Religion of the Zo Ancestors

By Dr. Philip Thanglienmang

GOD: In order to understand the background of conversions among the Zous we have to understand the old religious faith of the Zous prior to 1950s.Many anthropologists and monographers have been classifying the religious beliefs of the Zo as Animism or at the most to Ancestor Worship.

But I would prefer to classify it basically as Polytheism. Their religion may be called Lawki religion or if I may coin a new term for their ancient religion Lawkism; in anglicized form to better understand the import or meaning. In those days the Zous were ardent worshippers of one omnipotent, almighty God called Pasien; as well as their great ancestor known as Pusha/Pusa and the underworld spirit called Zînmâng. There was a concept of one great creator who created the heavens and earth; and all the things in them. This Great Spirit is called Pasien; which in literal sense means God. Below this great God there exist a less powerful spirit known as Lungzai who may be considered to be the assistant or brother of Pasien. It is slightly lesser than God in power and might.

To corroborate the relationship of these two great spirits let me narrate one scene of the Nântal-Neinou mythology. In the Nântal -Neinou mythology; in one of the scenes as the sun was about to set they arrived at the base of a mount or hillock to rest for the night. The Lion (Hûmpi) who was on the trail of Nântal was resting as well as lying in wait for his prey on one side of hillock; while, on the opposite side of it Nântal and Neinou were resting after a long and weary journey. It is mentioned that at that moment Pasien and Lungzai saw the condition of these two living beings. It is said that both of them had a discussion as to whom to support and save. God asked Lungzai,

“Brother whom do you thinks should we support and save Man or Lion? To this Lungzai replied, “Behold, whenever the Lion kills an animal it never gives thanks to us before having the meat; whereas, whenever Man is about to eat food or meat he always says “May my God be pleased; may my Lungzai be pleased”(Ka Pasien na tai aw; ka Lungzai na tai aw). Therefore, it is befitting that we support and save Man”.

The Lion had a magical power to transform itself into any animal and so it transformed itself into a bee. And it started to hover above their heads to prey upon Nântal. Pasien and Lungzai instructed Nântal to unsheathed his sword and slash the bee, which was hovering above their heads. Obeying the instructions of Pasien ang Lungzai; legendary hero Nântal immediately cut the bee into two halves killing the Lion instantaneously there and then. The same terminology Pasien’ is now used to refer God in this Christian era.

SPIRITS: Then, comes an underworld/netherworld spirit believed to inhabit very dark under world kingdom they called it; Zîn or Zînmâng. This underworld spirit is responsible for various types of illness, diseases, sickness, pestilence, plague, etc. It is believed to be the harbinger of sorrow and death. For, one can find in various Zou poems mentioning the fear of this particular spirit. For example, “Zîn daw-âi in bang nang bawl ahiam maw? Meaning “Demon what have you done to me”. Daw-âi (Charms) may be defined as a harmful potion or poisonous concoction, which brings illness and disease upon human beings, by this underworld spirit. This spirit is basically a wicked spirit. One may define it as the Demon or Evil-one. It is believed to rule the Dark Underworld Kingdom. Therefore, for the fear of this spirit it has to be appeased through incantations and offerings of animals and birds.

ANCESTOR WORSHIP:

Every clan or house had their own Pusa, which is placated and appeased during the varied festivals of Boasting, Harvest, and Felicitation etc. In every house, the Central Column or Pillar is used as an altar to offer food and drinks to the ancestor spirits. This Central Pillar is called Sûtpi or Sûtzung. When such worships or offerings are made the act of worship or offering is called Sûtzung Biehna. In the Sûtzung Biehna the progenitor or ancestor spirit is implored upon or invoked to abundantly shower great blessings on the house or clan in the ensuing year for the purpose of health, harvest, and wealth. The names of their forefathers were recited on these occasions.

ABODE OF DEADS:

Then, comes the concept of soul called ‘Ha or kha’ which exist even after the death of a person. Sometimes some wicked person’s soul lingers on, on the earth haunting the loved ones or subjecting to terror. This wicked soul is called Siha or Thadam. This good soul after death prior to entering heavens is believed to proceed to the land of the death known as Mishikhuo.

CONCEPT OF HEAVEN AND FEMALE DRAGON:

Before entering the different levels of heavens, there used to be Gulsamnu; the fiery female Dragon; the gatekeeper of heavens. She used to guard the gateway to the heavens with her fiery tongues and swords. She was believed to taunt or teased persons who had not killed even a single animal during their lifetime; treating them shamefully, subjecting them to torture and misery. Where as, she easily lets in those persons who had killed many animals in their lifetime on earth. Then, the soul has to cross over a great river before reaching Piêugâl; literal meaning is the other side of the riverbank. From Piêugâl the soul proceeds to the different heavens according to merit and wealth accumulated during his or her in life.

Concept of Heaven (Vângam):

Heaven as considered being a very beautiful and joyous place where the good people go after their death. Here, there is no Evil one i.e. Zînmâng to trouble him. There is no concept of Hell among them. They imagined that there were three layers of heavens called Vân via;

i) Thangvân ii) Lêngvân iii) Vâivân iv) Mîmvân.

i) Thangvân: This is the highest layer of heaven and also the most blissful place. It is the Paradise. Here, the spirits of the good people take their final rests. The land of the dead i.e. abode of the dead called Mishikhuo also known as Piêugâl gam.

ii) Lêngvân: This middle layer of heaven is not as blissful as Thangvân. Here, the spirit of slain person who was killed by sword of enemy or the unclean or evil spirits of dead people are placed for further cleansing process. The spirit of the slain person lingers on here for as long as vengeance against the killer is not avenged. The moment the revenge is settled the spirit of the slain person proceeds to Mishikhuo. Lêngvân is also called Sâshikhuo and it is akin to Limbo or Purgatory. The third name of this layer of heaven is Vâivân. The soul of evil-spirit possessed person (kâunei) remains here forever floating in this layer of heaven.

iii) Mîmvân: This is the lowest layer of heaven where the spirits of dead animals and birds are believed to take their rests. It is thought to be the resting-place of animals and birds, fleas, rats etc, all the animals and birds are considered to possess some sort of souls, which take their final resting place in the lost layer of heaven called Mîmvân.

The Zous believe in many types of good and evil spirits which are thought to inhabit the forests, rivers, streams, hills, hillocks, caves, ravines, mountain tops etc. In the benevolent categories one comes across the name of Lungzai which is considered to be the assistant or brother of God; Pasien. Zînmâng the underworld spirit is both malevolent and benevolent depending upon the way it is treated or propitiated.

Then, comes the ancestral spirits who come to the rescue of men when invoked upon the clan Siempu (priest). In the malevolent categories there are viz; dawi (devil, evil spirit) dawimângpa (satan), kâu:(witch, uncleaned spirit):

i) Innkâu ii) gamkâu thadam (ghost, spirit), shiha (spirit of dead), tuichingte or hangnêlte (deep waterspirits), misâu (yowie, giant), pheisam (hopgobblin, elf), khosie (imp, fairy), gamhuoisie (forest ogre), Luidungdawi (Stream/Spring spirits), Tuinêhdawi (Water spirit), Mittom: evil-eyed- stick liked short snake, Thangtom: twelve colored short snake, Bângtung dawi (spirit of upper wall), Bângnei dawi (spirit of nether wall), Thapuong dawi, Annkuong dawi, Chiadawi (Spring spirits), Gundawi (river spirits), Gulpivomdawi (black serpent), Nituidawi(egg of Sun gods), Gampidawi(country spirit), Gamhuoisie(forest ogre), Gulsamnu: Gulsamnu is a great female dragon or spirit which guards the Gate of Heaven(Piêugâl gam); celestial gate, Gûlpi(The Great Snake), Aw/O is a cosmic or celestial evil spirit thought to make its abode in the heavens, Khang: Khang is an evil spirit which torments a person while at sleep.

The Central Pillar/Column (Sûtpi) of the household where the ancestral spirits are propitiated; as well as ii) the rivers, streams, caves, ravines, precipices, dark areas of forests, damp places, hill or hillocks, old trees, deep and dark rivers, underground caves, netherworld etc, are the abodes of various malevolent and benevolent spirits which are thought to control the worldly affairs of men.

The Siempu (priest) locates first the sacred area thereafter; he selects a specific spot where he would perform the verities of rituals and sacrifices. The spot may be the bank of a river or stream. It may be a hillock or a raised ground. Once, the spot is chosen he prepares a raised altar using stones collected from the river or stream. A temporary thatched hut is constructed above the altar and in this the animal is sacrificed. The priest recites incantations after this he takes hold of a sharpen rod then he hold down the sacrificial animal piercing through its heart.

Mishikhuo: Mishikhuo is literally the land of the Dead or the abode of dead people. The souls are said to take their temporary rests before finally journeying to Piêugâl gam (heaven). This place is neither heaven nor earthly place; it is thought to be somewhere between heaven and earth i.e. in the firmaments. In Khupching leh Ngambawm legend it is told that both of them met each other in the land of the dead: Mishikhuo. The inhabitants of ‘mishikhuo’ are spirits or souls of the dead people; they are thought to change themselves into human beings during the day and they turn into skeletons during the night. For them bamboo leaves are fish, the caterpillars are wild animals. It is something akin to limbo or purgatory. From Mishikhuo the soul enters paradise called Piêugâl gam otherwise known as Vângam i.e. Heaven.

There is the Clan Priest known as Tulpipa. Tulpipa is the head of the clan or family who performs all the rituals and sacrifices connected with the family worships and feasts for propitiation and appeasement of the various spirits and ancestor spirit.

Source:

Oral traditions handed down by my Uncles and Aunties.

Bibliographies: –

1. Up to date History of Zo people by Rev.P.KhamDoNang B.D, M.A
2. Tribals of India by L.P. Vidyarthi.

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