The Forest And Its People: A Story of Dailong Village


3 min read
The Forest And Its People: A Story of Dailong Village

This is a short story of Dailong Village, Tamenglong, Manipur which has been a pioneer village for conservation work in Tamenglong District. The short documentary is an effort to showcase the cultural history of the Rongmei Nagas, and the problems and sacrifices made by the community to start a first ever community reserve forest back in the lates 60’s.

This is a short story of Dailong Village, Tamenglong, Manipur. Dailong has been a pioneer village for conservation work in Tamenglong District. The short documentary is an effort to showcase the cultural history of the Rongmei Nagas, and the problems and sacrifices made by the community to start a first ever community reserve forest back in the late 60s.

Here's the script...

The forest, once upon a time, was above all else. Above any gods and goddesses, it was the source of life, an entity big enough to be made into songs and tales. To the people, the forest became their home, their religion. The forest was their identity. This is the story of the Zeliangrong community, their tradition, and culture bearing the indelible mark of Mother Nature.

Ethnographic research on the culture and tradition of the Zeliangrongs, like any other community, will first bring you to the establishment of a settlement. Somewhere in a new land, a house dedication ceremony takes place with Tingku pau, the traditional priest performing a ritual with materials gathered from the forest. Nkuangbang for prosperity, Hebuibanghabe and Nthabanghabe against any ill omen, Pungring denoting youth. Now it may be fun to call them tall tales but our forefathers did sing songs about how their every single need was met by the forest. Hereu, a wild tuber, denoted bountiful harvest, whereas, Churabua presented the cosmetic needs. If Nsiang's bark was used to disinfect wounds, Nkhuaih and Tegauchi were used to treat skin diseases and mild detergent for washing clothes respectively. It becomes almost easy to imagine young folks dressed in clothes dyed with Nsiang'Kuang and Nkhim, and singing and dancing around Nggabang, the flowers of which denoted the arrival of the hornbills.

The Earth has music for those who listen. And for the Zeliangrongs, where the music came from all things natural, the art followed suit. Interestingly enough, most of the songs, stories, and legends are inspired by the beauty of a flower, bird, or animal. Nature meets art and culture in the form of ingenious musical instruments such as the ox skin Nsum (drum), Ntuai (cymbal) made from metal sourced from the riverside, stringed wooden instrument Nra. As notes escaped the Ntauy, legends got created in verses. Similarly, Zeliangrong handloom also takes big inspiration from the forest. the colors, motifs, patterns, they all were woven stories, stories inspired by nature, and man's relationship with the environment. Find signs of bravery in the m'pakphai, inspired by the tiger.

Tamenglong district in Manipur is home to the Zeliangrong community, a community made up of three different tribes- the Zemes, the Liangmais, and the Rongmeis. Approximately 30 km away from Tamenglong is the unique village of Dailong, one of the oldest villages in the district. Dailong is a classic example of man-nature coexistence. The topography consisted of large rocks or Taodai, that gave the village its name. Now known as Dailong, the village is surrounded by Tharon in the north, Gadaibut Hill in the south, and Longku forest in the east. It is also home to the Rongmei tribe. To the Rongmeis, conserving forests is a way of life. The intimate relationship with the natural environment can be witnessed in the day-to-day lives of the Rongmeis.

The Rongmeis identified their pristine forest as sacred groves, locally known as Raengan. The aim was to try and keep these pristine grounds far from exploitation. The highest ground in the area known as Luangku was identified as a place where no one was allowed to practice jhum cultivation. This concept of community reserved forest which began in the '70s was in continuation of what our forefathers had been doing since time immemorial. Then development was not something people perceived as a threat to the forest. But with time came the threat of expansion, illegal logging, and excessive hunting and poaching, to name a few. It became imperative to save what they called home. The Manipur Government in May 2017 declared Dailong village as a Biodiversity Heritage Site due to the presence of the Indian Wild Orange, the parent species of present-day orange. Its discovery in Luangku came with the hope that the region will receive much-deserved protection and recognition.

We have come a long way from dependency on the forest for survival to the commercialization of the same resources. But little pockets like Dailong continue to exist because of the collective desire to preserve what our forefathers so dearly protected a long time ago. The forest is our cultural heritage. It is in our songs, stories, and art. It is our identity. Losing this heritage is not an option.

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