Chin State re­vives Khuado fes­tiv­i­ties

The Myanmar Times - - News - EI EI THU eiei­thu@mm­times.com

A JOY­OUS com­bi­na­tion of har­vest thanks­giv­ing and New Year cel­e­bra­tion, the Khuado fes­ti­val is mak­ing a come­back in Chin State af­ter a quar­ter of a cen­tury. Sa­cred to eth­nic Zomi, the fes­ti­val was cel­e­brated on Oc­to­ber 14-15 in Tid­dim town­ship af­ter the crops were gath­ered in.

The Chin State govern­ment, which or­gan­ised the fes­ti­val in Lailo vil­lage on Oc­to­ber 14 and at Kan Haught Sta­dium in Tid­dim the next day, hopes it will prove a tourist draw.

It was last held at the state level in 1991, but suf­fered decades of ne­glect un­der the mil­i­tary regime.

In the Khuado fes­ti­val, “Khua” rep­re­sents the lord of the earth, who holds sway over all spir­its, good and evil, and “do” means both to host and to fight. Mer­ry­mak­ers host the lord of the earth by per­form­ing sac­ri­fices to se­cure his bless­ings for the com­ing year and pre­par­ing a grand feast with the first fruits of their year-long toil.

Once a five-day fes­ti­val, Khuado now lasts three days depend­ing on the vil­lage. On the first day, as rel­a­tives gather, the men repair the roads. Emis­saries are sent to in­vite the dead to par­tic­i­pate, and all par­take of the tra­di­tional al­co­holic rice drink khaung yay and dance to tra­di­tional songs at night.

The next day, vil­lagers armed with sticks unite un­der the di­rec­tion of a medium to drive evil spir­its away from the vil­lage. In the morn­ing, they slaugh­ter pigs, goats, and cows for the women to cook, set­ting aside the in­ter­nal or­gans for older peo­ple and as of­fer­ings for the de­ceased.

The medium also pre­dicts the state of next year’s cul­ti­va­tion by ex­am­in­ing the smoke from the camp­fires.

As a mark of re­spect for the Chin State min­is­ters at­tend­ing, some par­tic­i­pants fired off tra­di­tional flint­lock ri­fles.

On the last day of fes­tiv­i­ties, no­body is al­lowed to leave the vil­lage as rit­u­als are con­ducted with farm an­i­mals, in the be­lief that wasps will pro­tect their bod­ies from flies af­ter they die. For­ti­fied with sips of khaung yay, the pri­est chants and prays as he in­ter­prets the wasp-comb and its im­pli­ca­tions for the com­ing year. This is the sig­nal for more sing­ing and danc­ing un­til late in the night, or un­til the khaung yay runs out.

“This fes­ti­val is mainly in­tended to pre­serve Zomi tra­di­tional cul­ture as well as to pro­mote tourism. We re­duced it by two days be­cause of bud­getary and trans­porta­tion dif­fi­cul­ties,” Chin State de­vel­op­ment min­is­ter Isaac Khen told The Myan­mar Times.

Lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional tour com­pany rep­re­sen­ta­tives were in­vited to the cur­tailed fes­ti­val at Lailo vil­lage, which has been des­ig­nated as a cen­tre for com­mu­nity-based tourism by the state govern­ment.

Re­ac­tions were mixed. “I’m de­lighted that we can cel­e­brate our cul­ture in this way. It’s years since we were able to cel­e­brate Khuado in Tid­dim again,” said one young res­i­dent, a 20-year-old who iden­ti­fied her­self as Tlu­angi.

But Luan Lam Mang, who gave her age as over 60, said, “I used to en­joy this fes­ti­val when I was young. But young peo­ple these days don’t know how to sing and dance the way we did.”

A vis­i­tor from Falam town­ship said, “It’s good that they’ve brought back Khuado to make sure tra­di­tional Chin tra­di­tional cul­ture doesn’t dis­ap­pear. But I heard that when peo­ple vis­ited the Naga fes­ti­val, they found that the vil­lagers cel­e­brat­ing it were all dressed in modern foot­ball kit. I can’t help feel­ing some­thing has been lost.”

A rise in liv­ing stan­dards, im­proved com­mu­ni­ca­tions and a short­age of spirit medi­ums have com­bined to weaken ad­her­ence to Khuado in all but the most re­mote com­mu­ni­ties. The trick will be to re­store the fes­ti­val for the ben­e­fit of tourists with­out leav­ing the im­pres­sion that only tourists are in­ter­ested in it.

Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing

Khuado fes­tiv­i­ties were staged at Kan Haught Sta­dium in Tid­dim, Chin State, on Oc­to­ber 15.

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