Accepted Paper:

The dynamics between spirituality and politics in a newly reformed indigenous religion: a case study of Rangfraism amongst the Tangsa in north-east India  


Meenaxi Barkataki-Ruscheweyh (University of Goettingen)

Paper short abstract:

I take a closer look at the Tangsa people iving in north-east India with respect to their newly reformed religious practices to understand the subtle link between religious reform and ethnic identity politics on the one hand, and individual spirituality and community based religious practices on the other.

Paper long abstract:

Tangsa is an umbrella term for a collection of small ethnic communities (related to the Naga) who have migrated to north-east India from Myanmar. In the course of time, many Tangsa have embraced world religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, while others have continued their indigenous practices. In recent years there has been a move amongst a section of the educated Tangsa to rationalise and institutionalise their older practices under a new name, Rangfraism, in order to maintain continuity but also to prevent further conversion to Christianity.

I take a closer look at Rangfraism to ascertain how much of the old has been retained, what new has been added, and for what ends. Using old Tangsa mythology as a base and intermixing older rituals and cultural practices with attractive features from both Hinduism and Christianity, the leaders of the Rangfraa movement have partly succeeded in stemming the wave of Christian conversion, but it has also brought them in direct confrontation with the Christian Tangsa, especially those radical groups aligned with the Naga Baptist church. This has created serious fissures in Tangsa society, and has been a set-back to recent efforts made by some sections to create a new pan-Tangsa identity. I will also discuss the spirituality of the keychus (shamans) and their intimate relationship with their new God - Rangfraa. This has led to tensions between them and those leading the community-based practices of Rangfraism at the village level, aggravated by the fact that most of these keychus are young girls.

Panel P073
Religious intimacy: collaboration, collusion and collision in ritual communication