By UA Shimray
Social Institution and Responsibility of Naga society
Social responsibility is one the great assets of humanity. It manifests love, caring and collectiveness.
A sense of social responsibility is not sanctioned by the society but evolves with the conscience of individual action. This action later translates as collective duty.
In other word, individual intervention in the society is the basic foundation of social consolidation. And this individual action is moulds through social interaction and communitarian attitude. However, bad intervention could attract disturbing trend inviting chaos and confusion.
Indeed, the most colourful ingredient in Naga society is its “community life.” Traditionally, Nagas work in groups, hunt in groups, eat in groups and sleep in groups.
One classic illustration is the Morung Culture (Youth-Dormitory). Morung constitutes significant social and cultural institution which also serves as basic educational foundation.
However, this institution has been totally de-linked and left to its own mercy of natural extinction with the incoming of formal education and Christianity. Even the present educated Nagas continue to neglect the important of Morung values.
Noted Naga scholar Shishak points out that:
“No human society exists and grows without education of some kind. Nagas were no different.
Since there was no tribal or inter-tribal organization to deal with the needs of the tribes as a whole, each village became solely responsible for its own economic social, spiritual, and political needs.
Such needs required that the young be taught and trained within the village community. One such training center in Naga society was the Morung”
[Shishak, A. Tuisem, “Nagas and Education” ].
Certainly, time spent in Morung can be categorised as – purpose and pleasure. The purpose is to prepare the young ones for all the tasks and responsibilities of life. The village elders often visit Morung to teach techniques of agriculture, basketry, making weapon, hunting, blacksmith and taught them folk-song-dance and narrate folk-tales.
The pleasure activities are social-interactions like playing, dancing and competition. Through such activities, Nagas developed their unique traditional folk songs and folk dance and different styles of spear and dao [knife].
In girls’ dormitory, weaving clothes is one of the important activities. Such practices and collectiveness imparts knowledge and skills. A beautiful Naga shawl is the sole production of the Naga women’s creativity.
Nagas’ Feasts of Merit is also one important cultural phenomenon. Performance of Feasts of Merit is rather expensive [In terms of commodities spent like paddy, buffaloes, pigs and rice beer]. The essence of feast indicates the host’s generosity.
Another important of the occasion is winning the “right” to wear special garments, ornaments and decorate his house in a special way.
This special decoration manifests certain ritual status. The house front gable, which is often furnished with heavy beams carved with heads of Mithun or men or women breast. The erection of stone at the host’s house is to commemorate the feast and symbolic status.
Today, the important of Naga traditional institutions like Morung and Feast of Merit is slowly vanishing in the Nagas memories. Also, considered no longer important.
In fact, no nation can maintain its greatness by disowning its roots, values and legacy. Like other traditional societies, Nagas also possess rich traditions, value system, culture and heritages. With the spread of Christianity and formal education brought a wing of change particularly in belief system, mindset and attitude. This change eventually discarded traditional social institution.
Moreover, Christianity re-modelled the Naga traditions by abolishing feast of merit, ceremonies and rituality. The feast of merit, disapproved by the missionaries in fact has important social and economic significant.
Given feast of merit is a social reciprocal system manifesting generosity, compassion and concern to the fellow community. And most important is sustenance of social responsibility and communitarian feeling.
Anthropologist Hai-mendorf (1978) comment: “It is a pity that the American Baptist Mission had little sympathy with the aims of the Government and even less appreciation of the valuable elements of Naga culture.
Many of its aspects conflict is no way with the principles of Christianity, and I believe that even some of the old feasts and ceremonies… certainly agricultural festivals… could have been adapted to the new faith, given a new meaning and retained by Christian communities” [The Naked Nagas. Calcutta: Thacker Spink & Co.1978: 57]
Naga had already acquired the concept of “love your neighbour,” before the advent of Christianity. As mentioned, Naga communitarian is sustain by the various social institutions and festivity activities.
For instance, sharing of harvest [crops, vegetables, etc] between the neighbours and relatives is common in Naga society. Also, visit sick persons and helping poor family is regular event. When a man killed wild animal during the game, he has to share his catch to the entire hunting group.
Even share small piece of meat to the people who happen to pass by or witness the game [It is believed that if the flesh is not shared, the hunters become unlucky in their future hunting expeditions]. There is no individual cultivation nor harvest, and no individual house building.
One can remember the parable of the “Good Samaritan” [Holy Bible, Luke, 10: 25] to understand the meaning of neighbour. So what the word neighbour really means… It is someone who bonds with you and society you lives. It is not necessarily the man next door to you.
Lawyer wanting to test Jesus Christ and ask what shall one do to inherit eternal life. Jesus countered by asking what the law said. And the lawyer replied to love God with all his heart, soul, strength and mind and to love his neighbour as himself. “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live,” Jesus said.
Not satisfying, the lawyer countered again, “And who is my neighbour?” Then Jesus told the lawyer the parable of the Good Samaritan- and its important.
In the parable, it was the Samaritan who helps the man who have been beaten and robbed by thieves [In fact, Samaritan was hated by the Jews].
Now Jesus ask him, “who was a neighbour to the man?”…the lawyer did not want to say “The Samaritan” because that was distasteful and replied, “He who showed mercy on him.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”