The elderly medicine man said, “Kapeileh, you are the one who knows much. We look to you like the moon, the sun and the stars. We don’t know what we would have done without you.”
“Your village and my village have a long relationship. We understand each other perfectly, though we speak different languages now. We came from the same roots. You also know that for a fact.”
“Yes, that’s true. Many of the lyrics of songs, rites and rituals are in your language.”
“I would like to go back to my village now. My work here in this village is completed. I’m looking forward to die and be buried in the land of my forefathers and fathers,” replied the old medicine woman, very weak but her eyes were still piercing.
After the hunting accident, or rather the fight with the spirit tiger, Kadiganglung was nursed back to health by the neighbouring village’s medicine woman. It was a long and slow process. The whole village helped in one way or the other. After initial hesitation, the medicine woman and her granddaughter, Sangailiu had been accepted into the village life. They were treated well. But now it was time to go back to their own village.
The elderly medicine woman did all she could and more for Kadiganglung’s family and the village and they were indebted to her. Not only had she brought back Kadiganglung to full recovery, she also had influenced the villagers to plant more wild herbs and other plants near their houses. The villagers had not practiced this before. They had been going to the forest to collect them.
On the day of their departure, the medicine woman and her granddaughter were given a proper send-off. Kadiganglung’s family invited the village muhs, elders, and their clan’s elders.
“I’ll just have plain rice with vegetables,” said grandmother to Sangailiu.
“Why don’t you want to eat?” asked Sangailiu, in a hushed tone. “They will think you are not pleased with them. They might take it otherwise.”
“Don’t worry about me and what they will think. You eat well. We have a long way to go.”
After all the farewell speeches, the young warriors assembled outside the house. They would escort Sangailiu and her grandmother back to their village. The village muh spoke the blessing rites and the rites for safety. It was risky travelling without the warriors, because travelers were often ambushed.
Kadiganglung also accompanied them till Raengan, the village gate.
He asked Sangailiu, “Will you come back to my family?”
“What do you mean?”
“Will you bring back a mareipan phei for me when you come back?” asked Kadiganglung, with a twinkle in his eyes and a half formed smile on his lips.
Sangailiu looked into his eyes and asked, “What are you trying to say, really?
If you are serious, ask my grandmother and my uncles”.
Kadiganglung handed to her a ball of bright beautiful yellow orchid bark for her.
He knew she loved to use it in her weaves. She took it. A song fluttered in her heart.
Kadiganglung had never thought himself as handsome, but since the accident, he was worried of being rejected, though somehow his face was not marred by the spirit tiger.
He was surprised that Sangailiu would even consider him. Her answer was a surprise to him. Had she not wanted him, she would not have told him to talk to her family.
Sangailiu and her grandmother settled back to their old ways of life. The villagers were more accommodating of them. They often came calling to get medicine for this ailment or that disease. Even the men frequently came for healing.
As time went by, Sangailiu’s grandmother became frailer and frailer. She depended more and more on her granddaughter. One day, a stranger from a far village turned up. The village youths guarding the gate brought him to an elder’s house. On interrogation, he said he was looking for the medicine woman’s house. He said he was in need of her medicine for a fatally injured clan brother.
The villagers were suspicious, but took him to the medicine woman’s house. He was kindly received. When the medicine woman had gone into her kitchen, the stranger followed her in. While she was rummaging her cane basket for the herbs to make the medicines, he quickly put something in her joumuh, wine gourd. The warrior who followed him could not see properly, the room being quite dark. The stranger was too quick with his hands. After taking the medicine from the medicine woman, he left, even without drinking the courtesy drink offered by Sangailiu. He stayed in the main khangchiu for a day and then departed. The youths trailed behind him beyond the village boundary. Like they had suspected, he did not come alone. There were more of them waiting in the forest for him. When they saw the village warriors, they scampered away hastily.
A few days later, Sangailiu’s grandmother fell ill. She suspected, the stranger who had come some days ago must have used doi-raeng, bad magic on her. Gradually, her condition became worse. There was no one in the village who knew more than her to cast out the evil spirit. The muhs performed sacrifices and rites, but could not undo the magic spell.
On lonely afternoons, when it was the most quiet, Sangailiu missed Kadiganglung. She was worried she would be alone after her grandmother died. Would she be like her grandmother- feared, respected yet alone in old age? She was restless and tense, and started to have nightmares. She often got up in the middle of the night sweating and crying, waking her grandmother up.
The orchids were in full bloom. The flowers swayed in the soft breeze. Kadiganglung remembered how much Sangailiu loved the orchid blooms. She could never pass by a bloom without pausing a while to look up at the trees and admire them. The pathways down to one of the water holes were full of orchids, blooming high up on the trees. The path down to the river beyond the village gate too were full of orchids, blooming fiercely. It was so yellow, shining brightly against the blue of the sky. Most of the fields too were ready to be harvested. The fields were golden, like the bark of the orchid. The young people in love had so much to look forward to.
As the days went by, Kadiganglung was growing more and more reserved and quiet. Noticing his growing sadness and loneliness, his elder clan brother asked him what was wrong. On learning about his wish, he talked to his grand aunt. Then, after she confirmed about it from Kadiganglung himself, she had a word with his parents about their son’s wish to marry Sangailiu.
One day, Kadiganglung’s family gathered together to decide on how to approach Sangailiu’s family. In the meanwhile, they got to learn about the sickness of Sangailiu’s grandmother.
“We better send word to her family soon, before anything happens to her grandmother,” said one aunt.
“Who all will go for the choloi puanlou mei?”
“I’ll tell one of Kadiganglung’s maternal uncle and also one of their elders” said the uncle who was the unofficial spokesperson for the family in any matter.
Then they prepared some food and rice wine to be taken to them.
One crisp morning, the party set out to Sangailiu’s village. They returned after a few days with good news. Now that the first step was completed, Kadiganglung’s family would just have to wait for word to come from Sangailiu’s family. Some weeks passed, and Sangailiu’s family sent back word that they were willing to talk to them.
Kadiganlung and his elders and aunts went to Sangailiu’s village. They reached the village and stayed with a fellow clansman’s house, as was the custom. The important day came. Kadiganglung was anxious. If any of the spoke persons showed any signs of ego, the conversations could turn sour and the marriage proposal proceeding could terminate abruptly.
The main marriage proposal day dawned bright and sunny and the group from Kadiganglung’s family started out early for one of Sangailiu’s uncle’s house, where the event would take place. They brought with them a pig, food, drinks and all other things required for the proposal meal.
The two families gathered and after all the small talks had been done and the rice wine had been tasted, an elder from Kadiganglung’s family rose up and said, “Well, you know why we are here. We have come to ask a favour from your family. We have a long history of helping each other village in times of difficulty and war. We say thank you for allowing Sangailiu and her grandmother to come to our village and save the life of Kadiganglung. I ask the older uncle of Kadiganglung to state the purpose of our visit,” so saying, he sat down.
So, the oldest uncle stood up and said, “We are indebted to the clan and the village. It is said that relatives run longer than the winding river. It is good to make relatives by marriage and be intertwined tightly like vines. We have looked far, wide, and sharply like the eagle surveying from the topmost branch of a tree and have found your daughter. We have come to humbly ask you to give her hand in marriage to Kadiganglung.”
“Our daughter is just a girl. She does not know how to work properly even her waist looms, or any of the domestic work. She won’t know how to live in your family. It is known that your family is big and a charuang koi, a family who receives a lot of guests due to public engagements.”
“We are honoured. We will take her in as one of our own daughters and care for her as such, if you would consent to our marriage proposal,” replied the main nouthan-pou, the main spokesperson.
The grandmother then spoke: “You use her well. But let her waist not become as thin as the pounding pestle. She will leave her entrails behind on this doorstep the day she steps out from here to be your kaipui, mother of the house. If you use her well, she will bring blessings to your hearth. If you misuse her, she will wilt away. It is up to you. I’m saying all these things now because I don’t have much time. I’ll not live to see her going down the raengan steps, disappearing into the trails to go to her husband’s village to make it her home.”
Hearing her grandmother say that, Sangailiu cried softly in gratitude and love for her grandmother. Her grandmother has always been courageous and wise beyond her time. She and her aunts and some cousins were sitting in the other room and listening in. “Only your grandmother could say something like that. It is very difficult for younger women to say such things in front of the elders. It is good they have heard that, even though their family treat their women well. It is for such times that it’s good to have grey hair in the family,” said an aunt. This aunt had suffered a good deal in her life. She had given birth to still-born babies and some of her husband’s family did not treat her kindly. What she said arose out of deepening despair.
Time went on and things at the grandmother’s house got gloomier by the day. The doi was potent. Sangailiu’s grandmother had almost stopped talking and ate less and less, till she could only have light herbal soups. While she was able to speak, she told her not to mourn after she had gone. Many of the village women brought her fruits and vegetables, but were left uneaten. Many hunters brought for her choicest parts of the meat. A clan cousin came and stayed with Sangailiu to help look after her grandmother. Then when things got bleaker, the men of the village came to her house in turns to stay up nights, giving support.
On the day and night previous to Sangailiu’s grandmother’s death, it rained and rained. Dark clouds covered the village the whole day. Lightning and thunder cracked up the sky like never before. The wind blew the whole night. The night was impenetrably dark. Sangailiu could not sleep. She stoked the fire and sat near her grandmother’s bed the whole night, refusing to let go of her hand. The crackling of heavens went on till the wee hours of the morning. But the next day, the morning ushered in the sun. The day was warm and rosy. It was bright and clear. The rich blue of the sky was a sight to behold. Sangailiu was grateful to all the spirits for this beautiful day. Her grandmother passed away peacefully when the sun warmed the wet ferns and heavy petals.
All her grandmother’s near and distant relatives were screaming and crying, stamping their feet on the ground and swathing the air with their shawls, broken. They cried over the dead body of Sangailiu’s grandmother. Some of them were mourning, “Lung guang dat ro, lung guang dat ro. Be born again, come back to us in the future”. One of the elderly aunts put a mark on her grandmother’s right side upper arm with charcoal soot. The people usually do this only to people they greatly loved or respect. Sangailiu’s grandmother was greatly respected.
Strangely, Sangailiu was filled with a calmness she had not expected. Her heart was not as heavy. She knew that her grandmother knew such might be her fate. It was not possible for a woman to go to all the villages for healing. Also, the village she had declined to go to for healing had a dark spirit. She did not want anything to do with it.
The funeral went well. It was not as elaborate as that of a male elder, but the villagers paid their homage to this once misunderstood woman.
It was a good season for marriages. Autumn in that part of the world was not harsh. Cold winds blew only during the mornings and nights. Afternoons were pleasant. Everyone soaked up the warm and bright sunshine, even the plants and animals. Most of the harvests had already been done and the village folks could relax. Every wild flower bloomed, attracting bees. Vegetable plants thrived. The flowers bright and beautiful. The fluffy white clouds were in no hurry to go anywhere. The village boys were out with their catapults, hunting little birds. If they got the Verditer Flycatcher, they would take its beautiful blue feathers and gift them to their adult cousins to be used as ear pieces. But the boys especially loved the Silver-eared Mesia for its colorfulness.
There were a lot of activities going on in Kadiganglung’s house. Everyone in the village was helping out the family for the wedding. A huge heap of thatch, straw and cow dung lay at the front yard of the house. A new room was being made, and preparations had been made for his two big brothers’ families to move out to their new house, once the wedding was over. Up until now they all had been living together. The smell of meat curry being cooked mixed with that of the freshly cut bamboos floated everywhere, without any restraint. Everybody in the village was looking forward to the marriage. The young male youths of the different khangchius were raring to go for the ritualistic mithun chase in the jungle.
Different kinds of activities were going on in Sangailiu’s house too. Her distant cousins came and worked on their waist looms, making shawls and clothes for Sangailiu to take to her husband’s family. She herself made the mareipan shawl, which was for her husband-to-be. The mareipan shawl is brought by every bride for their husbands. The other shawls meant for the other male and female relatives were made by her friends. They teased her, “You’ll never again need to sport a bang,” said one friend and they laughed. “You’ll never again need that ball of orchid barks for yourself,” teased another, trying to snatch it from her basket.
On the day she left the village with the party that came to fetch her from Kadiganglung’s family, some of her friends cried their hearts out. They might never see her again. But Sangailiu was looking forward to a new chapter in her life. As they travelled, she smelled the forest, the damp smell mixed with the flowers’ perfumes.
Note. Choloi Puanlou Mei = One of the initial steps in proposing marriage in the Zeliangrong Inpui communities’ traditions. The boy’s family will come to the girl’s house with rice wine and food. All who came to be a part of the marriage proposal will partake of the food and drink offered.