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Identification. The Purum are an Old Kuki tribe occupying the Manipur Hills area of India and Myanmar (Burma). In 1931 they were located in four independent villages: Purum Khulen, Purum Tampak, Purum Changninglong, and Purum Chumbang. The name "Purum" might mean "hide from tiger," as Tarakchandra Das and John Shakespear have suggested.

Location. The geographic extent of the region inhabited by the Purum ranges from 24°23 to 24°27 N and from 93°56 to 94°2 E.

Demography. As of 1931 there were 303 Purums living in Khulen, Tampak, Chumbang, and Changninglong. In 1977 the Purum population numbered 300.

Linguistic Affiliation. Purum (also called Puram) is a Tibeto-Burman language belonging to the Sino-Tibetan Phylum.

History and Cultural Relations

With regard to the origin of the Purum, their traditions state that they emerged from a subterranean region near Imphal. The original home of the Purum and other Old Kuki tribes is believed to have been in the Lushai Hills. They were forced to migrate to the hill country bordering the Imphal Valley by New Kuki tribes (who had been displaced by the Lushais or Mizos). The initial settlement of these Old Kuki peoples was short-lived as New Kukis forced them to scatter in many Directions. Once in Manipur, independent communities began to develop. Once settled, they assimilated many aspects of Meithei culture (including some Hindu social and religious traits). The Purum and other Old Kuki tribes were also influenced by contacts with Naga tribes and New Kuki tribes whose migration followed their own. Of all of these, contact with the Meitheis has been most important.


Khulen is located on a ridge some 1,200 meters above sea level, east of Waikhong. Tampak is found on the slope of a low hill north of Waikhong. Changninglong is situated atop a high hill east of Tampak. Chumbang is located in a valley on a ridge east of Khulen at the point where the Maha Turel and Timit Lok rivers converge. Purum villages are located near a readily available source of fresh water (e.g., spring or stream). A typical Purum house contains the following structures: a dwelling place for human occupants, a granary, a cowshed (optional), a pigsty, a pen for fowl, and courtyards. The design of the house is rectangular. In addition to individual habitations, the typical Purum village will also contain a ruishang (village assembly hall), laman (a shrine for the god Nungchungba and locus of certain magicoreligious ceremonies for the community), and raised platforms (remains of thienhong-ba genna ) erected by community members for the purpose of obtaining social status.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Animal Domestication (i.e., pigs, cows, buffalo, fowl, pigeons, ducks, dogs, and cats) and agriculture are part of the repertoire of Purum subsistence activities, though the latter is by far the most important. It is believed that the Purum economy was at one time largely self-sufficient and village-based (i.e., before the pressure to increase food supply). The availability of land suitable for jhum (slash-and-burn) agriculture was probably one of the motivating factors in the selection of Khulen as a village site. Villages constructed after Khulen were founded in order to secure additional lands for cultivation with the plow. While a typical Purum village will control the lands on the slopes immediately below it, additional land in the valleys and at the base of the hills in the region belongs to the Meitheis, who occupy these areas. Purum agriculturalists lease some of these tracts for the growing of rice, sell their surplus produce to the Meitheis, and purchase additional agricultural land from them. Wet and dry agriculture are practiced by the Purum. The latter was a practice probably adopted from the Meitheis. Among the products grown by the Purum are plantains, sweet potatoes, rice, cotton, taro, gourds, cucumbers, saukri (a local vegetable with bitter leaves), maize, onions, and sesame. Hunting and fishing (by means of traps in addition to the rod and line) are engaged in to a limited extent, but neither is an important part of the Purum cycle of subsistence.

Industrial Arts. With their raw materials obtained from the markets at Imphal, Purum smiths fashion essential tools and weapons (e.g. small hoes, spindles, vessel stands, spear and arrow heads, chisels, and hammers). Some of these items (e.g., plowshares, daos [adzes], etc.) are purchased from the Meitheis. Purum women weave cloth from yarn spun from locally grown cotton. Spinning and weaving are activities engaged in chiefly by women.

Trade. The Meitheis and the markets at Imphal are the sources from which the Purum obtain essential and luxury items. Iron and steel are obtained in the markets at Imphal. High-quality fabric, metal ornaments, and other luxury items are purchased from the Meitheis. The Meitheis are major consumers of agricultural products grown by the Purum.

Division of Labor. Among those activities associated specifically with either gender, men manufacture baskets while women are responsible for the spinning and weaving of cloth, prepare meals, and gather firewood. There are no taboos reinforcing this task specialization. Women are also primarily responsible for the socialization of children. Men and women share agricultural duties.

Land Tenure. Inhabitants of a Purum village select parcels from the jhum land belonging to the village. Individuals are entitled to the use of this land but are not considered in any way to be its owners. Usufructuary rights may be inherited or transferred to another village member. Valley fields, which are owned individually, may be disposed of in any manner deemed appropriate by their owners. Areas that have not already been marked or cleared by others may be selected. There is no attempt at regulating the size or location of these plots by village officials. Once a site has been selected, a portion of it is cleared by the owner and a mark is made on a large tree (by removing part of the bark and attaching a crosspiece of wood in the body of the tree) by the claimant so as to prevent another from staking claim to it. Jhum land is farmed for four years and then allowed to lie fallow for ten years. Land disputes are mediated by village elders.


Kin Groups and Descent. Three social groupings are of primary importance in Purum society: the family; the subsib (social unit composed of several families); and the sib (composed of several subsibs). The sib and the family are the oldest of these three constituent groups. The Purum are divided into five exogamous sibs: Marrim, Makan, Kheyang, Thao, and Parpa. Each of these (with the exception of Parpa) is Divided into subsibs. Each sib is headed by a pipa (leader or head) who functions in a similar capacity for one of the subsibs. Fourteen subsibs were noted by Das in 1945. Each one is headed by its own pipa. The sib has one major responsibilitythe regulation of marriage. The members of a subsib consider themselves to be blood relatives: the relationship of its members to one another is more intimate than that Between members of the sib. It has limited political, economic, and religious functions. At the time of Das's research, these units were no longer strictly exogamous; the rule of exogamy was strictly observed only at the level of the subsib. Exogamy at the subsib level is based on that at the sib level. Purum sibs are socially graded, but this gradation does not have an Impact on the selection of marital partners (e.g., there is no Evidence of hypergamy). Patrilineal descent obtains within the sib and subsib.

Kinship Terminology. Sudanese-type kinship terminology is employed for first cousins.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marital negotiations are instituted by either the parents of the male suitor or by the male suitor himself. Consent of the parties to be wed and the consent of their parents is required before the union may take place. Once an agreement has been made between the families, the male must work for a period of three years in the household of his fatherin-law. This period of service is called yaun-gimba. Monogamous unions are the norm, though polygyny is not prohibited. When polygynous arrangements have been noted, the usual number of female spouses is two. Postmarital residence is patrilocal once the husband has completed his period of yaun-gimba service to his wife's father. At this time, the married son may choose to establish a separate household for himself and his wife. If he has no younger brother, then he and his spouse must remain in the home of his parents until the parents are deceased. This practice ensures that the son's parents will be cared for in their old age. Divorce may be obtained by either the husband or wife, though all cases must be decided by the village council and the khullakpa (headman).

Domestic Unit. The principal domestic unit is the nuclear family made up of two parents and their unmarried offspring. Extended families consisting of parents and one or more married male children (together with their families) are uncommon.

Inheritance. Upon the death of a father, his property is Inherited by his sons. Usually the youngest son receives the largest share as he has been responsible for caring for both parents during their lifetimes. The youngest son (if married) is also charged with the care of his unmarried sisters upon the death of his father. If the youngest son is not married, his older married brothers must assume this duty. The youngest son is also charged with the care of his widowed mother. Widows and daughters are not allowed to inherit property. A widow is entitled to maintenance from her husband's estate, provided that she remains in the house of her deceased husband and does not remarry. A daughter may be given use of valley land by her father during his lifetime; however, a father may not leave his house, animals, or other items to a daughter as an inheritance.

Socialization. The mother is the chief agent of socialization in the Purum family.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Purum sibs are socially graded. Status may also be obtained by the performance of certain gennas (magicoreligious ceremonies). The khullakpa (village headman) and luplakpa (assistant to the village headman) are expected to perform the to-lai-kong genna in order to legitimize their community standing. Average citizens may perform the thien-hong-ba genna when they have attained wealth and wish to establish their place within the Community. One of the distinguishing features of this celebration is the stone platform upon which the sponsor of the genna sits during the first day of the observance.

Political Organization. The village is the primary political unit in Purum society. Its affairs are managed by a council of elders and eight political officers: the khullakpa (headman); the luplakpa (assistant to the headman); khunjahanba (chief performer in magicoreligious rites associated with the god Nungchungba and the third most powerful political official); the zupanba (official who makes arrangements for the Production of zu, "rice beer," on public occasions and in some instances acts as liaison between the village and the state) ; the keirungba (official who selects animals to be slaughtered in connection with the payment of fines); the selungba (official who collecte fees for the performance of religious rites and acts also as the khullakpa's porter); and the changlai (official who collects rice at magicoreligious rites for the manufacture of zu).

Social Control. Traditional means of control have been limited largely to a system of fines for social offenses. Activities punishable by fine include theft, assault, marital infidelity, rape, divorce (in certain instances), violation of contracts, and damage to property by domestic animals.

Conflict. Das noted that there is an absence of warlike tendencies among the Purum. He gives no indication as to the nature of their relations with neighbors before his fieldwork. There are indications (e.g., the economic interdependence of the Purum and Meithei economic systems and the Purum reliance on Manipuri markets for essential and luxury items) that the Purum maintain cooperative relationships with neighboring peoples.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Purum religion has been influenced on many levels by Hindu belief and practice. Hindu gods are Present in their pantheon along with indigenous deities. The major gods in the Purum pantheon include the following: Nungchungba (the most important of the Purum deitiessometimes spoken of as the patron god of the village); Lamhel (a spirit connected with the jungle surrounding the village); Lamtaiba (a jungle spirit similar to Lamhel); Sabuhong (an agricultural god believed to preside over crops) ; Senamahi (a house and sib god); Panthonglakkpa (the god in charge of the gates of the village); the sun and the moon (two astral deities worshiped only in connection with the onset of labor during pregnancy); and the stars (worshiped for the purpose of securing recovery from sickness and ensuring village bounty). Spirits of a beneficent and capricious character (particularly disease-inflicting spirits) are also believed to inhabit human realms. Some of these represent the deification of forces in the natural world (e.g., forest, water, and the four compass directions). The spirits of deceased ancestors are also venerated periodically.

Religions Practitioners . Several classes of individuals officiate at various Purum magicoreligious ceremonies: village officials (e.g., the khullakpa and the khunjahanba); the oldest male in the village (also called the thempu, he plays an Important role at the ceremony that accompanies the entering of a new house, the first hair-cutting ceremony of a child, the name-giving ritual, the cleansing of a house in which a death has taken place, the purification of those who have buried a woman dying in childbirth, and at the installation of a new village officer); individual male householders (who officiate at family-based ceremonies); the pipas (who officiate at the offering of first fruits to the god Senamahi) ; and the maipa (the medicine man, who, in addition to officiating at Sacrifices offered to disease-causing supernaturals, also acts as priest when worship is directed toward Hindu gods brought into the Purum pantheon).

Ceremonies. Magicoreligious ceremonies accompany the major events in the individual life cycle (e.g., marriage, birth, child naming, ear piercing, first haircutting, and death).

Arts. Evidence of the visual arts is less well attested (unless note is taken of Purum industrial arts such as basketry and weaving) than that of music and dance, both of which are an important element in the magicoreligious ceremonies of the Purum. Among the genres represented within Purum oral literature must be noted magicoreligious incantations and myths of origin.

Medicine. Illness is believed to be caused by supernatural forces, and the maipa (medicine man) is the magicomedical official responsible for determining the nature of the sickness and prescribing the sacrificial measures necessary to alleviate it.

Death and Afterlife. The souls of those who have led exemplary lives and die natural deaths (i.e., who do not die Because of misfortune, in childbirth, or by attack of wild animals) go to the Khamnung (the afterworld located in the sky). The souls of those who die of unnatural causes and those who have performed grave misdeeds in their lives are turned into evil spirits and roam the jungles for eternity.

See also Lakher; Mizo


Das, Tarakchandra (1945). The Purums. Calcutta: University of Calcutta.

Needham, Rodney (1958). "A Structural Analysis of Purum Society." American Anthropologist 60:75-101.

Shakespear, John (1912). The Lushei Kuki Clans. London: Macmillan.