Kut festival: A Christian environmental perspective
By Kailean Khongsai
It is undeniable fact that gratitude for the fecundity of nature is a common feature of our culture. The earth’s bountiful harvest has been celebrated with ceremonies of giving thanks in different ways.1 It indeed is the day of feasts, music, dance, singing and other merry-making. But the irony of the present reality is that the world has detached slightly away from its originality. Our modern harvest festival has become just a token expression of gratitude which actually does little to touch our lives.
Imagine that you are in charge of shaping your society cultural practices. Think outside the box, perhaps by reflecting a few fundamental questions – why are we celebrating KUT? And what drives and outmoded the traditional harvest celebration? What KUT got to offer our society? To get your creative juices flowing, consider both your urban and rural experiences, not necessarily the stereotype of thinking that entirely reject either the tradition or modernity. You may find the truth is more complex and interesting.
Few years ago while I was doing my degree in Glasgow, Scotland, an African friend of mine asked me “do your community have a sort of harvest festival?” I instead beg another question from his question “do you?” and he said, O yes! We bought together locally produced crops, and distributed to people who are less fortunate in our community after thanksgiving. 24/7 items featured tradition dance and a colourful display of native art and craft, and this indeed were flowing along sounds of native trumpets and drums played by an army of jubilant youngster. It used to be incredible! People love music and dance. Later, with much hesitation, he said, it was 10 years ago.
Now “believe it or not” due to failure of crops since the past few years, famine hits so severely that none of a single individual in our society could beat a drum of joy. This made me think seriously, serious enough to change my whole perception about what we call “KUT” post-harvest celebration. Some countries whose culture has a strong tie with harvest festival could no longer celebrate, they instead are crying out for international help to rescue them from starvation and dead. This is pretty sad. Putting the above facts into our own context we are not very far off from their situation. Many of our brothers and sisters in our society (Manipur, Nagaland, Assam, Mizoram, Myanmar, etc.) do not have enough food on their plates to celebrate; every day is a battle for them. This undeniably begs a question. Are we ignoring this reality to avoid any distraction from our present enjoyment? It is complex to solve but the truth is simply we do not focus enough to realise the holistic meaning of what KUT is all about.
For Chin-Kuki-Mizo, Kut is the most popular event that brings us together. It is a celebration of the fruits of our year-long labour underpinning with the celebration of our colourful culture. It is a time to showcase our rich cultural heritage, and promotes community cohesion. Having said that, I should qualify that statement since I am in danger of making a huge generalization as this has unrevealed realities. While KUT is relatively popular, it is also undergoing a slow decline in a true sense. The form of harvest celebration is no longer a festival that catches the imagination. In the past, according to many local historians, KUT was a time of impressive displays of produce and thanking God of the nature, even before the arrival of Christianity. As a celebration, it was full of meaning and life.
Practically speaking, it has all the essential elements of the biblical teachings – literally qualified to be called a religious festival. But this has gone a catastrophic fall. I believe that the decline of harvest is a sign that over the years it has become detached from its original foundations, and from the real lives of most people in our modern societies. In many places, the idea of offering to God becomes superseded by a display and promotion of the things that interest and excites us. Also “traditional practice” with inexorable rise of modernity it becomes a kind of ignorance, something to be overcome rather than encouraged.2
Furthermore, we fail to recognise the full impact of the fact that most people no longer grow their own food. Vast majority of the foodstuffs we eat have been grown by other people, whom we consider “poorer community.” We have arrived to the point where we take the fruitfulness of the soil under our feet for granted. Thus, we find it hard to see how the themes of KUT touch our lives. So not only we lose contact with the earth, we have also become unconcerned about our own origin and purity of our tradition. I genuinely feel we have lost the ability to discern the things that are truly valuable. We pursue growth, material affluence and progress while trampling over the things that make us truly genuine and beautiful.
I feel the time has come to challenge this state of affairs, and I suggest that the way to do this is to look back our traditional way of celebration and think about how we can sandwich this with our faith element and cultural practices. I may not be wrong in saying that majority of us (Chin-Kuki-Mizo) are practising Christians or show some sort of allegiances towards Christianity. So let me take you to reflect upon some biblical truth.
In the midst of the Old Testament law (Leviticus 23, Numbers 28 and 29), we find a succession of invitations to feasts and parties, each of which are intended as annual reminders of God’s past goodness and promises of his continuing faithfulness if his worshippers remained obedient.3 God also commanded that in harvesting fields, the farmers were to leave the corn at the edges of the field and only harvest it once so that the poor and foreigners could eat the grain that remained. People are to respond with obedience and not to be tempted to follow other gods (Deuteronomy 28:14). We also see that when the people fell short of God’s demands most seriously, they ended up in exile in Babylon. This is something that I would like to encourage people to take time to reflect upon.
In New Testament, the example of Jesus is rather different. His gifts are freely offered to anyone, and most particularly to people who do not fit the pattern of such obedience and religious conformity: women, people on the margins of society, children and foreigners. Nonetheless, their positive response is important. The tenth leper who was healed and who, unlike the other nine, returned to praise God, receives more than physical healing (Luke 17:19). Matthew 6: 33 also informs us to seek God’s kingdom first and his righteousness, and all other things shall be added unto us. As a Christian, we are very fortunate to have a rich faith tradition, a biblical wisdom and truth that we can learn for free. In fact, some early Christians in western countries have exemplified this wisdom and understanding -creating historical significance by playing a key role in reinforcing the connection between people and the land, particularly through the harvest festival.4
It is indeed important to celebrate our mosaic culture and flag up our commonalities which is vital for our fragmented society. Having said that not at the expense of concealing the true meaning of harvest event i.e. thanking God, sharing our surplus crops to the poor, not focusing on other gods (material things) etc. Otherwise, there is a danger of falling into a desperation – “famine & exile”- likewise an ancient Israelites or the current some African countries (example – Somalia and Ethiopia). While we have the resources, time and space and can beat a drum of joy, let us take the time to reflect God’s variety of gifts that enable us to live comfortably and enjoy the fruitfulness of the earth;5 reconnecting with our place as stewards of His wonderful natural world, and enrich our modern KUT celebration.
The things mentioned in this article may not sound something new, and may not even be the idea you would seek to buy or so. Believe it or not, KUT is the only surviving traditional festival that stands tall until today; therefore, it is well worth treasuring the originality from the modern secular influences. Let me conclude this by reminding you Deuteronomy 8:7-18 “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land – a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, …………….When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. ………….. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, ……. your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God…”6
The writer is an environmentalist based in West London. He is an associate member of JRI (connecting Environment, Science and Christianity), and a certified member of Chartered Institution of Waste Management United Kingdom (CIWM). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Millward Craig (2001): Renewing Harvest-celebrating God’s Creation. P175
- Darrel Addison P. (1999): Cultural and spiritual values of Biodiversity-UNEP [Oxford centre for the environment, UK]. P183
- Christian Aid (2001): Harvest notes –Poverty. P1-2
- Farm Crisis Network (2010): Resources for the celebration of harvest festival. P4
- Moore Richard H., Stinner Deborah H. et al (1999). Honouring creation and tending the garden: Cultural and spiritual values of Biodiversity-UNEP [Oxford centre for the environment, UK] P305.
- Old Testament (New International version): Deuteronomy 8:7-18