The Poumai Naga country is geographically located in Manipur and Phek district in Nagaland. The Poumai Naga is one of the oldest and largest Naga tribe in Manipur. According to the Hill house tax in 2001, the total population of the Poumai tribe is 151,005. (Including the Poumai in Nagaland). About 95.7% of the total population of Poumai is in the Senapati district, Manipur. There are four villages in Phek district of Nagaland with a population of about 6,500 people. There are 33 different tribes in the hills of Manipur and the major tribes are the Poumai Naga, Tangkhul, Thadou, the Kabuis, Paite and Hmar. The major tribes in the district are the Poumai Naga, Mao, Maram, Liangmei, Kukis etc. About 42.3% of the total population in Senapati district is Poumai Naga, which is the single largest tribe in the district.
The Poumai Naga People: The Poumai Naga tribe is a major tribe and one of the oldest among Nagas. The word Poumai is derived from two syllables “POU” and “MAI”. “POU” was the progenitor of Poumai and “MAI” is the descendants of POU. In other words, POU is the name of the ancestor and his descendants are known as POUMAI. The literal meaning of POUMAI means “People of Pou”. The descendants of POU were MEO, LEO and PAO. The Poumai Naga tribe was recognized as a separate tribe by the Central Government of India under the Constitution of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled tribe Order (Amendment) Act 2002. The Poumai Naga is considered an important tribe in Manipur and Nagaland since times immemorial. Their Pottery and Poutai (Pou salt) production was well known to the entire tribal areas in Manipur and Nagaland since ancient times. The whole Poumai Naga community is divided into three units or circles for administrative convenience as – 1. Paomata Circle 2. Lepaona Circle 3. Chiliive Circle The Poumai Naga took the wave of migration from Makhel (dispersal site of Naga) in two directions-Northeast and South East direction. The descendant of Liio (Lepaona) took the southeast direction and settled at Koide village under the leadership of Chief Rokhuo. The descendants of Pao (Paomata) took the northeast direction and settled at Saranamai village after the four Chiefs were chosen to head the new settlement. The descendants of Prou (Chiliive) also went in the northeast direction and settled at Prouphii. However some believed that all the Poumai first migrated to Saranamai and then migrated to different circles or areas.
Socio-cultural Profile: Before the arrival of the British to the Naga Hills, the Poumai Nagas were not exposed to the outside world. Headhunting at this time was at its zenith, with lots of pride but hatred, fear and jealousy filled their hearts. Fishing, hunting and shifting cultivation were the main occupations in the pre- British period. The Poumai Naga had no caste system in terms of high or low, pure and untouchables, rich or poor.
Family: The Poumai Naga community believes in a patriarchal family system. In many of the Naga villages, large families ranging from to 8-10 members in a family are common. More members in the family at the time were considered a boon, since a large labour force was required to work in the paddy fields. The Poumai Naga community follows the patrialocal and monogamous family system. They have Nuclear families; with Joint families seldom found in the village.
Clan: A clan is generally a group of people who have one common ancestor. In every Poumai Naga village, there are some clans or khel as they are called, ranging from 2-6 khels. eg. Koide village has 6 Khels (Khii), Tungjoy has 3 Khels, Liyai Khullen has 4 Khels and Phaibung has 2 Khels. The size and number of Khels depends on the population size and presence of Khels from other villages.
Role of Clan Elders: The Poumai Naga follows a pure and direct democratic form of governance even in a small unit like the Clan. The elders of the Clan play an important role in keeping the community harmonious and peaceful within their own clan and with members of the other clans in the village. From each clan one or two representatives are selected to represent in the village council known as Kabora or Gaonbura (G.B). Community life: All the clans in the village are tied to each other by close bonds of community life. For instance, when a clan member falls sick during paddy transplantation or harvesting –it is commonly observed that the other people from the same clan or Khel come forward to help the sick in different ways.
Judicial Powers: The clan elders with their wisdom play an important role, settling disputes among their own clan members and with the other clans in the village. Any problem or clash between two clans is resolved by bringing it to the village Gaonburas (G.Bs) when they cannot settle it among themselves. The elders of the clan take on the responsibility of settling all kinds of disputes and work towards bringing in peace and prosperity for their clans.
Village: In antiquity, there were only two prominent Poumai village namely, Koide and Saranamai village but it has increased to 69 villages (Hill House Tax of 1999-2000). Some of the important characteristics of Poumai Naga villages show that every village is autonomous and self-sufficient in natural resources. Each village has a democratic system of governance. There is no caste system the system of landlordship is absent (Zamindari system). Beggars are unknown in the village as there is community land in every village for the benefit of the needy.
The Poumai Masou Me (Poumai Naga Union): The Poumai Masou Me (PMM) is the apex body and the largest social organization found in the Poumai Naga community. In addition to the PMM, there are a number of subordinate organizations that are actively involved in the over all development of Poumai community like:
i) Poumai Tsiidoumai Me, PTM (Poumai Students’ Organization)
ii) Poumai Naotoumai Me, PNM (Poumai Women Organization)
iii) Chiliive Naga Union, CNU (North Eastern Poumai Organization)
iv) Lepaona Naga Union, LNU (South Eastern Poumai Organization)
v) Paomata Council, PC (Western Poumai Organization)
vi) Razeba Public Organization, RPO (Northern Poumai Organization in Nagaland).
Apart from these general organizations, there are Christian missionary organizations for spiritual development namely, Poumai Naga Baptist Association (PNBA) and Poumai Catholic Mai Me, (PCM).
Village Gate: The Poumai Naga villages are in a compact settlement. Earlier there were village gates in all the villages but now we can see only the depilated ancient gate in most of the villages. The village gatekeepers opened the gates in the morning and evening for the villagers.
Feast of Merit: The Feast of Merit “Zhosouyu” is a special ceremony observed among all the Naga tribes. The culture of Feast of Merit still exists in the Poumai Naga community. A person who performs the Feast of Merit is highly recognized and honored in society. Elwin Verrier writes, “The Feast of Merit brings the donor an honor both now and after death and henceforth he has the privilege to wear the ceremonial cloth and ornaments, and decorate his house in a special way”. In the Poumai Naga community a person who can afford to perform the Feast of Merit is eligible to wear Zhosa (Shawl for those who performed Feast of Merit). Zhosousa or Zhosa is a cloth of honor to be worn only those who have performed the Feast of Merit. In Poumai village, Liyai Khullen hosted the latest Feast of Merit in January 2004.
Headhunting: In Poumai tribe, headhunting is known as Reipeihuyou. The last headhunting case was reported in 1958, in India among the Naga tribes. The reasons for headhunting are complicated yet interesting. The belief was that by taking the head from another village, a new injection of vital and creative energy would come to the aggressors’ village when he brings the head home. So whenever there was no good harvest in the village, the warriors went out to other villages to bring the heads. It is also their belief that if they killed the animals in hunting, their misfortune vanishes. To bring a good harvest to the village or to restore good fortune the warriors and hunters would continue to hunt the head of man and animals. Another important reason of Headhunting practice among the Poumai village was also to raise the social status of the village and since everybody wants to be recognized in society the warrior brings the head. Headhunting was also practiced to attain manhood and to win the heart of the fairest girl of the village in marriage. In Poumai Naga tribe, when a warrior brought the head to the village, the village chief performed religious rites at his residence.
Festivals: Nii (Festival) is one of the important social activities for human beings since time immemorial. Festival is a time to celebrate together with the loved ones from far and near. There are some important religious festivals of Poumai Naga and it involves some religious rites and rituals. However in recent yeasr, the Christians celebrate all kinds of festival without any traditional religious rites and ritual. Some of the important festivals of Poumai Naga tribe are Thounii, Laonii, Paonii, Rounii, Loukanii, Khiinii, Taithounii, Donii, Daonii, Duhnii etc. Most of the festivals are celebrated only in some villages except the Thounii, Laonii and Paonii and Donii, which are celebrated in all the Poumai villages or circles.
Religion: 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 King. 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. The Poumai Nagas believe in life after death. The religious rituals and sacrifices of the Yaosomai are quite interesting to note. They conduct various rituals and sacrifices to appease their gods at the individual level and at the village level as a whole. They make religious rituals and sacrifices in time of success or in adversities. Some of the omen examinations are done from grain of paddy (Kiithou), small piece of split bamboo, Lou (a kind of scented small plant), Miithou (embers), Legs and intestine of strangled chicken etc.
Marriage: Marriage is not a matter of ephemera; it is a lifetime matter. Marriage is sacred and one is supposed to abide by the marriage vows to the end of their last breath. In Poumai Naga community, monogamy is practiced. There is no child marriage and dowry system. There is not bride price system among the Poumai community. Intermarriage between the same clan or Khel is prohibited. Marriage with ones own sister and paternal cousins is restricted but marriage with the maternal cousin is accepted. Generally, engagement takes place in the months of July and August. The wedding ceremonies are held in the month of September. In antiquity, arranged marriages were common in the Poumai community. But in the present situation, love marriages are becoming more common. In ancient times, old women administered the marriage ceremonies. After 2-3 months of marriage, the couple is given a special lunch and dinner known as Kotouyou. Kotouyou is a kind of honeymoon for the couple. The bridegroom is introduced to all the bride’s relatives and a good rapport is developed. Kotouyou is held after the harvest i.e. in the month of December or January.
Divorce: Naotayou (divorce) is not common in Poumai Naga society. There is no Marriage Act for the Poumai Naga but the customary law is applied to all the divorced couples. According to the customary laws, if the husband divorces his wife, he is liable to give his movable property to his wife. If the wife divorces her husband, she loses everything, including all the gifts she received during her marriage. Birth: There are some religious rituals and ceremonies performed after the birth. During the birth, the husband and some elderly women assist in delivering the child. In antique there was no doctor or hospital and delivering child is depended on the experienced women who help in delivering the baby. The labor pain women are usually given some salty chicken soup in order to deliver the baby with good strength. The young boys a When the baby is born, either the mother or father cuts the umbilical cord with a sharp bamboo knife and buries it in the ground inside the bedroom. This custom of delivering a baby is still in practice in the village.
Soutouyou (Peace Treaty): One of the greatest changes brought to the Poumai tribe during the British administration in the hilly areas is pacifying the people against headhunting. The British coming to the Poumai areas had some significant socio-cultural impact. The inter-village and inter-tribe feuds in Poumai Naga tribe gradually ceased after British intervention in their headhunting. The British made Peace Treaty and brought reconciliation between the two headhunting villages.
Introduction of Christianity: Introduction of Christianity to the Poumai tribe is another very important event that brought changes in the socio-cultural and economic life of the Poumai Naga tribe. Many Poumai villagers accepted Christianity but the majority of the populations were non- Christians during the British period in the Naga Hills. A Christian missionary Rev. Pettigrew introduced Christianity in Manipur State in 1894. In Manipur Christianity was started from Ukhrul then spread to other Districts. The Tangkhul missionary introduced Christianity to the Mao Naga and then Mao Naga Missionaries brought Christianity to the Poumai Naga. M. Lorho first planted the seed of Gospel to Maiba and its neighboring villages.
Dress and Ornaments: The Naga tribes have different types of colorful shawls and clothing. The Poumai Naga tribe has different kinds of dresses and adornments for different purposes. The dresses and adornments, which are used at different festivals, are not used in casual wear. Before wool was imported in the Poumai villages, only Khailousa and Dolousa (made from wild jute) was mainly used for dresses. Khekaisa: It is a dignitary shawl to be worn by the elected public leaders to be worn by the elected public representatives (MP/MLA/MDC), Gazetted officers, Ordained Ministers (Reverend) and social activists. The dignitary shawl for ladies is known as Loukaisa. Zhosousa: Zhosa (feast of merit performer shawl), Riidusa or Nghasa (white with large stitch), and Khaopeiteisa or Khaopeidasa (embroidered elephant head in black cloth) etc are entitled to be worn by only those who have performed the feast of merit. Community Shawl: All the sections of Poumai community use the Sousa or Teisa (Rainbow color stripe). Hairstyle: Generally the women’s head were shaved or kept short before marriage. But they after they get married they do not cut or shave their hair and the long hair are rolled into a bun and suspended on the nape or plaited. It was easy to distinguish between unmarried and married women earlier from their hair.
Music and Dance: The identity of a tribe also shows through their unique traditional music and dances. There are different types of Poumai Naga folksongs like Patriotic folksongs, Poetic folksongs, Romantic folksongs, Rice men folksongs and Feast of Merit folksongs. Most of the folksongs are composed playing Lana and Chii. The main musical instruments are: i) Lana (a long string with a stick attached to half gourd shell) or (single stringed Bango) ii) Chii (mouth organ) made of small split bamboo iii) Nghakai (a mouth organ made of buffalo horn) kind of bugle iv) Shah and Be (mouth organ made of hollow small plant) v) Mouth organ made of bamboo with four holes
Food Habit: Food habits depend on geographical location, personal likes of different races and religious beliefs. The same geographical location and races can have different food habits due to certain taboos and personal likes. The Poumai’s food is less spicy. No spices or very little spices are used in their food. Generally the foods are braised with some spices without frying with oil. There are no vegetarians in Poumai villages. They have three heavy meals in a day.
Dormitory System: Kheloukizii (Dormitory or Morung) was found in all the Naga villages. In the earlier times the Naga young men and women slept in groups in their dormitory. Many social activities were carried out in the dormitories. In Naga society, the dormitory was a big house where the young men and women slept in groups in different dormitories and trained in different fields before their marriage. It was partly a training centre and partly a Clubhouse for entertainment. There were separate dormitories for boys and girls. In Naga villages, different tribes have different names for dormitory. The Poumai Naga call a dormitory a Kheloukizii or Reipeiki.
Khekizii: Khekizii is one of the important social institutions. When a boy attains adolescence he goes to sleep in Khekizii with other friends. It was prevalent during the headhunting days and strict discipline was taught and they were trained in different fields in Khekizii.
Loukizii: In girls’ dormitory (Loukizii), the young girls slept together in groups. Loukizii is another important social institution for the village girls. The girls go to their own Loukizii to sleep when they attained adolescence till they get married.
Inheritance: In Poumai Naga community, father has the sole authority to decide about the distribution of property for their children as per their tradition. All the ancestral and acquired properties are shared with all the sons. The sons inherit the immovable property according to the customary law. The daughters inherit the movable property; however according to the wishes of the parents. According to the Poumai customary law, the eldest son gets the lion-share. Daughters are excluded from inheritance of their father’s immovable property. In rare cases, some of the families give the immovable properties (paddy field) to their daughters.
Signs and Symbols: Different communities have different cultural, sign symbols, etiquettes, gestures etc. Non-verbal communication is communicated with gestures, signs and symbols. In earlier times, the Poumai Naga tribe never sent any message to the other villages through writing for Peace Treaty, Surrender, Friendship etc. but different articles were used as a signs or symbols to convey them. 1. Sounii or Sousha peiyou (Giving a piece of Meat), It is customary for the Poumai to give Sousha during the Laonii and Paoyi festival to their younger sisters, who are married in other villages. It is a sign and symbol of blessing and remembrance. 2.Poudziiziiyi (Twisted knot on the grass),3.Poudziihisiithouyi (A stick pierced into twisted knot on the grass), 4.Poudziikaonaiyi (A slant knot on the grass),5. Siiberaikho (Rope tied to a tree), if a tree is found tied with a rope, it symbolizes the tree is reserved by other people.6. Pouhuduhi kakouyou (A small long grass across on the way), A small long grass across on the way symbolizes something may be there ahead of you on the way.7.Kikhusiini tyayi (Door closed with stick across),8. Chuhthouyi alia Siishoh (placing stones and planting trees),9.Sahpeiyou (Giving shawl),10.Nghoupeiyi (Giving of spear),11. Zhaiseiveiyu (sending blood),12.Soushi Ho (Sending Chilly powder), 13.Meivipeiyu (giving charcoal),14.Maipeisiseiyu (sending human hair),15.Bahzii siiyi (to show your fist), 16.Khaoto sei you (Piece of rice taken out from the plate), 17.Lou Ki khaiyou (placing a small smelly medicinal plant at the front door), 18.Siibo Rohmii hi khaiyou (a bunch of plants placed at the village gate): It symbolizes that no visitor is allowed to enter the village. And anybody found violating the customary law can be fined or punished.
Games and Sports: Different traditional games and sports are held in Poumai Naga villages during the important festivals. Different games are played in different seasons and at different festivals. Some of the important games which are commonly played in the Poumai villages are, wrestling, High jump, Shot put, Long jump, Carrying a big stone, Kaka, Kabbaddi, Climbing on bamboo pole, Deidei, Louka, Bow and Arrow, Tug-of –war, catapult, Hawk and hen chick etc.
Spreading of Christianity: Christianity first came to Poumai the villages in 1934. The traditional headhunting ceased and Christianity spread rapidly in Poumai villages during the British Period. It was Christianity and the coming of the British who awakened the hearts of the Poumai Nagas and exposed them to new social mores and environments. Besides modern education, contacts with other people, improvement in infrastructure etc has in no small way helped to change the social and cultural life of the people. The coming of Christianity had brought some changes in Headhunting, Feast of Merit, Dormitory system, Marriage and Divorce, Birth and Death, Food habits, Dressing and Clothing, Hairstyles, Music and instruments, Housing Structure, Change in Family relationship, Traditional Festivals, etc.
Modern Education: Education in Poumai villages commenced very late as compared to the neighboring tribes like the Tangkhul and Mao in Manipur. However, modern education spread so swiftly to many Poumai villages and brought in tremendous changes in their primitive way of life. The first mission primary school was established in Poumai village in 1944 at Phuba village. The Catholic Christians established some schools in Poumai villages.
Conclusion: Some of the changes were brought to the Poumai community during the British period. The people could freely move to other village after headhunting ceased. Better relationship was fostered with all the Poumai villages through the Peace Treaty known as Soutouyou and reconciliation made between the rival villages. The other significant change which occurred during the British Period was the introduction of the Christian religion this altered forever the fundamental animistic beliefs of the Poumai people. The Christian Missionaries taught the people to love and help one another, which was a boost to stop further headhunting in Poumai villages. In the later years, the introduction of modern education, contact with other people and other infrastructures available in the region has brought lots of changes in Poumai Naga society.
Copyright© Dr. R.B. Thohe Pou 2009