A group returning from the spring on a Saturday morning, a common sight on no-school days when young people flocked to the spring together. (Photo: Pfokrelo Kapesa)
Dimapur | May 12
Brine spring – naturally occurring salt water spring – holds a significant position since time immemorial. Apart from being the earliest source of salt, brine water has many known health benefits such as healing seasonal sicknesses, stabilizes blood pressure, cleanses digestive systems and detoxifies internal organs because of dissolved minerals.
As such, a brine spring is associated with status and prestige in the Mao community. A brine spring was also a site where many undeclared wars were fought. It was not uncommon for headhunters to target lone persons or small groups in the wee hours around such springs.
There are stories wherein brine springs were capped with horns of animals. This was done to prevent the spring water from reaching the surface, thereby forcing the water to go underground to prevent the loss of lives around such areas.
The Robvüna clan in Kaibi village, Senapati district , is custodian of the Tarü Ozhekhe, a brine spring. The spring lay buried under a massive deposit of mud. Clanspeople along with friends and well-wishers, after securing a grant from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of Manipur, reconstructed the spring in the mid 1990s.
What they did not expect was a systematically built seven levels step well inside. P Hekha, a clan leader said that to their surprise they “found a very strong and fresh hollow oak securing the spring.”
This came both as a surprise and shock to the clanspeople as they planned to use concrete blocks to secure the spring. The concrete blocks in contact with the spring water was quickly eroding even before the reconstruction could be completed.
“We soon realized that it was the high mineral content in the spring water and marveled at the wisdom of our foreparents,” he said.
Taking cue, the clanspeople rebuilt the spring in circular step well format and secured it with a large hollow oak.
Men, women, children
In a community where fetching and providing water for the family is the sole responsibility of women, the responsibility of fetching the brine spring water is a common endeavor. Men, women, children, everyone makes a trip to the spring.
Every household uses the fountain for cooking and some for drinking. The dissolved substances produce an altered taste making dishes soft and delicate.
Men are often seen trudging their way nonchalantly to the spring. “If he does not want rough and sour vegetables, he has to fetch the spring water,” a woman commented; “very simple” she added.
In fact, it is not considered a burden.
A male college student, home for holidays, on the way to the spring said it dawned on him naturally. “I grew up fetching the spring water, so it just occurred to me that I have to since I am at home and it’s Saturday.” On Saturdays, the villagers, largely agrarian, stay away from fields to relax, clean and wash even as the schools are closed.
For school children, a Saturday morning means a trip to the fountain with friends, a treat.
Collective values still exist here
On no-school days, neighborhood children can be heard calling out to friends early in the morning. Others form groups by striking conversations at the spring as they fill their pail.
The spring is a good two kilometers from the residential area with steep winding paths. Those who have been away from the village find it difficult to keep pace. The whole group will stop and wait for such people. On other occasions, the faster ones will go ahead and come back for the slower ones.
During festivals and weddings, groups are entrusted to ensure sufficient supply of the spring water.
Ownership of brine spring was a serious matter in olden days. Based on the amount of water, the spring is shared with others. As a sign of respect and gratitude, the custodian community will always fill the pail first. In case of shortage, ‘others’ would voluntarily give up their share to the custodian community.
‘Tarü Ozhekhe’ supplies a generous amount and cases of shortage are rare. The people from neighboring village always made it a point to let the custodian villagers fill their pail first to this day.