Lakher - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Lakher acknowledge one god (Khazangpa/Khazangleutha) who is believed to be the creator of the cosmos, the one who decrees the fates of all creatures. He is believed to live in the mountains or in the sky. His name means "father of all" and his alternate name, Pachhapa, means "the old man." The Lakher also believe that mountains, woods, and pools have leurahripas (evil and beneficent spirits). It is also believed that every person has a zang (tutelary deity/angelic guardian) charged with his or her protection. Some leurahripas are believed to be the source of all sickness and must be propitiated regularly.

Religious Practitioners. Magicoreligious rites may be performed by any member of a household. There is no hereditary Lakher priesthood, the sole exception being the tleuliabopa who is appointed by the village chief to perform the tleulia sacrifice. In most Lakher villages, this position is held for life. Misconduct can, however, result in dismissal and replacement. Upon the death of the tleuliabopa, the office passes to his son. The services of a khazanghneipa (medium) may be obtained by those desiring fertility, cures for sickness, or knowledge of future events.

Ceremonies. Ceremonies accompany most of the major life-cycle events and other significant social events. Festival occasions are few in number and are usually associated with marriage and birth. A man of wealth may sponsor a feast upon the completion of a new home. Beer feasts may also be given by a man for his associates. The major Lakher festivals are Pazusata (a feast that marks the end of the year and during which behavioral restrictions on children are suspended), and Pakhupila (the "knee dance," occasioned by an excellent crop yield). The Siaha royal clan (the Khichha Hleuchang) departs from this norm. It has a series of six feasts designed to ensure favorable treatment in the afterlife (i.e., entrance into Paradise). In addition to these festivals, numerous additional magicoreligious rites (of a sacrificial nature) are associated with the subsistence cycle, matters of state, legal proceedings, medical practice, domestic affairs, ancestral worship, and the religious cults. Of these, the Khazangpina sacrifice (offered to Khazangpa), during which the sacrificer asks for blessings on himself and his family (e.g., wealth, health, abundance of children, good crops, and fertile domestic animals), is unsurpassed in importance.

Arts. Lakher visual art is represented by personal effects serving ornamental and other purposes (e.g., belts, hairpins, combs, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, pipes, guns, powder flasks, daos, swords, knives, nicotine-water flasks, syphons, and the lids of earthenware pots) and by tattooing. Music is of great importance and the Lakher have three classes of songs: those for daily usage; those accompanying the ia Ceremony (performed over the head of a dead enemy or the carcass of a dead animal) ; and those accompanying the Pakupila festival ("knee dance"). Instruments include gongs, flutes, drums, violins, zithers, and the chaei (a kind of mouth harp). Funerals, wakes, weddings, and feasts are all occasions for dancing. The Lakher claim that their dance patterns are based on movements characteristic of the fly. Lakher oral literature consists of a small number of proverbs, an ever-increasing corpus of folklore, and myths pertaining to cosmic origins, the exploits of primordial humanity, Khazangpa, and the nature of certain natural phenomena (earthly and celestial).

Medicine. Sickness is believed to be caused chiefly by leurahripas, who capture the soul of a person and prevent it from returning to the body. The ravages of sickness can be averted by individual or corporate sacrifice. The tleulia Sacrifice (described above), the tlaraipasi ceremony (used to prevent the outbreak of an epidemic), and the sacrifice offered to a local khisong (spirit dwelling on a mountaintop, in a pool, or in a lake) are intended to ensure village health. Personal infirmities (e.g., swelling, minor illnesses, consumption, premature aging, and impotence) can be alleviated by a variety of individual sacrifices or through the ministrations of the khazanghneipa. Medicinal cures (both indigenous and Western) are also used, but they are considered of secondary importance to the sacrificial system of healing.

Death and Afterlife. Death results when Khazangpa or a leurahripa steals an individual's soul. The dead are believed to go to one of three domains in the afterworld. The habitation known as Athikhi (literally, "the village of the dead") is occupied by those who have had an average existence. Here they live lives similar in quality to those lived on Earth. Distinctions between the wealthy and the poor continue to obtain in Athikhi. Those who have killed certain animals in the wild and have performed the ia ceremony over them may attain to Peira, a domain near that of Khazangpa. Those who die unnatural deaths or perish because of terrible diseases are confined to Sawvawkhi. Men who have never had sexual intercourse are called chhongchhongpipas. These are fated to wander on the road between the earthly realm and Athikhi. As for those souls that have lived in Athikhi for an extended period, those of chiefs die, turn to warm mist, rise heavenward, and vanish. Those of the average person are transformed into worms and are consumed by chickens. It is believed that the spirits of those who die as children transmigrate and are reincarnated in the bodies of younger siblings.

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