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Sikpui Ruoi (Sikpui Festival) A festival with a difference

Sikpui Ruoi (Sikpui Festival), Sikpuiruoi, Sikpui ruoi

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

/ Published by VIRTHLI
Lal Dena & Zothanchhingi Khiangte

There are innumerable festivals and ceremonies among the Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribes of North-east India. Of these, Sikpui Ruoi/Kut celebrated by the Hmar tribe is unique. There are several reasons for its uniqueness and we shall attempt to discuss only some of them:

1.  Among the many festivals of the ethnic groups of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo, Sikpui Ruoi is a festival celebrated by the Hmar community, the descendants of Nelachal, the youngest of Manmasi’s three sons. No particular date for the festival is fixed. It is celebrated at a convenient time during December (Mimtuk thla) and January (Tuolbuol thla). In the olden days, celebration of Sikpui Ruoi would extend to several days and sometimes even a month. But usually, the celebration lasts for seven days.

2. Another noteworthy feature about the Sikpui Ruoi is that it is not celebrated every year. In fact, it is celebrated only in the year of abundant harvest. Such a year is said to be a year of ‘fapang ralinsan’, when the granary is still left with the previous year’s yield at the arrival of the new harvest. Young men and women take out this previous year’s yield and winnow the grain two or three months ahead of Sikpui Ruoi. They then distribute the rice to every household in the village for brewing. This locally brewed drink is called rice beer or zu.. On the day of the Sikpui Ruoi, every family in the village would bring their own share of zu, drink and eat together with wild abandon. Thus the name Sikpui Ruoi. The term ‘Sikpui Ruoi’ can also literally mean ‘winter feast’, ‘sikpui’ meaning winter and ‘ruoi’ meaning feast.

3. The all-embracing mood of the festival where everyone, rich or poor, young or old can take part without any social inhibition is another distinctive feature of the Sikpui Ruoi. On this auspicious occasion, everyone whether young or old, rich or poor dance in blissful harmony on a common platform. The wealthier ones did not hesitate to part with their fineries and they used to readily give away their best clothes to their less fortunate fellow men. We, the so-called ‘enlightened’ ones in spite of all our learning have a great lesson to learn from these pre-literate societies, where a harmonious relationship co-existed among all the people in times of their festivities. More often than not, we fail to spare a thought for our poorer brethrens even in our Christmas celebrations.

4. Sikpui Ruoi is a festival of all the Hmars in general. Unlike the other public-feasts and ceremonies like inchawng (a public feast given by a single individual or a family to ensure entrance to paradise), sahrang lumeng (a feast held when a large and dangerous wild beast is killed), ral lumeng (a feast held in celebration of a hero’s successful return with the head of an enemy) and bu inei (a feast given to mark an individual’s abundant harvest), Sikpui Ruoi does not signify an individual’s achievements but signifies the general prosperity as a whole. It is a community festival in which all people from the youngest child to the oldest member of the tribe participate and it is because of this all-inclusive nature of the festival that everyone, irrespective of his/her social standing is given importance on the occasion and it is this unique feature that makes Sikpui Ruoi an important cultural heritage, to be remembered and treasured for generations to come.

5. Remarkably, unlike the other feasts and festivals, Sikpui Ruoi has nothing to do with religion. The only faint connection with religious beliefs is in the part played by the village priest. A village priest is employed to augur whether it would be an auspicious time to celebrate Sikpui Ruoi. No animal sacrifice is needed for this purpose. The priest hangs a drum all night in the right-hand corner of the Chief’s porch. He strains his ears all night for any sound of the drum beat. If he hears any drum beat, it is considered inauspicious to celebrate Sikpui Ruoi but if he does not hear any drum beat for the whole night, Sikpui Ruoi may be held with great enthusiasm with lots of singing, dancing and community feasting. Thus, Sikpui Ruoi is not a feast given to appease any evil spirit. Rather it is a celebration of nature’s bountiful blessings, expressing a tribe’s dependence on the earth for sustenance.

6. Sikpui Ruoi is also unique because of the songs and dances that accompany the feast. There are nine different Sikpui dances and the songs accompanying these dances are collectively known as Sikpui Hla. They are: (1). Buontlaw Hla, (2). Hlapui (Hla Ser), (3). Hranthli Hla, (4) Lamtluong Hla (4) Saia Ketet lam Hla, (5) Simsak Hla (6).Tangkawngvailak Hla, (7). Inran Hla (8) Trinna Hla and (9). Hla Vuina (Hla Phumna). Of these, Sikpui Hlapui (Hla Ser) is held most sacred and the Sikpui dance can not begin until this song is sung. It has also aroused much interest among scholars, historians, theologians and anthropologists. It is still the subject of an endless debate. There are two interpretations of the possible meaning of the song. Some lines from the first interpretation may be translated thus:
While we are preparing for the Sikpui feast,
The big red sea becomes divided.
As we are marching forward fighting our foes,
We are being led by a cloud during day;
And by pillar of fire during night.
Our enemies, ye folk are thick with fury,
Come out with your shields and spears.
Fighting our foes all day,
We march along as cloud-fire goes afore.
The enemies we fight all day,
The big sea swallowed them like beast.
Collect the quails,
Drink the water that gushes out of the rock.
In this interpretation, the song is reminiscent of the Biblical account of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt led by Moses. This has led or misled some sections of the Kuki- Mizo in Manipur and Mizoram into believing and claiming that they are the descendants of one of the lost tribes of Israel. Attempts have been made to ascertain the truth of the claim and several DNA samples of people belonging to some clans like Thiek, Zote (Hmar), Kom, Huolngo (Mizo) etc have been collected and tested at Haifa Technion, Israel. However, preliminary results of the test have shown that they are all within normal Tibeto-Burman parameters. Whatever may be the truth, there is no denying the fact that no other song has ever prompted so much research and investigation as Sikpui Hlapui.

The second interpretation seems to refer to the ancestors’ stay in Mizoram.
As we prepare for the Sikpui feast,
The Tuichang River miraculously parts,
On foot we fight our foes
Crouching, like clouds at day time
And like țau torches at night.
Seething with the intensity
of their fury, our foes bluster
Come out with your spears and shields!
We fought them all day
Till at last they succumbed
Into their watery grave.
The Tuichang River swallowed them all.
Marry the maidens,
Quench your thirst with their wine
placed on the rock.
7. The other name for Sikpui Ruoi is “Inremna Ruoi” which literally means “A feast of Peace”. In the olden days, it was considered taboo to partake in the feast with a grudge against your fellowmen. In case any person harboured a grudge or had enmity with anyone, he must first rid himself of all those ill-feelings before the Sikpui feast. Thus, the feast brought a sense of harmony among all the people and it was this harmonious relationship that made the feast so unique. All the people used to join in the Sikpui dance, men and women placed alternately, holding each other’s hands from the back, signifying their mutual acceptance and exhibited their exuberance and joy. Now in the contemporary world of discontent, we are witnessing the erosion of these long-cherished values which were held so dearly by our ancestors and one can only look back in nostalgia at what has been lost. Even in our Christmas celebration, the day that marks the birth of Jesus, the ‘Prince of peace’, we can hardly be said to be in peaceful co-existence with our fellowmen. It seems that our ancestors, with their simple and uncorrupted way of life were in many ways the true followers of the Messiah although they did not yet know Him.

In order to maintain proper decorum during the feast, a thick coir of rope (made of the vaiza plant ie., Hibiscus macrophyllus) was kept at the parade ground for tying up any over- intoxicated merry-maker who could prove a nuisance. Such drunkards were kept at bay until they came to their senses. This shows our ancestors’ remarkable sense of law and order and their insistence on proper social conduct, although we have often branded them as a band of savages who did not yet learn the virtues of civilization.

Now the question arises: When did the Sikpui Ruoi originate? There are various opinions in this regard.

1. Darthangluoi Faihriem in his book Sikpui Ruoi, suggests that Sikpui Ruoi celebration dates back to 900 A.D, after our ancestors had left Sinlung (China) and were living in the Shan state of Thailand (Siam). This conclusion stems out from his claim that there is a certain tribe in that part of the country whose general mode of life is quite in keeping with the Hmars.

2. A second opinion is that Sikpui Ruoi had its roots in the Shan state of Burma. Some of the oldest songs, particularly Hranglam (songs of heroes) songs are indicative of our ancestors’ sojourn in Shan. Butukhuonglawm (a ceremony marking the beginning of cultivation in which the whole community assist one another in seed sowing) is also believed to have started in Burma. In the Sikpui Hlapui, there is a line which mentions Durlai village. Durlai was one of the Hmar villages in Burma (L. Keivom, Hmar Hla Suina, 1980: 18). According to C.A Soppit, the Hmars left Burma between 800-1100 A.D. but G.H. Luce, a professor of Rangoon University gives 400-800 A.D as the probable date of the Hmars’ migration from Burma. In this case, Sikpui Ruoi must have probably begun to be celebrated before 1100 A.D.

This stone was used for celebration of Sikpui Festival by the Hmars and we occupied it since the 28th Feb, 1918.- Zahula Sailo

3. There is a third opinion that holds the view that Sikpui Ruoi must have been observed since the time when our ancestors had lived between Run and Trieu rivers. This is evident from H.V Vara’s collection of 47 verses of the Sikpui Hla, in which places like Buolkhuo, Run, Tieu, Sizawl, Kelchal, Hmuifang, Tlangzawl, Kawlchem and Khuothlo have been mentioned. Tlangzawl is the name of a place between Falam and Tieu and it is at a distance of 20 miles from Falam (B. Lalthangliana: 2001,p.31). From these songs, it may be probable that Sikpui Ruoi began to be celebrated after our ancestors had crossed the Tieu River and with all probability, they must have composed different Sikpui songs all along their route of migration till they reached the present state of Mizoram. This view seems to be the most agreeable and it would explain why the second interpretation of the Sikpui Hla (which has been referred to above) seems to speak mostly about the people’s experience in Mizoram. One of the Sikpui stones can still be seen at the Zote village near Champhai in Mizoram.

Conclusion: In conclusion, we may say that our ancestors used to celebrate Sikpui Ruoi with much enthusiasm and bonhomie anywhere they had lived. Till today, old Sikpui stones are to be seen  in Mizoram, Manipur and N.C. Hills. The N.C. Hills and Karbi Anglong districts of Assam have declared 5th December as a Sikpui Festival Holiday and this is a milestone in the history of the Hmars. But we must not forget the spirit with which our ancestors celebrated Sikpui Ruoi. They celebrated it with a sense of love and understanding, never forgetting the long-cherished value of ‘tlawmngaina’ which has no equivalent in any other language and can at best be explained as a noble quality of keeping the others first and the self second. Sikpui Ruoi must be celebrated in its true essence- as ‘a feast of peace’. We are indeed fortunate to have such a unique festival and it is our duty to preserve and promote it as our cultural heritage.

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