Religion is related to individual life yet it plays an important role in the society. It acts as a powerful agency in society and discharges many essential social functions. According to Oxford Dictionary, “Religion-belief in the existence of a god or gods, who has have created the universe and given man a spiritual nature, which continue to exist after the death of the body.” In Sociology the word religion is used in a wider sense that use in religious book. A recent sociological work defines religion as “those institutionalised system of beliefs, symbols, values and practices that provide groups of men with solutions to their questions of ultimate being.”19 Religion plays the role of integration and unification in human society but at the same time disintegrates and not unifies the human society in many aspects. Religion is also an important factor of resistance to change the society. The origin and definition of religion is difficult to trace and bring satisfactory definition, yet many social scientists had attempted to trace the origin of religion and gave their own definition. Religions is most probably commenced since the beginning of human consciousness or culture and it is old as mankind.20
In Poumai Naga villages, the people who believe in their traditional religion are known as Yaosomai. The literary meaning of Yaosomai means those who drinks rice beer or those who follow the rites and rituals of the Kings. The Poumai Naga believes in the existence of one supreme God called Rahmai. The literary meaning of Rahmai means Supreme God, the designer and the creator who will judge the good and evils acts of man. He is the god of above everything, powerful and controls everything including all the gods residing on earth or above. Rahmai is same as Allah in Muslims; Jehovah in Christian; Bhraman in Hindu etc. Religious rituals and sacrifice are carried out by all the religions in this world. The Christians, Hindu, Muslims etc believe in their religious rites and rituals and sacrifices and the Poumai Yaosomai or Heathens also have the same faith in their god. They believe in existence of one supreme god who created the universe and who ever do good thing in this world will live with their supreme god (creator) after death.
They believe that god will punish the crooks, evildoer, liar etc as they dwell on earth and after death. They also believe that there are some gods who causes diseases, sicknesses and cause to death. In antique, many ghosts were seen in the villages and the present of ghosts is still seen from time to time in some villages. In every village, there is a traditional priest who performed all the religious rites and rituals. There are also fortune-tellers or traditional diviners who tell the sick people where to sacrifice cow, buffaloes, egg or hen with some pieces of iron to offer to god to pacify the god who causes the sickness. It is their belief that god accept the sacrifices and release the man’s life or relinquish the disease and sickness. The Poumai belief that there are some malevolent gods dwelling in some specific jungle, hill, stream or gorge and they do not go to such places in odd time.
i). Life after Death
The Poumai Nagas believes in life after death. They believe that the dead men live in a place called Thaimaingi, which means the village or land for the death.21 It is their belief that anybody who does good thing in life or live a righteous life will go to Thaimaingi like the Christians belief in life after death to live in Heaven after they die.
The religious rituals and sacrifices of the Poumai traditional religion is one of the interesting aspects to note. All the rituals and sacrifices are emerged due to their belief and religion. They have various rituals and sacrifices to their gods at the individual level and all the villagers as a whole. They make religious rituals and sacrifices in time of success or in adversities. The Yaosomai or Heathens always take out a piece of rice and offer to god from their plate before they take their food. It is like Christians praying to God before they have food. They believe that offering first to their god would remove all the impurities in the food. It is also a sign of reverend and thanks giving to their god for providing food to them.
The diviners examine the omens, which is very common in all the Poumai villages. There are many ways in which the diviners or soothsayers examined the sick or for any event to be held in the village or in other village. Some of the omen examinations are done from Eggs, grain of paddy (Kiithou), small piece of split bamboo, Lou (a kind of scented small plants), Miithou (embers), Legs and intestine of strangled chicken etc.
a) Examination with piece of split bamboo
The examination from the village diviner with small split bamboo is very common and observed for many purposes. In antique, according to the omens, all kinds of works are carried out in many ways. They are superstitious. Even today even some Christians believed in such kind of examination with small piece of bamboo.
i). Wild animal hunting
When the villagers want to go for wild animal hunting, they first go to the village diviners and see the omen/chances from a piece of split bamboo. If the omen is good for any particular spot, they go to that particular place for hunting otherwise select another spot and see the omen from the diviner. The villagers or group of people go for hunting to a particular spot where the omen is good after examination from the small pieces of split bamboo by a village diviner.
ii). For Headhunting
During headhunting, the same omens were examined from the split pieces of bamboo. The omen is first examined and then the head-hunters go to any other village where the prediction is favorable. The examination of omen from the split piece of bamboo was very famous and common till today. Even many nominal Christians believe in such kind of prediction as they had experienced in the prediction before they were converted to Christianity. For any important events to be held by an individual or village as a whole, examination of omen from a split piece of bamboo is carried out in all the villages.
iii). To trace the lost animals
When somebody lost any domestic animals, the villagers go to the diviner to examine where the lost animal might be. After examination from the diviner with split bamboo, the villagers go to search in that particular place where the diviner told them to find. They believe in such kind of prediction since in some cases the prediction came true. Examination with split bamboo is practice with almost in all the Naga villages. Till today, the nominal Christians of the Nagas believe in such kind of examination.
b) Examination with Egg
When a small child is sick, the diviner or soothsayer break the egg and examined the egg, which is first touched by the sick child. When I was a Yaosomai (believer in traditional religion), I saw my father did the same to examine the yolk. It is said that when a child is met with an evil god or witchcraft, there is black or brownish color in yolk but if the child is sick due to epidemic or any other sickness, not black spot is found in yolk. It is alleged that there are some Haomai (a kind of witchcraft who can cause stomach pain) in some villages and they cause stomach pain. When Haomai cause stomach pain to the people, the elders examine from egg and it is true the yolk egg became brownish or with dark spot on it.
c) Examination with Kiithou
Another way of examining the sickness of the people is through a kind of rice called Kiithou with Lou (a small smelly medicinal plant). Two pieces of Kiithou is brought together and touch with two small pieces of Lou. When the two pieces of Kiithou are touched with Lou, it moves or jumps in a specific direction, which shows that sick person met the malevolent god (Rasiilouyou or Rahdaolouyou) in that direction. Then the soothsayer advised the sick family members to sacrifice animal, egg or hen according to the seriousness and age of the sick in a particular spot. When a buffalo or cow is killed for sacrifice, the meat is distributed to all the villagers according to the number of the male person in the family.
d) Examination with Chicken
Another interesting examination is done in chicken. The chicken legs, heart and intestines are observed if the sick person is sick due to meeting with evil spirit or natural epidemic. When a cock or hen is strangulated, they observed the crossing legs. It is their belief that if the right leg is kept on top crossing the left leg, it is considered as a good omen. If the chicken is killed for a sick person and found crossing right leg, it revealed that the sick person would soon recover from the sickness. If a small child is sick, a small chicken is killed and examined the heart of the chicken. It also observed the intestine of the chicken.
There was no doctor or chemical medicine available in the village in antique. The sick people are examined from the soothsayer or diviners. The Yaosomai believed that people get sick due to two reasons – one is cause by malevolent god and other is due to epidemic or viral fever due to change in seasons. The Yaosomai and Christian in Poumai villages firmly believed that there is one supreme God, the creator of the universe and two kinds of evil gods – one causes sickness of the people and take life of the people, while other causes sickness of the people but no human life is taken. It is their belief that when some one meet evil god in the jungle or any solitary place, the evil god (Rahsi) torments the man bringing sickness. The Yaosomai believe that through sacrifices of animals and other religious rites and rituals, the evil god is pacified and release the sick man. The sacrifices are done in a particular place where the evil god is lightly to dwell.
Apart from individual offering and sacrifices to god, the village as a whole also offered and sacrificed to god whenever there is any calamity or epidemic spread in the village. When I was a small boy there was not rain in my village till last week of June and I saw the villagers going to the Koide Hill (Koide Yaotao) around 9A.M in the morning to chant and plead from god to rain. In the evening, there was heavy rainfall in the village and all the villagers were in the stage of euphoria planning to go to field the next day. On the day of chanting and pleading rain from god, all the villagers are restricted to work in the field or even gardening or the woman folk weaving of clothes. It is a kind of superstition for many people yet many people believed in such kind of chanting as they had experienced and seen the consequences.
When the villagers are unsuccessful in any competition and brought embarrassment to the village, it is their belief that all the male folk should go for hunting to get one head of the wild animal to remove the misfortune. The Yaosomai performed different kinds of religious rituals and sacrifices till today in Poumai villages. The old traditional rites and ritual continue to be part of the Yaosomai, however many Christians do not believe in such kind of heathen even though some of the nominal Christian continues to believe in old traditional examination with small piece of split bamboo and other examinations. With the advent of Christianity in Poumai areas, the number of old traditional believer decreased and today about 98.5% of the total population are Christians.
Copyright@ Dr. R.B. Thohe Pou