The Social Construction of Symbols, Rituals, Institutions and Folklores, its relation to Worldviews

Dr A. Wati Walling

Theoretical lens Putu
Human Ecology: Ecology and Ritualistic Behavior Zungar
The Village Folklores
Sungkum Reading Yimti’s Forests and Rivers
Nulaksu Conclusion
Anempong Reference
Paganism, Necromancy and Propitiation Web Reference
Feasts of Merit Persons Interviewed
Arju Notes

The use, reuse or non-use of a scientifically proven and economically repaying project does not guarantee the success of policy implementation devoid of learning the cultural history of the inhabitants. It is here that the understanding of social construction and the social values from the peoples’ perspective tends to be imperative.

This paper assesses social constructions and its impact on the world views-ecological landscapes of the people and vice-versa. It traverses the historical adherence of ecological adaptability by the inhabitants therefore, a documentation of names given to fields, hills, riverine etc is found. This paper is above all, an enquiry of a micro and localized phenomenon in the Northeastern India and an attempt to achieve a framework to understanding institutions and cultural history for policy appropriation and ecological safeguard. Social construction in the form of symbols, rituals, institutions and folklores are portrayed with the unfolding of the social history of a village called ‘Yimti’ in Nagaland. Christianity, as a worldview, is analyzed in the light of changing perspectives post 1896 A.D when villagers accepted the Christian faith. With no codified documentation of customary practices, it is pertinent to understand how social constructs of everyday life shapes the worldview and ecological adaptation of the villagers and the vice-versa. The setting is in a remote tribal village in Nagaland. The village named - Yimti is a 161 housed village in Mokokchung district, inhabited exclusively by the Ao-Naga tribal group. Yimti has a rather distinct social history from the mainland India and has unusual land ownership pattern, socio-cultural, political, economic and religious practices. Heavily based on life history analysis, this paper is an outcome of an ethnographic study. Methods used are in-depth interviews, focus group interviews and life history analysis (based on personal diary reference and casual conversations). Stratified sampling was done across different categories viz. age, gender, clan, church affiliation and youth groups etc.

I strongly believe that re-contextualization is indispensable in order to bring out a framework which will help understand the people and issues relating to the Northeastern states of India. There is a dire need for a perspective that can evaluate whether the problems of Northeastern states of India – particularly the tribal communities, is “political with an economic face or vice-versa” (Xaxa, 1999, pp 3589-3595). Either ways, no framework to understand Northeast India would be complete if it is devoid of its historical context, political intricacies, and its rather unique institutions and cultural practices. Evidently much of the literature on conflicts in the Northeastern states of India focuses on ethnicity, insurgency, identity, cultural and religious difference. This paper also deals and traverses familiar terrain, but it is approached from a much ignored and missing perspectives of local institutions, symbols, rituals and its relation to the ecological features of a village.

Theoretical lens
In reflecting on a theoretical perspective for this study, the approach of Political Ecology (PE) was found to be useful in many ways. Among the pioneering studies, an outstanding one on soil degradation is by Blaikie. Blaikie opines that: “Political Ecology is not just a question of a comprehensive and intellectual satisfaction method for studying soil erosion, but the approach here is in direct conflict with both the dominant conventional wisdom about soil erosion… and with the institutions charged to deal with it” (Blaikie 1983; 29 as quoted in Forsyth 2006: 757). In the context of my study, I argue that the ‘dominant conventional wisdom’ is in the form of local inhabitants’ culture and wisdom which is in direct conflict with the supposedly scientific knowledge based dominating policies of the State. The State as an institution is also seemingly in contradiction with the institutions of the local people. According to Blaikie, this paradigm of being a skeptic to the conventional wisdom is decidedly political. Meanwhile, Peet suggests that “empiricism itself is political, and researchers should not accept orthodox explanations of problems from physical science or expert agencies uncritically” (Peet 1977 as quoted in Forsyth 2006: 757).

As complex and eclectic as it is, Political Ecology (PE) is critiqued for being ‘a cover for anarchic development’ (Bryant 1997: 148). In addition, “multi-disciplinary approaches (such as PE), while frequently recommended, are also critiqued for tendencies to inconsistency, mixed metaphors and crossed interpretations” (Blaikie 2008:767). However, re-contextualizing and considering the nature of diverse and complex phenomenon of Northeast India, it is indispensable to analyze institutions vis-à-vis the agencies in a political universe. Therefore, approaches such as PE can only inadequately grasp issues whose political history are marked by turmoil and struggles in diverse ways. Rocheleau states that “hybridity in research is judged on the merits of its outputs, implicitly defined as successfully engaging with advocacy, policy makers and institutions in civil society in a way that gives marginalized people a voice. In this way, PE can make space and time for social and environmental justice and local initiatives” (Blaikie 2008:767). Evidently, Blaikie’s approach to PE represents an integration of environmental knowledge and social justice.

Human Ecology: Ecology and Ritualistic Behavior
Human Ecology extensively deals with human-nature interaction. Rappaport was responsible for bringing Structural Functionalism perspective which suggests that different components of society although they function as separate ‘organs’ they converge to form a ‘body’, and relate that with Ecology. Rappaport sees culture as a function of the ecosystem. The ‘carrying capacity’ and energy expenditure are central themes in Rappaport’s studies, conducted in New Guinea. Rappaport’s (1968:205) most popular study was ‘Pigs for the Ancestors: Ritual in the Ecology of New Guinea People’ where he analyzed the mass slaughter of pigs at New Guinea as a ritual performance and associated it with the necessity of protein intake by the people of the said region. This has been the first of its kind correlation of ecological and ritualistic behavior of the human society. Rappaport and Vayda also contributed importantly to the application of new methodologies in the 1960s. They focus upon the ecosystem approach, systems functioning, and the flow of energy. Endeavor of this paper is to find the inter-relation of symbols, rituals, institutions and folklores in the course of history and its impact on worldviews – such as animism and Christianity.

The Village
This section underscores the uniqueness and myriad ways of the Yimti tribal villagers of Nagaland. The analysis of the villagers’ ancestors of the village is made with special reference to institutions, customs and traditions. These include Sungkum (The village gate), nulaksu (spear hitting), Anempong (superstition), paganism, necromancy and propitiation, feast of Merit, arju (dormitory), putu (village council), Zungar (age grouping), and folklores. Particular focus on Yimti’s historical developments is important in order to understand the current settlers with reference to their future development. In the words of Supong (70M), “In the olden times, Hills were regarded as the most secured region to settle down. It was so to safeguard from other warring neighbors. It was not different in the case of our Yimti Village”.

Sungkum (The Village Gates)
Ethnographers look for symbols that help them understand and describe a culture. Symbols are condensed expression of meaning that evokes powerful feelings and thoughts. Symbols are part of everyday life (Fetterman 1989: 36). In the light of ritualistic practices of the Yimti villagers, I look at the different symbols and other religious practices before the advent of Christianity in 1896. Since the foundation of Yimti, the village has two gates. Both these gates were made of huge trunks and supported with bamboo and cane. Beside the gate used to be a trench of 8-10 ft deep and fenced with Bamboo and cane. Wooden replica of human, animal, birds are made for ritualistic purpose. A huge log drum (wood carvings), which is laboriously hollowed out of the trunk of big tree with excellent specimens of art in wood is placed in the village gate. In the past this log drum was used mostly in times of danger, especially the coming of enemies, to alarm the villagers. It was also used to draw attention of the villagers for important announcements. In the past, on the way to their respective fields, people would use a special ladder (meant specially for crossing the trench and returning). It was the practice that everyone who goes to the field has to return to the village before dawn. This is not the case today and in the present day, the gate is mostly open all throughout the day and night and entry not restricted to villagers.


Fig-1: Present day Sungkum (Village Gate)


The concept of returning home before dawn has also changed since people even stay back in the field during sowing and harvest. Also there are people with vehicles for whom conveyance does not inhibit the work they intend to finish for the day. Therefore, even late evening, long after the sunset, we find some farmers returning to village from their fields. The former strategy of restriction and precaution was used to safe guard the village from invasion. During night the gate used to be completely shut and the trench left open. It is also noted that “Tzudenmonger”1 exist till date. Apart from the gate, there used to be a fence, ranging from 8- 10 ft made of sharp and pointed bamboo. On top of the bamboo poles were thorns, which were designed specially to keep away enemies from entering the village. Towards the base of the fence, they use huge trunks to keep the fence strong and unshakable.

Prayers used to be offered for the safety of all the villagers while going to field and returning. There used to be religious offering of prayers before sowing for good harvest as well. “After sowing of seeds for crops and plants, there always used to be rituals for sufficient yield. Special prayer used to be said upon paddy, before and after sowing, and before harvest. Right through the last stage of harvest, appeasement of the gods and thanksgiving for the provision used to be very strict and judicious among the ancestors of Yimti village” Satemla (82F). However, all these practices are found missing in the village today. There is hardly any sign of offering prayers and thanksgiving (collectively) for the sowing and harvest in the present day except for festivities which is supposed to mark success and thanksgiving for sowing and harvest. Some of those festivities are now almost lost and many have already lost its relevance with the advent of Christianity and also because of the out-migration to nearby towns.

Nulaksu (Spear Hitting)
This is a ritualistic instance where swearing is done with a spear hitting the ground. It is a practice where abrasive and contentious issues (of the entire village’s concern) are brought forward and spoken in the midst of all village members with a spear hitting the ground. Lepten (78M) explained, “Nulaksu is said to be the highest form of political debate and is considered as practice of the highest of “truths” only next to “Azungashiba” (which is the highest form of swearing and a covenant between man and gods). Therefore, it is much revered by all. Night before Nulaksu, men would spent time in seclusion from spouse and any so called “impure” diet or activity”. Nulaksu also signifies “Sungsama”, which implies the last word in any contentious issues in the village, which is sworn by celestial bodies and of gods. It is also the name given to the nulaksu gathering where every member of the village starting from “sungpu” (the first and the youngest age group), should be present. Therefore, not only in Yimti, but across almost all the entire Ao – Naga tribal region, “Nulaksu” is considered as the supreme swearing. Yimti practice “nulaksu” in the matters of village allegiance and village resoluteness.” Further in times of grave disputes, according to Lepten, “Words spoken during nulaksu should be responded simultaneously with another nulaksu. Any words - issues left not responded is considered void and acceptance of defeat from the other party, and no claim could be made after nulaksu is over. No amount of witness or persuasion can revert or alter words spoken during nulaksu hence, considered as the greatest form of ‘truth’”. This practice is found in certain villages even to the present day. Nulaksu is invariably performed by the elders of the village. However, with the introduction of education, this practice tends to lose its ground on the basis of its purpose and methodological implication

Anempong (Superstition)

In the past, when “kulem keja” - the traditional form of belief system, was prevalent in Yimti, as Lepten (78M) echoed, law and order was much stronger than today. Yimti had been one of the villages which had a strong bond of tradition and culture. Regular and strict discipline was maintained while sacrificing to the spirits in times of sowing and harvest and in times of sickness and health, victory and celebrations. Some of the strong principles, which the animistic ancestors had among other qualities, are the strong belief in a supernatural spirit. Their life, in the world of the Yimti village, revolved around anempong (superstition). Some of the superstitious beliefs, as seen during the older days, were keeping away guest when animal or human give birth to young ones, and any activity that would displease their supernatural spirit. Sorcery was evidently very common among Yimti villagers. These were all done as a sign of purity and allegiance towards their gods. All these attributes may be reasons why acceptance of Christianity was so opposed by the Yimti villagers.

Paganism, Necromancy and Propitiation
Contrary to the perspective that hold reluctance and resistance to Christianity faith by Yimti villagers due to adherence to their customs and traditions, legendary story of the ancestors somehow directs one to believe that the acceptance of Christianity was much easier for Naga tribals since they all seem to have believed in a supreme creator of universe. Nevertheless, it is rather convincing from the findings such as names given to landscapes, rivers and mountains that belief and worship of nature in the form of totems - rocks, trees, celestial bodies, spirits and other gods existed alongside Christianity in Yimti. However it needs to be noted that no worship of idols in the form of images and crafts were followed in the tradition of Yimti villagers. In the words of Lima (88M), “For the people of Yimti, the supreme among several gods was Lijaba. He was believed to be the creator who created the universe. Everything the forefathers did was an act of appeasement to him and propitiation for any transgression. The forefathers worshiped Lijaba on hilltops, and offered blood sacrifices of animals. They sacrificed the best of livestock, especially chicken. They would cut off the head of the chicken and sprinkle the blood all around the area. A small area atop the hill was first cleaned and then they made offerings of food and livestock to Lijaba.” They believed that this kind of blood offering pleased Lijaba and thus, in return they were blessed with abundant, healthy crops and livestock. Today, Lijaba is considered a legend among other gods of the village, fields, hills and valleys. The ancestors were religious not only in worship but judicious in sacrifices performed. Even at the cost of great wealth, the people kept their allegiance and sacrifices to their gods2. Till the recent past, there were tendencies of corporate as well as individuals giving sacrifices in the form of pig and hen’s blood3. Another instance of ancient ritual practiced in Yimti village is Tanuja-i Aoba (Beckoning of the spirits) especially in times of sickness. It is a process where the relatives would offer sacrifices to supposedly appease gods on behalf of the victim. In case of persisting ailment, the relatives would go to a spirit intercessor and ask him/her to pray for the kind of offering they have to make. The spirit intercessor would then, reveal to them the particular spot where the spirit of the person had been supposedly held captive. One of the most sacred form of ritual concerning life of a person therefore, used to be this “Tanuja”. This acted as a healing activity as well as warding off bad omens and spirits. All in all, it used to be an act of propitiation.

Fig-2: Cemetery at Yimti Village

Another belief in healing sick people is Necromancy or "Arasentsur Mangdangi Yokba"4 (in Ao-Naga dialect). This is another instance where people believed that a person is sick because his/her soul is being captured in the land of the death. This is specially believed to be the handy work of the relatives who have died. Therefore, a person usually well known for the gift of interacting or interceding with spirits is sent to take back the spirit of the sick person whose spirit is being captured in the other world (believed in worlds of the living and the death). The role of intercessor is hence found very common during ancient times especially during illness. It is also noted that during this activity, the intercessor needs to take special rice, wine, meat, fish and egg etc. These items were then wrapped in banana leaf, and then kept in a particular place one on top of the other. Belongings of deceased relatives are also taken to the intercessor which is supposedly meant to be given back to the rightful (death) people. After the ritual is being done by the intercessor, the intercessor takes away the entire offerings since, the owner of the offerings is not allowed neither to eat nor take it away. This form of sacrifice/offering was considered very common during many forms of illness. There used to be a special basket to carry offering to the gods. Mostly during epidemics, these special baskets were to be seen all over the places towards the village gates. “There were too many gods, too much worship, too many rituals, too many myths and beliefs, too much witchcraft, which existed during the past. This practice was prevalent even post 1896, i.e. even after Christianity came to the village.” Atula (81F)

In today’s context, the “spirit intercession” as was seen in the case of pre- Christianity is found in the form of Pastor in the church who does prayers for the sick and the needy. However, the difference between the two is that, the latter is confined to the so called “Christians”. And the ritual performers are the ones who intercede with the ‘holy spirits’ through visions, dreams, and tongues5. These intercessors with their faith could have connection with the divine god. Hence, the words ‘miraculous signs’ are used to indicate such occurrences. Another means of intercession is through fasting, where sick people or people sincerely looking for meaning in life would find revelation from god. The concept of offering to the gods and sacrifices thus seems to be more systematized as well as significant during the pre-Christianity era. Till today, the idea of healing from the supernatural one exists very strongly.

Feasts of Merit
Feasts of merit constitute the basis of Yimti tribal villagers’ ethics and social life. They comprise a series of ceremonies, progressively more lavish and socially important, and culminate in the sacrifice of a “sü” (Bos frontalis). Through the feasts of merit, a wealthy man reclaims power, and proof of his wealth to the members of the village. It is only done in honor and by the male member of the village. However, the entire household, kith and kin take pride on and of the same achievement. The feast host offers meat, rice and rice-beer to all the villagers and in return, the villagers acknowledge merit and social prestige of the host. It can be noted here that similar prestige is transmitted today in the form of hosting Christmas in the Christianized tradition. The difference is in the absence of rice-beer, which is considered taboo in Christianity. The context of the ritual made before and after “sü” sacrifice has also changed to praying to Jesus Christ instead to spirits. In all these cases, it can be noted that Nagas in general and the Yimti villagers in particular were worshippers of spirits and not idols, as found in Hinduism.


Fig-3: Yimti Villagers in Festive Mood

Imli (73M) has to further say, “The last feast in the cycle of the feasts of merit, assures much honor and believed to happen only once in a man’s lifetime. The way and method of performing the feasts of merit slightly differ from village to village, yet this kind of practice to elevate oneself to enviable position of power in the society is common” Some of the achievers go for stone monoliths erection, some for only forked wooden posts, and some go for both. Whatever the case may be, the importance is on the acquisition of glory, honor and social status that are intimately associated with the feasts of merit.” Those people who can afford to indulge in this kind of expensive gratification earn for themselves respect and reputation of being generous and resourceful. In fact, those who have succeeded in performing the whole series of the feasts of merit are perhaps respected more than any personal achievements in life. These elite performers of the feasts of merit automatically acquire the social sanction to put on special shawl with distinctive embroideries on them, and earn house-horns (decorative made from ‘Su’ i.e. Mithan or buffalo horn) in their dwellings.
Some other distinguishable decorative for households having performed feasts of merits are multi colored decorated spears and daos (machete), head gear made of finely woven bamboo interlaced with orchid stems, adored with boar’s teeth and hornbill’s feathers, ivory armlets. In the olden days, warriors had to prove their valor to wear each of these items. The villagers regard their festivals, sacrosanct and participation in celebrations, compulsory. They celebrate their distinct seasonal festivals with pageantry of color and a feast of music. Most of these festivals revolve around agriculture. Although some religious and spiritual sentiments are interwoven into secular rites and rituals, the predominant theme of the festivals is offering of prayers to a supreme being. At these festivals, the spirits of gods are propitiated with sacrifices by the village head for a bountiful harvest, either before the sowing or on eve of harvest and a thanksgiving festival after harvest.

Arju (dormitory)
During earlier times (pre- Christianity or post 1896 A.D), there was only a sole place for all Zungars (“age – groups” in Ao dialect) to sleep in the night. This place was known as Arju. Yimti, once had three Arjus in the past6. Arju was the most institutionalized set up, more than a family, although meant exclusively for male folks. This was where a boy would learn how to use swords/machetes for cultivation and in earlier times for fighting. Arju also had all military equipments and training. All cultural norms were taught in Arju. Above all, Arju was an institution that imparted education and discipline among the male youths. All men (from early teenage until marriage) therefore, compulsorily stayed in Arju. Likewise, girls got together, shared and learnt from their elders, especially in a Tzuki that is, a widower’s home. The front porch of an Arju often had a wooden log upto 8 meters long, carved from the trunk of a single tree. During festive occasions, emergency and important announcements, the long drum used to be sounded. Besides serving as a guard post, arju served as a meeting place for youth groups, and certain village affairs. Oral tradition, too, is kept alive from one generation to the next through the teaching of songs, dances, and folk tales. The elders share their experiences with the young people to encourage them to living in harmony with the village way of life, to develop a deep sense of love, loyalty, discipline, social responsibility and duty towards the village.

Fig-4: Present day Log Drum (Housed - background)

With the advent of Christianity, Arju was renamed as “room”. This also marked the shift of control partly from the hands of the village administrator to the church. There were partitions specifically for boys and girls and a strict discipline was maintained in the “room”. Therefore, punishment was a part of the system and the interactions between boys and girls were intensely regulated. There was by and large no illicit relationship or pre-marital affairs between a boy and a girl, as it was considered taboo and also punishable by custom. With education in the form of schooling in the village, admixture of cultural practices and norms emerged. As per respondent, “room” existed until late 1980s in Yimti village. Village elders today recollect those days and cherish the learning, sharing and laughter of their times in the “room”. Among many other things that the village has lost culturally, “room” (as an institution) is definitely a prominent one.

Putu (Village Council)
The Putu (referring to both the office and the councilors of the village council) is an apex regulatory body and the guardian of the customary practices in Yimti. Putu consists of representatives from each clan of the village; usually the eldest male member of the respective clan is deputed to it. Yimti like any other Ao-Naga tribe is without a particular village chief but an assembly of elders - Counselors called the Putu comprises the village council. Today, Putu comprises of 8 shamens7 i.e. one member each from the presently eight clans in the village and five Gaon Buras (GBs)8 appointed by the state government and 7 mefuanganar9 . Altogether there are 13 strong members of the Putu who are involved in every decision making. Although the customary law of Yimti is not codified, there is almost a clear cut customary practices regarding inheritance, land ownership etc.

Fig-5: A Villager Elders Meeting

Putu, the august body handles the overall affairs of the village. Putu derive their power from the social customs, which are based on ancestral oral traditions. It is the duty of the Putu to see that every member of the village strictly obeys customs. Putu takes all decision in issues regarding marriage, death, land dispute, formulation of all village development schemes, supervision - maintenance of water supply, roads, forests, education and other welfare activities of the village. Yimti’s customary laws are not codified systematically but passed on through word of mouth. Since the laws are customary and considered rather scared in nature, they are well known to both the young and the old. Putu not only administer and execute laws, they also act as judges and therefore, command respect from all the villagers. However, there are certain practices that are stringently imposed while some others are pushed to periphery. These cases need to be seen in the light of massive developmental strategies and the emergence of politics at the grass root level - unit such as a village.

Zungar (Age Grouping)
Zungar is a highly institutionalized division on the basis of age. It is significant since it gives a clear division of labor in the village administrative system. It is this Zungar that determines the kind of task one needs to carry out in any social gathering or community work allotment in the village. This categorization of groups on the basis of age did not change even with the advent of Christianity in Yimti. This Zungar is an indispensable tool in designating task both in the village administration as well as church administration. In fact, the efficiency of the Zungar is much internalized and therefore, a sense of competitiveness is also instilled among the different Zungars in order to excel in the task assigned to each one. All kinds of community work is supervised by the village councils -Putu. From the youngest - Sungu10 to the oldest age group – Jozen11, each age group is called a zunga. It can be mentioned that even before any interaction of the villagers with the outside world, it has its own idea of democracy, which is quite vividly displayed by the existence of Zungars in the village. The different Zungars have a say in the entire administration of the village. There is an elected village council in the village that is elected from respective representative of all the clans in the village. However, apart from the council members there is the village eldest of the Zungar called as Jozen who is powerful and respected. Sungu is the first age group from which a male member is accountable for all village work. They are also the ones who will take care and also carry out orders for any social gathering in the village. In Yimti village, this Zungar system is intact even today and there is a strict adherence to its ethos especially during occasions of festivals, community work and gatherings. Anyone (from Yimti village but living in towns and cities) can identify themselves to their respective age group once he/she declares his/her age. Today, the name of the eldest member of a Zungar is given to that particular Zungar. The eldest and the youngest member of a Zungar usually have an age difference of 3-4 yrs.

Before the advent of Christianity, Naga society was an illiterate society and embracing Kelem-keja12. People were known to have communicated only through songs. The elderly attributes this to the people of Nagaland in general, who are seemingly gifted in singing even to this day. There is no record of a common dialect that has been spoken in the Yimti village before the advent of Christianity. However, the transition of the mode of communication from songs to verbal conversation still remains intriguing and no extensive research has been done on it. It is to be noted that almost all records prior to the 1870s are, therefore, embedded in traditional folksongs and folklores. The Aos started using Roman script13 only after the dawn of Christianity in 1872. Ao tribals were also the first among the Nagas to accept Christianity and thus were regarded as one among the first literate people in Nagaland. And even today most of the history of the people of Yimti village is heavily dependent on oral traditional narratives. There are basically four kinds of folk songs that are found in Yimti through which the elderly infers history.

  • Limapur Ken (Songs of the Pagans)
    All songs that have been sung before the advent of Christianity in the Yimti village is being considered as Limapur ken which could be closely translated as the songs of the pagans. However, there are many differences of opinion regarding this classification on the basis of meaning and the context or occasions on which it is sung. According to Kumzuk (68M), there are diverse types of songs namely “Nachi Achiba – Songs sang when a Nashi (Bos taurus) is sacrificed. Su Achiba – songs of the pagan sung when Mithan (Bibos frontalis) is being sacrificed. Both these two songs are considered as “konang-narokum ken” or “songs of victory” which imply song of praise and admiration for victor comrades. There are also songs of worship, villagers’ songs of celebration, songs of victory, dance songs and above all, war songs were very common during the past.

  • Yimli Ken (Songs of victory)
    Yimli ken refers to the songs sung when a battle is won. This is also sung when a village is born. Many elderly people in Yimti village regret that much of the history especially in the form of folksongs and folktales are not being given importance by the present generation, not documented and thereby forgotten.

  • Nuknarar Ken/Sungonaro ken (Love songs)
    These are songs, which a young man would sing to his maiden and vice versa. These songs are found to be so poetical and full of meaning. However, there are only a handful of elders in the village today, who could sing these songs. Above all, most of the songs are not easily understood, since it uses both the dialects of Ao- Naga (i.e. Mongsen and Jungli) and also a very old form of Ao dialect usage is followed in all these songs. There is indeed a need in Yimti to document and preserve this rich tradition of outlook towards life in the form of history.

  • Lipok Ken (Songs of Genesis)
    These songs are again mostly related to the time of paganism. Every clan has their own songs of genesis. Lipok ken literally means “songs of genesis in Ao dialect. Yimti is well known for its richness in adhering to its culture and tradition. There are evidences of other neighboring as well as from far villages coming in search of folktales and songs from Yimti. It is being said that even although there would be evidences in the form of stories and oral narratives, the absence of a “Lipok ken” would devalue much evidences. “The significance of “Lipok ken” is placed at a higher pedestal in finding evidence and tracking history of any village. It is so because such folk songs tell the names of their ancestors, how and when they founded the village is also being told in such songs.” Imli (73M) echoed. However, with the advent of Christianity these songs too have declined in popularity and interest. Perhaps the lyrics and the tune of the song are worth preserving even though the context of it might change in due course of time. In addition, Lipok songs are a great treasure in understanding the history of Yimti village as well as the social fabric of the Naga society at large.

Reading Yimti’s Forests and Rivers
One of the striking features that I learnt about Yimti village is the “nungja” or “titling system” where a person is given title in line with his/her age, gender, clan, consanguineous or marriage ties. We found that this titling system rather works as an economic model, which triggers many economic classification of labor in the village. In addition, titles also bear great significance in how another person would address or deal with the person concern, in private as well as public. Very close relation of this nungja system is found in naming different forest areas in Yimti. Here are some of the places (fields and forests and some footpaths etc) with the meaning attached to their forest and field cultivated by Yimti villagers. Name and the meaning behind its name are enquired in order to have a perspective of what the forest meant to them. The tradition of cultivation activity, interaction with forest, leashing, ownership and the different pattern of cultivation could be understood through this analysis.

Name of fields and forests and some footpaths etc with its implicit meaning:

  1. Akukirang – Literally means a place where a tiger’s cage was constructed hence the name of the field bearing the name “tiger’s cage”.
  2. Aliliuku – The place resembled “liuku” or a “mat”. Hence, the name “Aliliuku”.
  3. Amomyokong/ Amomezitkong – A place vulnerable to attacks from enemies therefore, watched over as an eagle would look for its prey. Hence, the name “Amon” – eagle, “Mezitkong” - guarded place.
  4. Anmen – In earlier times, there was an instance where a hen was lost in the village. All the villagers were informed and finally they found it in this place. Literal meaning of “Anmen” means place where a hen was sitting.
  5. Aokmerok – Literally translated as place where a pig was burned.
  6. Hoi-atang – A sudden steep footpath. This place is where a person would “sigh” right after the climb. Interpreted as “sighing slope”.
  7. Kenetchanger lu – In olden days there was only a footpath that lead to the village. Then, a person named Kenetchang from Changtongya village came to Yimti with an ox through a different path. This path came to be known as the Kinetchanger footpath and the name of the field as Kinetchanger lu.
  8. Kotak Yirpang – Named after myth that the footpath was the path from when people from heaven came to first settle in the village.
  9. Kumsiyimang – A man by the name of Kumshi first cleared this footpath which later came to be used by the entire villagers. Hence, the name Kumshi - Kumsi’s footpath.
  10. Longtsuktep – Name given as the result of many rocks close by each other.
  11. Lituching – Place where earth for making pottery used to be available. Now due to house construction, there is not such specific place where people can collect the same.
  12. Manenkong – Field known for bad yield. Hence, the name of the field literally means “bad omen”.
  13. Mechiba – Field left uncultivated in literal sense.
  14. Panaktoba – Panaktoba’s (name of a person) field.
  15. Repalangba-lu – Named after a Yimti villager Repalangba – “lu” refers to “field”.
  16. Tongdong – Tradition has it that a Melonger (clan) by the name “Atenpong” and his wife “Yumetsala” (who was pregnant then) came across a steep path while approaching Yimti. Due to this steepness, Yumetsala would gasp, letting the heart to beat faster. (This in local Ao- dialect is translated as Tongdonglatsu). The fact that Atenpong had his wife walk in such a condition later came to be known as “Tongdong” for the footpath. And Tongdong-lu for the Tongtong field.
  17. Tsakmelen – Place where grain was kept in turns right after the harvest.
  18. Tsalimen – Place where Tsali (tree) was and is found.
  19. Tsumar Kima – Named after some people from the plains (non-tribals for them) who came to the region and inhabited (now left) in that region.
  20. Tsupong Shapang – Tsupong from the clan of Longchar was the first person to clear the land built granary. Hence, the name of the field was given after him.
  21. Tsungrem settu lu – Name was given for a deep depression, which could only be caused by gods. Hence the name Tsungrem – god, settu lu – field.
  22. Tetimen – Field where Teti (name of a tree) was found abundant in the wild.
  23. Tsushirong – Place where villagers drink water on their way to their respective fields.
  24. Wazakulu – Place where two brothers fed baby birds.


Fig-6: Present day Yimti Village

Some of the names and traditional meaning attributed to the respective water sources are documented as follows:

  1. Sangyong Tzubo – This pond existed since the village came to be inhabited. A person called Sangyong, who was from the clan Ozukum, as it is known, had founded this pond. And therefore, the name of the pond is after its founder Sangyong. In the history of the village, this pond is known for its never drying phenomenon. But since the last 2-3 years this pond is going dry during extreme dry season, which has raised concern among the villagers.
  2. Aliliuku – Given after the shape of the pond, which looked like a mat.
  3. Mongsen Tzubo – This is given on behalf of the ancestors who first came to inhabit the village. Mongensen is a clan name, which was part of the first settlers in the village. The name also implies the name of that locality which bears the same name.
  4. Jungli Tzubo – This is also given on behave of the ancestors who first came to inhabit the village. Jungli and Mongen are both clan names that were part of the first settlers in the village. The name also implies the name of that locality which bears the same name.
  5. Hanmen Tzubo – Place where a chicken was caught while it was resting beside the pond.

Some of the important rivers found in and around Yimti are as follows:

  1. Milak – This River is one of the biggest and the most important rivers in Nagaland. This river borders Yimti with Mong (Tongdong) and on the other side with kimong (Tzuben longkok). Some of the fishes found in the river are: Angulang, Anget, Angusen, Longjak, Mgurem, Ngapu, Ngayi, Remok ngu, Suben14 etc.
  2. Tzurong – Small
  3. Tzurong – Large
  4. Melo- Jemyong – Name after the Melo from Yimti.
  5. Alisha-suba Ayong – Place where a snake (Python) was killed. Literally translates as river where a Python died.
  6. Tongdongyong – River which flows across field by the name Tongdong, This has a potential of serving as a fishery pond at a larger scale.
  7. Longmenyong – River got its name due to the fact that it has several rocks sitting on top of each other.
  8. Sharenbayong – Named after a Yimti villager whose name was Sharen from the clan of Mongsen Aier.
  9. Ngisamenyong – Named after a tree (Ngisa).
  10. Ongpangninger Yipjenyong – Place where the Ongpanger (a clan) used to rest while going and coming from the plains (present Assam).

To analyze each and every signs, symbols, names and meanings attached to them would call for another study of different nature. However, the lessons drawn from this documentation, is the fact that the association of the Yimti villagers and the natural ecology is a close knitted relation. Any action acted either upon the village community or on the nature (forest) would impact both equally. It can be said so since the collateral existence between the two are so resonantly attuned. More so, a framework for the understanding of the ecological crisis cannot be completely understood without the effective knowledge of the inhabitants who are the villagers. The vice-versa condition is also true as in the words of Forsyth (2008: 756)- ‘social values and environmental knowledge are co-produced’.
This analysis of naming natural resources – forestland, field, footpath, river, springs and ponds show how rich the local knowledge is in understanding and perceiving nature. This
enquiry can allow even a layman to locate what does a particular symbol, phenomenon, artifact or natural resource mean to the villagers themselves. This will pave a way to handle policy formulation and implementations in a dynamic way. It can be noted that every name given has got a story to tell which is indispensable to understand the Yimti people’s past and the future. To sum up with Harris’ thoughts on his classic piece ‘India’s sacred cow’, “Practices and beliefs can be rational or irrational, but a society that fails to adapt to its environment is doomed to extinction. Only those societies that draw the necessities of life from those surroundings without destroying those surroundings inherit the earth.15 ” In a poignant way, this idea can be related to the idea of symbols, rituals, institution, folklores, and its relation to religious beliefs and ecological landscape in Yimti village of Nagaland. Most of phenomenon and its value discussed here might not even make sense to an “outsider”. “Cultural practices of other people often seem strange, irrational, and even inexplicable to outsiders. In fact, the member of the culture in question may be unable to give a rationally satisfying explanation of why they behave as they do…” Harris further suggests in his article that India’s ‘sacred’ cow is in fact a rational cultural adaptation (in spite of harboring millions of starving people, the cattle stay healthy and secure) solely because the cow is so extraordinarily useful. Similarly, the use, reuse or non-use of a scientifically proven and economically repaying project does not guarantee the success of policy implementation devoid of learning the cultural history of the inhabitants. It is here that the understanding of social construction and the social values from the peoples’ perspective tends to be imperative.


  • Blaikie, Piers, Brookfield, Harold. 1985. The Political Economy of Soil Erosion in Developing Countries. Routledge Kegan & Paul, p. 147
  • Blaikie 1983; 29 as quoted in Forsyth, Tim. 2006: Political Ecology and the Epistemology of Social Justice. Science Direct, Geoforum 39 (2008) pp.756 -764 (757)
  • Blaikie, Piers. 2008. Epilogue: Towards a future for political Ecology that works, Science Direct, Elsevier. Geoforum 39: 765-772 (767).
  • Bryant, Raymond L and Bailey, Sinead. 1997. Third World Political Ecology. London: Routledge. pp 148
  • Fetterman, David M. 1989. Ethnography Step by Step. New Delhi: Sage Publications.
  • Forsyth, Tim. 2006: Political Ecology and the Epistemology of Social Justice. Science Direct, Geoforum 39 (2008) pp.756 -764 (757)
  • Peet 1977 in Forsyth, Tim. 2006: Political Ecology and the Epistemology of Social Justice. Science Direct, Geoforum 39 (2008) pp.757
  • Rappaport, Roy A. 1968 (1984). Pigs for the Ancestors: Ritual in the Ecology of New Guinea People. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp.205
  • Xaxa, Virginius. 1999. Transformation of Tribes in India: Terms of Discourse. Economic and Political Weekly. Vol. 34, No. 24, June.12 – 18, 1999: 1519-1524.
    ---------------. 1999. Tribes as Indigenous People of India. Economic and Political Weekly. Vol. 34, No. 51, Dec.18 – 24, 1999: 3589-3595.

Web Reference

  • retrieved on 12/02/12
  • Harris, Marvin, India’s Sacred Cows, retrieved on 08/01/11.

Person Interviewed

  • Ajemla (60F) interviewed on 26/10/09 at Yimti village.
  • Atula (81F) interviewed on 27/10/09 at Yimti village.
  • Imli (73M) interviewed on 10/04/09 at Yimti village
  • Kumzuk (68M) interviewed on 09/12/07 at Yimti village.
  • Lepten (78M) interviewed on the 12/05/ at Yimti village. He is the person behind most of cultural dances and folklores in time of festivals today.
  • Lima (88M) interviewed on the 11/05/09 at Yimti village.
  • Satemla (82F) interviewed on 24/10/08 at Yimti village.
  • Supong (70M) interviewed on 23/10/08 at Yimti village.


  1. This practice is found even today although they are practiced for different purpose. Earlier, Tzudenmonger used to watch guard the village from enemy attacks and related emergencies like sudden accidents and deaths etc. Today, we still find them but with intention mainly to give support and hospitality to visitors- guest in the village, exchange of information with neighboring villages (both written and verbal) etc. Tzudenmonger is an integral part of the village council (Putu – which is the name of the counselors as well as the office of the village council). This practice further saw a shift from a compulsory turns for youths in the village to having a voluntary job and chores for the Underground (UGs) militants during 1950s. Voluntary job included setting up camps for the UGs, collection of supplies from the villagers, carrying goods to cooking etc. Today, they are paid in cash (lump sum) or kind, depending on the decisions made by the Putu each year.
  2. Chief among sacrifice was Supong Achir or Mithun sacrifice which only rich families could effort. It was a sign of prestige and status.
  3. It can be noted here that after the completion of one bamboo house during my field study. Some village elders insisted on having a chicken killed and served porridge (rice prepared with cooked chicken blood) among the guest as a sign of appeasement to the gods. This is believed to be done to ward off any spirits that might have entered the house in the form of materials that has been collected from the woods during the construction.
  4. It is the prediction of the future by supposedly communicating with the dead people. This is very similar to Tanuja-i Aoba - “beckoning of the spirits” but here there is a particular person who literarily intercedes with the spirits straight away. There is no other party involved here.
  5. Meaning people speaking in unknown language – resembling a trance state.
  6. Yimti has none with the advent of education where every activity of learning happens in a school. Christianity also invariably brought about value change in the hearts and minds of the people. Church became the centre of socialization.
  7. Usually elders member of a particular clan.
  8. GB – Gaon Buras is a name given to village chief by Britishers later on adopted by the Indian government.
  9. Mefuanganar are the helpers of the Shamen in logistical matters. They are usually the one on the line to become shamen from his own clan. Mefuanganar does not take part in the decision making of the putu.
  10. The youngest Zunga (age-group) of them all – this is marked right after boys cross teenage (18 years and above). This is a mark of manhood for the villagers.
  11. Other than the Counselors (Putu), only “Jozen” Zunga has the discretionary power to convene the entire village community for meeting.
  12. Animistic form of belief among Naga society. Believe in the spirits, nature and the super naturals.
  13. It can be mentioned here that Ao tribe does not have script and follow the Roman script till date.
  14. The scientific name for these fishes could not be identified during the field study.
  15. Harris, Marvin, Indian Sacred Cows. retrieved on 08/01/11.