Zeliangrong Today: A Naga Tribe in Manipur (Part II)

Contd. part II


Inheritance is understood to be transmission of property from person to person at death or before death. It is practiced separately according to the type of the society i.e. patrilineal, matrilineal or bilateral. It also varies among the Naga tribes of Manipur depending on the social customs. Most of the Naga societies of Manipur are patrilocal, patrilineal, favoring paternal inheritance system. In the context of Zeliangrong society, youngest son has the full right to inherit all the lion share of his father’s properties, both movable and immovable. He is also responsible to repay all the debts of his father. All other brothers have a very less share. Daughters have no role in the inheritance even in absence of male child of the family. In such instances male member of the relative will inherit all the properties as well as the right to look after the daughters until they all get matured. Presently the rules are slowly changing.

People have started recognizing their rights through better educational knowledge and awareness. Therefore among the Zeliangrong tribe, female members start claiming for the equal property right by applying to the Indian law of inheritance and succession from the village court in case there is no male child in the family. As far as customary laws are concerned divorced women are also given immovable properties like land and house for their sustenance. Among the Zeliangrong the succession of the village chief is based on specific clan system that is considered hereditary. Kullakpa (controller of the village] – by Kamei clan and Khunboo (owner of the village) – by Gangmei clan are considered chieftain of the village in Zeliangrong society. Normally Khunboo is elder than Khullakpa.

In exceptional case this law is not applicable to some of the villages, where numbers of household are less than ten to fifteen, and no specific clan is found. It is proposed that clan based hereditary system of chieftain should not be practiced. Alternative to that, every well educated and qualified man above forty-five year of age should be given a chance through the majority of peoples’ consent to have more efficient and powerful ruling of the village in both the community land or the traditional chieftain land system of society.


The beginning of all religion is unknown and dateless and is not a phenomenon of recent emergence. The institution of religion is universal which is found in all the societies from past and present. Though not uniform among different communities, it is the earliest and the deepest interest of the human beings. Man does not only have his biological, economic and social needs but also has religious needs that makes him restless even beyond the satisfaction of his basic physical needs (Rao, 1990). The religion systems of tribal community are very complex and are said to be polytheistic. They do not practice Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam and Christianity as their traditional religion. They worship different deities, and many more living and non-living objects like – sun, moon, sky, stars, rocks, mountains, river stream, earth, fire, etc. which they believe of having both benevolent and malevolent power.

They also classify God and Goddess according to their belief. They have very strong cultural practices of offering efficacious things like egg, fowl, in some cases giblets, spirituous liquor, pig, cattle, mithun, cloth, pieces of iron etc., in case of sickness, mania, ill luck, and variety of other calamities for which they are sometimes called devil worshipers. There are also other ritual ceremonies, prayers, incantations, taboos, gennas performed by the Zeliangrong to have a religious moral and philosophical wish to prolong life, to ward off evil, to obtain children and to destroy or harass sworn enemies. Among the Zeliangrongs worship of different deities are found. Out of all gods, they acknowledge the existence of supreme god who created all the present form of life and all power to heal and to protect our life.

Their whole life is centered on the feeling of religions. According to Panmei and Kahmei (1995) Zeliangzong religion is completely unrelated to animism and idolatry. From the past no image of temple or idols are found. This statement can be supported by Asoso (1974,p.24) saying that “the Nagas have no established temples and images like the Hindu or Buddhists or mosques like the Muslims for the simple reason that God sees everything and every happening on earth”. In contrast to above saying, in some villages of Imphal valley, most of the households establish their temple and worship the idols occasionally. Different rituals are performed, it must be due to the influence of Hinduism in Manipur mainly incentral valley of Imphal. The traditional worshipers also establish a huge-temple as a common worshipping place at Chingmeirong 2-3 km away from Imphal. There, all the worshippers come together once in every month on the full moon day to sing songs and worship their god called “Tingkao Ragwong” or Tingong’ (means God of Heaven or the heavenly god).

He is considered as the creator of the universe, gods and men, all-powerful, all knowing, omniscient, omnipresent (Conference on Zeliangrong religion, 1994). It has rightly been pointed out by Brown (1975) that these people (Nagas) believe in awesome supreme deity whose nature is benevolent. This deity is the creator of all the things. Great variations in religion are found among the Zeliangrong tribe as well as within the subtribes. Despite the influence of different religions, at present mainly two types of religious practices are found among them i.e. traditional religion and Christianity, where Christian religion outnumbers the tradition religion by 85%. Among them everybody has the freedom of religion, provided it does not interfere with other religions. It is true that different crises have occurred because of changing or conversion to Christianity from traditional religion, like turning them out from the village. Onslaught and burning up their houses.

Snatching all the properties, harassment both physical and mental in different form by the traditional practitioner, which lead them to knock the door of the legal court, where it provides a clear verdict that, everybody has the right to choose and practice his or her own religion. In fact, it also cannot be ignored that after conversion to Christianity, people has almost forgotten all their traditional customs, their dance and music, dress system and their folk songs etc. which could be an important factor for the prevailing identity crisis. However slowly and gradually with more awareness and enlightenment through education and globalization of cultural needs, people are realizing an importance and need of cultural items to overcome the problems.


It is well known fact that the study of human society immediately and necessarily leads us to a proper understanding of the culture of that society. It is a well-known fact that cultures are not uniform. They differ from society to society with regards to elements like customs, traditions, ideas values, belief, practices etc. It provides knowledge which is essential for the physical, social and intellectual existence of man. It also conditions and determines what we eat, drink, wear, work, worship as well as ones career, whether we should be politician, doctors, soldiers, farmers, religious leaders, magicians etc. It almost moulds and shapes the characteristics and behavior of individuals living in a particular cultural group. Nagas of Manipur and other North Eastern part of India are very fond of their rich cultural heritage. They are considered to be one of the aboriginal cultural originators and preserver of the past society, when most of cultural patterns are changing day by day in search of modernization and westernization.

Zeliangrong people have cultural practices for every events of life from the stage of pregnancy to birth marriage and death. Among this sub-tribe lots of variations are found, even though their ideas center on one specific objective. Their rich cultural patterns/system are expressed through the medium of song, dance, dress, ornament (costume) religious belief, art and craft, customary celebration and prohibition, food and drink etc. According to the elders, most of the Zeliangrong dances are developed by observing graceful movements of animals, insects and many other living and nonliving objects.

Some of the examples are: Khoiguna laam (Bee dance); Rang laam (hornbills dance); Talam laam – (Butterfly dance) performed both by males and females together. Many more separate dances of male and females, youngs and olds are also listed below like Tareng laam (spinning dances); Hoi laam (male folk dance with voice) of invocation; Pazei laam (swing dance of one male – one female by sitting or by standing), Tuna laam (young girls dance) and Gaan laam (young boys dance) etc. Different costumes are required for different dances based on types of dances and sex of the dancers. Men use spear and shield of hexagonal shape in war dance, headgear with hornbills’ tail and pigtails, whereas females use earring, armlet, bracelet, necklaces, pickhim (lady decorated head-gear), pidong (head crown) etc.


All dances are accompanied with beating of drums in a particular rhythm. Chou and Mongding (Gonmei, 1994) invented it along with beating of Semmu – a circular gong with prominent semi ball in the center for striking to produce thrilling sound. It is also associated with beating of cymbal, a pair of round brass plates, which produces clanging sound by striking together. Many other instruments like Rah (traditional violin) etc are also use in support of the main instrument. Their songs have many classes depending on the purposes and seasons like: Raa Kalum Lu (Hymn or worshipping songs); Rih Lu(War song]; Lujam (Common folk songs); Lam Lon Lu (Friends love fork); Mangui Lu (love song) etc. Today Zeliangrong dances are considered to be one of the most popular dances of Naga tribe of Manipur.


Food habits of a society are naturally restricted to the availability of resources. Among the Zeliangrongs, mixed types of food habits are found with lots of variation depending on the locations, availability and affordability. Most of their food items are found naturally in the forest, as well as in markets. Their staple food consists of rice, all type of non vegetable like fish chicken, beef, pork, etc. which is supplemented by agricultural products of pumpkin, yam, different types of beans, bananas, pea, potatoes, tomatoes and different other green vegetables. They are very fond of food like bamboo shoot, tree bean, and fermented fish that they consider very special items. They are also very fond of spicy food. Based on the availability of the resources, cooking system and their sources of cooking that vary from one another. In hilly region less households’ use Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) for their cooking as compared to valley where no burning woods are available free.

In case of hilly areas lots of firewood are obtained from the forest without any cost. So far in valley irrespective of their economic condition ninety- percent use LPG whereas in hilly areas inspite of abundance fire wood available, around fifteen percent of households with good economic condition use LPG as their cooking fuel. Slight variations are found among the Zeliangrong in valleys and hills. Dependency on forest and agricultural products are more in hilly people where as the market products are the main sources for valley people. The non-Christians drink rice beer that they consider as the nourishing drink. It is prepared in large quantity and served liberally in all the festivals, ceremonies, social gathering and in entertaining guests. This is strictly prohibited among the Christian society.

It is clearly observed that average timing of lunch and dinner are quite different between hills and valleys people i.e. 6.50 am and 5.45 pm; 10.30 am and 7.30 pm respectively because of different occupational practices. Breakfast is very rare in hills as compared to valley people. Milk is not consumed by most of the people which may be because of economic problems or unawareness about its nutritional value. Less restriction in food habits are found. They abstain from specific food in very rare incidents like, pregnancy, after delivery, and health related problem. No customary or traditional system of restriction was observed but they are given simply boil and bland ood with dry meat or fish during illness. Till date they practice taboo system of restricted clans’ food items, thinking that it may cause serious health problems.


Agriculture is the main occupation of Zeliangrong people. They practice both jhum and terrace cultivation along with different other supplementary occupations like, animal rearing, weaving, farming domestication, carpentry work, day labor, small scale business, plantation of tea, cotton, chilies etc. Hunting, fishing and collecting different products from forest are also practiced. The Zeliangrong people are very much fond of their traditional weaving system producing numbers of splendid cloths that are very popular throughout India. Slowly and gradually many people started getting employment in different 112 KAMEI SANJIT RONGMEI AND SATWANTI KAPOOR department of government as well as NGO, irrespective of sex. Business of wine brewing is also considered one of the important supplementary occupations of Non-Christian.

In the valley, wet field agricultural cultivation along with day labour, small business along with the chicken, pig and fishery farms etc are the main occupations. In hilly area, both jhum and terrace type of cultivation with much more supplementary occupations are practiced. The hill people are found more engaged in physical labour as compared to valley people. Both males and females work all day long except on Sundays. All women are responsible for maintaining household works like cleaning, cooking, washing along with rearing animals, weaving etc. Males mostly work outside, ploughing, cutting, digging, collecting etc. As soon as agricultural season is over, hilly people look out for alternative occupations like cutting and gathering logs, bamboo (lumbering) collecting different types of leaves and fruits etc., which are sold in the market to supplement their income. Limited agricultural land banned on jhum cultivation and no alternatives provided, Zeliangrong people always face miserable economic problems.


Manipur always suffer from lack of transport facilities, as roads are the only means of transportation in all the parts of Manipur. The entire road system has been officially classified into – national highway, state highway, major district road, other district road and inter village road. They are again classified into metalled road, unmetalled and cart track, food path and hills trail (Ansari, 1976). So far no railway lines or waterway of transportation system are found. In 1990, according to government policy, Manipur was included in the Indian railway map. First station of Manipur being Jiribam railway station connects with Silchar railway station. It is also known that on 17-11-1998 another important railway line foundation stone had been laid by railway minister to connect Karong in Senapati district of Manipur and Diphu in Assam through Dhansiri between inter state or country but the project has a long way to go.

The only alternative to road transportation is airway, which provides quick service and comfortable despite of its huge expenditure. The state has two very important National Highways i.e. NH-53 and NH-39 from Imphal to Silchar and Imphal to Guwahati respectively. NH- 39 is also called “life line” of Manipur or Indo- Burma/ Dimarpur road. It is considered as one of he most important Highways of Manipur. It has a total length of 215 km, crossing Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, where as NH-53 cross Assam and Manipur through Imphal with Jirighat in Cachar district of Assam. It has a total length of 224 kms. The Government is planning to have NH-150 of 523 km long, connecting – Jessami, Ukhrul, and Imphal, Chura –Chandpur – Tipaimukh with Aizawl of Mizoram. In Manipur 80% Zeliangrong people live in Hilly area where a transportation facility needs lots of improvement. National Highway passes through only few villages. There are many more villages where even two-wheeler cannot reach, as they are not connected through metalled road other then footpaths


  1. 1. Toilet System

Toilets are considered an indicator of the social status and the economic background of the society. Proper toilet facilities are very important health factors as most of the diseases are borne from open field or kachcha type of toilets. The Zeliangrong tribe of Manipur has different types of toilet from open fields to septic flush types depending on the economic condition of the household as well as the space available. In urban areas of Imphal valley, most of the households have more septic toilets as compared to kachcha toilets. About 10% households are without toilets because of poor economic condition and limited space. In rural areas, it is opposite of urban setting. Most of the toilets are of kachcha/semi cover type, very few flush or septic toilet systems. They mostly use open fields. It helps in saving money for other important tasks. But people are becoming more and more aware about the necessity of a septic toilet as well as the use of toilet soap, chemical etc. regularly.

2. House Type

Manipur is a state where different communities live together both in hills and valleys. They construct different types of houses, depending on their cultural believes and traditional customs and economic condition. Variations are seen between hills and valleys house type. In the hilly villages most of the houses are made of wood ZELIANGRONG TODAY: A NAGA TRIBE OF MANIPUR 113 and bamboo with roof covered by C.I sheet (corrugated iron/galvanize corrugate tines) and thatch. Their walls are fenced by split bamboo and plastered with mud. In some houses roofs are still covered by thatch, which in reality indicates traditional old customary type. As a sign of improved economic condition with better educational knowledge, people start making completely modern type of houses with imported building materials and bricks. The houses are also divided into many rooms like, reading room, common room, bedroom, kitchen etc. with the consultation of engineers for proper ventilation and aesthetic sense.

In Imphal valley due to over population and limited space many people have constructed double or triple storeyed houses. Most of the Zeliangrong houses have a main door facing East Side i.e. in sunrise direction. In a traditional house of a hill people, the walls of the houses are decorated with heads of the animal like wild pig, buffaloes, tigers, etc. and of beautiful birds’ feather, which indicate the degree of expertness and brevity in hunting animal. In valleys, houses are decorated with beautiful objects or woodcraft in most of the rooms. They always have separate kitchen, separate shed for domestic animals. In hilly villages few houses were found where the domesticated animals still live in the same house as was in the case of their fore fathers days. In the traditional practices the roofs of the houses are slanting downward with less number of windows making it so steep that rainwater easily falls down. In hills and valley, every household with agricultural land has one storeroom attached to main house.

Constructing house is not very expensive in hilly areas in comparison to valley, as all the materials are found in the forest that requires only physical labour. They are also very fond of constructing traditional types of small hut whenever needed and wherever they go, for cultivation or in any farming area to take rest, eat and sleep whenever necessary in order to be protected from sun, rain, cold and wild animals etc. Most of the Zeliangrong people so far prefer to live in small traditional hut type of houses even if they can make an expensive house, due to communal problem which discourages elaborate permanent settlements. They are often compelled to change houses from one village to other in search of security of life.

3. Source of Drinking Water

Water is one of the basic needs of our life. It constitutes – 79% of blood, 80% of brain and muscles and 10% of bones i.e. two third of the total weight of body is water. Every person requires about 30 gallons (136.3% liters) of water per day for all purposes (Bedi, 1970). Besides drinking, water is required virtually for all tasks like cleaning, washing, cooking etc. The availability of water varies from village to village depending on geographical location and developmental status. Since Zeliangrong people are widely distributed in hills and valley, rural as well as urban settings, their needs and requirement also varies. In some of the villages at Imphal due to limitation of the inhabited areas, people have filled up the entire pond, small lakes etc. to construct their houses. It compels them to depend on tape water for all the different purposes, which leads to a problem of water scarcity.

The ponds are very rare in Imphal valleys and are at long distances from their villages. People are forced to buy water @ Rs.2 for 50 liter including labour charges. In the rural villages, more number of ponds is found along with small lakes nearby. But tap or pipe water supply is non-existent. They conserve the pond water in hygienic condition by making fence around, putting soda or lime to kill all the microbes, prohibiting any washing or bathing. Valley people also depend on the hand pump water for all domestic use, which are provided by the state government according to the population size and their needs. Most of the Zeliangrong people drink boiled water. In Christian village tealeaf is added in the boiled water without sugar. It is served regularly to the entire guests and family members after lunch and dinner. In Hills, people totally depend on the river and spring water. This water is carried through the pipe or canal system toward the village area, where they usually have a big tank to store. Hill people face less problems of water as compared to valley people as they have Perennial River. In rainy season, due to poor quality of water, it is stored for at least 3-4 days so that all the impurities would settle down in the bottom of the container, then the water is used for drinking and cooking.


Zeliangrong society is patrilineal, where father is the main authority and decent is traced through male line. But women also equally contribute to the society except in some of the social customs. 114 KAMEI SANJIT RONGMEI AND SATWANTI KAPOOR In fact women are more active in both outside house as well as internal household chores from morning to evening. They also contribute in cultivation, collecting firewood, cleaning up farms, plantation, digging, fishing, weaving, cutting etc. Generally they are not allowed to plough, hunt animal and do carpentry work and all ritual worship but exceptions to these are also found. They are given freedom to talk, vote, study, work in NGOs, in govt. sectors, and are free to join any political party if they are eligible and are interested.

Here we can quote the examples of Rani Gaidinlu, a great freedom fighter of Zeliangrong who also won a Padma Bhushan in recognition of her contribution to the society. She was born on 26 January 1915 at Longkao and has created a new history of unforgettable epoch among the Zeliangrong people that will continue to inspire all the men and women of the Naga in NorthEastern region. It will remain as a great example of women’s courage and ability among the Naga society. Despite their valuable contributions women re not paid back with right of inheritance, authority, leadership, no equal wage etc. To quote a few, they can be divorced at any time with some flimsy reasons by giving them fine of one pig in the customary court, no remarriage is allowed without a proper reason. Women cannot take a final decision and are considered second in the education system whereas all the male children are given first preference in all the customary as well as social development deals. However the situation is slowly and gradually changing with more women getting engaged in all types of work. Different women organizations are established in village as well as at state level in order to protect their well being from ill treatment in the society. With advancement in the education and awareness level, Zeliangrong women start realizing their rights and are being engaged in different tasks like adult education, Anganwadi, Nurse, Dai, Teachers, weaving and religious preacher etc. Above all Zeliangrong women are known for their simplicity, energetic disposition, faithfulness, stalwartness and hospitality etc.


Health is a conscious factor among Zeliangrong tribe of Manipur. In earlier days people suffered from all types of communicable disease like small pox, cholera, chicken pox, diahorria, dysentery etc. It took a heavy toll of human life in the villages as no proper medical facilities or vaccines were easily available. The situation is changing slowly. Most of the people are becoming aware of modern medicine and available health facilities. However there are still many villages where no PHC or dispensary is available. In order to help people in such remote villages, government, NGOs and Christianity plays a very important role by abstaining from the use of drugs, alcohol and making them aware of the hygienic programme etc, introducing many other alternatives to support their life.

Government provide them one PHC or sub center for each 1,000 person and medicines at the rate of Rs. 12,000 per PHC in a year and Rs. 2,000 per sub center along with many awareness camps, distributing poster, pamphlet etc, and making them aware of their health right. It varies from valleys and hills. The valley people have better medical facilities as compared to hilly area where few numbers of PHC and hospitals are available. To them a person is considered sick when he/she cannot move out of bed because of disease and physical weakness. Usually for any problem they are habituated to buy medicine as per their own idea without any prescription from doctors or trained health workers. If they find no improvement, then only they consult Doctor or traditional practitioner. Non-Christians depend on all types of modern medicine as well as traditional practices whereas, Christian people depend only on modern type of medicine. They are very fond of using herbal  edicines for all type of diseases.

They believe that a sick person should not be taken directly to a hospital as long as they are traditionally/ customarily confirmed for the presence of ghost spirit/supernatural power from the pulse count. It can cause to death of the person if the patient is given injection or medicine in the presence of the spirit. They are the people who refrain from visiting hospitals or doctors as much as possible, mostly due to superstitious belief, economic problems and less awareness of the modern medical facilities. The distance and transportation problem along with unavailability of doctors and medicines and high charges of private doctors’ cause them to avoid visiting hospitals and doctors. In very serious cases they do visit the Regional Institute of Medical Science [RIMS] at Imphal. With allthe efforts to improve the health status ofZeliangrongs, there still prevails a burden of communicable disease along with constitutional diseases like high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, cancer etc. Among the Zeliangrongs, no customary restriction is found in visiting hospitals or doctors for both male and female at any time. Imphal valley people always visit government hospital and private doctors depending on their economic condition and availability of doctors. Hilly people depend solely on PHC, Dispensary and private doctors (Licensed Medical Practitioner-LMP, Registered Medical Practitioner-RMP) of the village with the supplement of herbal medicines made by elder or traditional healers. The Christian people are also very fond of worshiping system by the elders of the church whereas among non- Christian, different animals are offered/sacrificed to their god and goddess so as to protect them from the evil spirit responsible for causing ill health and many other problems. Most of the Zeliangrong people seek help from the elder people at village having first aid knowledge for minor ailments.


From the present study conducted it has been clearly known that Zeliangrong tribe of Manipur is the combination of three sub tribes. They are the most enterprising and advancing Naga tribe who inhabited most widely in all the district of Manipur as well as in many other north eastern states of Assam, Nagaland etc. They are popularly known for their rich cultural items, which are associated with each and every activities/ functions/events of life. They are found inhabited both in hill and valley, follows both Christian and non-Christians (traditional) religion where Christians live mainly in hilly area and non- Christians in valley. Slight variations are always found in their cultural practices, ritual performance, religious practices, marriage system, polity, occupation, socio-economic system etc. which must be because of so many factors like ifference in religious system i.e. (85%christain outnumber non Christian).

Widely inhabited practices and constant shifting from one place to another because of communal onslaught, religion differences, etc. that makes them unable to settle permanently are some of the main causes. They have poor economic condition, low quality educational level, poor health status and many other negative factors affecting their activities of life. Being in far flung villages in different districts of Manipur, Zeliangrong people are still bearing all the pain, hardness and critical situation of life without electricity, no proper transportation and communication, complete lack of modern medical acilities, no proper alternatives were provided despite the imposition of banned in jhum cultivation etc. Inspite of all the drawbacks the emergence of Christianity has removed most of the odd and ill practices almost completely, instead growth of education and awareness programme increases that make them assign in the present scenario. It is ironical that when many societies are so developed and striving for luxuries of life some societies are still in need of basic facilities. So it is the purpose of the researchers to find out the necessary requirements of the people to highlight and bring under the notification of the authority to look into the matter so that in near future no inequality among the society should be found.


The authors are thankful to the entire villagers and the subject for their ready cooperation in sharing their information and knowledge without any inhibition against their busy schedule. We also thank K. Peichun, K. Dandi, K. Jangthailung, village chief, aged people for permitting us to conduct our study, and for providing all the necessary information and suggestions regarding their cultural customs and traditional system. Here the authors also very grateful to University Grant Commission (UGC) for providing the fellowship without which publication of this paper will not be possible.


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Vedaya, S. 1998. Manipur Geography and RegionalDevelopment. New Delhi: Rajesh Publication.

Yunno, A. 1982. Zeliangrong Struggle Against the British Rule under Jadonang and Gaidinliu 1925-1947.

Delhi: Vivek Publishing House.

Zeliangrong Union. 1975. “Constitution of Zeliangrong Union.” Manipur.

© Kamei Sanjit Rongmei1 and Satwanti Kapoor

Department of Anthropology, University of Delhi, Delhi 110007 India

E-mail: sanjit32001@yahoo.co.in, satwanti@yahoo.com

Courtesy: Kamei Sanji Rongmei and Satwanti Kapoor


2 thoughts on “Zeliangrong Today: A Naga Tribe in Manipur (Part II)

  1. Great post, very informative. I’m wondering why the other specialists of this sector do not understand this. You must proceed your writing. I’m sure, you’ve a great readers’ base already!|What’s Taking place i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve found It absolutely helpful and it has helped me out loads. I hope to give a contribution & assist other users like its helped me. Great job.

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