Marriage Payment: An Aspect Of Marriage Institution Practiced Among The Chikimis In Manipur

Published on September 5, 2011

By Priyadarshni M. Gangte

The Chin-Kuki-Mizo is a grouping of people comprising of several ethnic groups who are closely allied to one another. For the purpose of this paper, Chin-Kuki-Mizo is clubbed together as the CHIKIM that literally means ‘all nationalities’. These ‘nationalities’ have a common culture, tradition, language, custom, mode of cultivation, form of government, etc. They inhabit entire Chin Hills of Myanmar and are known ‘Chin’ in that country. These same groups of people are known as ‘Kuki’ when they are in the Indian states of Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura, Assam, etc. and also Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh.

Similarly, in recent times, these people inhabiting erstwhile Lushai Hills District of Assam preferred to abandon the term and called themselves as ‘Mizo’ which is recognised by the Government of India and granted the state of Mizoram as belonging to the Mizo people. The present study will discuss the marriage payment, an aspect of marriage institution, among the following Chin-Kuki-Mizo people: Lushais, Thadou/Kuki, Lakher, Zomi/Chin and Old Kukis.

Marriage Payment
Marriage is a form of social arrangement by which a couple is legitimized in their physical relationship and their child is given a legitimate position in the society which is often determined by parenthood in the social sense1 . Marriage payment forms parts of the social institution of marriage. Making of payment of marriage by the bridegroom either in the form of kind or service to the bride’s kin is an essential part of establishment of legality2 .

Marriage payment was held officially in South Africa as per native custom with payment of Mithun in general. Some people believe that ‘bride-price’ is a completed word of marriage payment, alleged to have been coined by British administrators during the colonial British period in India3 . In our study, marriage payment will be consistently used to mean marriage price or bride-price.

The Chikimis do not think of marriage necessarily, as a union, based on romantic love although beauty as well as character and health are always sought in choice of a wife. Secondly, in Chikimi society, a marriage involves making of payment by the bridegroom or his kin to the father or close relative of the would-be bride in case the father had expired. Such system of understanding of the nature of marriage alliance was also prevalent in a great number of societies in ancient and modern times in all parts of the world.

Among few Chikimi tribes, practice of marriage payment is prevalent and is known as ‘bride-price’, which is paid in cash, kind and ‘mithun’. Our study of the marriage payment system among the Chikimi tribes has revealed that it is a widespread social practice in the northeast India and had significant sociological dimensions.

The Lushai
Marriage payment or bride-price or marriage price is the most important factor in a Chikimi marriage. No marriage can be performed unless part of marriage-payment is made in advance by the bridegroom to the bride’s family. It was paid in terms of mithuns when barter system was practice of the time. A mithun used to cost rupees forty as fixed by the British India administration in 18th Century when currency system was first introduced in this part of the North East. Some clans had fixed the prices for their maids in the past4 . It varied from four to ten mithuns depending upon the antecedents, blood and beauty of the bride.

Marriage-payment for a chief’s daughter was as many as ten mithuns or more5  for the Dulien (Lushai) speaking Chikimis. Minor concessions could be given during the time of payment. In this connection, marriage payments were practically never paid up in full at once at the time of wedding for the reason that hardly anybody had enough money to pay the same at once6 . Generally there was the custom of marriage-payment only in instalments and the remaining to be paid after some time i.e. twenty years or more7 . The customary laws of Thadou, Gangte, Vaiphei, Paite, etc. in this regard are quite widely different from the ones described hereinabove8 

Marriage-payment is a sacred institution prevalent in Chikimi society. It is however not to be understood as a sale-price9 . It is not a commercial transaction.  Marriage payment was sometimes used as a weapon for a clever parent to reject a suitor10 If it is really felt that the usual payment of any part of the same was unduly delayed or was not intentionally paid, the aggrieved party could seek the chief’s permission to seize any of the property of the debtor against the claim11 .

The marriage payment consisted of two parts12  (i) the Manpui and the Mantang. The Manpui is the price that has to go direct to the girl’s father or in his absence, to her brother. If she has none of them, it has to be received by her nearest male relative. The general rate of Manpui is five mithuns or Rs.100/- if the girl had dowry or ‘Thuam’ in the Dulien language but in case she does not carry, the rate of it was four mithuns each Mithun being fixed at Rs. 80/- by the British administrators. The custom of increasing Rs. 20/- was prevalent if the girl was provided with Thuam.

It is pertinent to mention that the Lushai (Dulien speaking Mizos) custom is slightly different from others in dealing with matters relating to marriage payment. It happened in circumstances where the girl was adopted by a man since childhood then the price went to him. In cases where male relatives failed to receive the marriage payment, the mother of the bride did not marry again and had taken all the responsibilities for her daughter (bride) she would let her mother receive the payment or she could select anyone to receive her marriage payment. In case her mother remarried and had gone to live with her husband under whose care the girl was brought up could be entitled to receive the marriage payment13 . In case she is a ‘Falak’ or illegitimate child, her mother could receive the marriage payment14 .

During the course of our survey, we found that Parry was right about the ‘Mantang’ or the subsidiary price of the bride, which was normally distributed to different categories of persons15 .
(a) Sumhmahruai, Rs. 20/-, this price is payable to the bride’s father or brother.
(b) Sumfang, Rs. 8/- is payable to the bride’s father or brother.
(c) Pusum, Rs. 6/- goes to the bride’s ‘Pu’ (the maternal uncle of the bride).
(d) Palal, Rs. 5/- is to be received by any person, selected by the bride as adopted father. The Palal in reciprocal has to give the bride a fowl and Zubel (pot with rice beer) as Lawichal (wedding feast given by recipients of Mantang).
(e) Ni-ar, Rs. 2/- has to be received by the parental aunt.
(f) Naupuakpuan, Rs. 2/- is entitled by the bride’s elder sister in consideration of her having carried the bride about in her cloth when the child was a baby.

The above-mentioned subsidiary price or ‘Mantang’ are the integral parts of marriage payment. In addition to this, there are also two optional ‘mans’- they are Thianwan and Lawichal16 .
(i) Thianwan Rs. 2/- or Rs. 3/- is payable to a friend of the bride, it is from the Manpui. Thianman is refunded in case the bride left her husband sumchchuah (divorce of husband by wife) or Uire (adultery).
(ii) Lawichal Rs. 2/- is a payment (not compulsory) payable only when the bride and the bridegroom are from different villages. When the bride is escorted by a group of friends and a man, who leads them to the bridegroom’s residence. This man is known as ‘Lawichal’ in the language of Dulien speakers. He is sometimes rewarded Rs. 2/- which is also to be refunded in case the bride later leaves her husband ‘Sumchchuah’ or ‘Uire’.

Moreover, the following rates of marriage payment are realized:
(i) Tlai means head of one mithun’s price Rs. 20/-.
(ii) ‘Tlai Sial’ means half mithun Rs. 20/-.
(iii) ‘Sepui’ means a full grown mithun Rs. 40/-.
(iv) ‘Seding’ means a full grown mithun or Rs. 40/-.
(v) ‘Senufa’ means a mithun and calf or Rs. 60/-.
(vi) ‘Puikhat’ means Rs. 20/-.
(vii) ‘Puisawnsial’ means Rs. 20/-.

The Lakher
Marriage payment among the Lakhers was quite high and this worked as a deterrent to easy divorce and fortified the position of the wife. Like the Lushais, marriage payment in the Lakher-customs was shared by a long line of relatives even aunts of the bride have to receive part of it. Sometimes, sharing of the same was so complicated that litigations continued endlessly17 . The main price was called ‘angkia’. Higher clan Lakhers also adopted the custom of taking higher rate of ‘angkia’, which varied from 10 to 70 rupees. The different parts of the marriage payment, are the ‘angkia’, the ‘puma’, the ‘nongcheu’, the ‘nangcheu’, etc. All these prices have their own subsidiary prices18 .

The ‘angkia’(‘Angkia’ means house enter) as the main price is taken by the father of the bride. In some Lakher society, the ‘angkia’ is received by the eldest son (brother) for the eldest daughter. Likewise the youngest daughter’s angkia goes to the youngest brother.

The next payment is the ‘Puma’(‘Puma’ has the same significance of that other prices.) which is payable only to the bride ‘pupa’ who is her maternal uncle. The rate at which ‘puma’ is payable depends on the rate of the angkia and if it is 60 rupees the rate of the ‘pumapi’ or ‘puma’ payment is also 60 rupees and is generally claimed when the couple settles down as man and wife.

The third marriage payment is the ‘Nongchue’.( ‘Nongcheu’ is found to have exist only in the Lakher society.) which means ‘the mother’s price’. If the mother and father of the bride have been divorced, it is payable to the bride’s mother. If they are still married, it is payable to the bride’s mother’s sister.

The fourth marriage payment is the ‘Nangchue’‘Nangcheu’ is equivalent to Niman or Niar, and it is sometimes replaced by ‘Tini’), which means the aunt’s price and is payable to the bride’s eldest paternal aunt.

The Thadou/ Kuki
Among the Thadous, the marriage payment has an interesting legend19 . Chongthu was the younger brother of Nongmangpa, the Chief of the underworld. As per Thadou custom, in the presence of the elder brother called ‘Upa’, the younger brother called ‘Naopa’ cannot become a chief. So, Noimangpa, being the elder, was the chief, Chongthu also intended to become the Chief. Therefore, he went out in search of a suitable land where he could establish himself separately as a Chief. He found one.

On his plan to become a chief, he wanted to go with his own closed friends whom he could trust. Thus, he arranged for the marriage of each of his selected men. In doing so he made the marriage payments of each bride to their parents. In those days, no valuable property or cash was available. All the valuable items that one could think of was a ‘Paigen’. This was a belt made of leather and decorated with a kind of beads, called ‘Longchang’, in seven lines. This was then considered to be a very rare and valuable item of property.

This could only be afforded by the chief alone. So, traditionally it became associated with the sole property, the right of which was vested only in the chief and was venerated very much being associated with a certain amount of superstition20 .

Chongthu being the younger brother of Noimangpa, the chief, had access to it and when he arranged for the brides of his friends with whom he planned to go to his newly found land, he paid the ‘Paigen’ to the parents of the girls as marriage payment. It so happened that though the commoners dared not refuse to accept the ‘Paigen’ when offered to them as marriage payment subsequently, they could neither dare keep it with them owing to their superstitions attached to it nor could they dare refuse the bride in marriage. 21

Thus,  along with the bride,  the parents returned the ‘Paigen’ to Chongthu saying that being a valuable property associated with the Chief exclusively, they dare not keep it or else, the wrath of the unseen supernatural power visit them and bring misfortune to them22 . This process went on and on until Chongthu was able to arrange 30 of his best and closest friends with the payment of ‘Paigen’ as the marriage payment.

Hereafter, marriage payment of every clan was paid in terms of seven mithuns based on the seven lines of ‘Longchung’ on the ‘Paigen’. This however needs further investigation and confirmation, the prevailing different versions on the matter among the Thadou tribes needs specific enquiries. Our research into ethnicity and folk lores reveal that since then marriage payment came to exist though in actual practice there are variations among the clans in terms of kind and number of mithuns. However, assuming that the following structure is the broad base for marriage payment as propounded by Crawford.

Bride-Price Structure of Thadous:
 Clan Price 
1. Doungel i) selsom (10 mithuns)
ii) dahpi ni (2 big copper gongs)
iii) dahbu ni (2 sets of three different small sizes of copper gongs)
iv) Khichang ni (2 ear beads)
v) Khichong ni (2 bead necklaces) 

2. Sitlhou  

3. Singson i) Selsomlanga (15 mithuns) 

4. Kipgen i) selsom (10 mithuns)
ii) dahpi ni (2 big copper gongs)
iii) Khichong ni (2 bead necklaces)
iv) Khichang ni (2  ear beads ) 

5. Haokip  

6. Chongloi i) Selsagee (7 mithuns)
ii) dahpi khat (1 big copper gong)
iii) dahbu khat (1 set of three different small sizes of copper gongs)
iv) Khichang khat (1 ear bead)
v) Khichong khat (1 bead necklace) 

7. Hangshing  
Though Crawford’s work is not comprehensive it serves an useful study on Thadou customary law for further exploration on the customary laws of the Thadous25 . Shaw,26   in his study on the Thadous, observed several deviations from what Crawford had specified in his work. He contended that the question of amount of marriage payment among the Thadous was not definite and commented that the chiefs and wealthy persons usually claimed and paid the equivalent of ten mithuns, Rs. 200/- in cash, 23 dahpi (large gongs), 2 dahpu (set of two gongs), 2 khichang (ear beads), 2 khichong (necklaces). He did not name any specific clan of the Thadous. He further opined that ordinary person often actually pay a couple of mithun, khichang and khichong.

As in an instance, he said that a pig in some cases may be taken as one mithun and that as per his personal experience he had come across cases where Rs. 40 had stood for 4 mithuns, a jar of ‘ju’ for a khichang or khichong. Thus in actual practice the parent of the bride hardly ever received the marriage-payment in full but in the form of more or less fictitious substitutes. He was emphatic in this regard to the effect that the parents loved to name large amounts as the ‘man’ not with any idea of getting it, but to be able to boast that their daughter was married for so much.

Often when enquired as to what precisely they had received, it was found that actually a much smaller amount had been accepted in full satisfaction by a system of fictitious values. This is very similar to the practices among the Lushais, Zomis, etc. Fictitious values have more often created false pretensions of wealth and richness, which became bones of contentions later and led to unhappy marriages.

It must also be mentioned that Hutton27  was convinced to have observed the fact that the first and last number of the marriage payment by mithun must necessarily be paid in mithun (selkeng-liding by this it means that marriage payment has to be by live-mithun). The first and the last marriage payment must in no case be substituted in any form of cash or kind.

Gangte28  another authority working on the marriage payment of the Thadous maintains that the marriage payment of the Singson Thadou is 30 mithuns without any other items added to it unlike the other Thadou clans. The higher rate of marriage payment among the Singsons has no origin according to him. It is said, the Singsons are the direct junior collaterals of the Sitlhous. So when their senior collateral (Sitlhous) increased the marriage payment the junior also deemed it proper to follow suit.29 

During the course of our research we found that one common conspicuous missing fact is that of ‘Lutom Laisui’, a very important and compulsory item in the marriage payment. It signifies the importance of father and mother of the bride. ‘Lutom’ is given to the father of the bride in token expression of gratitude. Likewise, ‘Laisui’ is an exclusive item to be given to the mother of the bride for having given birth to her daughter from her naval. Here, it must be said that, while the father is shown respect for his paternal masculinity, the mother too is highly respected for giving birth to the child.

In this regard, it is interesting to state that there cropped up differences between William Shaw and J.H. Hutton, who out of confusion literally dealt with the two terms out of ignorance of the language and meaning provided to the two items. Shaw30   attributed ‘Lutom’ as a gift given to the mother and ‘Laisui’ to the father. Hutton31  contended otherwise and explained that Shaw got it the wrong way round. In doing so, he explained saying that Laisui means a woman’s waist-band, while Lutom is a man’s loincloth. They were cloths for bride’s parent and further contended that it could be accounted for a money payment of Re. 1/- and Rs. 2/- respectively, that a woman can claim for property and that a Thadou woman can make in her own account.

Similarly, we found another feature that has not been dealt with by the several authorities in regard to Manpi which stands for principal marriage-payment that consists of one mithun on the tail of which one piece of big bead ‘khichang’ through the ear of which the tail of the mithun can be made to pass through as a decorative piece (Ibid). This bead is counted as equivalent to one mithun. Therefore, the Manpi or the principal mithun is counted as to bear the price of two mithuns. The principal mithun is expected to have given birth to as many calves as possible. It is believed that with such principal mithun included in the marriage payment similar number of many children are in return given birth by the bride. Therefore it is insisted that such principal mithun should necessarily reveal calf bearing32 .

We also observed that the broad based marriage payment as shown above is not totally followed by different clans. As for an instance, the Haokips of Chassad lineage known as the seniormost (piba) of the Haokip take ten mithuns inclusive of the principal mithun33  However, as for other junior lineages of the Haokip clan of the Thadou, the marriage payment is fixed at eight mithuns.

Another pertinent point we have observed i.e. the fact that though the marriage-payments of different clans are fixed it is customarily not paid in full throughout the life time of the bride. The practice of marriage payment is that provided the principal mithun accompanied by one or more subsidiary mithun can be paid, the remaining marriage payment be not necessarily in terms of mithuns. They can be substituted in kind. Symbolically the counting could represent mithun depending on the agreement between the groom’s and bride’s parties34 .

The Zomi/Chin
Among the Zomis the payment of marriage price also forms an integral part which has a high social value. In their custom, it is also called ‘Manpi’ (principal price). In every society of Zomi (chin) or Kuki or Chikimi tribes, unlike the Meitei’s, marriage ceremony process takes two days, one for sending off the bride by the parents, and another day for wedding, which is to be performed at the bridegroom’s place. A would-be bride cannot be send-off unless and until the question of ‘Manpi’ is settled as mentioned earlier. This is paid by the bridegroom side to the bride’s parents and has to be received by the father of the bride. In case he is dead, the price goes to the nearest male relative on his side, preferably, to the eldest or the youngest male member who is the heir-apparent.

In general, among the average Zomi, marriage payment ‘Manpi’ or principal price is fixed normally on the following four factors35 
(i) the clan to which the bride belongs,
(ii) the amount of dowry the bride carries,
(iii)  the beauty of her
(iv) mutual understanding.

If the bride belongs to chief’s clan or aristocratic family, the normal price of such bride is ten mithuns or equivalent value of ten mithuns in terms of rupees but only in name. Once the principal marriage payment i.e. one life-mithun is paid, the rest of the price can be substituted in kind like gong, even valuable household utensils made of copper, silver, alluminium, etc.36  When marriage is solemnized the parents of the bride offer a sumptuous feast in bidding fare-well to their daughter by sacrificing a pig or a cow or two pigs or two cows depending on their capacity and quantum of guests. This is a normal standard followed by an average Zomi.

In symbolic significance of final settlement of marriage negotiation all the elders from both the sides gather with a mug of rice bear each in their hands would partake specific portions of the sacrificial meat together. This is known as ‘witness supper’ of the marriage. This ‘witness supper’ is preceded with formal handing over of the marriage payment. After deliberation they have to agree finally by accepting the marriage payment or totally refunding the same in good faith, which occur rarely.

The following is the generally accepted agreement by Zo or Zomi or ‘Chin’ as far as the marriage-payment is concerned.. It is practiced even today.
Sialsuam (ten mithuns) – Chief or Aristocratic clan.
Sialthum (three Mithuns) – Commoners.

Though virtually covered under the Zomi Customary Law as described hereinabove, marriage payment of the Paites is a bit different. The marriage-payment among them is normally one mithun and a calf, ‘Sial Nuta’. As per fixation of the British administration, one full grown Mithun costs Rs. 40/- and Rs. 20/- for a Mithun calf called ‘Tai’ or ‘Tlai’ which means half. Zomi clans like Zou takes only ‘Sialnga’ (five mithuns) only. The Zous stick to maintaining their customs since time immemorial.

The obligation of the bridegroom towards the bride’s party is significant in their social and cultural life. Any relationship between two clans who are involved can also play a role in determining marriage. Thus we find that sometimes the marriage payment can only be symbolic which means the expenses of the wedding ceremony are counted as marriage payment. If a poor boy is not in a position to pay he may be allowed to pay later. A boy may also be exempted from paying the same if he causes elopement of the girl and also if he simply moves to the house of the girl and waits until the girl is ready to marry him37 .

In addition to ‘Manpi’, there are also the other subsidiary marriage-payments. They are as follows:
(i) Puchum Rs. 4/- goes to the maternal uncle of the bride.
(ii) Niman is equal to that of Pusum, which is to be accepted by the paternal aunt.
(iii) Thaman or Palal equal to that of Pusum is the labour or service price to be reciprocated for taking the charge of the parents of the bride and is usually given for the head of the family. It is prevalent among the Gangte, the Paite, the Simte, the Thadou, the Vaiphei also.
(iv) Thallouh ‘sum’ (price goes also to the nearest relative of the head of the family.
(v) Lamman or Thiansum is a small amount of money that goes to a bride’s friend as a token of love.
(vi) Nuapuan puak ‘man’ is the price for the cloth used for carrying the bride when she was a child by her mother or elder sister. It varies from Rs. 4/- to Rs. 20/- as the class of the clan she belongs to. These payments in cash or kind suggest complete cessation of ties of the girl who is getting married with her family as she has to start her own family with full devotion and understanding.

Thakur38  contended that a wealthy commoner can often pay a high marriage price and so marries a woman of high class, and if his descendants continue this practice they will achieve high status rank with many privileges of the aristocratic class, except, of course, the same in the line of possible succession to hereditary headmanship or chieftainship.

The Old Kukis
Among the Aimol, Anal, Chiru, Chothe, Kolhen, Kom and Purum, the marriage payment is also divided into several parts. To mention a few of them is that, among the Aimol, the bride’s eldest brother gets Rs. 6/- and each of the other one rupee less than his immediate senior. The paternal and maternal uncles receive Rs. 2/- each, the aunt and the elder sister also receive Rs. 1/- each as niman.  Among the Anal and Purum the marriage payment must not be less than a pig and a piece of iron a cubit in length but the girl’s relatives try to get as much as they can.

The bridegroom has also to feast the family of his bride three times on pork, fowls and rice washed down of course with plenty of Zu. But a Chiru girl has a marriage payment of only one gong. A Chothe girl’s marriage payment comprises of a spear, a dao and a fowl and the same is sealed by the consumption of much Zu. The marriage payment of a Kolhen girl is a gong and Rs. 7/- to her mother and Rs. 7/- each to the elder and younger brother and the maternal uncle.

The marriage payment of the Kom girl is very high, the father receiving one gong, four buffaloes, fifteen cloths, a hoe, and a spear, the aunt taking a black and white cloth. The Lamgang bridegroom has to pay his father-in-law three pigs or buffaloes or cows, one sting of conch-shell beads, one lead bracelet and one black or blue petticoat. A Tikhup father of the bride receives a gong, ten hoes, one dao and one spear and also Rs. 7/- by maternal grandfather.

Apart from paying all items of marriage payments such as mithun, cow, pig, gong, bead, necklace, spears, dao, money and whatever ought to be paid by the bridegroom, three years service is to be served to the bride’s family. This practice is prevalent among the Aimol, Anal, Chiru and Purum. During this period of service he works with dedication as if he were a son of the house.39 

Our survey has shown that the low rates mentioned as marriage-payments are certainly due to the sluggish economic wealth generation and poor economic condition of the tribes. Even today the plight of the many tribes is not better off. These monetary gifts became rational but the responsibilities that the marriage entailed for both the bride and the bridegroom was enormous. Responsibilities were indeed domineering over both the parties. The spirit of sharing responsibilities was reflected in the methods of gift exchange and their acceptance.

In conclusion, we want to say that in none of the Chin-Kuki-Mizo tribes (Chikimis) not a trace of customary law relating to women succession and inheritance was found to have been mentioned whatsoever40 . To bring a change in the mindset of masses, certainly, education is the only weapon by which social trend is made to a twist steadily or suddenly. In this regard we cannot solely depend on women only; here male participation is considerably essential. Despite the winds of change brought about by modernism, Christianity and innovations of all sorts of comforts and development in life by science and technology traditionalism still stands firm in the dynamics of system of marriage.

Marriage payment is, of course, the pivotal part in a Chikimis marriage, however, with the advent of globalisation, so also with a democratic set up norms have somehow impacted these ethnic groups. The traditional systems never recognised the rights of women as primary decision-makers in matters of community issue take inter-ethnic conflict crises management, social sanctions, etc. Their customary laws prevalent among these ethnic groups, though portray an egalitarian socio-economic structure is discriminatory when it comes to women’s right in traditional governance and customary laws.

The writer, who has authored several articles and books, is a lecturer in the history department at Damdei Christian College, Manipur, India. She is the wife of late Thangkhotinmang Sielpho Gangte (T.S. Gangte), a well-known sociologist in the Kuki society.

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