By L.D. Mate
Terminology: The term Baite literally means one who cannot walk properly due to injury (J. Baite, 1978).
Recital and linguistic affinity: The Baites racially and linguistically belong to the Kuki sub – family of the Tibeto – Burman, race and language group. The Baites of Manipur possess medium stature and dark hair. The Baite tribe is closely connected with Rangkhol, and on being, together with this latter tribe, driven out of the Lushai Hills by the Thadous. (Baites – Beites p. 191. G.A. Grierson: 1904)
Origin: The Baites believe that they came from ‘Khul’ (Cave). According to the Baite traditional folk history, Songza and Zahong once lived together in the sub-terranian world. Their progenitor Zahong decided to come to the Chungkha (the above world). But, the door of the Khul (Cave) was closed by a great serpent called Gulheopi. Zahong cut the serpent into three pieces with his sword and thus he came out of the Khul. Many people followed and came out after him; among them were Chongthu, the progenitor of the Thadous. It was because he opened the door of the Khul for many, – that, he was called Zahong (Za – Many, or hundred, Hong – open, open for many people) (J. Baite: 1978 0
Settlement: The Baite inhabit 67 villages, 50 in Manipur State and 17 in Assam State. Their populations are approximately 10,000 and 3,500 souls in Manicure and Assam respectively. The Baites are found in the District of Chandel, Ukhrul, Senapati, Thoubal and Churachandpur in Manipur State.
Baite Social Structure: The Baite society is basically composed of 12 clans and a number of sub-clans and lineages.
Marriage: The Baites, like other Kuki tribes prefer matrilineal cross – cousin marriage (MCCM) i.e. a Baite boy has to marry his mother’s brother’s daughter. This type of marriage is arranged by the parents of the boy and girl and is locally called Chongmou. There is often a man who takes a woman as wife due to the premarital pregnancy. Such a marriage is called Jolgai. There is also another type of marriage practiced by the Baites locally called Kijammang (Elopement).
Bride price: A bride price of a Baite girl is eight mithuns, one Dak (gong), one Khi (Necklace), one Lutom (a fine cloth for her father), and one Laisui (a traditional cloth for her mother). The marked value of one mithun is Rs. 10,000. Hence, a monetary value of a Baite bride costs (Rs. 10,000 x 8 =80,000), eighty thousand but this value is hardly followed. Fixation of the cost of a mithun or the entire bride price is settled by both the groom and bride parents and their household council.
Pregnancy Taboo: When a woman became pregnant – she is prohibited to eat a certain taboo food such as crabs, meat of bear, meat of Vui (Guineapig), and banana. The husband of the pregnant woman is also prohibited to kill snake, should not make ropes, and should not cut Sukto (mortor stick). It is a popular belief amongst the Baite that if the pregnant woman and her husband do not abstain from such things, the fetus would dissolve into liquid or it would be born in deformity.
Birth and Birth Ceremony: When a child is about to be born, a Baite village mid-wife prepares cloths for taking the child and man prepared an edge – sharp bamboo blade (now steel blade is used with dettol etc) for cutting umbilical cord of the new born child. As soon as the child is born, a temporary name is given so that, the evil spirits (thilha) may not hurt the child.
Naming ceremony: At the time of birth, a temporary name is given to the newly born child. A permanent name is given to the child, when Naojuneh (serving ju, rice – beer) in the name of the child is being done. The first son or daughter must, be named after the
paternal grand father’s or grandmother’s name of the child. On this day, the parents of the child offer rice-beer along with cooked rice and meat to the gathering people.
Death and Burial ceremony custom: When a Baite dies, in the olden days, the dead body – corpse should be cleaned with warm water. After a clean bath, the dead body should be tied at Sutkhom (the main pillar of the house) with Sanglai (frame of bamboo pieces). The dead body should be buried in the courtyard of the house. No common burial place was there in the past – but, these days, Christian Baites bury the dead body at the common village cemetery.
Burial ceremony (Mortuary): Before carrying out the dead body for burying men folk stands in two rows by holding one stick each and strike the surface of the house saying ‘du, du, du, du, ra, ra, ra, ra and ru, ru, ru, ru, many times and then the dead body is allowed to be buried. It is done so that, the spirit of the deceased may go to heaven without any obstacle. The dead body is buried with his cloths and other belongings. The Baites usually slaughter mithun for the mortuary feast, all the relatives of the deceased participated in the mortuary feast. The Baite described death into two types — Thise and Thipha (bad dead and good dead) Thise is unnatural death and bury the dead body outside the village and Thipha, natural death, bury the dead body inside the courtyard or in the village cemetery.
Baite Social institutions: Som (youth dormitory): All young Baite boys of a village sleep together at night in the house of a som girl. A family without any girl cannot be selected for som. There could be one som or more in a Baite village. Just after dark is spoken as ‘Somlenphat’, meaning, the time for going to their ‘Som’, Som boys made baskets, comb, Nam (rope) etc. Hence, in Baite society Som serves as a training center for the young boys above 15 year. The Som boys also help the Baite village council in the protection of their village from enemy and wild animals. With the coming of Christianity in the Baite areas, the institution of Som becomes gradually redundant. It is mostly due to the establishment of missionary schools at the Baite villages.
Baite economic acivities: Lou Jhum or shifting cultivation is the main agricultural occupation of the Baites. Rice is the staple food, supplemented by cash crops such as cucumber, pumpkin, bean, sesame, maize etc.
Trade and commerce: The dwelling Baites traded with the Meiteis in the kingdom of Manipur. They mainly supplied chilies, pumpkin, cotton, yarn beans, potato, dried fish and meat etc. the Baites also traded with the Burmese (Myanmarese). They imported Dak (gong), Khi (Necklace), spiral gunpowder etc.