Succinct Assessment on the Significance of Rih-ngai festival


Dr. Oinam Ranjit Singh, Dr. Kamei Budha Kabui

Associate Professor, Department of History, Bodoland University, Manipur University of Culture

*Corresponding Author Email:



The Kabui celebrate Rih-ngai, war festival on the 13th day of Manipuri lunar month Phairen (February) for one day every year. The practice of head hunting was gone. But, it is preserved in the form of narrative. The male members of Khangchu, male’s dormitory perform the war rituals like Ritaak Phaimei, Kabaomei, Chong Kapmei etc. at the village gate to preserve and promote the rich culture and tradition of the people. The young men learn the tradition of their forefathers. Dance and music are part and parcel in the celebration of the festival. Kabui Naga dance is famous in the country. The data are based on available primary and secondary sources.


KEYWORDS: Rih-ngai, Manipur, Kabui, Chong Kapmei, Dance.




The Kabui1 are one of the natives of Manipur belonging to the Tibeto-Burman family of the Mongoloid racial stock. Tradition says, the Kabui ancestors originated from a cave known as Mahou Taobei; they moved to Makhel and to Ramting Kabin, and then to Makuilongdi, Senapati District of Manipur. From Makuilongdi, they migrated to the South; other cognate tribes like Zeme to the West and Liangmai to the North. On the basis of traditions and linguistic history, it has been identified that the original homeland of the Kabui and other ethnic groups of Tibeto-Burman family was in South West China. As the Kabui are “Tibeto-Burman, they must have lived with other groups of the same family in South West China about 1000 B.C and migrated to their present habitat (Northeast)2 through various routes in batches and at different periods. Now, they are found inhabiting in three states of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland.






The study has adopted ethno-historical approach. The data are based on available primary and secondary sources and also on information collected from selected well-informed informants of the Kabui community.


Culture can be preserved when the religion of the community survives. Culture is a vehicle of religion. Culture and religion are inseparable in Kabui indigenous religion known as Tingkao Ragwang Chapriak (TRC). Cultural festivals are times of “worship and prayer to Almighty God for plenty and welfare and celebration for them3”. The social and cultural values, the aesthetic and creative senses are expressed in the festival through dances, songs and music. In a year, the Kabui celebrate nine festivals at different stages of agricultural operations according to lunar calendar with festive spirit and prayer.


Heralding of the Rih-ngai festival:

A few days before the Rih-ngai festival, every household of the village prepare all the requirements such as food and drink (rice beer) for the festival. Usually, a formal announcement is made by an elder of Pei (village council) that on the coming 13th day of Phairen the festival will perform and prepare the drink.



Time of celebration:

Allesandro Falassi says, festival is “ …a periodically recurrent, social occasion in which, through a multiplicity of forms and a series of coordinated events, all members of a whole community, participate directly or indirectly and to various degrees, united by ethnic, linguistic, religious, historical bonds, and a sharing a worldview4.” Festivals are considered safety valves for the society.


Festivals are observed under different names, but their functions are essentially the same. They unite people in a common exercise, thus strengthening the bonds between the participants. Ritual of the festival is meant to ensure the prosperity and safety of the ethnic group. Although some festivals are celebrated primarily for worship and ritual, they are also a relief from daily toil and a major source of recreation for a large portion of the world.  The chief and most general function of the festival is to renounce and then to announce culture, to renew periodically the life stream of a community by creating new energy, and to give sanction to its institutions, the symbolic means to achieve it is to present the primordial chaos before creation, or a historical disorder before the establishment of the culture, society, or regime where the festival happens to take place5.


Rih-ngai literally means war festival; here, Rih means war; ngai, festivity6. This festival is observed in commemoration of war and victory7. Rih- ngai is celebrated on the 13th day of Manipuri lunar month Phairen (which falls in February) for one day every year. 



Rih-ngai festival opens with a ritual called Gucheng Phaimei, ginger offering at the abode of village presiding deity (Bambu) not to occur any untoward incidents in the festival8. With this they renounce the usual and daily function, and turn to the festival; it is observed only within the parameter of the village. The opening rite is followed by a number of rituals. There are rites of purification and cleansing by means of fire, water (Maithan Duithan Lamei) or expulsion of some sort of evil and negative out of the village community.


Only male members of the village perform the activities of the festival and female members are mere spectators. On the eve of the festival every male member of the Khangchiu, male’s dormitory observes Lumthengmei, fasting for the purification of one’s body, soul and mind, thereby making oneself fortunate and for every challenges of life say ready for war, hunting, fishing, cultivation etc9. In the festival, men do not touch women and also fetch water separately. According to R. Brown, “The reason for the males and females bringing water separately during this festival is to begin with this ceremony the making of liquor; and the separate eating and cooking of the sexes to be a mark of respect to their gods10.” The men kill pigs, take a portion for them and give a portion to women. They cooked them separately with new fire (Mhaithan) and eat separately11. It is similar to the first day of Gaan-ngai festival, but there is no feasting or communal meal at the dormitory. In the festival, the elderly men of different clans perform Kabaomei (warrior talks), Ritak Phaimei (throwing of rice, and pork meat at the village gate with war hymns), etc12.


Hoi procession:

In the afternoon of Rih-ngai festival, every male of Khangchiu wearing the best colorful varied shawls meant for their age, headgear and holding spears in their hands will march from one end of the village to another chanting Ho-hoi in chorus. It is an invocation to God for safety and wellbeing of the village community. It also expresses the strength and unity of the village. It starts from the Khangchiu after libation of holy wine to God and presiding deities of the village13.


Games and Sports:

Usually, festival includes rites of competition, which often constitute in the form of games. After the Hoi procession, competitions like long jump (Daan Chammei), stone throwing (Tao Phaimei) etc. are held at the village jumping ground (Daanshanpung) for wellbeing and prosperity. It is first introduced by an elder of Pei with a sort of religious hymns. In these competitions, young men of the dormitory fully take part. The winners are not given prizes, but they are required to pay Shon (fees) for declaring and acknowledging their power and ability. Before the competition, they perform the Chong Kapmei (shooting of or spearing of the human effigies made of the plantain tree) at the Raang (village gate)14. It is believed that one who hits the head of the effigy will be successful in war and hitting on the chest of the effigy is a good luck in hunting. He who strikes at the belly of the effigy will be blessed with bountiful harvest in the year15.


Cultural Activities:

Dance (Laam):

Dance and music associate with the festival of the Kabui.  According to Curt Sachs16, “Dancing is not an invention of man, since birds and monkeys dance.” The Kabui dances have a divine origin according to their myth and legend. One myth tells that two Gods namely Gomtu and Gomning taught men how to dance but ordinary men could not follow them. So, two persons called Kungda and Senshui learnt the dance forms from them and later, taught others how to dance. According to another myth, the origin of dance traces from the big ritual sacrifice of Mhung, the prophet, lawgiver and culture hero known as Mhung Jourumei. All the living creatures who “fly, walk and creep” did attend this sacrifice and performed their respective dances and men who were witnessed these dance forms imitated these creatures movement and adopted their dances. Through the centuries, the Kabui have almost perfected the various forms of dancing. The purpose of dance is to express an emotion or idea to narrate a story or simply to take delight of the movement itself. Besides, dance is an art which has spiritual message, its beauty and spiritualism are clearly revealed in the Maku Banlu and Taraang dances.17 The Kabui dances may be categorized into ritual dance and festival dance.


Dance techniques:

There are four dance techniques developed by the people. They are Makhom Laam which is originated from Makhom village (Marangjing), Dinglen, standing in rows, Phaicheng Laam, dance movement from left to right feet and Pheigoumei  Laam, waving dance of cloths by standing. In the Makhom Laam, the dancers involve the movement of only the hands and feet but not the face. The art of facial expression is altogether absent in these dance forms.


In the evening of Rih-ngai festival, the boys and girls of the dormitories in colorful traditional attire perform various dance forms. The Kabui dances are lively and vigorous and not monotonous to the audience.


The dances performed in the festival are known as Chapa Laam. Dances like Laophun, Laoreo, Laotai, Laodi Laam etc. demonstrate the movement of hands depicting the seed sowing, weeding, cutting of paddy plants, and harvest. These dances reflect the economic way of life of the people. Rih Laam, war dance is performed by male members dividing into two groups; they dance with spear or dao in the form of attack and retreat. Man learns from nature the form of dancing based on the movements of birds, animals and insects. Dances of imitation of animals and insects are Gaa Laam, crab dance, Khoiguna Laam, bee mating dance, Raangdai Laam, hornbill dance, Goichei Bang Laam, the dance of movement of the horn of the bull, Tareng Laam, spinning dance etc. Some of the imitative dances represent the activities of women in domestic chores like spinning and so they are mimetic.18 Seemna Laam, fly dance is imitative of driving away of flies by swing of a piece of cloth. Raangdai Laam is a dance in imitation of a mother hornbill which constantly does fly round her nest and tries to persuade the young ones to come out flying like her. The Kabui dances are always accompanied by songs attuned to instrumental music mostly of drum, cymbal, and sometimes gongs. All the dances are performed in group and there is no solo dance. The Kabui dance shows the close relation between dance and religion, dance and art and dance and social life. The artistic appeal of the Kabui dance form is known to the outsiders not only for its tranquil grace, its pliancy and plasticity, its ease and flow of movements but also for its very unique and festinating costume.19 Here, it may be mentioned that Kabui Naga dance is one of the contributions of Manipur culture to Indian culture.


Folk song (Lu):

The folk songs form the essence of the Kabui culture. Their songs express their love, their hardship, hope, frustration, victory etc. Festival songs are also known as Chapa Lu. In the festival, singing of song competition between girls and boys is performed at Luchu at the night time and no song will be repeated by any singer. On the other hand some boys will go around the village singing songs in praise of the might and courage of the people of the village. The participants are entertained with drink by individual families. This is called Kairong Lonmei (guarding the village).20


At the close of the festival, all the young men of the village will march to the Northern village gate with bamboo cups which they used for drinking purpose. And the cup will be split in the middle at one stroke with dao and taken the omen. If one half of the cup turns open and other half turns closed the omen is taken as good. If both the halves turn open or closed simultaneously, the omen is taken as bad. This rite marks the end of the festive activities and the return to the normal spatial and temporal dimensions of daily life.



Hoi procession



To conclude, in the distant past, inter-village war was a common occurrence among the hill tribes of Manipur. The male members/warriors of the village at the cost of their lives defended the village from enemy’s attacks.  The practice of head hunting was gone. However, it is preserved in the form of narrative. The war rituals continue without the violence in the Rih-ngai festival for prosperity, strength and victory.  It protects and promotes the rich culture and traditions of the people. Young members also have the opportunity to learn the historic culture, social ethics and ancestor’s wisdom through the process of the festival. Kabui Naga dance has brought a great name in the State. Festival serves as a reunion of family members, relatives, and friends. By participating in the festival, people settle disputes and misunderstandings.



1.     The Kabui is also known by the name Rongmei, meaning people of the south or southerner.

2.     Kamei, Gangmumei.2004. Ethnicity and Social Change: An Anthology of Essays. Imphal. p. 24.

3.     Jacobs, Julian.1990. The Nagas: Society, Culture and Colonial Encounter.  London: Themes and Hudson. p. 86.

4.     Falassi, Alessandra. 1987. Festival: Definition and Morphology in Time out Time: Essays on the Festival. Albuguergune: University of New Mexico Press.

5.     Ibid.

6.     Khum-Ngai Lon Akhatni Kasoi Kadam. 2003. Published by Thalon Nam. Imphal. p. 3.

7.     Kamson, Chaoba. 2015. The Zeliangrong Social System & Culture. Imphal: Ashangba Communication. p. 118.

8.     Ibid. p. 119.

9.     Lungchuirei, G.T. 1990-91. Khum-Ngai Lam Khatni Kalu-Kalat (Tradition & Cultural Songs).  Imphal.  p.2; Chaoba Kamson. 2009. Rah Pari. Imphal. p. 247.

10.   Brown, R. 2001. Statistical Account of Manipur. New Delhi: Mittal Publications. p. 29.

11.   Hudson, T.C. 1996. The Naga Tribes of Manipur. Delhi: Low Price Publications. p. 171.

12.   Pongringlong Kailong Chapriak. 1999-2000. Vol-1, Imphal. pp. 16-17.

13.   Kabui, Kamei Budha. 2016. Village Administration Among the Kabui: A Comparative Study with other Naga and Kuki Tribes. Delhi: AKansha Publishing House. p. 107.

14.   Kahmei, N. 1995. The Zeliangrong Nagas in N. Sanajaoba (ed.) Manipur: Past and Present. Vol-III, New Delhi: Mittal Publications. pp. 415-416.

15.   Brown, R. op.cit. p. 28; Gangmei, Thuanleng. 1995. Shifting Cultivation- A Way of life of the Zeliangrongs in Souvenir on North East Zeliangrong Naga Festival Cum-Seminar. Imphal. 9-12 December. p. 97.

16.   Sachs, Curt. The symbolism of Dancing in Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song society. Vol. 2, International Festival Number (1935). pp. 30-33.

17.   Kamei, Gangmumei. 2004. The History of Zeliangrong Nagas From Makhel to Rani Gaidinliu. Delhi: Spectrum Publications. p. 243.

18.   Kamei, Gangmumei. 2017.  The Tribal Dances of Manipur in Manipur Today Special Issue, Vol. XXXVIII No.1, Republic Day 26th January, Deptt. of Information & Public Relations, Govt. of Manipur. p. 66.

19.   Ibid.

20.   Kamson, Chaoba. 2015. op.cit. p. 101.





Received on 02.02.2019       Modified on 28.02.2019

Accepted on 08.03.2019      ©AandV Publications All right reserved

Res.  J. Humanities and Social Sciences. 2019; 10(1): 223-226.

DOI: 10.5958/2321-5828.2019.00040.8