Marriage of traditions

Monday Musing

[Karyir Riba]

Marriages are made in heaven – this saying holds so much truth to it. Well, some marriages do make onlookers believe that they were made somewhere in the deepest pit in hell, added with high doses of pain and turmoil. But let’s talk about them on some other time and ignore them for now.

One cannot really tell who they are going to marry. It just so happens that one fine day you fall in love with someone, and as your love for each other grows, you decide to get married and make your relationship permanent.

No matter which tribe you belong to or which religion, no matter if you are tall or short, or totally mismatched in all aspects, if a person is written in your destiny, you are destined to get married to him/her.

Now, the thing is that, when you are married to a person from another tribe, you also marry his/her traditions and culture. You get exposed to traditions that you had never before imagined existed. Some traditions pleasantly surprise us while others may give us shocks.

So, I am a Galo girl who got married to an Idu Mishmi guy. Although my parents never said no to our courtship, I remember how my mother had once, very hopelessly, mumbled under her breath that she had never in her wildest dreams expected an Idu Mishmi son-in-law.

Anyway, getting back to my story, as a Galo family getting to know their Idu Mishmi son-in-law, the biggest culture shock came to them when my husband refused to have the meat dishes, so lovingly cooked for him, because he is not allowed to eat any meat (there are a few exceptions, and I’ll come to that in a while) at his in-laws’ place.

After their boggled minds settled down a bit, they started throwing questions at him about the custom. They called it absurd because, according to them, the son-in-law is meant to be served and pampered. My poor nervous husband could only tell them that he would not touch the meat dishes because he is not supposed to.

Well, in the Idu Mishmi community, a son-in-law can only eat fish, ducks, birds, porcupines, giant squirrels and wild mouse at his in-laws’. He cannot eat pork, mithun, mutton or any game (hunted meat). He cannot eat domestic chicken but is allowed to have wild chicken.

This custom not only applies to a son-in-law, and doesn’t stop at the father-in-law’s house. Apart from my husband, all of his brothers (both siblings and cousins) cannot have the forbidden non-vegetarian dishes at my parents’ house, my grandfather’s, my uncle’s, my brother’s, my brother’s son’s, and so on. Moreover, when our son brings home a bride for himself, we will all have to refrain from having the aforementioned meat at my son’s in-law’s place, along with our son of course.

This custom is followed to an extent that, even if an Idu Mishmi son-in-law is eating out with his wife’s family, he cannot have meat dishes unless he is allowed to pay at the eatery. If he has very stubborn in-laws, he will have to do with fish, unless, of course, the restaurant serves ducks, squirrels, wild mouse or birds.

So, as much as this custom can sound weird and unreasonable to all other tribes, for the Idu Mishmi, it is something they need to respect and abide by.

As Igu (Idu Mishmi shaman) Lonjo Mena from Dambuk tells it, “There is no story of origin or source of origin from where this custom might have come to exist. It has been in existence since the existence of the Idu Mishmis.”

Now, like many other tribal customs that have repercussions if not followed, this custom of the Idu Mishmis, if not given heed to, is believed to affect the coming generation of the person that has the audacity to take it lightly. Meaning that not following the custom properly causes harm to the children of the defaulters.

Since time immemorial, the community has witnessed how the offspring of people who have broken the rules have suffered. Hence, they say it isn’t superstition but evident.

According to the tradition, children of such people start chewing on their thumbs and fingers. The chewing gets so bad that the child might end up losing their thumb/fingers if gone unnoticed.

The chewing will stop only after a shamanic ritual called aayi-bi is performed by an igu on the child to ward off the evil. The aayi-bi is performed using a rooster.

Because of how seriously the custom is taken, Idu Mishmi men are very careful in minding what they eat and where. In addition, it is also seen as a mark of respect for both the parties.

For instance, if I happen to serve any forbidden meat dish to my sisters-in-law’s (my husband’s siblings or cousins) husbands, it would seem rude and disrespectful.

Thirteen years on, and my father still has arguments about this custom with my husband. Although he has stopped trying to force him to eat meat at my marital home after learning that it will have negative affects on his beloved grandchildren, he hasn’t stopped pestering him about how unwanted the custom is.

My dear father and brother are no hunters, so wild chickens, birds, giant squirrels or porcupines are off the list. Plus, these must have gone extinct in the concrete jungle of the capital region long ago. Ducks from nearby Assam and fish from the daily market are what they can pamper their son-in-law with as a mark of respect for my tribe-in-law, and for the sake of his grandchildren.