The metamorphosis of Kut celebration
By Thangkhochon Haokip
Kuki people celebrated several Kuts in tune with the changing seasons of the year. As for instance, at the onset of spring when the vegetation that are mowed down are dried in the sun and get ready for burning down for shifting cultivation, Chapphou Kut is celebrated. Chapphou (drying of mowed down vegetation) Kut is celebrated in anticipation of the food crops to be sown which will later bear fruits.
Likewise, Lawm Kut is celebrated when the traditional ‘lawm’ complete all the necessary labor of sowing seed and weeding crops. Same is the case with Mim Kut, Chon, Hun, Kiva, etc. In short, right from the beginning of the sowing till reaping, the Kukis celebrate each of the stage of development of food crops. In other words, the Kukis are moving at the same pace with the changing times.
In the later part of the year, i.e., in autumn, Chang Kut is celebrated when farmers finish harvesting their food crops especially paddy (chang). It is a post-harvest festival where everyone is happy and celebrates with jubilation to see the fruit of the year long labor. These Kuts had its genesis from time immemorial. The age-old weeklong festival has gradually metamorphosed into a one day modern festival which we call Chavang Kut or Kut today.
The advent of industrialization and the pace of industrialization have slowly but surely transform the outlook of the people. The onslaught of western culture is felt in every sphere of life. This has lasting impression upon the tribal culture. Not only does it change the belief system but also the rites and rituals involved. This change in the mental faculty becomes the catalyst to socio-cultural change. However, change in the traditional culture does not mean complete discard or abolition of the same. It includes continuity as well, and this is the reason why the so-called post harvest festival is still celebrated in this post-modernist era, in a slightly modified format.
The traditional Kuts were celebrated with varied traditional fervor. Kuki people performed several dances such as Saguol Kengkhai, Suhta Laam (modern bamboo dance), Phit Laam, Laam Kuol, etc. Traditional sports as Suhtum Kho (a form of javelin throw), Kungkal/Sielkal (high jump/jumping over a standing mithun), Kibuot/Buontuol (wrestling), etc. were showcased. In the same way, traditional musical instruments such as Goshem, Theile (flute), Pengkul (trumpet), Pheiphit, Lhemlhei, etc. were played and competition in these events were organized. The whole celebration of Kuts last generally from 3 days to a week.
The present format of Kut dates back to 1979 when the Manipur State level Chavang Kut was first held in Keithelmanbi village on November 1. Chavang (autumn) was used in place of Chang (paddy) to indicate the season of celebration. Three years later Chavang was dropped for want of commonality in dialects among the Kuki tribes. In the subsequent years, Manipur state government declared November 1 as state holiday.
Thirty years have passed and barring 1984 (for assassination of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi on October 31) and 2001 (the Manipur state government did not issue fund), the festival is an annual event. Three decades of Kut celebration has witnessed drastic change in its format, way of celebration, public mindset and unnecessary spices added to enhance the flavor.
One can observe a sea change in the meaning and content of the festival which is meant to safeguard the unique cultures, customs, and traditions of the ethnically distinct Kuki people. It is unfortunate that more importance is given to beauty contests, fashion parade and the likes which are not in any way linked with identity preservation. Of course, the varieties of traditional dresses (wrap around, shawls, etc.) and household/agricultural items/tools are displayed and traditional dances performed. But the too much obsession towards Miss Kut title or Fashion Queen and the fat cash awards overshadowed the real purpose of Kut.
It is needless to say that the general mindset is diverted towards the hot bodies of the contestants leaving behind the boring kind of folk dances. Many justify that beauty contest is a means to showcase traditional attires or to suit modernity. But too much inclination towards the beauties to the point of forgetting the charm of traditional vigor is a lost. It is a day to uphold our cultures and not a fashion-related festival.
Kut is for the Kukis and Kukis alone. It is of the same value and status as Lai Haraoba, Cheiraoba, is to Meiteis, Luingai ni or Gan Ngai is to Nagas. In larger contexts (beyond borders), Chins have their own festival in Myanmar and Mizos have Mim Kut, Chapchar Kut, Thalfavang Kut in Mizoram. To reiterate, the Kut celebrated on November 1 is for the Kuki tribes exclusively.
Let the world know that Kut is the festival to protect the unique identity of the Kukis. Let everyone know that Kut is not a Manipur state festival as some politicians often claimed. Being a state holiday does not mean that it is a state festival. Let the successive Kut Committees ensure that they are hearing the voice of the people and that they are going in the right direction. Do come and enjoy the festival and go back with the knowledge not only who is crowned Miss Kut, but also the unique and rich cultural heritage of the Kukis.
The writer is a post graduate Sociology student at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India.