Tangkhul Naga Cultural Insights on Women’s Participation in Decision Making

Tangkhul Women’s Participation in Decision Making, The Past and Today

-Dr. Sinalei Khayi Lecturer, Pettigrew College, History Department

‘It was the practice in the past where a special seat was reserved for Mother.  This special seat is called Ava Hampam which signifies the importance of mother in the family.  No one can take that seat, not even children and guests.  If anyone does sit, it is generally believed that he/she suffers supernatural wrath such as boil, scabies etc.  Women enjoy a special seat at her married home.  Women/Mothers are in control of the family in their day-to-day well-beings.  The consumption is monitored; thereby management of family wealth and earnings/harvest is in total control of the women.’  -Dr Sinalei

History can never deny the fact that women are integral part of the society — political, economic and religious aspect of every community and government.  They are the backbone and the force behind successful governance.  Their participation in decision making was prominent and unwavered in the past.

During the transitional period (from the old traditional ways to modernization), it was felt that women were not able; were discriminated, victimized, enslaved and were deprived of rights etc.  The problems were conveniently directed to the traditional customs as evil.  People blamed the patriarchy society; a male oriented organization for degrading and oppressing the female.  The world leadership considered women a weaker sex, and even religious reformers misinterpret the scriptures and made women inferior to male.  Besides, women themselves were made to feel weaker, and that they were subordinate being. This misconception created in the name of modernization; in the name of revolution did really affect the complete humanhood of women.

This gave rise to many serious problems — social evils, political chaos, religious setbacks, demography, gender imbalance etc., etc.  It also became a trend to sensitize issues like gender equity, gender equality, feminism, women empowerment, women rights etc. that had direct and indirect affects especially to the women, leading to loss of the essence of truly (tribal) women who enjoy their birthrights parallel to their men.  This gave rise to chauvinism.  This also caused the constitutional changes.  For instance, the introduction of women reservation in the Center, even in the tribal organizations, where certain male leadership conveniently drafted a constitution, making a mentioned of women as traditionally tabooed in the social and political endeavor which is irrelevant to the Nagas who enjoy absolute freedom.  This wrong conception had deeply impregnated into tribal world leading to the extinction of our simple and admirable traditional customs; where there is mutual respect and honor between both the sexes upholding the beauty of being truly men and women.  A traditional customary law is never codified legal law but for a tribal, who observed `Thakashar’ (taboo/genna) is equally valid and valued.  The status of Tangkhul women in decision making are reflected in the case studies mentioned.

(An extract from concept write up of Jubilate Kazingmei, prominent social activist).  Infact, it is not entirely true that women by custom were not allowed to participate in decision making rather there are a number of precedents women personalities who despised custom and male chauvinism of the time.

Harkhonla of Marem:

  1. Harkhonla w/o M. Honsan was a prominent woman personality who had distinguished herself in decision making as lone woman amidst menfolk in the history of ‘Lungser Kai (range consisting of Marem, Kalhang and Longpi Kajui, Phungcham, Paoyi) of Raphei. She was neither a village chief of Marem nor a woman authority member as people assumed but she was more than that, going by pivotal role she played in the area. Infact, she was conspicuous by her absence in any decision making in those days when the Tangkhuls were in the thick of observing their customs.

Miss Sanyaola of Paoyi:

Mr. Shongphung, headman of Paoyi (whose lack of wooden spoon with all his huge wealth and riches is often referred to as a classical that ‘no man is self-sufficient in everything’) had a daughter by the name Sanyaola.  Her succession to the chieftainship of Paoyi through the engineering of her mother, Phuireila who had in mind to inherit all the property; had initiated her into performing some of the priestly functions of the headman long before her husband’s death, (is said to have led to a weeklong bloody fight between Shongphung’s wife and the rightful claimant with loss of life on both sides) though not without a contest by the male claimant.

Mrs. Thangpeila, Vashum PhilAva was a woman known to have sat as a Hangva in her Village Council. The period is not known for lack of written records.

Mrs. Vathumla W/o Mr. Razileng Chithung was another woman known to have acted as woman Village Chief of Bungpa on behalf of minor son when her husband passed away.  The period is believed to fall in between 1914-1916.  The history of Talui village is marked by two women personalities who played no less significant role than that of men of the time.

Mrs. Luishomla: She had left her footprints on the sands of time as smooth and brilliant interpreter of Manipuri Language as well as an agent of Maharaja of Manipur.  It was the time when the society was obsessed with male chauvinism.

Mrs. Kaireila W/o Mingthing was another popular woman known to have carried on the village administration on behalf of her husband on some grounds.

Mrs. Vakhapla Lamlang W/o Mr. Sakui Lamlang, Headman was another legendry, who on death of her husband, ruled for four years in the 1920s, was a mentoring mother for her minor and shrewd administrator who groomed her husband’s cousin to stand by her for effective traditional village administration.

The same way we have brave women like Teinem Philava and the Lady of Kangpat Khullen whose intelligence and courage were talk of their times.  Their contribution in the village court yield positive result.  Even today, their diplomacy is a moral booster for many young women leaders.

The paper presentation will also delve into the status issue of women in the past and present where women stand at present economically, politically, socially and religiously.

Status of Women in the Past:

Ava Hampam:  ‘It was the practice in the past where a special seat was reserved for women (Mother).  This special seat is called Ava Hampam which signifies the importance of mother in the family.  No one can take that seat, not even children and guests.  If anyone does sit, it is generally believed that he/she suffers supernatural wrath such as boil, scabies etc.  Women enjoy a special seat at her married home’ (status of TKL women in the past Worthingla Hongvah p71 VVD Ukhrul, 2008).  Women/Mothers are in control of the family in their day-to-day well-beings.  The consumption is monitored; thereby management of family wealth and earnings/harvest is in total control of the women.

Sanctification of granary:  Rituals performed the propitiation for the opening of granary.  This is a festival celebrated after harvest.  It is participated only by women for two nights.  Among the Tangkhuls, anything related to fertility is associated with women.  It is customary that all men, apart from children left home and spent nights in the fields.  It is a taboo for men to stay home during this women festival.  These events endorsed women the economic decision within the family.  It is also the responsibility of the women to ensure sanctity, prosperity and plenty of supplies for the family throughout the year.

Pukhreila: The term is used for neutral woman, who could be anybody who married a man from another village.  In the warring, when too many bloodshed occurs, this Pukhreila stands in between her warring brothers and her husband warriors. She would hold high her white stick (Ngalazeithing) and shout for peace to prevail between the two villages. It is a custom to obey her command and withdraw. If anybody should take advantage, will forfeit and be declared inferior with certain penalty.  Women in this way are ambassadors of peace, true political emissary in the Naga Politics.

Today the Tangkhul Women League under the banner of Pukhreila stands for `Unity for Justice’. There is nothing in the world so beautiful, honourable as this custom and principle of preserving the value of human lives.  When many brave soldiers were dying for vanity, it was women who heard the voice of their creator, who stood up and shouted for peace and tranquility. These women bring about good relationship between families, village, states and nation.

We will also make a mention of women and their participation in religious decision making.  After World War II, we had a brave learned women leader in the person of Mrs. Shiningla Keishing (1942-1944) who became the first lady pastor among the Nagas, serving in the pastoral ministry.  She was also the first nominated MLA in Manipur.  Miss Pamleiphi Horam is the second women pastor, fulfledgedly recognized in the pastoral ministry.

Today we have many young vibrant women leaders who are no less than any men are.  A case study of Mrs. S. Zingthanla (early 70s) of Punge Village, inspite of all odds was a deaconess, member of Village Panchayat in 1999, elected village authority till 2003.  Her achievement was reduced to a booklet “She is not less than any men” by T.K., Director VVD, which is a revelation for many women and man in the authority, laymen alike to realize that women are equal and parallel to men.  Today, there are many potential aspirant women who would be like any of those few mentioned.  Because Tangkhul Naga Long (Hoho) make no reservation for women but the house is open for all, men and women who deemed fit to represent his/her village in the apex body.  Any women can be the president, which is already in the preamble/constitution.  The question is — will there be any women willing to come forward is a concern for many.  Making a mentioned of few facts, women from the past, were very much in the decision-making body.  They were also the authority equally as our men were.  Women occupying the Hangva Shim, which is the oldest and the highest decision-making body cannot be denied.  Therefore, the present state cannot say our tradition forbids women to be the member of the Hangvaship or Chieftainship.

From A Journal, The Legacy

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