Accepted paper:

There is no tail to the story: performative traditions in a ritual in Meitei community


Debanjali Biswas (King's College London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores a performative tradition in the ritual Lai Haraoba as a story-telling method that are instruments for seeing history and social life of a north-east Indian community.

Paper long abstract:

The Meiteis in north-east India appease their ancestral and sylvan gods through Lai Haraoba. The resilience of the tradition has been measured by how well it has kept its elements intact for a few hundred years of social change through Burmese, Hindu and British invasion. Various mythical-legendary figures, tribal and clan progenitors within the Sanamahi religion and cultural and political heroes are celebrated yearly in harvest seasons. One significant thread of expressive tradition is the performative rituals danced by the priestesses - Maibis; as preservers and narrators of oral traditions, they perform the myth and memory of the community. My work here places Hakchang Saba - a collection of incantation, hand gestures and body movements as a story-telling ritual by the Maibis who possess an intimate knowledge of the Sanamahi doctrine. The stories incorporate the larger Meitei universe - territory, cosmology, religious instructions and homely metaphors of occupational activities thereby synthesising the other-worldly into the daily, concrete world of narrator and audience without diminishing its complexity. The ritual which ends with a pattern of an ouroboros, generates a sense cosmological continuity which merges with Meitei notions of personhood, emotions, experience and community. The narratives performed, are instruments for seeing history, social life, while through their performances and structures, Meitei hegemony over other tribes (within the Indian state of Manipur) is suggested. In its broader interrogations, the paper approaches the greater field of ethno-choreology and questions how story-telling mechanisms may comment on the 'ethno-psychological' as well as the 'aesthetic' notions of a community.

panel P72
Anthropology of storytelling