The Poumai tribe, residing in the Northern side of Manipur, has a rich cultural heritage deeply rooted in their indigenous religion known as Yaosomai or Zhaoshomai. This indigenous religion of Poumai tribes holds a significant place in the lives of the Poumai people, shaping their worldview and guiding their spiritual practices.
Belief in a Supreme God: Rahmai
At the heart of the Yaosomai religion lies the belief in a single supreme deity, Rahmai. The literal translation of Rahmai is “Supreme God,” signifying the omnipotent creator responsible for the universe’s design and existence.
Rahmai is regarded as the ultimate judge who assesses the deeds of humanity, discerning between good and evil actions. This deity holds dominion over all aspects of existence, governing not only the celestial realm but also presiding over the lesser gods dwelling on Earth and above.
The Parallels with Sanamahi
It is noteworthy that Rahmai shares striking similarities with Sanamahi, a deity revered in Meitei tradition. Both entities are considered supreme gods responsible for creation and judgment. This resemblance highlights the interconnectedness of indigenous beliefs in the region.
Life After Death
The Poumai tribe firmly believes in life after death, akin to the concept of heaven in Christianity. They envision a realm known as Thaimaingi, which translates to the “village or land for the dead.” According to their faith, individuals who lead virtuous lives will dwell in Thaimaingi after their earthly demise, basking in the presence of their supreme god and creator.
Religious Rituals and Sacrifices
The religious rituals and sacrifices constitute a fundamental aspect of Poumai indigenous religion. These practices emerge from their deeply ingrained beliefs and serve as a means to communicate with the divine. One distinctive practice is the act of offering a portion of rice to the gods before partaking in meals, which is similar to the Meitei tradition.
Omen examinations play a pivotal role in Poumai rituals and decision-making. The diviners, or soothsayers, utilize various methods to interpret omens, including the use of eggs, split bamboo, and small plants with medicinal properties. For instance, when a child falls ill, diviners may examine the yolk of an egg touched by the sick child. A dark or discolored yolk is seen as an indication of malevolent influence. This belief system persists even among many Poumai Christians who continue to consult diviners. The same omen examinations are found in Meitei Sanamahism.
A Glimpse into Specific Examination Methods:
- Examination with Split Bamboo: Split bamboo is employed to seek omens for activities such as wild animal hunting and headhunting. The villagers carefully select hunting grounds based on favorable omens, demonstrating the enduring influence of this practice.
- Examination with Eggs: When a child falls ill, diviners crack an egg and examine its yolk, believing that a dark spot indicates malevolent forces at play. This tradition has persisted among both Yaosomai and Christian community members.
- Examination with Kiithou and Lou: Kiithou, a type of rice, is used alongside Lou, a fragrant medicinal plant, to detect malevolent influences. The movement of Kiithou when touched by Lou helps determine the direction of the malevolent force.
- Examination with Chicken: The legs, heart, and intestines of chickens are observed for signs of sickness or malevolent influence. The positioning of a chicken’s legs after strangulation is seen as an omen, with the right leg crossing over the left leg considered a positive sign.
Nature Worship and Its Significance
The Poumai tribe holds nature in the highest regard, considering it a manifestation of the divine. Nature’s cycles, as well as reverence for their ancestors, form the core of their religious practices. Four ponds, each associated with a specific clan, hold immense significance. Naming of children and other rituals are intricately linked to these ponds, underscoring their importance.
Rituals to Appease Nature
Poumai indigenous religion places a strong emphasis on rituals to appease nature. The community follows a lunar calendar and conducts specific rituals during December and January to seek blessings for the indigenous families. These rituals involve the construction of miniature houses dedicated to both God and humanity. Offerings, including local brew, are made to these structures as a means of appeasing the creator.
The Totem of Liiyai Village of Poumai tribes
The village of Liiyai embodies the Poumai tradition of blending myth and religion. The totem of the village consists of two Banyan trees, representing the Raomai Clan and Liimai Clan. According to the villagers, these trees symbolize the origin of their settlement and are revered as the dwelling places of spirits.
Challenges and Adaptations
In the face of modernization and globalization, the Poumai people have grappled with preserving their indigenous identity and religion Yaosomai. The importance of their traditional faith remains deeply ingrained, even among those who have embraced Christianity. To them, the Yaosomai religion is a means of safeguarding their cultural heritage and ensuring bountiful harvests.
The Poumai community celebrates a variety of traditional festivals, such as Ngii and Diihy. Ngii, held in August, seeks blessings for a fruitful harvest and spans five days. Diihy, a festival associated with planting and sowing seeds, is observed for three days. During these festivals, indigenous people refrain from touching green plants as a symbol of abstinence from laborious work.
The Poumai indigenous religion, deeply intertwined with nature and ancestor worship, continues to shape the lives and identities of its practitioners. This belief system reflects their profound reverence for the divine, the creator, and the natural world.
Although 99 percent of the Poumai people have embraced Christianity, only one percent of Poumai are following Yaosomai, showing resilience in preserving their traditions, and affirming the enduring power of the indigenous faith.
A few years back, Mamta Lukram, a Meitei researcher, had the opportunity to interview Dahrii Haba, a 75-year-old member of the Poumai tribe. During this interview, Dahrii Haba shared some profound insights into the religious beliefs of his community.
In his words, “We don’t have any particular God; our ancestors are our Gods. Preserving our forefathers’ identity is of utmost importance to us, and that’s why we hold our traditional religion dear. As long as the lineage of the village king or chief endures, our religious practices will continue within the community. When it comes to personal belief, we hold the view that every religion is equally valid. If someone has sincere faith in their own religion, they will find their path, and God will guide them along it.”
(C) Naorem Mohen
The Writer can be reached at Twitter @laimacha
Photo credit – E-Pao.net