Liangmai Nagas - Origin and Culture

Liangmai Naga Couple - photo by Ankur Deka
Introduction
Ethnically and linguistically Liangmai people belong to the mongoloid group of race and speak Liangmai, a Tibeto-Burman language under the Naga Bodo section family (G.A. Grierson in Linguistic Survey of India). Liangmai is one of the 33 recognised tribes by the Government of Manipur which include Aimol, Anal, Hmar, Maram, Mao, Paite, Simte, Thangal, Tangkhul, Thadou, etc.

In Nagaland Liangmais are recognised as Zeliang which comprises Zeme and Liangmai. The language spoken by the people of Liangmai is known as Liangmai language. Liangmai tribes of mongoloid race live in Manipur, Nagaland and Assam States of Northeast India. They are mainly found in Tamenglong headquarters, Tousem and Tamei sub division, Kangpokpi, Supermaina and Tadubi of Senapati district of Manipur, Tening Sub-division, Jhalukie, Peren, Dimapur and Kohima of Nagaland. They are also found in NC Hills, Assam. It is a community of about 80,000 population. Manipur has more population than Nagaland to quite an extent. No Liangmais in Manipur follow any other religion but Christianity since 2003. There are still non-Christians in Nagaland but very less in number.According to 2001 census report, the total population of Liangmai in Manipur was estimated to be above 34,232 with 17,477 males and 16,755 females. According to 2001 census report, the total population of Zeliang in Nagaland was 36012 (2315 Liangmai).

Language
Liangmai languiage is mainly spoken in Manipur and Nagaland. In Manipur, Liangmai speakers are found in Tamenglong headquarters, Tamei sub division, Senapati district and scattered over near Imphal. They are also found in Tening Sub-divission, Jaluke of Peren district, Dimapur and Kohima of Nagaland.

Liangmai language belongs to Tibeto-Burman language under Naga-Bodo section. Liangmai language is mutually intelligible in Manipur and Nagaland even though the language has slight variation from place to place and village to village.

Liangmai is an agglutinative language having the characteristics of SOV language. This language is linguistically closer to Maram, Rongmei, Poumai, Thangal and Zeme which are spoken in the same region.

Liangmai has six vowels and twenty consonantal phonemes.

Origin
They are said to have migrated from South-West China. Liangmai names such as Suang, Hu Wang Liu San, Kiang etc are some names which are identical with the Chinese names. The Liangmai has no historical documents to show the migration and origination.

Many writers take note of Makhel (as the Liangmai called Makhiang in the Mao area) where all Naga tribes lived together before a major dispersal took place. The vast majorities of Liangmai groups are agriculturist and still live in villages. As their village is on the top of the hills, it provides a proper habitat for cultivation. They practice shifts cultivation. They migrated from the land of their ancestors in search of new fertile lands.

Festival
Chaga-Ngee, the biggest festival of the Liangmai community was celebrated in the month of October. Today, this festival that showcases Liangmai's rich culture and tradition is celebrated on 30th of October every year. The venue of Chaga-Ngee is usually held at Tamei and Dimapur town.

According to historical accounts, Chaga-Ngee is a celebration for victorious war to honour brave warriors. It is also a festival of purification/sanctification and re-dedication for their next assignments. However, in the modern context the prime reason of organizing this event is to keep alive the rich culture and tradition of Liangmai. On this day, both old and young Liangmais gather in their traditional attires and sing folk songs, dance folk dances, play traditional games and sports, etc. With the advent of Christianity in the land, present generation has forgotten traditional culture.

Conclusion
Liangmai and Zeme are referred to collectively as Zeliang in Nagaland whereas in Manipur, they are recognised as Kacha Naga tribes. The term Kacha Naga has been derived from an Angami word ‘Ketsa’ which means thick forest. Being a non native speaker, errors of pronunciation is one of the natural aspects so same thing happened here that the word ‘ketsa’ has been wrongly dubbed by the British into ‘kacha'.

Zeliangrong tribe of about 4 lakh approximately scattered in Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram, shielet (Bangladesh) China, Myanmar and else where, has emerged as a popular entity in the Naga family.

- by Ankur Deka|
Liangmai couple - Photo by Ankur Deka