A Case Study of the Thadou-Kukis

Published on January 24, 2009

By George T. Haokip


Religious rites & Ceremonies – A case study of the Thadou-Kukis


Most of the tribal in the pre-Christian days believed in their primeval religion. It rested on the foundation of fears for unknown forces, spirits who could harm them. They believed that these were forces alive in nature of spirit which were hostile to man, had power to harm people by way of sickness. To appease these spirits, people chose to offer sacrifice through the instrumentality of priests appointed and approved by a particular village authority or the chief.


To the Thadou-Kukis, the world is the land they live in and the surrounding country, for the peoples of which they have names and there it ends. To them, universe has three levels—the Sub-terranean world (under world or Nouigam), the middle world or Chungdam and Heaven or Vangam. To them thunder and lightning is an exhibition of the powers and anger of Pathen, and earthquakes take place whenever Pu Chongja shakes the earth from his underworld home just to see if Chongthu’s party is still alive. For this reason the Thadou always shout out “Kahing’e, Kahing’e” meaning, “We are alive, we are alive,” while an earthquake is on.

The Thadou believe that life is given by Pathen (‘Pa’ means Father, and ‘then’ means Holy, literally it means ‘Holy Father‘), who rules the universe. He has the power to subdue the evil influences of the ‘Thilhas’ (Bad spirits) and it is to Him that they do their sacrifices in order to regain health or escape any adversity that may happened to them. He is supposed to have made the heavens and the earth and is all powerful. Inn-doi or Doi-bom is the house of god of the Thadou-Kukis. Each house holder has his own Inn-doi. It serves the whole family so long as the members, all live in one house. There is no fixed time for making the Indoi, and it is usually done when a separate household feels that they suffered from lack of health or of wealth.


In making a new inn-doi, the Thempu (Priest) plays an important part. And for making inn­doi, the following things are to be collected. Apiece each of the Shething and Thinglie tree, small bits of Gopi (a garden bamboo), Umgui (Creeper), goat, pig, fowl and egg, small portions of a gourd, Khaopi (a tree, the bark of which makes excellent rope), hailhi (a particular species of gourd), sword, spear and a woman’s brass wristlet called Chao.

Then the Thempu taking a very small bit of each of the above with spear, dao and wristlet in his hand, says ­”Pathen bless so and so” (the person whose Indoi is being made). And the ceremonies continued. Then the bits of articles are put into a small gourd and hung up on the outside wall usually above the door out of the way of children. So, the ceremony ends and there is much ju drinking eating. The Thempu is just praying for the householders so that they may have many sons and daughters, riches and power and a long life.” Among the Thadou-Kukis, birth is given by the woman kneeling on some clothes, while in front, her husband, sitting on a stool, holds her round the chest. She in turn puts her arms around him.


In case of normal delivery, the priest is not required to perform any rite, the elderly woman manages the task of delivering the baby. If any complication arises, the priest (Thempu) performs a rite called, “Thihdam thoi” by sliding a small piece of iron hoe downward over the back of the woman. It connotes that the hoe, as an implement for loosening the soil, would also loosen the passage through which the baby is expected to come out. Addressing the hoe, the priest recites as follows:

”Nang kasim thihnu, kasim thihpa, chung pathen in nahinsim in. Vanthamjol lah nahung lhan, niso mun ah nahung chun, lhaso munah na hung chun, leiduppi leithopi chungah nahung chun, Leiho thosagi noija nahung lut in, Leilompia Lhominun nahinjap doh in, Nang kason ngai nahi, katil ngai nahi. Hiche chunga hin, Nupi kot hin hongin, pasal kot hin hong in, Nupi kot akikhah ngaipoi, Pasal kot akikhah ngaipoi”.

Free translation­:

O! my south she-hoe of iron and south he-hoe of iron, god in above had created you. You descended from the heaven and fall at the place where the sun and the moon rise. You fell on the grey earth and the soil of earth. You then entered the seven layers of the earth. You had the mass of earth in the form of a tiger-man, Lhomi. You are the one whom I trust and you are the one whom I need. At this situation, open the door of a woman and open the door of a man. it is not natural to close the door of a woman and also the door of a man.

As soon as the child is born, a piece of cotton cloth is tied on the child’s navel and then the umbilical cord is cut with the edge of a piece of split bamboo. Then the placenta and the umbilical cord are placed inside a gourd and hung up somwhere on the wall of the house. Immediately, after a child is born, thingsa (a mixture of boil­egg or any roasted meat with ginger usually prepared by the mother of the new born child’s mother) is given to the mother of the child to eat, in which, the Thadou believes that eating thingsa is the best way of regaining strength. The following day, ‘Naodop An’ is performed. Here, all the women of the neighbour who were present at the time of delivery were called. On this occasion, they serve ju to drink as ‘Naodop ju’ and a food to eat as ‘Naodop Ann’. Then comes the ‘Naolaichan’.

The mother of the child is not supposed to go out of the house for 5 days in the case of a son and 3 days in the case of a daughter from the day of birth. This is called ‘Naolaichan’. After this, ‘Naobilvu’ is performed. When these periods have expired, she goes to her father’s house and take a fowl or a pig, according to her means. Then her father and mother, after making a hole on the child’s ear, put an earring, gave a new name and bless the child. This is also called “Naolhalho”. Then a fowl on a pig is killed in honour of the occasion. As soon as the child is born, while cutting the navel cord of the child, it is customary on the part of the Thadou-Kukis to name the new born child as ‘ai-eh’ or ‘sa-eh’ (usually a filthy name or words), before the Thilhas came and do the same.

This name is changed at the time of Naobilvu. Regarding the naming of the new born child, the Thadous have an interesting story. Once upon a time there was a man who went out for hunting and as it became night, he took up a place under a tree for the night. About a midnight he was awoken by all the Thilhas calling to the Thilha of that tree saying “Let us go to the village of the human being and cut the navel cord of the child who is to be born this night.” The Thilha of the tree replied “I cannot go with you as I have a stranger in my house”. So the other Thilhas went and after a very short time, returned. The Thilha of the tree asked who cut the cord and the other told him it had already been cut by a tiger. The Thilha of the tree then asked where the tiger would kill the child and the other replied, saying “When the child grows up he will marry two wives.

These wives after sometime will quarrel over a paddy mortar. So the husband, in order to make peace between them will go to the jungle and make another mortar so that the two wives may have one each. It is then that the tiger will kill him.” The hunter in the morning went back to the village and found that his wife had given a birth to a son, so he was determined to remember what he had heard the Thilhas say. When the son grew up he married two wives and they quarrelled over a mortar and so the son went to make another in the jungle. His father secretly followed him and while the son was making the mortar, a tiger came, but the father killed it with his bow and arrow. The son was much pleased and going up to the tiger got hold of its whiskers and said “If my father had not killed you I would have”.


When drawing away his hand the tiger’s whiskers cut him and he died almost at once. So in spite of the father’s care, what the Thilhas said came true. Consequently when cutting the umbilical cord of a new born child, the Thadou usually says “I will cut the cord and no one else.”
After the child is strong enough to be carried distances, it is taken to the house of the father-in-law, who performes ‘Naopui’ by killing a pig or a fowl which is merely feasted on. Sometimes the father-in-law gives the child his blessing by performing ‘Kilhalho’ to ward off the evil eye and any future illness.

Death is classifid into three categories :

i) Thipha—natural death.

ii) Thise or Tolthi (un-natural death), and

iii) Senlutthi (Childhood death).

Traditionally, the Kukis bury their death bodies outside the house after performing the needful death rites and ceremonies. When a person died of old age, such death was considered as natural death. Immediately after the death of a person, a ritual of lamentation was performed. The male relatives expressed their grief by observing the ‘Kitom’, which signifies challenges to ‘Killer death’ through expressions of defiance. The male members stamped on the floor with great force and with loud exclamation.


They then jumped vigorously holding their daos and other weapons including fire arms in their hands. A man becomes so furious that he would start boasting loudly about how many wild animals he had killed and how he could now kill the foe that had caused death to his relative. He then would challenge the invisible killer to come and fight with him.

The corpse is then washed and wrapped in a cloth and placed in a log of wood, which has been hollowed out to make a rough coffin. It is covered with a rough plank at time of burial. The relatives dig the grave and are helped by the young men and friends. On the grave of a man bamboo is erected which is noticed to show the number of animals he has killed in his time. In case of a woman, some of her favourite things are hung up and left. At time of death of a man or woman ‘Khunsum’ is performed by those men or women who have performed sa-ai or chang-ai in their life time. This consists of killing a mithun and recitation by the Thempu of all the good deeds of the person who has died, and blessed the spirit on its journey to ‘Mithikho’ (the hillog of the death).

The Thadous believe that, after death, every soul goes to Mithikho. They believe that the bad spirit stops the soul of the person in the way to Mithikho. One Kulsamnu, the bad spirit is sitting in the way to Mithikho. She engages the dead person in catching her hair-lice. But the persons leading a virtous life by performing Chon festival, are given free access. The way to Mithikho must be made clear. Here bravery, strength and ability are expressed and the song is sung to open the way to Mithikho for a smooth journey to it. The song goes—

“I appear in the world before sunrise. I stop all the people as darkness stops the rivers. And take the fire, enter all caves of the valley and take the fire.”

There are many kinds of unnatural death. These include death, as a result of accident, quarrelling, suicide, death by drowing away by water, falling from high tree, murder, battle, fire, etc. In the case of an adult, the corpse of an unnatural death is buried outside the village, while the corpse is buried below the house without ceremony in the case of an infant. The death body of a person who died by committing suicide by hanging was not allowed to be touched by others, because such a death was considered as a bad death. A sufficiently big hole was dug out first below the place where the person hanged.

The hanging rope was cut so that the body by itself dropped into the hole below. If it was necessary to handle the body at the time of the burial a few elderly persons including the priest did the job. When death occurs in a family, a funeral rite called ‘Kosa’ is performed by the next of kins of the deceased as an expression of grief and love.

After the corpse of an unnatural death has been buried, ‘Inn-theh,’ a rit for the purification of a house is performed, by the ‘Kho-thempu,’ a village priest. Similarly, if a stranger died in a particular house, his next of kins man must perform the ‘House purification rite’ in the house where the stranger died. If he fails to do so, the matter is taken to the village court and one Mithun may be claimed as fine. This tradition is called ‘Innbohman’. Likewise, the son-in-law of the deceased used to cover the corpse with a traditional shawl (called Tomse-in Thadou-Kuki), where a Mithun is claimable by the next of kin’s man of the decease, if he failed to do so.

‘Longman’ is another important customary practice of the Kukis. It is a payment made to the nearest male kin of a deceased person on the mother’s side if the deceased is a male, on the father’s side if the deceased is a female. Before longman can be claimed the claimant has to kill a pig for the person from whom he claims a Mithun as Longman and this is called ‘Longman bepna’. Otherwise the claim is riot admissible according to custom. In the case of an unnatural death, if a woman dies without any male issue, Longman is not claimable.

Kukis have their own distinctive cultural identity from time immemorial. All festivals and ceremonies they performed on naming occasions are all connected with this socio-economic and religious life. According to the Thadou Legend, there was a time when their Mythical ancestors and the Thilhas lived together in peace. But one night, a man named Changkhatpu, while playing with a Thilha, lost his temper and wounded the Thilha with a dao in his hand. The Thilha went off to the jungle after warning the man. From the occurance of this incident onward, there was persistant enmity between mankind and the Thilhas.


Finally, after the defeat of the Thilhas by man, the farmer went to the sky and asked for God’s help, who gave’ ‘Chol1aivom’ to be placed in the water consumed by man so that they (men) would not be able to see the Thilhas in future. As a result of this, man cannot see the Thilhas, where on the other hand, the hostility between them continued. It is because of this persistant hostility that the Kukis, in order to ward off any misfortune by this spirit, or sometimes, to appease them, performed certain rites and sacrifies for the well being of their lives and properties. They (Kukis) believed that natural objects such as mountains, caves, rivers, trees stones and especially ‘Sis’ —a place where bad spirits dwelt, are the abode of all these Thilhas. These spirits and demons bring sorrow and death to the human beings.

In connection with cultivation, a ceremony called ‘Daiphu’ is performed after the burning of the jhums. It is nothing but an offering to the Thilhas of a particular field to avoid failure of the Crops. Similarly, after Sattong (son of Pu Chongthu) cut off the hand of Santhuh Kaoshe ie Santhuh Vampire, the former became ill with pain in his throat who nearly died. At this time his faithful dog having compassion on his master licked his master’s hand. At that, Sattong became enraged with the dog and killed him instantly with his sword. The blood of the dog spurted out on Sattong’s mouth and he became miraculously cured at once. So in cases of serious illness, a dog is usually sacrified by the Kukis. In the month of June, the Kukis performed ‘Molsatha’ to ward off any misfortunes posed by the evil spirits. On this occasions the whole villages came out in large number and on their behalf the village Thempu performed the rites (known as ‘Aikam’), on the outskirt of the village. Here, the villagers were saved from illness, sorrow and death, etc.

If a woman is not blessed with offspring (called ‘Aching’ in Thadou-Kuki) within the usual time of the marriage, there are three methods of procedures, according to Shakespeare, in his “The Lushei-Kuki clan”. First, the woman may go to her father’s house, and he will kill a cock and they will drink ju together, after which he ties a string round the child’s neck. lf this is not successful she may go to her husband’s eldest brother or cousin. If there is still of no use, the Thempu is called in and kills a black hen inside the house, and its flesh, mixed with stones and other ingredients, is compunded by him into a medicine which the poor woman desirous of offspring has to eat. For the Thadou-Kukis, childlessness is considered as a curse. But when a son is born, it is an occasion for festivity of which drinking and dancing form an intrinsic part. To perform ‘chon’ festival, two types of sacrifies— Chang-ai and Sa-ai are needed. The former is offered by women and the latter by men.

In performing the Chang-ai, the woman has to feed the whole village for one day and she puts up a platform of earth about 6 inches above the ground level which is held in position by a border of small stones placed upright. Within this border small upright stones are placed and represent the number of ‘bengs’ (woman’s basket, usually made of bamboo) of paddy which is being consumed on that day. In the centre are two stones also upright with one larger than the other known as ‘Shongmol’. It is a sign for Pathen to know where chang-ai has been performed before he selects a good place at Mithikho for that person. This is done three times and with much singing, eating and drinking goes on the whole day and night in the house of the person performing it. The ‘Sheltoldel’, ‘Boncho’ and ‘Lholhil’ dances were performed on the third occasions, when the person is said to have assured himself a safe entrance and a special place at Mithikho.

In case of the Sa-ai, the Thempu appears with ju in his hand, calls upon the Pathen to permit the Y-shaped post to be erected. The Thempu spills some of the ju on the earth where it is to be erected and digs a small piece of the earth out, and the actual erection is done by the youngman of the village. After this, the Mithun to be slaughtered is tied to this post which must be of the Shething tree and not other. It is then killed by piercing it with a spear or sharp bamboo. Generally, the Thempu does the killing after blessing the man who is performing the Sha-ai, after the geneological tree from Thadou has been repeated down to this person. Then there is the usual orgy during which Saipikhupsuh, Sagol Kongkhai and Theiphit dances were performed three times each. On both the occasions, they used to sing a song, which goes—(In case of chang-ai):

“Please come the paddy, Please come the paddy, (Which) my grandmother brought out of the khul. I’ll make a good offering to god. Please come to paddy.”

In case of the Sa-ai, it goes—

“Please come the Mithun,

Pleae come the Mithun (which) my grandfather brought out of the cave.

I’ll make a good fence. Please come the Mithun.”

Among the Thadou-Kukis, after death, a man and a woman who have performed the Sa-ai and Chang-ai are honoured with a special gift.

Originally done by the Thadou himself, ‘Chon’ is performed by those who have done the Sa-ai three times, in which everything has to be done seven times. Seven mithuns are to be killed and everything else must be in multiples of seven. On this occasion, animals, specially the mithun is killed by ‘Chontul’, the only weapon used in killing the animal. Even the songs and geneological trees had to be repeated seven times.

The whole ceremony takes days to complete and the expense incurred is enormous. Even after the death of such persons the corpse had to be carried round seven times and verything pertaining to burial had to be done seven times, so that they resorted to smoking the bodies of such persons to avoid decomposition before the entire rites were completed.

Among the Haokip clan, ‘Chon’ is performed after celebrating thrice the ‘ai’s of one of the followings—Tiger, Bear, Elephant or Hornbil. ‘Langla’ is the only song sung by the Thadous at the burial of those who have performed the Chon festival. The Thadous believe that performance of chon gave the soul of a person a paramount seat in Mithikho and ensured eternal happiness.


The writer is a research scholar at Manipur University, India.