The Koireng are mostly found to be settled in the border foothills surrounding the Imphal valley and is a small scheduled tribe of Manipur. The present geographical distribution of the Koirengs include
Longa Koireng (17 Km),
Sadu Koireng (37 km),
Awang Koireng Longa Koireng (27 Km),
Utonglog (27 Km) and
Kamu Koireng (25 Km)
in Senapati District; Tarung (3 km) and Koireng Colony (3 km) in Imphal district (The distance given are from Imphal). According to 1981 census, the Koireng population in Manipur is 603.
The ethnonym ‘Koireng’ is derived from two roots ‘Kol’=east and ‘ren’=men which got corrupted into the present word. At present they want to be recognized as ‘Korem’ rather than that of the scheduled tribe name. J. Shakespear, Bose, described them as an old Kuki tribe while on the contrary, Hodson, Gangmumei Kabui classed them as a Naga tribe.
From the linguistic point of view, they belong to the Kuki chin group of Tibeto Burmese Language. Their physical characteristics are that males are commonly 5′ to 5′-6” tall whereas female statute is 4′-6″ to 5′-3″.
They have dark brown skin; slim looking but sturdily built body. Their hair is usually black and straight. An oval shaped face; non prominent cheek bones, small eyes with absence of epicanthic folds; mesorine nose with its root high, piercing of ear lobes and slight prognathous of Chin are also distinctive features.
The Koireng Cosmogony myth exists in different versions namely
(i) Emerging of two heterogemeses human progenitors from non-human beings and
(ii) ancestors emerged out of the cave, Khur.
According to the first version, in the hoary past when there was no evidence of human beings except the divine beings, on Yeisupn (Earth) two fungus like plants, grew up at Yaolkip and Yaolkak. On seeing these two plants, the divine beings were very much struck with fear; the objects could not be cleft thoroughly.
One was cut deeply in middle and it turned into Tulong (woman) and identified as Roltei while the other was cut in a slanting position thereby producing pointed parts and the very being became Tumong (man) who came to be Known as Rolphul. By their union seven sons were born.
They in order of their seniority were
Meriem (or Merilm Mikan) from whom the seven clans of Koireng were born. But at present the latter five clans are extinct.
The other version revolves within the faith of emergence of their forefathers out of a cave, according to which they are known as Khurmi (Khur=cave, mi=man). But they could not recount reminiscences about the exact location of the legendary cave.
When they came out of the cave, they encountered a tiger at the mouth and ate them. Neirong, a man of Song clan wrapping a shawl Ponthal (Pons=cloth, thals=arrows) having patterns resembling the skin of tiger was spared from being eaten up.
Since then, it’s believed that members of Song clan are tabooed to eat cat, tiger and tokapa (an animal of cat family) and on the other hand, tiger does not injure them.
Though the exact site remains unknown, Kolram, the eastern land that is believed by the Koirengs to be the Karen State of eastern Burma is claimed as their original homeland. They moved through different regions of Burma from upper Burma across the Chindwin Basin Hill and then into the Lushai Hills and finally into Manipur.
Out of the two Clans presently in existence viz, Songthu and Yeite, the Songthu Clan is divided into two groups; Chungnung (upper) and Noineng (lower). Chungnung is sub-divided into (a) Rengphamak and (b) Rengkhumak while that of the noirung into (a) Rangsokhet (b) Rongkhotinson (c) Ranglisek and (d) Rongleisong (e) Toltung and (f) Thaiba.
The Yeite clan is divided into (a) Norsel (b) Barreng (c) Ranglihon (d) Leisel (e) Wanbe (f) Tente (g) Tumtin (h) Lunqlai (i) Maite.
Amongst the clans, there is the exogamous rule for marriages but amongst the sub clans certain groups are allowed to inter marry while certain groups are restricted to intermarry. Their material items includes those from the Cultural, Social and economic spheres. They manage to live in thatched houses with earthen plinth and a verandah.
Their important dress and customs are (i) formale onthal (especially for males), Puonwon, Murkisen thaite (turban) and (ii) for females Puonhem (ascribing higher status for being adorn with it), Ponsel, Saipikhup. Lungum Puonkokhoi, Ponlang, Koram (the latter two clothes are waist belts).
The Koireng women use ornaments with Har (armlet), Yakseir (armlet) – all made of bead and Rikarui (necklace of red beads). The Koireng men use feathers of hen and fur of goat to decorate along with turban. Musical instruments they use to rejoice with are Khung (drum) Rushem (Bagpipe), Sekhi (horn) Sum (gong), Serangdar (violin like instrument) etc.
They subsist depending on implements like spear, fishing basket, carrying baskets, hoe, plough yoke etc.
People of Younger generation are nominally Christians, but old pagan practices linger on and only non-Christian elders enjoy privileges for Chieftainship. Traditionally rules to impose fine to wrong doers exists in each village which might be different from village to village.
The supreme God is Pathian and next to Him is In-Pathian (House-god). An individual’s life is entwined in the rite-de-passage that runs from nailuwoi (naming ceremony) on the third day of a birth; Theikal, ceremony to strengthen limbs of the child who are 15 day old; Mason, the ceremony performed to recognize the child as human and allowed to wear earrings; marriage that prevails as noiruoi (engagement) or Tan (elopement) or Keitout (capture) to death ceremony. They also believe in the rebirth of soul.
(i) Bedal: It is the genna in the month Tolbol (Jan-Feb) before which the growing of crop is forbidden. Offerings are made to the goddess – who was the daughter of Miriem, taken by Lord Thangjing as his wife when she was a sacred virgin- near a pool/ rivulet.
(ii) Palchoi: It is a religious service to liberate them from disasters. At the village gate, the Khullakpa worship with wine and creepers of costus ap and after the completion he is brought on the back of a Changloi.
(iii) Kangrai Mindai: It is a three days festival in the month of Phurpa (May-June). On the first day, village elders worship (Yupanthaba) Pathian at the gate with wine along with pig, hen and a dog, which the anterior portion is feasted after the rite. Lomnur (leader of boys) and Tamsai (leader of girls) are selected on the second day, they consume cooked remaining meat of the previous day and entertain by cutting jokes and singing song, but there is no dancing. On the third day, youngster fetch flower, firewood and a bundle of firewood is kept in front of each house. In the evening, a tug of war, won compulsorily by Khulenlom is arranged between Khumlon (upper group) and Khulenton (lower group). Afterwards, there is Meiomlam dancing and singing.
(iv) Chaonlei: It is a religious service observed in Inga for prosperous growing of crops. At present, it is combined with Charaikhei ritual for healthy growing of crops.
(v) Tuikuong Khuor: In Jingpi (Aug-Sep) month, water spirit is worshipped at a water hole and waterways are cleared. In addition, use of fishing net on this day is tabooed.
(vi) Lamkir Lei: Megalith erected areas are cleared and there yupanthaba is done.
(vii) Chamer Sier: On the first day of these two days festival, village elders ritualistically offer wine, dog, pig and hen at the village gate and enjoy the flavor of the meat. On this day, village elders throw torches (Meihun) in between houses so as to exorcise evil spirits from the village. On the last day, nisolam dance is performed by 4/5 men holding spears in gala dress and Kalamchei dance by the assistants of newly installed noblemen is held. On this day, a bamboo post is erected by each family.
(viii) Lamthel Lei: In this road/village cleaning festival, at Panthong, the village elders string the gate with creepers and folk song telling the tales of mythical hero Neisong is sung. Khullakpa and a newly installed officer are brought back on the backs ofChanglois.
(ix) Chathar Lei: It is the festival of Koirengs enoying the first taste of harvested product celebrated in the month of Thapal (Nov-Dec).
(x) Lengwai: It is celebrated on the very next day of Chathar Lei. On this day, sisters’ sons are feasted by maternal uncles.
(xi) Chalam Kei: This divine service that includes harvested crop as requisite item is officiated by Khullakpa in Birip (Dec-Jan). The village is genna that day going nowhere.
The Koireng economy persists mainly on agriculture which they carry on by both shifting and wet cultivation method. Paddy, potato, ginger, arum etc, are main products. Gathering economy and basket products for commercial goods form trade and market.
Manindra Konsam from Sanathong wrote this article.