Asia – India – Manipur State – Senapati District – Maram Naga Tribe
Maram Naga Tribe
By Peter Ki
The Maram Naga tribe belongs to the Naga ethnic group, inhabiting the Northeastern part of India as well as the Western part of Myanmar (Burma).[i] The Maram Naga tribals or Maram people inhabit Senapati district of Manipur, a small state in the northeastern part of India. The Maram people are united by a common past, language, customs, and practices. They are well known for their rich cultural heritage. The tribe’s folk songs and folk tales speak of a glorious past.
According to folk lore, the first parents of the Marams were Madungkasyii and S’mutingdangpui, each believed to have been fashioned out by the creator from a creature of the earth. Madungkasyii is made out of N’set (worm) and S’mutingdangpui out of Atingpui (water creature). Since N’set bores into a tree it becomes symbolic of the male principle and Atingpui, being the water creature, becomes symbolic of fertility and regeneration.[ii]
The majority of the Marams, except for the few who are settled in Senapati town, live in villages (over thirty in number) scattered all over the geographical expanse generally known as the Maram Area. The Marams are surrounded by other Naga tribes in all directions: to the North are the Mao Nagas; to the east are Poumai Nagas; to the South are the Thangal Nagas and the Kukis; and to the West and South-West are Zeliangrong Nagas (Liangmai and Zeme). As per Census 2001, the Marams number about 37,340 in total (Manorama Yearbook 2012, p.576).[iii]
The people speak the Maram language. There are some variations in the way the language is spoken, corresponding with the geographical location. They may roughly be classified into five groups: those of Maram Khullen and its neighbouring villages; those of Willong and its surrounding villages; Villages in an around Tahamzam (Senapati); Tumuyon Khullen; and Ngatan villages.
The UNESCO database on endangered languages puts the number of speakers of Maram language at 37,000. Under the UNESCO’s classification of ‘degree of endangerment’ of languages, Maram has been put in the category of ‘vulnerable’; it means that “most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains (e.g., home)”. The spectrum of degree of endangerment ranges from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘extinct’. If a language is categorized as ‘extinct’, it means that “there are no speakers left”. The Maram language is not in immediate danger of extinction for now, but if the current state of neglect continues it will not be long before alarm bells start ringing.
Maram Khullen (also called Maramei Namdi) is the biggest and oldest Maram village. The quintessential role of Maram Khullen as the preserver of the tribe’s culture, social norms and ethos continues to hold sway. It zealously guards the many customs and traditions of the tribe. The people of this village continue to follow the “LUNAR” calendar for its customs and traditions. Willong is the second-largest Maram village where, awareness about and practice of, traditional mores and culture are still there.
The Marams use Roman script in writing their language. Literature on the Marams is scanty at the most. This is therefore ample opportunity for scholars willing to undertake research on the tribe, especially of anthropological nature.
Agriculture is the main occupation of the people. Both men and women are involved in rice cultivation; while digging of fields, sowing of seeds, transplantation of saplings, and harvesting are common activities, men are responsible for ploughing the fields. Women bear the major burden of household chores including taking care of children. Women will collect water and firewood. Men are responsible for felling of trees from which firewood are prepared.
As far as food is concerned, rice remains the staple diet. Meat is consumed in good measure. The food habit of the people is quite similar to that of the other Nagas. However, this was not the case in the past. One food habit differentiated the Marams from other Nagas. The Marams did not consume pork in the past. Today, with the advent of Christianity, pork is one of the main dishes relished by the people!
The two major festivals of the Marams are Punghi (celebrated in July) and Kanghi (in December). The tribe also celebrates a unique festival called Mangkang around April every year dedicated to the women folks. The Marams still maintain the age-old tradition of monarchy [iv]. For a long time, the Queen ‘Apei Hinga’ sat on the throne until her death on 27 August 2010 [v]. However, in 2011, Namba was crowned the new king of the Marams. Although the majority of the population has embraced Christianity, some people still follow the traditional religion which may be characterized as a form of animism. The geographical feature of the Maram area is marked by hills, shrubs and tropical forest.
The Maram Nagas continue to maintain the age-old tradition of monarchy.[iv] For a long time, the Queen sat on the throne.[v] However, in 2011, Namba was crowned the new king of the Maram Nagas. Although the majority of the population has embraced Christianity, some people still follow the traditional religion which may be characterized as a form of animism.
The geography of the Maram area is marked by hills, shrubs and tropical forest.
[i] According to Dr. Xavier P. Mao, the Nagas are not one linguistic group but are an ethnic group. They were not subjugated by any group of people till the British occupation of Naga Hills in1880. The word Naga was used the first time in the late 17th century in the Ahom Buranji (Chronicle) to refer to the Nocte, Wancho and Tangsa tribes of Arunachal Pradesh who are part of the larger allied and cognate groups of the Konyak Nagas. See, Dr. Xavier P. Mao, “Problematizing the challenges of the Naga Nationalism”, Eastern Mirror [Source: Eastern Mirror].
[ii] Monica, Kanga (2009), “Folk Tales of Maram: A Critical View”, Tinghaa, A newsletter published by the ‘Maram Students’ Union, Delhi’.
[iii] These figures, however, need further corroboration since the Government of Manipur has rejected the census figures of both 2001 and 2011.
[iv] On 28 April 2011, K. Namba was crowned the new king of the Maram tribe. This followed the death of his mother, the Queen who passed away on 27 August 2010. After the current King’s father (Karang) died, the mother (Hinga) had carried on the tradition as the Queen. With the coronation, Namba is officially referred to as Sagong Namba (Sagong means King in Maram language).
[v] The Queen ‘Apei Hinga’ has been credited with bringing about many social changes in the Maram society.
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KEYWORDS: Infomaram; Maram Naga tribe; Madungkasyii; S’mutingdangpui; Poumai Nagas; Thangal Nagas; Kukis; Zeliangrong Nagas; Liangmai; Zeme; Maram Khullen; Maramei Namdi; Punghi; Kanghi; Mangkang