Folklore genres of Meetei community

Manganleibi Loktongbam *

Telling of folk tales (phoonga / Funga wari leeba)
Telling of folk tales (phoonga / Funga wari leeba)
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Folklore is the tradition of passing the culture, customs, the belief system, festivals, the art of dance, music, the material culture, the architect, an enormous number of telling the tales from one generation to another generation. In early days the term was also known as Popular Antiquities, Popular Literature. The term Folklore was first coined by British antiquarian, William John Thoms in 1846, August 22.

In German, Folklore is called as Volkskunde, in France it is known as Tradition Populage, in Italy it is known as Tradizioni Pupulari and in Russia, it is known as Narodnye Trorcestva. And in India, different names of folklore emerged in different communities. In Hindi Folklore is named as Lok Sahitya, in Assam, it is named as Lok Sanskriti. There is no literal meaning of English word Folklore in Manipur.

But according to Dr. Oinam Ibochaoba Singh, in his book Folklore gi Vigyan Ahanba Saruk, it can also be interpreted as Khununglon in Meetei language (1). In 1849, William John Thoms defines Folklore, as the lore of the people. The lore of the people might refer to the olden tradition and customs, which Alan Dundes' also emphasised in his The study of Folklore, "the manners, customs, observances, superstitions, ballads, proverbs, etc of the olden times” (5). When we dissect the term Folk and lore, initially Folk mean the rural and the uneducated people, but it is questioned that it could not equally mean the group of people living in the city.

Meetei community folklore genres are multiform and diverse, that embraces every dimension of human experience and artistic expression . It is closely associated with custom, tradition, belief system, rituals, oral narratives like a folk song, folk dance, folk art, folktales, material culture, which include arts and craft, architecture etc. As customs are the set norms and practices in a community. Certain laws are being followed. Customs and tradition go hand in hand in a society and the family plays crucial role in continuing the process of Meetei customs.

Some of the Meetei rituals, beliefs and customs are listed below. The religious taboos of the Meeteis are the reflections of their concept of purity and impurity. For instance, a bath brings a person from the impure to the pure status. So, a man has to take a bath before taking part in the religious activity. A woman cannot cook without taking a bath as it is believed that cooking is regarded as a sacred act. A woman is in the phase of pollution during her menstrual period and the period of three months after child delivery.

A purificatory rite by a priest restores the normal conditions of the women, who is being considered polluted because of childbirth. The ritual ceremony of the birth of a child on the sixth day after delivery is called Epanthaba which is performed for the welfare of the newborn baby.

The rite-de passage of death is an important ritual in Meetei community. The Meetei post cremation practices last for a year, the performance of rituals differ from the Meeteis who follow Vaishnavism and Meeteis who follow Sanamahi. For the people who follow Sanamahi the rituals of mourning are marked from day one of the dead till the ceremony of the fifth day (Mangani leihun) where the priest performs the rituals and professional story tellers (warileeba mee) narrate the story of the creation of human being till the end of human life.

On the seventh day, the ritual of shraddha ceremony (lana thouram) is performed by the same Meetei priest, the professional storytellers, and Pung Chollom . On the one hand, Meeteis who followed Vaishnavism, count the death ceremony from the first day of the dead to the sixth day (Aasti sanchai), and on the eleventh day or the thirteenth day, the ritual of sharadha ceremony is practiced. All the chanting and praying are done by the Brahmin priest for the Vaishnavites.

It is also inevitable to point that when there is death in the family, the clan is considered as impure, on the first day of the death, all the kitchen utensils were cleaned and clothes of the deceased were burned down. The members of the deceased observe certain dietary restrictions till the performance of Shraddha ceremonies like fish, meat, and pan. After the Shraddha ceremony, on the next day members of the family and the neighbours taste the fish with curry. This passage is known as tasting the fish (Nga –tangba).

The Meeteis are strong believers of God and oracles. A priestess (maibi) and a priest (maiba), are believed to be the messenger and mediator of God. They performed certain rituals and decipher predicaments of unseen future and narrate the hidden causes of different misfortunes of the land and the individual by the rapport with God, which is unattainable by ordinary persons.

A priest or priestess has certain laws to be followed; they are detached from the normal living style. They are consulted for rituals related to forest deities (Umanglais) and rememberance of fore fathers (Apopka Khurumba). In olden days the priestess takes the role of midwife where she cut the umbilical cord of the child and the priest cure certain serious illness using herbs and sacred chants. They tell not only the causes but also the remedial, ritual measures to be performed to overcome the difficulty.

The belief in witchcraft and evil spirits is also widespread among the Meeteis. The popularly known female spirits are a witch (Hingchabi) and fairy (Helloi). The former is believed to take shelter inside the body of some women, who are not aware of the possession, which the latter is considered a wandering spirit.

When a man becomes insane, it is believed that helloi possesses him. People take services of village priest (maiba) to protect themselves from the infliction of harm by Hingchabi and Helloi. The treatment of such diseases is outside the scope of modern medicine. Such a belief is shared by the majority of the people.

Sajibu Cheiraoba is the new year of the Meeteis according to the calendar based on lunar eclipse. It is a traditional festival celebrated on the first day of month April every year. On this day, married women bring gifts to their maternal house and celebrated the beginning of the year. It is also practiced that on this day, after having lunch filled with different curries of the family, people climb the mountain nearby (Ching Kaba), believing that climbing the mountain on that auspicious day will bring fortune and happiness.

Ningol Chakouba is one of the most important festivals for the Meeteis. It is celebrated on the second day on Hiyangei according to the Meetei calendar that falls equivalent to November. Married women are invited by their father and brothers to their maternal house (Mapam Lamdam) for a feast. Married daughters shower blessings for the prosperity of the family. She is also gifted by their father and brothers whatever they can as a mark of love and happiness.

The Meetei traditional sword dance (Thangta), the different dance forms like Khamba and Thoibi dance, Lai Haoraoba dance, Ras Leela are remarkable to state. Tattooing is not practiced in Meetei community. The craft of carving the Phaphal, which is the symbol of Pakhangba , craving of bamboo and the handloom products are inevitable to mention.

The weaving of the cotton clothes, the spinning of silk thread is the commonly practiced of Meetei women. The traditional attires of men khudei (half length wrap round) and Phanek (colourful full-length wrap round), Innaphi ( shawl ) of women are the main products of handloom and handicrafts.

Folktale as one form of the genre evolves since early ages, like any other culture. In Meetei language folktale is called as Phungga wari, phungga literally means hearth and wari mean story. It is observed that, in Meetei society, the art of storytelling from one generation to another generation orally originates near the Phungga .

In every Meetei kitchen, Phungga ensemble as a sacred place, and a symbol of worship for the Goddess Emoinu, the Goddess of wealth, this is celebrated as an important ritual. In ancient Manipur, hearth served as a cooking point. It has been narrated by grandparents, father, mother and other elders of the family while waiting for the dinner at the evening times.

In another form, it is also called as Chakngai Wari. Chakngai literally mean waiting for the rice to be served. As a whole, it means a story that has been narrated before serving the rice. Like William Bascom's definition of folklore, In anthropological usage, the term folklore has come to mean myths, legends, folktales, proverbs, riddles, verse, and a variety of other forms of artistic expression whose medium is the spoken word. Thus folklore can be defined as a verbal art (398).

Meetei Folktale is also a verbal art which has an artistic expression, simple and based on the fictive notion of mankind. Nobody search for the truth or the fictive mode of the story. These forms of the tale not only entertain the people but also give education and light to the people. The Meetei people are fond of listening to the tales and narrating the events of life as well as predicting the circumstances through the tales.

In Manipur, it is believed that stories narrated should be completed; otherwise, an elephant might attack at dreams. In his book Contribution to Folklore, William R. Bascom also states that Folktales are prose narratives which are regarded as Fiction. They are not considered as dogma or history, they may or may not have happened, and they are not to be taken seriously” (97).

As the valley area of Manipur has a different cultural evolution set up from the hill area. Meetei folktales also delineate the political and historical set up of that time, led by single principality known as Ningthouja clan.

The proselytisation of religion and its after effects, the historical weak bond amongst the brothers, the contribution to folklore genres based on custom, rituals, tradition all generate that Meetei community is unique and has its own structure, which amongst the folklore genres, folk tales is chosen as a form of suitable medium to dissect the problems and issue of contradiction of gender in Meetei community.

Notes :

[1] Cited from ed. Mayanglambam, Sadananda’s A collection of Essays in Manipuri Folklore (24).
[2] Death ritual ceremony offering prayer to the death soul by honouring with flower petals.
[3] Pung chollom is an indigenous form of folk dance associated with folk song . They are performed by men in limited occasions of marriage and death rituals.
[4] God father of the Meeteis.

Works cited:

o Aarambam Parratt , Saroj Nalini. The Court Chronicle of the Kings of Manipur The Cheitharon Kumpapa Vol.2, 1764-1843 CE. Cambridge University Press Pvt.Ltd, 2009.

o Alan, Dundes. editor Folklore in the study of Folklore, Englewood cliffs, N.J.: Prenticee Hall, 1965.

o Bascom, Wiliam R. "The Forms of Folklore: Prose Narratives” American Folklore Society, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol .78, No.307 (Jan-Mar,.1965),pp 3-20.

o Bascom, William. "Folklore and Anthropology”, American Folklore Society, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol.66, No. 262 (Oct,- Dec.,1953), pp. 283-290.

o Bascom, William. "The Forms of Folklore: Prose Narratives”, American Folklore Society, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 78, No. 307 ( Jan. – Mar.,1965), pp. 3- 20.

o Behari Singh, Huirem. "A study of Manipuri Meitei Folklore”. PhD. dissertation, Gauhati University, 1985.

o Boas, Franz. "The Development of Folk- Tales and Myths”, American Association for the Advancement of Science, The Scientific Monthly, Vol.3, No.4 (Oct.,1916), pp. 335-343.

o Cohen, Anthony P. "Culture as Identity : An Anthropologist's View”, The John Hopkins University Press, New Literary History, Vol. 24, No. 1, Culture and Everyday Life (Winter, 1993), pp. 195-209.

o Culloh, M. Mc. Valley of Manipur Account of the valley of Munnipore, Gian Publications,1980.

o Dorson, Richard. "Folklore and Fakelore”, The American Mercury, March 1950, pp-335-342.

o Dorson, M. Richard. American Folklore, The University of Chicago Press, 1959.

o Dorson, M. Richard. Folklore & Folk life. The University of Chicago Press, 1972.

o Dundes, Alan. The Study of Folklore, Prentice- Hall, 1965.

o Dundes, Alan. Folklore Matters. The University of Tennessee Press/ Knoxville. 1989.

o Dundes, Alan. Essays in Folkloristic, Rajkamal Electric Press, Ved Prakash Vatuk Folklore Institute, 1978.

o Goldberg, Christine. "The Construction of Folktales”, Indiana University Press, Journal of Folklore Research, Vol.23, No. 2/3, Special Double Issue: The Comparative Method in Folklore (May- Dec., 1986), pp. 163-176.

o Handoo, Lalita. Structural Analysis of Kashmir Folktales, Central Institute of Indian Languages, 1994.

o Haobam, Bilashini. Folktales of Manipur Vol. 1, Rajendra Sagolsem Publications PVT.Ltd. 2009.

o Hodson, T.C, The Meitheis , Akansha Publishing House, 2010.

o Iboongohal Singh, Lairenmayum, Introduction to Manipur, The Saraswati Printing Works, 1987.

o Jhalajit, R.K. A short history of Manipur, Seven Union Press, 1891.

o Kamei, Gangmumei. History of Manipur Pre-Colonial Period, Akansha Publishing House, 2015.

o Kunj Bihari Singh, "Manipur Vaishnavism :A Sociological Interpretation” Indian Sociological Society, Sociological Bulletin. Vol. 12, No. 2 (September 1963), pp. 66-72.

o Leach, Maria. editor, Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, Funk and Wagnalls, 1949.

o Leve, Lauren, "Identity”, The University of Chicago, Current Anthropology , Vol.52, No.4 (August 2011), pp. 513-535.

o Nandini, Yumnam. "Meetei Folkloregi Lon amasung Maphongdok”, Ph.D Dissertation, Manipur University, 2013.

o Nilabir, Sairem. Lainingthou Sanamahi Amasung Sanamahi Laining Hinggat Eehou, Puthiba Press Computarise, 2002.

o Oinam, Ibochaoba Singh. Folklore gi vigyan Ahanba Saruk. Institute of Manipuri Folklore, 2001.

o Parrat, John. Wounded Land: Politics and Identity in Modern Manipur 'Cultural renaissance. and political awakening, Mittal Publications, 2005.

o Sanajaoba, Naorem, Manipur Past and Present Volume IV, Mittal Publications,2005.

o Singh, Huirem Behari. "A study of Meitei Folklore”, Ph.D Dissertation, Gauhati University, 1985.

o Sen, Soumen, editor. Folklore in North-East India, Omsons Publications, 1985.

* Manganleibi Loktongbam wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at manganleibiloktongbam(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on 28 July , 2018 .

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