Thursday, July 17, 2008

Religious beliefs and practices among the Kukis in olden days

Written by Paominlien Kipgen, on 19-09-2004 19:00

Collected and compiled by Paominlien Kipgen

September 20, 2004: To many primitive people, their world was full of play and counter play of music power which supposedly influenced the shape and destiny of men. It is true that some groups of people being confronted with problems and having failed to grapple with them, try to attribute the cause of these problems to some unknown and unseen forces. These mysterious powers are generally called super naturals.

Nanda (1984:196) describes:Super natural refers to these powers, events and experience that are beyond ordinary human control and the laws of nature and outside reality as normally experienced. Every society has some set of beliefs and practices that enter in to the relationship of the humans to the super naturals.

Tylor (1874:425-47) also gives the definition of ‘religion’ as the belief in super naturals. However, each society or a group of society has a traditional method of controlling these powers or to subordinate them through certain actions of occultism or esoteric practices, rites, rituals and ceremonies or celebrations in accompaniment with offerings, prayer or sacrifices so as to appease, placate or propitiate in order to enjoy a trouble-free life, having no anxiety or tension. This in course of time, gradually take the shape of an institutionalized system of beliefs, rituals, rules, procedures, etc. through cults or systematized celebrated rituals or manifestations. With the passage of time, these are handed down from generation to generation and are entrenched into the thickly woven fabric of culture.

Durkheim (1915:10), therefore, propounded the concept of religion as having grown out of the social experience of man. Probably, the Kuki groups of people from the hoary past adopted themselves with ecology and environment, and thereby fashioned their life style. Interactions with varied situations might have weathered or attuned the cultural core through their migrations from time immemorial. Series of rolling ridges with disproportionate undulations, forest clad mountains of variable intensities and gorging rivers might have influenced their cognitive system or cosmology. Seasonal variations and distinctive action patterns for survival strategies have perhaps contributed to the understanding about themselves. The transforming world with some concept of hitherto unseen forces, considered as super naturals, also could be discernible to them. Thus supernaturalism has variations and distinction categories.


It is the concept of Chung Pathein or the source of All Creations’ that is considered to be the highest benevolent God who lives in heaven or sky. Such concept of religion, according to Andrew Lang (1887:327), manifests in the belief in High Gods. HE is believed to have created the universe and all the living beings. All people firmly believe that every thing concerned with prosperity, growth and strength in life is nothing but omniscient. Thus, he is all powerful but does not want propitiation or worship or appeasement through sacrifices and offerings. He does good to all and sundry. The concept of Chung-Pathien is abstract and thus it has no anthropomorphic form or a permanent place or residence. The nomenclature of Chung-Pathien signifies an honorific term used addressing a male person with respect and veneration. Dichotomy prevails while conceptualizing Chung-Pathien, viz, the benevolent with also evil or bad power having the forces of destruction, and all other forms of evil activities. He is supposed to live in the underworld and is called Noimangpa. He is believed to have been sent by Chung-Pathien from the heaven or the sky to dwell at ‘Kholmun’ where all living being are found.


Therefore, the world of super naturals reigns supreme among the Kukis, while the other entities are related to evil and are susceptible of being appeased or placated through performance of ‘Phuisap’: the priest called ‘Thiempu’, who officiates the ceremony among the Kukis. Some evil spirits are:

1. GAMHOISE: devil of the jungle and ‘Inmunse’ is devil of the house, meaning thereby ‘a cursed placed’ by a combination of the two words. Souls of the persons meeting unnatural death become this type of dangerous spirits. They are supposed to create trouble to the people according to their own sweet will, at the place where such unnatural deaths occur. In other words, the place is haunted by the soul of the person.

2. JOUMI: is a dangerous male spirit. It frightens people and people may die out of shock and fear. It is active during night and its form is said to vary; though mostly it is seen very tall. It is said that it usually stands at the same height of any tree nearby which it happens to appear. The JOUMI is reportedly very fond of chicken. It kills mostly cocks and hen by throttling the neck and sucking its blood.

3. KULSAMNU: is considered to be a female spirit which is in-charge of keeping the souls of the individuals. After the death of a person it has to take away the soul and keep the same in a permanent resting place, known as ‘VAN’.

4. CHOMNU: is another female spirit, but it rarely causes trouble to mankind. It is considered to be a harmless spirit.

5. GAMLAHLEN: is another male spirit who causes disease or sickness to the people. It resides in the jungle and to appease it, effigy of a buffalo made of clay is offered along with ‘ZU’ and cock, un-boiled rice.

6. GAMKAO: is an evil spirit of a particular place of a jungle which can cause serious illness to person who meets such spirit.

7. KAOMEI: is an evil spirit which flies at night like a fire-fly in a much bigger volume of fire-ball.

8. KAOSIE: is a greedy spirit it can enter in a person and convert such person into different personality, changing the voice, the behavior and strength. Such spirit can be released only when it is appeased with what it wants.

RITUAL FORMALITIESHerskovits (1955: 223) observed:The ways in which men seek to bring themselves into harmony with the powers of the universe are many. They may be intensely personal, or require participation by the entire group. They may be public or private. They may involve highly keyed emotional improvisation, or demand precision of movement, set by an ancient tradition. They may call for the recitation of elaborate formulas, or may be wordless. They utilize special objects, carefully made and of intricate form or they may be restricted to non-material expression in word or song or dance. Any of these, moreover, may be found alone or in combination with others. And any of them, or all, may be used to petition or compel action by powers whose resources transcend those of the human being who invokes them.Prayer is one of the principal categories of worship. It may be defined as the use of words to bring about the favourable intervention of powers of the universe in the affairs of men. It can vary from casual address to formalized plea, and may be specific or general in its reference.Rituals or ceremonies are the pivots round which some thoughts about supernatural rotate. Myths, Lore or some incantations are there and these are woven esoteric words which express gratitude and promises for future, vis-à-vis prayer for protection, help and security against rainy days. It is chanted in their own broken doggerel language which is known as ‘Phuisam’ meaning thereby utterances of words of magic called ‘Doithu’. These are impregnated with magical potentialities and are believed to have tremendous impact on the spirit.The sacred complex (Vidyarthi: 1962) as found elsewhere is not pronounced in the life of the Kukis, while dealing with the super naturals. The idea of a sanctuary is absent among them. As we find elsewhere, certain specific site, either fixed traditionally or finalized by the people, is conspicuous by their absence. It is done or finalized by the priest, ‘Thiempu’; His post is hereditary and practically he has to hold his position by his capabilities and social image. Then there are elaborate rituals, sometimes with offerings and sacrifices, as there is no anthropomorphic form of the deity and only one God is present. Their religion therefore, is not based on pantheon but on monotheism, though some evil spirits are named which have specific activities, and manifestations.The Thiempu has to do everything through Oneirology which he gets during night while sleeping. Through dreams and visions, he get al directions as to what he should do, when and with what materials or ingredients, what incantations are to be used are also indicated as his guidelines by the spirit who appears in dream to the priest. Theoretically, the priest is the only professional specialist in the trade in the Kuki society in the interpretation of dreams, visions, stars, omen etc. he is the individual who has to maintain communion in the form of sorcery or magic with the supernatural elements and the human beings. And some in the profession has acquired so much of knowledge that they can even counter any spell cast by evil witchcraft. Naturally, therefore, his position in the society is highly esteemed as the ‘Thiempu’ who is the priest of whatever religious form of belief they attribute.Hills, forest and rivers are conceived as having some potentialities and the people have to interact with them all the time for their existence and perpetuations. The bounty of nature is reflected through these natural phenomena. As such, the veneration and respect for these are unquestionable.Therefore, some formalities are maintained by the priest on the following causes:In the case of forest or sylvan spirit, locally called ‘Gamlah vei’, pig is sacrificed as an important item. Besides pig, a little ‘Kolbu- Kanpoh’ (Pop-corn), ‘Chang-Kanpoh’ (Pop-rice) and ‘Nakena’ ( akind of leaf, the tree of which is called ‘Nake’. One side of the leaf is white, while the other is green). The ‘Phelex’ which is made of thin bamboo split, is normally used in building construction for fixing up the joints. This is also called ‘Nang’ which is color with white, black and red colors. It is quadrangular in shape. On top of it, another ‘Nang’, thinned further, constitutes the decorative part. Generally, all these ingredients are placed on a small cane-built platform which is normally used as a contraption for dining table, usually about six inches above the ground. It is known as ’Ankong Lui Na’. This is called ‘Maicham’-the holy platform. All the above ingredients are spread over the ‘Maicham’ on which blood of the sacrificed animal is sprinkled. The meat of the sacrificed animal is also placed on it in the following manner:a).

A small portion of the meat taken from the end of the mouth,b). Toes (the tips),c). Uppermost part of the ears, andd). End of the tail.But, in the case of ceremonies associated with water-spirit living in the lake, stream or brook, known as ‘Tui Thilha’, a goat is sacrificed instead of a pig.All the evil spirits required different kinds of animal as sacrifices. These are village rituals and these are performed during the spread of epidemic disease, like cholera, etc. which spread very fast and are of contagious nature.Excepting these festivities and elaborate rituals, there are familial worships or rituals which are done as per vows. It has been stated earlier that there is no specific date or place for performing the rituals associated with a particular spirit; meticulous directions are received by the ‘Thiempu’ in dreams. As is the prime duty of a physician in any society, amongst the Kukis also it is the responsibility of the priest call ‘Thiempu’ to find out causation (Herskovite, 1955-221). Causation of disease and the nature of divination are to counter the evil spirit. Calamities/diseases/misfortunes are considered to be the handiwork of some evil spirits. The Kukis have a clear idea of the seasonal variations and the whole year been grouped into 12 months, which have great influence in the propitiation and ritual the activities.


It is very clear from the above description that the monotheist Kukis, in olden days, were happy with one God-the All Creator- who had no anthromorphic form to appear before the people, demanding any special worship or offerings. But a few minor mischievous spirits have already occupied their vast supernatural pantheon and it is they, in many cases, who demand rituals along with other formalities, like offerings and sacrifices. The colorful display of the rituals, through ceremonies, has cut across the familial cult. Other people for such specific purposes have to reinforce the group solidarity through bindings and obligations. It is quiet discernable that the less affluence, leisure and free time of the people and their movement from one place to another, have practically set the people with limited world view and thus they have capsulated their group identities.So, they have very minimal scope for proliferation. Rather Chieftainship which compelled the group to be ruled by one and only spiritual head, the ‘Thiempu’ or the priest, had to brave all supernatural and spiritual confrontations through offerings, sacrifices and ceremonies. Their nature of offerings is less, items of worship are small and esoteric charms or incantations are not prolific to make every thing more colourful, rhythmic and vibrant. However, procedures to overcome diseases and sickness, through magic, divination and with occult practices are still in vogue and all these clouded them and have dazzled with rituals and ceremonies. But, slowly and inevitably, the force of conversion to Christianity proselytized the society drastically, though some have retained it through their rituals and ceremonies.


1. Carey, Bertram S., and Tuck, H.N. 1932 (The Chin Hills) Aizawl, Mizoram

2. Dalton T.E., 1972 (Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal) New Delhi

3. Emile Durkheim, 1915, (Elementary Forms of the Religious Life) London.

4. Hutton, J.H., 1929 (Notes on Thado Kukis by W. Shaw) Govt. of Assam, Shillong

5. Taylor, E.B., 1874, (Primitive Culture) New York.

6. Dr. T.S. Gangte 2002, Vol. 28, Nos. 1-2 (Man and Life) Imphal, Manipur

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