For some decades now churches and people in Nagaland have been observing Mother’s Day, a borrowed foreign tradition nevertheless meaningful and a great morale-boosting day for mothers.
Festivals celebrating mothers can be traced back to ancient times of Greeks, Romans and Egyptians and several other ancient cultures worshipping mother goddesses and feminine deities, still practiced today in religions like Hinduism. Our Mother’s Day is an adoption of the modern US holiday, second Sunday in May, held for honouring the sacrifices made by mothers and for promoting peace, its origin attributed to Anna Jarvis and Julia Ward Howe.
We don’t know whether ancient Naga traditions or religions observed festivals or special days celebrating mothers and women. What we do know is that in oral traditions like ours, we have no means to even know the names and identity of great-great-grandmothers and their mothers unlike the names of grandfathers going back many generations carefully passed down from ear to ear.
Now that we can write and record, the names of our ancient male ancestors and their present-day successors are permanently and prominently scribed on the diagrams of respective clan trees. There’s also a specific term in a Naga language called “Kiketa” to denote the end of a bloodline when a father has only female children and no male heirs.
Reading the recently complied documents of genealogy by different Naga clans makes one wonder, if only there were female genealogical records too, or some document and stories in great detail about the lineage of our grandmothers, or if only we could make parallel entries for mothers and sisters too.
Without any other source to trace your female ancestors, scanning these recent clan lineage books could make you feel truly non-existent, you start wondering if all women were invisible; one can even be thrown into a serious existential crisis — “Do I even exist here? Do we wear invisibility cloaks? What is the meaning of our existence in this society?” Even the names of mothers of great, brave head-hunters and warriors don’t feature anywhere. It’s like they never lived.
It is difficult to know the stories of our grandmothers, how they lived and loved, what they thought, what sacrifices they made when their very names have been excluded from history. An occasional name or two of women popping up in some legends cannot really make up for the giant void created by mass absence of women’s names and stories from the beginning of time when people come out of a big stone or migrated from across a mighty ocean.
In our context, observing a modern tradition like the Mother’s Day with great importance especially in churches and families, whether commercialized or not, is encouraging because it helps increase the appreciation of roles of women, mothers and maternal figures in our society. A day like this or a specific devotional service in honour of mothers creates a lesser conflicting space for us to contemplate on stories of our women, on prejudices and traditional biases against women. A non-violent form of public expression to show that women’s lives matter can only have a positive outcome.
While the lives of our grandmothers may have been invisible, a time has come for us to improve our vision and thinking to increase the visibility meter of women in our communities. That our women’s lives count not only on Mother’s Day, but on all other days and eras. That we need inclusion of women in the family and clan stories and trees, need equal participation in the formulation our family, village and State development plans and policies, and recognize that women and mothers aren’t just footnotes in the great history of warriors but are main characters in the building of a nation and a people.