The Poumai Naga villages are geographically located in Senapati District, Manipur and Phek District in Nagaland. According to Hill House Tax in 2000, the total population of Poumai tribe is 1,67,034. (including the Poumai in Nagaland). About 96.1% of the total population of Poumai inhabits in Senapati District, Manipur. There are four villages in Phek district, Nagaland with a population of about 6500 people.
The percentage of Poumai Naga to the total population of Senapati District is 42.3% in 2001. The Poumai is one of the oldest and major Naga tribe. This tribe is one the important tribe in Manipur and Nagaland since time immemorial. Their Pouli (Pottery) and Poutai (Pou salt) production was well known to the entire tribal areas in Manipur and Nagaland in ancient time. The main occupation of Poumai Naga is agriculture and shifting cultivation is hardly practice now in Poumai villages.
Laonii is one of the important festival celebrates in Poumai villages after the rice transplantation. It is usually celebrated every year in the first week of July. In Lepaona circle, it is celebrated for Nine days and Five days in Paomata circle. As a custom of the Yaosomai (traditional religion believers) or Heathens, not villager is allowed in rice transplantation after the Laonii Festival.
This festival is the time to enjoy with full of joy after successful rice transplantation and to rejuvenate their mind and health after hard work in rice transplantation. In olden days, the young men and women prepared lots of rice beer and enjoy together in groups. The First day of the festival is known as Kikhaiyou. On this day, all the Yaosomai or Heathens take two small branch of Mousii (a kind of small tree) and insert to the side of the wall of the house as a part of their custom.
The Second day of the festival is called Sepoyou and Third day is called as Murasouyou or Ranaiyou. On the third day, the cattle are not taken out for grazing in the open space. Fodders are brought and fed the cattle in the shed.
On the Fourth day is called as Loutouyou. The newly born sons are given birth ceremonial celebration. A cock is a must to kill on this day in honor of him as a sign of a boy. On this day, all the male folk above 10 years old have separate kitchen. They are restricted to partake food with the female folk.
The fire to cook food also do not take from the usual kitchen fire; fire is ignited from a smooth stick after long scouring (rubbing) with a split small bamboo rope and due to friction fire comes out. In olden days, there was not matches stick in the village and all the people ignited fire from a stick with scouring split bamboo rope.
The Fifth day is called Niidu, which means the main day of the feast. Lots of meats are cut on this day and meats are smoked in the kitchen for next four days use.
The Sixth day is called Sepaoyou, which means sending off the visitors/guests. Meats and rice beer also given to all their relatives/guests on their departure day. The women married to other villages, friends and relatives who came from other villages to join the Laonii festival are sent off to their villages on this day.
On this day, it is the customary of the Poumai to give Sousha (some piece of meat) to their younger sisters – who are married to other village. It is a sign and symbol of blessing and remembrance. Sometimes, aunts and nieces are also given Sousha. Giving Sousha reveals the bond of love and remembrance even though they are married to other village. Thus the bond of love and relationship is still kept with the women married to other villages through such kind of festival.
On the Seventh day all the males have separate kitchen like on the Fourth day. A cock is killed on this day and had together all the males in the family. On the Eight Day is called Hahpayou, which mean the cultivators can go to their paddy field to work. The young men and women go to paddy field for weeding in groups on this day.
On the Ninth Day, the last day of the Laonii Festival, as the custom of Poumai Naga tribe, the head of the family takes child beyond the village gate and killed a chicken. The chicken is cut into two pieces and throws one piece to the right and other to the left. It is their belief that through this religious rites and rituals their sins are forgiven and God will protect them from all kinds of diseases.
In olden days, the young men and women who sleep in the Kheloukizii or Reipeiki (Dormitory) celebrated this festival with full of joy and excitement. In this festival, pork is the main meat, which is cut for the people.
The young men and women celebrated the Laonii in their Khekizii (Bachelor dormitory) and Loukizii (Ladies dormitory). The young men usually presented the pork to the females in their dormitory and in return they gave rice beer and other vegetables. A day is fixed and the boys visited the girls’ dormitory to celebrate together the feast.
Folk songs competition between the boys and girls was carried on this special day.Romantic folksongs are also sung and enjoy together. It was a big and important festival for the young boys and girls. By nature all the Poumai boys and girls are frankly and celebrate the festival together.
Today, about 98.6% of the total populations are Christian but Laonii Festival is celebrated every year after the rice transplantation. There is not Kheloukizii in Poumai villages at present but young boys and girls gathered together in groups in one house and still celebrate the festival in Poumai villages.
They go to paddy field in groups for weeding for a day for a friend and the next day for another friend and they keep continue till they helped all their friends in their groups. In such kind of teamwork in helping one another – they do not feel burden of hard work since they enjoy laughing and chatting while working in paddy field.
When they come back from paddy field – they cook meat and continue to celebrate Laonii festival. It is still commonly practiced in most of the Poumai villages. The christians do not practiced any heathen religious rite and ritual but the spirit of the Laonii Festival is still conspicuous with all the youngsters.