Rich and Poor Men’s Kut
By Lunminthang Haokip
Kut Was Ethnic: The Chikimi (Chin-Kuki-Mizo) ethnic group grew together and got grafted to diverse national cultures, throughout the AD years, mainly in North West Myanmar, North East India and Hill tracts of Bangladesh. The last century saw considerable growth of the Chikimi diaspora in the US, Europe and SE Asia.
Successive regimes they were subjected to gave them community names that suited the former’s interest more than the latter’s in the countries they came across in the frenetic search for the ideal place to settle down for keeps. Of that, enough historians and research scholars had inked their findings in volumes of books. One thing that has not been adequately dealt with is the common binding Chikimi seed-sowing and post-harvest fest known popularly as Kut. Periodical bids to change the form and format of celebrating the unique fest could not lessen the essence or dampen the spirit of Kut merriment.
The Original Motivation: Chikimi cycle of life was simple on the hilly terrains they took shelter. Life-sustaining food-grain seeds were sown in spring in the jhum-fields. Monsoon came soon, giving way for autumn to ripen paddy and other grains. Due to lack of knowledge, no much thought was given to the God of creation who gave the former and the latter rain and provided “manna” to humankind through the fructification process of the sown seed.
Nevertheless, there was an innate sub-consciousness in the native Chikimi that there existed a super-natural authority who gave the seed, made it grow and brought forth a hundred-fold in ultimate fruition. Kut was a visible show of gratitude to the invisible provider who, as sure as the seasons, made men fit to breathe and live from one year-end to another.
The Main-Show: In the absence of sports-infrastructure, on the pristine slopes, manually flattened spots served as playgrounds, post-harvest, to display male agility and prowess in traditional games and sports. Competition was in the air. Inter-village rivalry in ethnic sporting events, as to who is the better athlete in the area, drew crowds in hordes. Mithun-jump was a sport watched with keen interest. It had nothing to do with the Bollywood actor. It was the Chikimi answer to modern-day high-jump.
Piles of shawls were added on to a badly-beaten and tightly-fastened live mithun as young men, out to compete and impress, jumped one after another over the beast-of-burden. The guy who could fly over the maximum number of shawls piled up after being cleared on the domesticated animal emerged as the winner. Kaang-kaap, Pestle-throw and macho-wrestling etc. were other favourite sports during Kut weeks. Isolated and close to nature, the hill residents eagerly waited for Kut and the fun-fare attached to it.
The Side-Shows: While the rural womenfolk crashed fresh food-grain with alternate manual pounding with pestles on a wooden mortar that would be the material for feast-bread, the older folk sipped and sucked with bamboo-pipes from earthen jars of rice-beer, fermented well in advance for the big occasion, in upbeat mood. The kick they got out of the brew was stronger than the thrill pub-stuff can deliver today.
While a sozzled quartet crooned a never-ending two-liner folk-song that was pregnant with meaning, a tipsy couple would stretch and flap their hands, bend the knees and dance in circles to the low-key tune of the emotion-arousing folk item. Merriment peaked as the singing reached a crescendo. In terms of intensity, impact and capacity to stir up emotions, high-pitched songs sung with lung-power on Kut-stages of this century are no patch on the lyrical melodies of the distant past.
The 70 mm Kut: The eighties and nineties of the last century saw all forms of kutting like Mim Kut, Chavang Kut, Thalfavang Kut etc. squeezed in an annual event called Chapchaar Kut in Mizoram, Kut in Manipur and among Thadou/Kuki diaspora, and Khuado Pawi among the non-resident Zomi brethren living across the continents. The venue of celebration may be strangely urban and the kutting style urbane and outlandish; but the spirit of pastoral Kut remains the same everywhere.
What is there in a name? Kut with any other name would be as thrilling. This is one annual fest that reminds the Chikimi ethnic group of their common progenitor and cultural homogeneity. Here is a fest each of the Chikimi tribes can call its own, has no grudge over its naming and has a stake in its promotion. All paid and done, credit should go to the Ministers, MLAs and the like-minded bureaucrats who held sway in Manipur in the late seventies of the 1900s for having made the erstwhile local Kut celebration a worldwide Chikimi affair, participating in it irresistible and where the young and the young-in-heart converge seamlessly.
The Gain Set Off-Balance: The ethnic annual jamboree must also reflect the social changes and spiritual shifts that took place down the years. There is a worldly concept doing the rounds that we have 364 days in a year to feed on the wsord of God as a Christian. What is wrong in dedicating one day in a year in pursuing true Kut-culture on wining and adopted ramp-culture? The danger lies in the bitter truth that a singular day of wanton ultra-modern Kut-type carnal merry-making can turn the net gain of 364 days of passionate preaching off-balance.
That folks who had minimal appetite for Christian principles were prominent patrons and the privileged blue-eyed boys in Kut set-up which, unfortunately, could not get cracking without inputs put in by them, and that Kut tamasha attracts a huge following of nominal believers, is an alarming issue that needs serious address in ecclesiastical circles. Unanimity in admitting that inability to check the youth from being hell-bent on being 1st MR ground-bound in the evening of 1st November, every year, is the failure of parenting and Church-shepherding will serve as the first step to undo the unwanted pull of the flesh.
KPI DL Kut 2005: A Turning Point: This author was the unfortunate ADC (additional demand contact?) of Kangpokpi, Sadar Hills in year 2005. The odds were aplenty. But as a servant of the Lord, the spirit prompted me to moot the risky idea of celebrating Kut the gospel way sans the frills of glamour that Kutters got used to. Surprisingly, the powers-that-be and the Churches of my subject were willing to play ball. The stage was set for Rev. Prim Vaiphei to deliver a punching undiluted message from Kut platform. The audience lapped up the sermon word for word. But old habits died hard.
Kut would not have looked like Kut without a few tipsy guys walking in a blur and talking in a slur. Expectedly, a dissenting clamour was heard, “Why the hell are we not having Miss kut contest this year?” As the administrator of the sub-district, I mounted on the podium, held the mike and gently pleaded, “Dear brother, the Bible we bank on says Favour is deceitful; beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord shall be praised (Prov. 31:30). If it is absolutely necessary that we should have Miss Kut contest, we will have “Miss Good” contest instead on Biblical lines.” A responsive applause that ensued silenced the voice of dissent.
Sugnu Tribal DL Kut 2008: On 31 October, 2008, about 3000 church-people gathered at the designated campus for district-level Kut celebration, Standard English High School, Sugnu (T), to listen to gospel vocal renditions and message. AVZ, C. Lalhmingmawii, the amazing voice of Zoram, Abea from Aizawl and local Gospel artists like Esther Sitlhou and Ngirshua Aimol lent their vocal talents to keep the audience glued to their seats. God gave the boldness to this nondescript author to speak on the pressing issues of the year.
The spirit of the Lord lit up the Kut-ambience. Undivided attention was given to the gospel content. Of course, the message got some hardcore kut-addicts massaged the wrong way. However, the impulse to create nuisance was checked by the word of God. The same class-fellows sitting sober on gospel-night became glass-fellows on Kut-nite on 1st November. That was the side effect of secular song items, which are taboo in church-services, but were presented to entertain a predominantly Christian audience in Kut night bashes
Moreh and Sugnu Kut –2010: In year 2010, Kut started early at Moreh border town. Traditional sports were conducted on 30th October.
On 31st October, Moreh’s Galngam Lentol hosted Kut gospel meeting. Local church services were combined at Kut venue. Husky crooner, Hechin Haokip and other local sensations sang soulful gospel numbers to help the audience switch over from kut-mood to worship-mood. Later in the evening, their full-throated solo numbers gave pep to gospel atmosphere at Sugnu (T) to gain momentum. God gave this obscure author the privilege of giving the words of God to thousands of Kutters at Moreh and Sugnu in Kut-eve meetings.
The rapt-attention of sermon-hearers, exhibited whole in the halls, and the peaceful atmosphere experienced at both places of Kut celebration in Chandel district of Manipur, proved that God’s spirit gives liberty where His name is lifted high. The contrary scene was seen the next night when love songs were sung and beauty contests were conducted. If we want rowdy kutters to become sober lowly hearers, and save gen-next from progressive serial self-destruction, gospel Kut is the only answer.
Change In Command at KHQ: The new team calling the shots from Kut headquarters at Imphal administered under traditional rules that are adhered to with a passion usually reserved for religion by SLKC – State-level Kut Committee- Manipur, is a departure from their earlier predecessors.
Pu Dr. Chaltawnlien Amo who represents Tipaimukh A/C in the Manipur Assembly for the 3rd term chairs SLKC presently. Soft-spoken and cordial to all, the SLKC Chairman co-ordinates with the various Kut sub-committees with the approach of gentle surgeon.
That the veteran Hmar leader exits immediately after deliberations on core issues in a prelim Kut meeting without hanging around impacts the social fence-sitters to follow suit. Other things being equal, level-headed normal guys still follow the leader. Voluntary services rendered to SLKC by regular Kut-management experts make the Chairman’s job much easier.
The Silver–Lining: Pu T. Manga Vaiphei, the fourth time Legislator from Henglep A/C who is the Chairman of MTDC – Manipur Tribal Development Corporation – also chairs the SLKC sub-committee for Cultural dances. Assisted with clinical precision by Dr. V. Haokip, M.O of TA & Hills, apart from hiking travel and food expenses for the prospective cultural groups geared up to showcase their craft on Kut day 2012, Pu Manga monitors the arrangements under his charge to ensure maximum fraternal participation and see that all concerned dance to SLKC’s tunes.
That Pu V. Vungzagin, the giant-killer from Thanlon A/C, had been sworn in recently as a Parliamentary Secretary of the state enthuses his co sub-committee members for Kut Souvenir publication like this author and Mr. Lunsieh Kipgen IPS. Pu Valte’s warm keenness coupled with Pu G.S Haupu, the social-minded Singhat MLA’s energetic drive to mobilise more funds give pep to one’s creative service to SLKC.
The Global Cheer-spread: Kut 2012 promises to be an event to remember for more reasons than one. While poor men’s Kut will continue to enthral small town players at SDHQs of CCPur, Chandel, Sadar Hills, Ukhrul and Tamenglong districts of Manipur, plans are afoot for dissemination of effusive Kut mood at pocket Chikimi settlements elsewhere like Delhi, Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Shillong, Guwahati, Tamu etc. YZTP’s Sweet December celebration in Yangon and at the Chikimi diaspora concentrations across the globe will be no less entertaining.
Reluctantly agreed that changing the Kutting style at SLKC headquarters will be as tough as Arvind Kejriwal’s attempt to provide alternative to the established system, one has reasons to hope for the better with gifted bureaucrats providing optimum support to their political masters in managing the state’s top fest of fun. Now that the patrons of status-quo cannot be won over to budge, HD visibility on Kut platform is being sought everywhere by kut-enthusiasts.
A habitual kut-aficionado candidly admitted, “Last year on 1st Nov, at Moreh Kut, we began to hit the bottle at7 pm. By8 pm, my head went for a spin and all I knew, I no more had control over my own purse”. Scales of Kut celebration may differ from place to place but the spirit of ethnic zeal and zest remains the same; be it in Delhi or at Kangpokpi; London or Thanlon; America or Lamka.
The Core Committee: While robust super-cop Pu P. Doungel IPS in his capacity as SLKC Secretary works hard to convene rounds of sub-committee sittings and to provide fool-proof security on Kut day, the articulate Pu WL Hangsing, IAS, Principal Secretary, GoM, heads the team that takes care of the Kut Beauty Contest right from the preliminary rounds. With no mismatch of role to player, the bar is likely to be raised this time round in Kut entertainment and ramp-show.
It also gives a reassuring feeling that although many well-wishers of Kut fest, due to pre-occupations elsewhere, cannot personally make it to the frequent confabulations of the selfless Kut-elite club members, the core Kut committee enjoys the solid backing of Pu Phungzathang Tonsing, Hon’ble Minister (Health & GAD), Pu Ngamthang Haokip, Hon’ble Minister (IFCD & Printing), Pu T.N Haokip MLA, Pi Nemcha Kipgen, MLA, Pu Yamthong Haokip MLA and a few former re-tyred legislators. It has become a norm in Kut management premises that the men who devote maximum time for making the frankenstein-like annual gala fest what it is shall also have to dole out the biggest amount of donation too.
Zeroing in on Affinity: In our jealous zeal to equate ourselves with whole-state-owning communities, at times, we tend to view our wanting ethnic entity with jaundiced eyes with our noses turned up. But in the same way semblance of government is much better than no government, the integrating platform of Kut is a blessing for the otherwise mentally-partitioned similar dialect-speaking ethnic group of 2.8 million people (worldwide) who, unfortunately, got scattered in three adjoining countries by the accidental events of history. That we originated from one common progenitor among the nations and gradually took shelter in imagined fresher pastures without adopting alien culture is proven by the common fest called Kut that we share today and will share in the future.
As stewards of the influences at our respective disposal and stake-holders to pass on an improved legacy to gen-next, let us all hold fast and cherish this sole reuniting fest we all feel proud to be identified with. Doing all, we stand to gain much to reinvent Kut to glorify the one and living God who gave and sustained life until today.
The writer is an Indian Administrative Officer.