Kut Must Remain a Unifying Force
By Nehginpao Kipgen
Kut, the post-harvest festival, is an embodiment of the mosaic culture of the Kukis. The festival has been celebrated not only in the state of Manipur, but also in the states of Mizoram and Chin under varying names, depending on dialectical usages. The festival has become one of the most anticipated events of the year.
Kuki is used here as an inclusive nomenclature, as documented by the British ethnographers, to refer to all the hill peoples of Manipur other than the Nagas, which included 22 tribes in alphabetical order: Aimol, Anal, Chiru, Chothe, Gangte, Hmar, Koirao, Koireng, Kom, Lamkang, Maring, Mizo/Lushai, Monsang, Moyon, Paite, Purum, Ralte, Simte, Sukte, Thadou, Vaiphei and Zou. More tribes have been recognized by the Indian government since then.
Although the general perception about Kut celebration is cultural, each individual person may have his or her own reason for participation. Since it is an official state holiday in Manipur, the event has been celebrated on November 1st every year. This, however, does not necessarily mean that the event was traditionally celebrated on this particular day, nor does it portray that it is an exclusive event for the Kukis of Manipur.
Due appreciation must be given to community leaders and the successive Kut committees for promoting the state level program to its status quo – one of the most important social events in Manipur. With the arrival of Kut 2012, I would like to discuss the importance of the event under three subjects – Cultural Heritage,CommunityBuilding, and Diplomatic Relations.
With the rapid pace of globalization, it is getting easier for the younger generation to be influenced by the dominant cultures of advanced societies implicitly or explicitly. In this regard, Kut has served as an important platform for showcasing one’s culture, and more importantly for preserving them. It is paramount that this tradition is continued.
When performing cultural dances adorned with traditional attires, it is not just showing talents but also displaying one’s unique identity to the international community. Promotion of one’s culture should show respect for the cultures of others. While it is essential to adapt to modernity, it is also important to retain the originality of one’s own unique culture.
One fundamental objective of the event should be that participants return with understanding some basic concepts of the Kuki culture. This can be expressed in the form of speeches or by making it prerequisite for questions posed to beauty contestants.
One must show respect to his or her own culture before expecting others to do the same. It is the responsibility of each community member to safeguard the culture if he or she wants to promote. It is also the responsibility of the older generation to pass on to the younger generation in order to preserve them. The process of continuity needs to be maintained.
The fabric of a community is strengthened when its members come together for a common objective. During the British colonial rule, the administrators classified the Kuki tribes into ‘Old Kuki’ and ‘New Kuki’. Later, the unity of the Kuki people was shaken which led to the formation of different tribal identities.
Such division within a family has affected the well-being of the people. This is evident from the fact that a common political platform is difficult to achieve until today. If bickering over issues such as nomenclature or tribe imbroglio is not resolved, the people will continue to face the consequences in socio-economic and political fronts. Community building along the line of tribes or clans may not be an issue in Western societies that are driven by individualism, but it still apparently matters in the Kuki society.
Amidst ideological differences, Kut brings together family members from far and near. The event has become one of the few avenues to show the world that these people belong to the same family. While striving for unity, alienation or prejudices based on minority-majority in terms of numerical strength must be avoided.
Community building should start within oneself, and branch out to families, clans, and tribes. When every level of society begins to engage, community will automatically progress. In the process of community building, more inclusive socio-cultural programs need to be encouraged before political cooperation can be achieved.
As much as it is important to promote and preserve cultural heritage, and community building, it is equally important to establish relations with others. Technologies have made communications easier and efficient ever than before. The proceedings of Kut celebration should be live-streamed, especially for the Kukis in Diaspora. The Kut committee should use the event to reach out to others.
In the context of Manipur, the immediate neighbors are the Naga and the Meitei with whom the Kuki people have lived together for decades. One should acknowledge the fact that nobody on earth is a permanent settler of any geographical region. Migration has happened in all parts of the world, at different times and under different circumstances, and so are the Kuki, the Naga and the Meitei.
Since Kut becomes a state festival, it concerns the entire people of Manipur directly or indirectly. On this auspicious day, the Kut committee should continue to invite other community leaders and members for the event. Not just inviting them but also getting them involved in activities such as cultural dances or short speeches. Such initiatives can develop mutual trust and friendship across inter-ethnic groups.
Primordial elements such as blood relationship, culture, and language affirm that the Kuki in Manipur, the Chin inBurma(Myanmar), and the Mizo in Mizoram are inseparable. The Kut committee should invite brethren for this occasion. Now thatBurmahas steadily transitioned into a democratic society, regular contacts need to be established with brethren in Sagaing Region and inChinStatethrough formal and informal channels.
I have briefly discussed three subjects how the Kukis of Manipur can better utilize Kut to walk beyond the usual practices of the day. I do not in anyway mean to suggest that this is the exhaustive list of what can be done to maximize the positive effects of the celebration at the state level.
Kut has been a unifying force for the Kukis of Manipur. This cohesion must continue to remain and be developed with the changing time. The priority of the celebration should focus on promoting peace, love, and harmony among the different tribes of the Manipur Kukis in particular, and for greater understanding and cooperation among the Chin, the Kuki, and the Mizo in general.
The spirit of oneness in celebrating Kut needs to be nurtured. Community leaders and intellectuals have a pivotal role to play in advocating mutual love among brothers and sisters of the same group of people, who are known or called by different names in different geographical regions. The momentum of unity shown during Kut celebration needs to be followed by activities such as seminars and conferences at local level as well as at the international level.
Kut Chibai to you all!
Nehginpao Kipgen is general secretary of the United States of America-based Kuki International Forum (www.kukiforum.com) and author of several articles in academic journals, international newspapers and magazines. His latest peer-reviewed academic article entitled “The Politics of Ethnic Conflict in Manipur” is scheduled for publication in July 2013 issue of South Asia Research journal, published by SAGE in the United Kingdom. On a special invitation from the Kut committee, the article is written for the 2012 Manipur State Level Kut souvenir to be released during the Kut celebration on November 1, 2012 in Imphal, Manipur, India.