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Monday, October 28, 2013

By Yochanan Phaltual
As the autumn faded away and gives in the cold winter season, life becomes slow and nostalgic for the elderly-man who set on the traditional porch in the warm morning sun recalling of their past glory days.

Heljathang Thomsong (Shem in Hebrew), 81 years old octogenarian was once a famous hunter in the vast jungle area of Vangai-lhaang in Hmar Bial in southern Churachandpur district. The early Bnei Menashe were undisputed hunters and nomads. Shem Thomsong said hunting is a crucial component of society. Chasing prey or games is a sort of sport and defence against natural wild predators. All sorts of wild animals which were dangerous for human settlement were hunted down either for meat or just for village security.

Shem said hunting gave them the ability to display a heightened sensitivity to the environment. The insects and the wind keep time for them and are able to read signs of the animals and the weather on the ground or sand.

During his pristine days he go hunting with his hound dog using a local made long single barrel gun. He proudly could not count the exact numbers of wild animals he killed in the late 1940s and 1950s, but approximately more than 400 varieties of deer, monkey, tiger, bear, wild boar, porcupine and hundreds of small animals.

According to some Bnei Menashe tradition a hunters when returning from a successful safari are welcome by the priest (Thempu) at a spot near the village gate called “Khomol” with drums and chants. The bulk of meat was divided and share among the entitled people like the Chief, the Priest and closed relatives of the hunters. Sometimes if the meat is suffice enough a community feast with wine (zu) is held at the village ground with songs and dance.
In spite of his age the hands of Shem still display the hunter’s strong fingers from which he often fired with earsplitting noises his single loaded barrel gun. The story of his chase and games will remain a very interesting tales of Bnei Menashe of the past.

Khamzadong Pulamte (Heb. Siloh)

And in 1940, an 8 years old boy Khamzadong Pulamte (Hebrew name, Silo) learned his first lesson of ministering ritual from his father Thangsum, a local priest known as THEMPU. Priesthood is considered generally as hereditary which is handed down from father to son all ritual observances orally.

A conspicuous facet of Kuki-Zomi polity is the important role play by the village priest. Each clan had a priest who is also acting as a village doctor. Given a situation, the priest can challenge and control over the high handedness of the chief.

Silo said he did not charge any consultation fee from the villagers but the villagers pay for his service by doling out a tribute in the form of paddy or other items. Old Bnei Menashe people in the past ascribed all illness as the handy work of evil spirits called DOI. As keeper of the public health the priest is expected to cast it out by offering sacrifices. He would slaughter an animal (sheep/goat) or fowl/ chicken and smear the blood on the sick person while reciting chants mentioning Manmasi. So long as the incantations or spell is not revoke from the patients they are not allowed to socialize with the rest of the society.

Silo said that the word MANMASI appears very often in their prayers and in their folk songs. When someone died the deceased is accorded a farewell. Before the grave is dug, the priest would ward off all evil spirit or anything that would stand on the journey of the soul by chanting “Manmasi is returning to their land, go away and leave the place, we are coming home”. A dead body is washed and clothed with shroud of traditional shawl or any white cloth.

The Priest/Thempu occupied a respected place in the socio-cultural structure of the Bnei Menashe in the past. The priest presence is a must in all ceremonial functions – childbirth, marriage, village administration, death and others. He was indeed the guardian of the culture and tradition of the Bnei Menashe.

Silo is now enjoying a retired life in his humble cottage in Zohar Phaicham and he is compiling his book of memory.

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