Asst Professor, St Joseph’s College (A), Jakhama
There are many forms of dormitories in India, each with different names and customs. The institution of men’s dormitory is found largely among the different tribes of India. And as such, among the Nagas, men’s or bachelor’s dormitory is called Morung. Not every Naga tribe followed the same pattern of Morung.
Scholars have expressed different views about the purpose of Morungs in the Naga society. According to Elwin, Morung was “an institution to save children from witnessing the primal scene”, and “from being an embarrassment to their parents.” Haimendrof was of the view that, “The Morung belongs together with the log drum, the oldest cultural stratum of the Naga Hills.” Morung plays a vital role in the Naga society in the form of social, cultural, religious and educational sphere.
The boys, after attaining a certain age were admitted to Morungs where they use to sleep the night there for a time period or till they get married.The transition from childhood to adolescence takes place in Morung. After every three years, a group of boys about twelve years of age is initiated into the Morung. The Morung worked as a defence centre in the Naga society. Majority of the tribes had the Morung located near the Village gate standing as a defence centre of the village. But in case of the Angamis, a major tribe among the Nagas, the boys did not sleep in the Morung. For them the Morung was a place for casual resort. The Morung was only used during occasions and ceremonies for the young men. The entry of women in the Morung was strictly prohibited in the Morungs of the Aos, Lothas and Rengmas.
The Morung was a social centre where all the important rituals were conducted and it was strongly associated with the log drum, which is built with a huge gong made with a single trunk of a tree. The arrival of the enemies was also announced with the help of log drum and it was practiced as a part of their culture. In the days of head hunting, the beheaded heads were brought to the Morung and placed as a souvenir. Most of the important decisions were made in the Morung by the village elders. The Morung wasmore or less autonomous and was managed by the council of village elders and even conducting their own political relations with other villages.
Morung was a tradition that was practiced long before the advent of the British and American missionaries. It served as a soul of the livelihood of the Naga culture. It wasa place for educating the younger generations with knowledgeable past glories, customs, traditions and warfare. According to Anand, “The Morung plays a vital role in preparing younger generations for posts in the village council. The Morung is the club, the public school, the military training centre, the hostel for boys and meeting place for village elders. It is as well the centre for the social, religious and political activities. In short, it is the fulcrum of the village democracies.” It also served as a place for performing feast of merit during various occasions and festivals, various sacrifices were also performed to please their gods. During those times the Nagas were purely animist worshippers. It was the coming of the British and the missionaries that turned their traditional society upside down.
There were many changes cum development that the British brought to the Naga Hills. One of the most significant changes was the spread of Christianity. Once Christianity spread, missionaries began to implement Christian principles strictly. The candidates for Baptism were required to know Christian doctrines and were not allowed to participate in any ‘Heathen rituals’ nor were they allowed getting drunk. Moreover, the new converts were not allowed to stay in the Morung. Gradually changes took place drastically and they also started wearing the Assamese jacket and body cloth and later on the European style of dressing was adopted.
The Morung, which was the core of the Naga society was slowly losing its importance with the coming of Christianity. The missionaries were becoming more powerful in their religious rituals and were stricter than ever. They were successful in converting the animist Nagas to Christianity. The rate of conversion was at faster rate after Indian Independence turning Nagaland to 90 per cent Christian State.
All the traditional rituals, customs and sacrifices were completely abolished from the society and most importantly, the Morung slowly faded from the Naga society. Thus, the Morung which was once the core of the society swiftly vanished and now only the traces can be marked and studied as it still remains a part of the Naga culture and history. However, some important traditional rituals are still practiced and celebrated with some modifications.