Mr. Khai Minthang
B. Th Final Year
(This article was contributed to the Trulock Theological Seminary, Students’ Fellowship Magazine, 2002-2003. I was the General Secretary Cum Accountant of the Students’ Fellowship during 2002-2003)
Introduction: The impact of the Gospel in our land (Manipur) has touched every nook and corner of our lives and practices. The impacts can be seen in the Domestic life, Religious life, Socio-Economic, Political life, Social custom, Moral life, Literacy, Self help, etc. We have been changed, almost totally, by the light of the Gospel that has made us forget the cultural heritages that has been passed from time immemorial. We adopted what is called the Western culture and forget the good morality of our history. The fond and golden memories of the past has made our elderly people say, “We maintained moral and social ethics in the Pre-Christianity era more strictly than what the Christians do today. We were better than the Christians.” Indeed, this is a shameful and embarrassing statement that our grandparents and elderly people put before us, and is, no doubt, right. Here, of the many, we are to deal with the Social Hospitality and Etiquette that needs revival.
Hospitality: Our forefathers were hospitable. Nicotine water, produced from smoke of tobacco, was much in use. One have to give it to one’s visitor at any time. It was used with a salutation. Moreover, whenever they meet each other at any place on the journey, they used to offer it. It was a sign of civility. A sip was kept in the moth without swallowing. After a while, when it’s pungent effect was diluted in the mouth, it was spat out. They brought with them in a small guard container called Umta in a small bag because there was no long pain or pocketed pain as such during those times. Only pieces of local hand-spun clothes covering portions of their bodies were used during those days. On the meetings of two chiefs their respective containers were exchanged, and sip from each other’s Umta and returned it.
On a day’s journey one was taken care with utmost hospitality by any household of the village in which they spent the night. There was a beautiful scene of the hospitality shown to a stranger by the Zou family of the past. When a stranger was hosted, the hosts were too good to hi. Hw was warmly welcomed when he asked for permission to stay overnight. They unloaded him and gave him a drink of locally prepared rice beer called Zu as a sign of hospitality. All topics of the discussion were focused on the journey of the guest. In the evening the villagers visited them and discussed with him on related topics. The villagers were aware of the toil of the guest and left them early. Meanwhile, the housewife prepared bed for he guest as comfortably as possible. Sometimes, the coverings used by the family were given to the guest when necessary because the want to host strangers at their best. They did not mind of suffering in the chill of the winter night in place of the strangers. When the guest retired for the night, (Generally, guests retires for the night earlier) the host father and mother discussed for the morning’s lunch. They caught their cock, tied and retired for the night. The father got up at down and prepared the chicken. Mother, children, guest, etc. got up and discussion beside the hearth was started that was followed by morning lunch. Mother prepared lunch called Butun and put in the stranger’s bag and the stranger was dropped up to the outskirt or entrance of the village called Khomual. Finally,, they bid good-bye and good wishes to one another and departed. No one could refuse strangers. Instead, those who received guests were grateful for being in a position to host them,. A traditional saying goes, “We never suffer from starvation because of having hosted guests. I Moreover, they used to say, When we become utterly poor, not to speak of guests, even the footstepss of a dog are not seen in our courtyard.”
In Genesis 18:1-14 we see that Abraham hosted the Lord. He was very hospitable and was too good to them. He brought water and let them washed their feet, and rested under the tree. He offered the best of his calf and prepared a dish before them. In verse 8 we see, “So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them and he stood by them under the tree as they ate.” Lot also hosted the angels of the Lord, In Gen. 19:2-3 we see, “And he said, ‘Here now, my Lords, please turn into your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet then you may raise early and go on your way; And they said, ‘No, but we will spend the night in the open square.’ But he insisted strongly so they turn into him and entered his house. Then he made them a feast, and backed unleavened bread, and they ate.” God warned the Israelites time and again not to despise and neglect strangers because they were once a strangers in the land of Egypt. (Cf. Exo.22:21; Lev.19:32,33; Deu.10:19). We can find ample examples of hospitality in the Bible that will help us find how and why people in the Bible were so hospitable. In the Gospels we see that Jesus said that those who are kind to the poor are kind to him. In Matthew 25:38-40 it says, “And when was it that we saw you as a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and give you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you? And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to the least of those who are members of my family, you did it to me.” The New Testament is also, no doubt, full of hospitality to strangers.
Etiquette: We have quite a number of traditions and etiquette that are comparable to the etiquette of the Bible. The Bible wants and teaches us to live in accordance with the Laws and moral traditions that the people of God followed from time to time in history. The Torah teaches the Israelites to live in accordance with the will of God/YHWH. In Luke 2:52 we find that Jesus increased in divine and human favor,. There is a proverb in our tradition that says, “Obedient children deserves lunch.” Therefore, etiquette in our tradition has been placed in high esteem from time immemorial. Some of he etiquette are listed below:
1. In the matter of eating and drinking, , traditionally, “A she-mithun never drinks before a he-mithun” as the guiding principle and this is the rule. So it is gentlemen first, not ladies first. In eating hands are first washed because food is taken with the hand or with fingers dipping into the dishes.
2. Personal age carries high respect. Even in hunting excursions the leader is the oldest member. To discovery an older person is effrontery. The younger person ought to give the elder preference in shares. They have to vacate their seats in favor of the elders. (Cf. Lev.19:32)
3. In a social event or occasion the words of the chief or leader are obeyed respectfully by everyone.
4 Whenever a night or nights are spent in the jungle for some purpose, boys get up early in the morning before the older ones and kept everything ready. They collect firewood, draw water and cook meals.
5. When visiting neighbor’s homes nobody enters without first being aware of what is inside and then entering with respect. If older persons are inside, they are reluctant, to take a seat. It is practice to shut the door when leaving after a visit.
6. Any grown-up visitor is given a mouthful of nicotine water called Tuibuuh, pipe-smoking, etc. as a sign of hospitality and civility.
7. Whenever a housewife lacks vegetables to cook, it is the practice to go to the neighbor and they have to see that she does not return home empty handed.
8. It is the practice between near kinsmen to give meat curry, whenever available, as a token of love and favor.
9. As a token of gratitude or consent they nod their heads and for disapproval they shake their head. This gesture speaks much.
10. Facial expressions conveys a lot. Lovers reach each other’s feelings by facial expressions.
11. To say to a child, “A demon is behind you” is a widespread way to teasing.
12. When a person is ashamed of what he is told, he says, “How I would like to sink between the nail and the flesh of my finger.”
13. When a person does not believe what is said by other, whey say, “Even when I pinch my ears it does not hurt.”
14. When someone is sent on a certain mission but is afraid of going, they say, “Carry my shin hair and go.” this was a deriding way of speaking of cowardice.
15. When someone wanted to compel obedience in a child he said, “If you do not obey I will beat you.” This is the same as they African saying, “You had better be good or the missionary will catch you,” or “You had better believe or a black man will get you.”
16. Hospitality to strangers or travelers is a duty for the Zous.
17. Politeness in speech and address is highly valued. An older person should be addressed as mother, father, sir, uncle, aunt, as the case may be, even when there is no blood relationship. Younger ones are addressed as dear. To call or address by a personal name is impolite.
These are only a glimpse of the etiquette of the Zou Tribes and many more are not included. If we go for perfection and inclusion of all the etiquette of the said this will cover all the realms of life, categorically – Political etiquette, Social etiquette, Economic etiquette, Religious etiquette, etc. it is also in line with the Bible and is relevant even for the present time. An elaborate study on this will not fit the purpose of this article. It is only a bird-eye view of the many social practices of the past.
Conclusion: Converting to Christianity by leaving all the good and golden heritage of the past will not make us a mature men and women in the borrowing culture of different and distinct people who have no similarities with us. Contextual Theology is the need of the hour. Consequently, we need to revitalize and revive our sense of Social Hospitality and Etiquette, try to localize or contextualize and present to the people so that our people could worship the Living God with a sense of God belonging to us or we belong to God. Unless we can present the Living God or the Good News as seeking His people without cultural barrier, I think, our sense of worshipping the Living God would be so foreign and unfamiliar. Paul was also a man of God who presented the Gospel of the Living God according to the context of the people. (Cf. John 1:1f). I would better conclude this article by saying that this issue is common to all the Tribes of Manipur in general and the Chin-Kuki-Mizo in particular.
Liankhohau, T., Social Cultural Economic and Religious Life of a Transformed Community, Mittal Publication, New Delhi, 1994