The Koms

Published on June 10, 2003

By The Kukiforum

The Koms are one of the tribes of the Kuki nation.  According to the myth of their origin, their forefathers are believed to have come out through Khul (cave).  A tiger used to lay in wait to kill them. Karongpa who came out wearing a stripped cloth made friends with the tiger as his cloth resembled its skin and therefore his descendents were refrained from eating or killing a tiger.

Salchapa came out and killed the tiger. Leivonpa cut out the tiger’s tongue and wrapped it up in his waist. But according to another version, Pu Songthu, the leader of the party killed a great snake and a tiger for obstructing their way.

Then, they were free of danger and rejoiced at the house of Telenpa. In the subsequent generations they became the head of the various Kom clans namely Karong, Saiche, Leivon, Tellein, Hmangte, Serto, etc. Settled in stately grandeur along the banks of the Chindwin River, it was there that the Koms reached the heights of civilization. Speaking the same dialect, they lived peacefully together, before the ‘Tak Ava’ war scattered them. The Britishers classified them as the old Kuki when they entered India.

Their typical house is thatch roofed one. Some of the better known and beautiful designs of the Kuki traditional shawls; loins etc. are contributions of the ingenious Koms with their traditional skills in designing delicately beautiful patterns and their sharp mental faculty. The art of weaving, believed to have been followed from Jangnu (some said Chongnu) who fell in love with a Python-god of Twitak River, and still continues in loin looms.

Before she joined him in the realm of immorality, she copied the markings of her lover’s body in her loom, one of which was derived from the patterns on a white python and came to be known as Khamtang (Po’n kop-hoi in Kom dialect), the other, from a black python and came to be known as Saipikhup (Pasal po’n in Kom dialect).

The ordinary dress of a man is a dhoti fastened round the waist while a man of distinction wears Pasal po’n (men’s shawl or Saipikhup), the cloth bearing the skin mark of the black Python-god. The womenfolk, who are the designated weavers of the tribe, wear Saipikhup, Khamtang, Po’n kop-hoi etc. that bear remarkable designs on the borders as bodice or skirt. They also use wrist bands. They wear necklace made of semi-precious stones and cowries.

The Kuki traditional dress code was fully exhibited by the Kom tribes with the men wearing the long grown hair in Tuhcha (a hairdo where the hair is rolled and knotted into a bun at the back of the head) and the women wearing their hair in a pair of braided strands which were brought to the top of the head and knotted. Both Kom men and women use earrings similar to their other Kuki brethren. They use weapons such as axe, dao, spear, bow and arrow etc.

The tribe has folk tales about the brave warriors Rengngam and Rangsai as well as one about the romance between the two folk characters Khupting and Ngambom which is shared by most Kukis. Like their other Kuki brothers and true to the tradition, their music flowed from traditional instruments like Theile-the flute, Pengkul-the trumpet, Lhemlhei- a variation of the flute, Dah- the gong, Khong-the drum, etc.

True to the Kuki tradition, the Kom villages are ruled by Chiefs. Neithothlal, a Kom chief is said to have ruled in Tripura at one time with royal glory. Zampher, a big and city-like village is said to have witnessed a prosperous Kom settlement, self-sufficient in all respects. They also established another big township known as Keirap, and legend has it that during the height of its glory, a dove could not cross the township in a single flight.

The Koms are and were self-sufficient in their economy. Theirs is, on the whole, an agricultural society. They practice both shifting and wet cultivation. Not only do they cultivate their staple food rice, they also grow potatoes which had been imported by Rev. William Pettigrew, the first missionary who came to Manipur. They also cultivate millet and yam. Domesticated animals include pigs, fowls, goats, cows, buffaloes, mithun etc.

Their society is divided into social groups which are again sub divided into smaller groups. The Clan is the biggest social group and reflects in ascertaining at final relationship. These clans which are exogamous in nature are Karong, Saicha, Leivon, Tellein, Such and Hmangte. Descent is traced exclusively through the male line. The youngest male issue of the family inherits the property. At present, Kom settlements are locate at Sagang township, Khoirentak, Lukhumbi, Kom Keirap, Tuiringphai in Manipur and several villages in Assam and Tripura.

In Pro Christian days, marriage of a son was to be arranged by the parents. For a male member, his mother’s brother’s daughter was the mate prescribed by the society. The marrying groom had to serve at his father-in-law’s house for three years. This custom was known as Numhei-hle. The alternate form of acquiring bride was to pay bride price or mangkat for three times.

At times this creates havoc because of its excessiveness. At present, bride is secured by mutual consent. Non Christian Koms believe in two deities – Pathen, the supreme one and Lungjei. They also worship Inroi (indoi) as their household god. They also believe in the existence of soul after death and Heaven and hade are abodes of these souls.

They do observe a number of festivals both social and religion in nature. These festivals are:

Seling – Erection of wood

Belaro – Erection of bamboo on the top of which is placed a bird to be targeted for arrow shooting thereby testing valor

Lukasun – Offering last rite to deceased persons

Lhungphung – Erection of mega stone

Khongnanghong – Performance of festival for a big banyan tree in his name so as to retain his name after death

Cheiraoba – New Year’s Festival

Hlodei – Wedding rite

Lamkut – At dusk, song and dance (Lamkut lam) are held in every house, accompanied by feast to sanctify them and to keep their houses as sacred places through out the current year. Its period continues for one month.

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