properly by performing his duties well. If he goes away to other places he would not be able to discharge his duties well in his village. There is also a belief that if the king becomes rich, his people will become poor. So, for the prosperity of the village, he must remain poor. The reason for this is that the king, being the most powerful man, could manipulate the people for his advantage and the fact that he becomes rich will be a sign that he is exploiting the people. Another reason for this could be that the king is expected to observe gennas and perform many rituals which requires a lot of time. The fact that he is rich would mean that he works only for him to get rich but does not perform other duties well.

The chief loves his people and treats them as his own children. The people too love him and consider him as their own father next only to God. They show due respect to him. This mutual love and concern which exist between them can be best understood from the following: -
1. The chief is always given an honourable place on all the important occasions, particularly during the time of ‘merit feast’ and other sacrificial feasts (Oraso, Nuvevii ye Ottuzhe kocho). On these auspicious days he receives the right foreleg of a cow killed for a feast.
2. Every household under his kingship gives him a basket full of paddy at the time of inception of the sowing season or after the harvest. It is called Movuo Matikoth. He always initiates the annual seeds sowing.
3. On the feast day of Chiivii kovii, meat is distributed to every household by the host. And also whenever any villager dies, the deceased family distributes meat to every household. On these two occasions, the king always receives a double share of meat.
4. No new village can be established or settled unless the Pfosemei king erects and blesses the first hearth at the proposed village
5. The rich family at times provides a grand feast for the whole village after which a stone is erected to symbolize that he is a rich man in the village.
6. Under the Pfosemei King no village can wage war against any other village without the blessings and proclamation of war genna by him.
7. Whenever any family or individual from the village performs ceremony or sacrificial feast, he is always invited to grace the occasion. He serves the first cup of rice bear (ohaye) and in a conventionally manner, offers a few drops to the mother earth and invokes blessings for the congregation. The chief celebration and the other formalities of the ceremonies begin with his blessings. It is believed that whoever receives the chief’s blessings is said to be always lucky and lives a healthy peaceful life in the future.
8.Even today, on some special occasions especially during the festivals, the king hangs a skull on his neck. The skull signifies that his forefathers were great warriors or he himself was once a great warrior.

In a recent incident (2004), the present Pfosemei Chief’s back was cut with a dao by one of the villagers leaving a big wound on it. According to Mao Nagas customary law the village chief should not have any wound or big scar on his body. He should be physically, mentally and spiritually fit as a fiddle as he has been considered only next to God. So, the village leaders of various Mao villages demanded the resignation of his kingship. But unfortunately there was no non-Christian who was found capable for this post (except a few families, the whole village have embraced Christianity).

The king cannot become a Christian. If he becomes a Christian, he will lose his kingship and he cannot perform rituals and sacrifices according to the customary laws of the Mao Naga. He must hold on to his traditional religion and faithfully perform his duties for the welfare of his subjects. If he becomes a Christian he may forget his duties and even begin to hoard wealth for himself and give to others as gifts or sell his properties to others which cannot be given to anybody except to his successors.

By means of conclusion it can be said that the Mao Naga kings and his followers are not Christians by faith but they practise Christian values. They are peace loving people, e.g., before the coming of the British, Pfosemei village made a peace treaty with their neighbouring villages. The first written document of peace treaty was recorded in 1800 between Pfosemei and Khonoma village. They have the spirit of forgiveness, e.g. if a person steals other’s properties or goes against the law, that person can be forgiven if his relatives come and apologies on his behalf. They are very generous especially towards the poor e.g. after the harvest, people keep some paddy in their fields for the poor people to collect them. They always stand for truth and their lives are exemplary. The Mao Naga, therefore, must revive and imbibe the virtues of the ancient and age old traditions and live them out in our daily life. The process of modernization, no doubt, has brought about great changes in the society. But the fact that the king still cannot change his religion is a clear indication that tradition is still very strong in Mao-Naga society.

2 comments:

  1. Very nice write up and congratulation for the amount of hardship you endure to retrieve back the traditional practices which are portrayed here in black and white- kudos to you. However, I had some point for you to ponder. I know that at this present generation there are many stories going which of course we all get it from elders and I actually got a different stories here regarding the Pfosemai king. I, in the first place am not against your theory but want you to ponder on my story as well. According to what i hear there was a competition among the Ememai vying for the position of the king or chieftainship. It was therefore agreed that each village would bring forth their best bunch of crop and whose bunch consist the most grain would be declared as the king. Accordingly, the chief of Pfosemai village was declared as king, who was given an authority to pronounce the gennas.

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  2. Thank you. Big thumbs up to you George for this write-up. Very valuable piece of writing to learn our past and traditional practices.

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