By L.S. Gangte
The people now inhabiting Mizoram, the tribes in the hills of Manipur other than the Naga dominant areas, the Kukis of Nagaland, Assam, Tripura and Chittagong hill tracts of Bangladesh, and the people in the Northwest of Myanmar (Burma) are the tribes who have been professing observance of various kinds of KUT festivals from time immemorial. They all practice jhum (slash and burn) cultivation as the mainstay of economy and grew millet, corn, job's ear, cucumber, pumpkins and such others as their staple foods prior to their entry into Myanmar.
Such contentions cannot, however, be substantiated as to the truth of the claims. These are more of legends than of historical facts. They are of conjectural work. In fact, their hoary past is shrouded in mystery. Nevertheless, the fact remains that these people have been observing Kut festivals for generations.These people commonly claim to have come "out of the bowels of the earth, a cave called Chhinlung or Sinlung or Khul, believed to be in China". One of the authorities on Kukis, Lt. Col. Shakespeare, in his book on "The Lushai Kuki Clans" said that they were of many clans, each clan speaking different dialect and scattering over an aea of 25,000 square miles.
The then Governor of Assam, Sir Robert Reid, in his book on " history of frontier areas bordering Assam" said that these people who claimed to have come out of the bowels of the earth are the people who speak dialects of the same language. Similarly, Dr Grierson, a linguist, said that they belonged to the Tibeto-Kuki sublinguistic group in his book: Linguistic survey of India"
In the olden days, the people who observed Kut festivals were not aware of the existence of the great religions of the world, such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism etc. Thus, as were true in all cases of other antiquated societies, these groups of people were atheists, animists or naturists. In any form of these worships, certain objects as sources of life and of other worldly nature were attributed.
Their belief was, therefore, associated either with animate or inanimate objects as the sources of all powers that gave life to mankind with abundance of blessings if particular aspects of life was made subservient to it. Likewise, when the said supernatural object was believed not satisfied or was displeased, all sorts of evil fortunes were attributed to it. With this end in view, the people worshipped the objects with certain prescribed rituals in propitiation.In order to appease not to harm mankind or to praise such objects for the blessings received, propitiations of supposed supernatural objects for the benefit and welfare of the community was performed by socially acceptable persons to mediate between the people and the objects attributed as supernatural. Such person who officiate performance of the rituals was considered "holy man" and was also called the "Village Priest".
Such activities that interceded between the supernatural object and the society being of collective welfare in nature, observance of certain occasions as Kuts and the rituals associated therewith were essentially of community in nature. Rites and rituals gave strong elements of ethnic affinity and influence on their social cohesion and solidarity. It also symbolized the integrating force among the members of community, cutting across tribal boundaries and linguistic differences.
Thus, observance of different kinds of Kut is originated form the worship of various objects considered as supernatural associated with good and evil attirbutes of life. Prof. A R Radcliffe Brown and Emille Durkheim said that the principle functions of communal rituals were to emphasize and to reaffirm the sentiments of collective loyalty. The purpose of such festive functions was to create a sense of identity and social solidarity reinforced by the performance of communal rituals, which expressed social content, and behavior of a group.
The means of subsistence of the people who observed Kut festival was agricultural products. Annual communal feasts manifested the type of economy being pursued by the society. The glaring fact that they lacked the concept of saving in their economic system was could be observed from the practice of conspicuous consumption through the various Kuts in festivity and communal rituals in propitiation to the deities of Kuts. Also an important aspect that is associated inseparably with Kut festivals was religiosity of the occasions that stemmed from obeisance and incantation to the creator of all things, which preceded the celebration.
Kut festival is in thanks giving to the almighty, creator of the universe who blesses the people through the deities of various crops cultivated in olden days of variegated and sectional ones. However, there are some Kut festivals common to all tribes. They are:
i. Mim Kut (job's ear)
ii. Chang Kut (of paddy Kut)
iii. Pawl Kut (of guava harvest)
iv. Thai-Thakor Thah Kut (of new crops)
Hence, as the name suggest, Kut observance is inevitably done with the arrival of the new crops or after harvesting as the case may be. The basic concept behind such observance is therefore, that the toiling community has to have a short respite and recreation after the year's hard work has been reaped and before the new-year's work is begun. It is also an occasion when the village community praise God for the blessings given to them.
The religious rites that preceded the Kut celebration are officiated by the "holy man" called the "Village Priest" who intercedes for the villagers to the deities of the Kuts concerned. Observance of Kuts by the many forefathers was marked by many significant rituals. Some salient features are given as follows:
In the early hour of the morning of Kut, the man in-charge of information of the village called "Tangsampa" or "Lhangsampa" or "Tualteekpu" etc., would herald the advent of Kut, shouting aloud, throughout the village lanes with the words,
"The sun rises, the sun rises.
The sky is clear, the sky is clear".
and would enter every household arming himself with a burning torch of firewood in his left hand and a hammer in his right hand, saying, as he walks along the village lanes," Your days are over, you evil spirit!
Be gone from our midst and let us be with wife and children.We are sick of your filthy waste".
Having performed his part, he will hand over the proceedings to the "Village Priest". Then the "Village Priest" shall arrange jars of 'Ju' (rice beer) for all the villagers to sip and shall intercede for all the villagers to the deities of harvests.
The common ritualistic rites, for this purpose are the offerings of a cock and a bowl of rice placed at the altar of the deities. The neck of the cock is throttled and cut with a sharp knife, and that the blood that oozes out there from are strewn on the altar and on the powdered rice.
Thereafter, the village priest shall start sipping the 'Ju' from the jar prepared for the occasion. Te priest shall spit out the first mouthful of Ju he thus sipped, which is called 'Juphi' (spraying of the Ju) in symbolic offering to the deities. He then shall invite the chief of the village, followed by the eldest villager present to start sipping of the Ju-bout. The sipping-bout continues by turn till the last person. With it, the celebration commences being followed soon by drinking, singing, merry-making, dancing, sporting and feasting. It is time when even the poorest man of the village forgets his state of poverty.
With the passage of time, contacts with outside of their own homogeneous communities catered into the fabric of their social life. People who observed such Kut festivals became aware of the world beyond their won small community. Gradually, western education began to take roots followed by Christianity that propagated to dispense with hitherto known 'culture and tradition'. Ultimately, when increasing number of people started embracing Christianity; the customary observance of Kut became less and less important and ignored, culminating into complete abandonment of the same. People have almost forgotten even the existence of such a 'cultural heritage' as the Kut festivity.Identity of a community is known by the rich cultural heritage and perpetuation thereof. Rapid vanishing of the age-old tradition and direction placed the resurgent generation at a loss, and it became aware of the vacuum created by such abandonment of the Kut culture due to Christianity. It was dreaded that with such relegation of the rich cultural heritage into oblivion, posterity would be at the cross road of life.
It was found that there was no conflict whatsoever between Christianity and culture and tradition. The two could go hand in hand without conflict. While the part of "Village Priest" can be appropriately substituted by the role of a Christian Priest, the glamour of Ju and its resultant pleasantries can be replaced by tea and the snacks, fun and frolics of all kinds. More innovations can be incorporated into the system retaining the intrinsic social values.
Modernized items, such as beauty contests and fashion shows are changes that have been woven into the new fibers of Kut culture. Likewise, with a view to harmonizing the festival with modernity and new way of life which are completely divorced from the traditional homogeneous village life, the many Jut festivals observed in the days of yore have been modeled into a single occasion of Kut as on November 1 of every year. Prof. Radcliffe Brown contends that such changes reflect the changing aspects of society signifying creation of new aspects in the form of new traditions of redefinition of an old one.
Tradition and culture should not be static. It must be dynamic in its growth, assimilating what good things have been provided by a living society, absorbing local and outside elements in the vibrant whole so as to enter into uncharted arena to make it possible to withstand the winds of change from all directions without the original framework and values being sacrificed as the altar of change and dynamism.