Realizing the metaphors of Christ in the traditional Kuki culture
By Kaigoulen Kipgen
Jesus Christ, who lived historically in the early 1st century AD, was symbolized or prefigured variously in the Old Testament books of the Bible. A person like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Aaron, David, Jonah, etc; animals like Lamb and dove; and things like Noah’s Ark, Temple, etc portrayed the pictures of Jesus Christ’s personality and activities. In the same manner, when we read the history of the primal Kuki people, there are many figurative symbols of Jesus Christ who could be seen in relation to their own culture – socially, religiously and politically.
However, these symbolic figures of Christ were ignored since the very inception of Christianity by the Western Missionaries who brought gospel, Christianity and Bible to the Kuki people. Indeed, they themselves ignorantly disregard the pictures of Christ in their culture. It has been a century that they are being Christian, but developing Christology in their own primal religion is still new to them. Unveiling this hidden truth among the Kuki Christians is an urgent need.
In this short survey, I will be noting just a glimpse of Christ in the culture of the Kuki people, and everything related to will not be described.
In relation to the primal Kuki religion, Christ can be symbolized mainly in three areas – in Thiempu and his role, Indoi and its functions, and Ahkang.
Thiempu – mediator and doctor of the village
Reading the New Testament Bible, Christ is described as the mediator between human being and God. Christ became the bridge that joined the lost fellowship of man with God (which was broken by disobedient Adam) when He made a sacrifice of Himself in the cross of Calvary. He healed the spiritual sickness or impotence of all human beings. Besides, He was also known as the doctor of doctors, for He healed many those who were physically paralyzed or sick. In short, He was the mediator as well as the doctor to all humankind.
Similar to Christ in the Bible, the primal Kuki people had Thiempu who was both a mediator as well as a doctor for the whole village. The term Thiempu literally means ‘expert man’ and it conveys the idea of a man understanding both tangible things as well as magical things that are unexplainable with natural reasons. Sometimes, he is also known as Doikung pu – magician. In a traditional Kuki village, there can be only one thiempu who can and need to consult all the sickness of both within and without. He treated the within sicknesses or diseases with lou le ai, but the sicknesses that come from without he treated with a pleasing sacrifice to whom (the spirit) that caused sickness to a person. Hence, thiempu was unseen or metaphoric Christ in the primal Kuki religion.
Some of the similarities and differences are noted in the following
- Both Christ and Thiempu played a similar role of mediator as well as doctor.
- Both of them are liberating the people. While Christ liberated humankinds from the bondage of sin and the fear of eternal death, thiempu served and saved villagers from dangers and harms from any harms.
- Christ service was for all humankinds and worldwide while thiempu was confined mostly to a village.
- Christ was everlasting mediator while thiempu was just for his lifetime or even limited time.
Indoi – the signification of God’s presence and blessing
The gospel of John 1: 14 says “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (KJV). No man had seen God, but Jesus Christ reveal who He is, because He is God and dwelt among mankind. The presence of incarnated Christ became a great blessing that humankind could regain the fellowship with divine which was lost at Eden. The other name of Jesus, Immanuel means ‘the Lord is with us’ which signifies the presence of God with mankind in Jesus.
That similar figure of Christ is seen in the centre of primal Kuki religion, which is Indoi. It literally means ‘house magic’ or ‘witchcraft’, and is the name given to the deity of individual household. The mythological understanding of Indoi’s origin was also presumed to be the source where the recipients could gain a blessing beyond individual’s effort after instituting Indoi in their house respectively.
Some of the similarities and discrepancy between Jesus Christ and Indoi
- As Christ was the Immanuel of God to all mankind, Indoi was the Immanuel of a household of traditional Kuki family.
- Christ was born supernaturally with the overshadowed of holy spirit to a virgin Mary, while Indoi was supernaturally endowed through visionary dream.
- Both Christ and Indoi become the means of blessing to the people or individuals.
Ahkang – atonement
The sin of Adam and Eve that affect the whole race need atonement with blood. Therefore, God killed (shed blood) animal and covers the shame of Adam and Eve which signifies the every sins of mankind need to be atone with shedding a blood of an animal. Making atonement with shedding the blood was practiced throughout the history of Israel unless they were captivated. But those sacrifices remembered them their sins again and again which required a perfect sacrifice of blameless one. Therefore, Jesus was sacrificed, atone and take away the sins of the whole world, and the Bible says that sacrifice was complete as well as perfect which required no more atonement for sins.
Likewise, the traditional Kuki people usually sacrifice rooster particularly white one for making atonement to the one whom they owe of pleasing mostly the spirit that cause trouble to a person. This is called Ahkang Kithoi. This sacrifice was done by the village priest (Thiempu) with the incantation of plea when mischievous things befall to a person or even to a community. I was told that this was the only means to please the jealous and mischievous spirits.
Resemblance and distinctions of Christ and Ahkang
- Both are sacrifices to please or meet the requirement of the object (God in Christ, evil spirit in Kuki religion).
- While Christ’s sacrifice was to meet the justice and righteousness of God, the traditional sacrifice made by thiempu was to please covetousness spirits that befall bad upon the people.
- Christ’s sacrifice was everlasting and once for all. However, the thiempu sacrifice was for an occasion/situation, and it required again and again.
As there were significant figures of Christ in the primal Kuki religion, there are also considerable metaphors in the social life of ancient Kuki people. Some of those meticulous symbols are described in the following.
Sawm and Lawm activities – unity and community
The body of Christ is the church, which emphasizes the unity of all believers in ages inspite of their differences in races, colors, clans, classes, etc. 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 2:16, 4:4 describe that without any distinction, all believers are one in Christ in their baptism. Participation in the Lord supper is the illustration of the oneness of the church as Christ’s body (1 Cor. 10:17). The church, as one body in Christ functions to serve and build each other.
Such symbolic activities and figures could also be derived from traditional Kuki Shom and Lawm. In Shom and Lawm, the youngsters labored together and both served as the centre of education for every sphere of disciplines – such as customary laws, cultivations, warfare, jobs, helping the needy, etc. Indeed, both Shom and Lawm mean to unite and communicate the youths in the village.
Similarities and differences of Christ with Shom and Lawm activities
a. As the body of Christ – Church is subjected to her head (Christ), and the Shom and Lawm members are obedient to the U-pa who is their model.
b. As the body of Christ – Church functions to help the needy among the congregation, and members of both Shom and Lawm function to serve together and also help the poor and needy, especially the widows and orphans.
c. Both Christ’s body – Church, and Shom as well as Lawm function as a sphere of instant and constant fellowship.
U-pa (of Shom and Lawm)
Jesus Christ taught His disciples or the apostles for every sphere of disciplines, like bravery, patience, courage, etc, in theory as well as in practice. The spirit of Christ is self-denial, unconditional love and care, and even being patient until death. Such a comparative figures of attitudes were found with the U-pa of Lawm or Shom. U-pa, for his Shom or Lawm members, he is a leader, dynamic master for defense and at war, and a unique teacher to sustain their traditional identity.
Similarities and differences of Christ and U-pa (of Lawm and Shom)
- As Christ is the head of the Church, there is U-pa as head in both Shom and Lawm respectively in whom all the members belong.
- Jesus Christ taught His disciples and people to live a life of the kingdom of God among them as a communitarian society, while U-pa taught his members to live a godly and moral life for the good of each other.
- Indeed, both Jesus being Rabbi and U-pa being a master lived and shown an exemplary life to their people.
- Jesus Christ as the savior from sin, conquered the evil spirits, became an entrance to heaven. Similarly, the role of U-pa in teaching and leading his people restrain evilly from society and mold them to live heavenly life of traditional culture which result in obedience to their customs.
- As Christ is masterminded to His body – Church, the U-pa is masterminded to lead and educate its members.
- However, the U-pa (in the Shom or Lawm) had his own limitations while Christ is a perfect model.
In historical and political aspect, Christ can be symbolized in both the characteristics of U’pa and Chief. Those figures are noted briefly in the following.
U’pa (kuon’na pa) – the head, source or origin
The New Testament Bible describes that Jesus Christ as the source of everything, the source of all life, salvation, powers, kingdoms, etc (cf. John 1:1-3; Col 1:15-17). In such a way, there can be no Kuki without U’pa. The generation and genealogy of the Kuki people is described from and through him since he is the head of the clan and as his entire kinship live under him. Being the head and the source of the clan, he is given Sating as a tribute and respect by his Naupas (younger brothers or kinship).
Similarities and dissimilarity of Christ and U’pa
- Christ is the source of all creations, while U’pa is the source of the clans or family.
- Christ as the source and savior of mankind receive glory and honor by sitting at the right hand of God, while U’pa receives a tribute and respect as a progenitor by his natal and biological kinship.
Chief – Ruler and shepherd
According to the gospel of John (in John 10:1ff) Jesus Christ Himself claimed to be the chief and good shepherd. The activities of shepherd are to build a proper shelter for the sheep in order to prevent them from stealing and harming. The good shepherd stands ready to sacrifice his total self for the sake of his sheep. King David noted that he was a sheep led by a shepherd (Lord) who laid him comfortably and protected from any harms as well as provided all his needs. Jesus Christ indeed was the good shepherd that He even laid His life for the sake of His people in order to save. He also provides their need and perfectly secure them from harm and lost (cf. John 10:28).
On the other hand, the traditional Kuki village chief was also a significant shepherd of the villagers. He built a village in a suitable place where there was sufficient water for drinking, enough fertilized land for cultivations, good and greenly region for domestic animals so that his people (villagers) comfortably lived. He is the king (ruler and owner) over his village. Hence, the traditional Kuki chief protected his people from harmful activities and at the same time managed the sources of their livelihood. One historic example is the Anglo-Kuki War from 1917-1919 where the chiefs of Kuki villages united and fought against the British forces in order to protect their land and people until they were captured.
Comparison and variation of Christ with Chief
- Both Jesus Christ and the Kuki chief are portrayed as the king over their people, though the sphere of Jesus’ kingdom is universal while the Kuki chief is confined to his own land.
- Both Jesus Christ and the chief are good shepherds in taking care of their flocks by providing their needs, securing them from any harms, and love them.
- While Jesus Christ laid His life for His people and delivered them from the bondage of sin and fear of death, the Kuki chiefs also laid their lives for the future good of their own people.
- The Kuki chiefs have their own limitations and shortcomings to save their land, people and liberate them; but Lord Jesus Christ successfully saved His people from spiritual death, gave them full liberation and also assured them of future eternal hope.
The writer of Hebrews denoted that God in ages in different manners spoke to our forefathers (cf. Hebrews 1:1). The spirit of God had moved to figure out what the Lord wants for us (Kukis) in different ways so that we may draw near to Him. However, due to misunderstanding and misinterpretation of God’s gospel for all humanity, all identical figures of God’s revelation to the Kukis are unrealized.
There are so many things about God’s relationship with His people (Kukis) in different ways yet to be perceived. It may not be wise to say, but it is a fact that many cultural values are being immersed to be forgotten due to lack of the knowledge of God’s will for every culture on earth.
The reason why the Kuki people themselves undermine or neglect their cultural values and identity is due to the implementation of a Westernized Christian culture by the foremost missionaries in their hearts. As for now, the Kuki Christian theologians or biblical scholars need a new illumination to rediscover and revolutionize their culture into what God has meant for them to His glory.
 ‘Within’ conveys diseases that are natural, like cough, cold, dysentery, fevers, etc. while ‘without’ conveys the sicknesses which are caused by spirits. Inn nat or Gam nat are another local term used for the second kind of sicknesses.
 This is a local dialect for medicine and this may be handy made of herbs and ingredients.
 Ahkang Kithoi literally means ‘atonement or pleasing incantation made with white rooster’ for the sick person so they may relieve.
 Shom was a social as well as political organization in the traditional village among the boys without any discrimination of the rich and poor or strong and weak, etc.
 Lawm is a corporation for social labor and education among the youths, consisting of both boys and damsels.
 The term U’pa can mean three types of people: 1) head of the family; 2) head of the clan; 3) elder brother. Here it refers to head of the clan who is also the eldest among his natal kinship or eldest son.
 The spiral part of an animal is called Sating.
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The writer is a Master of Christian Theology student at CAATS, Tamil Nadu and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.