The dresses the Khumis wear are manufactured in their own handlooms. Khumi males wear lengti (long narrow buttocks clothes). They leave a part of the lengti hanging in the front and back sides below the waist. They bear long hair and wear white turbans. Khumi women wear wanglai, a 9 - 14 inches wide piece of cloth. Women do not cover the upper part of their body, but hang ornaments of silver and puti from the neck. Both men and women wear traditional dresses when joining festivals. The wears the Khumis make always represent their own culture and traditions.
Women decorate themselves with varied types of jewelleries. These are made of different metals, which include silver, glass-beads, copper and brass. Women wear strings of glass-beads as necklace, bangles (kuchi kharu), earrings (karan bairu), hairpin (chhang kelong), flower-shaped item worn in a bun (chhayam-chha), bracelets (kachhi), neck-chains (rueet), necklaces (ni-dha), waist-chains (chhangka), etc.
The Khumis have developed a distinctive life-style. The handicrafts they make carry the typicality of their culture and traditions. The products that they manufacture by using materials available in the wild neighbourhood are the evidence of their exquisite artisanship too. They use bamboos, canes and wood to produce different types of pots and baskets, including the one they carry on their back. They also use dried- and-hard shells of a sort of wild gourd to make different household materials. In a word, the beautiful handicrafts bear the marks of their superb creative acumen.
Their staple food is puffed rice and main drink is wine. Wine is an indispensable part of their culture. They use wine for worship, household affairs, and as drinks for any occasion. The Khumis are quite skilled in hunting wild animals. The meats of the hunted animals constitute one of their favourite dishes. They eat the meat of any domestic or wild animals such as tigers, deer, cows, boars, dogs, jackals, roosters, bears, buffaloes, and snakes. There is no prohibition in food selection. Besides, they take a huge amount of vegetables, which grow in abundance on hills. Improved diet, with fruits and unlimited wine, is served at festivals. They usually make nerve-stimulators like tobacco and cigars in their own hands.
Khumis are generally Buddhists. However, their beliefs and practices reveal animistic and polytheistic views. They pay homage to Pathian, the Creator. The other two gods they honor are Nadag, the household deity, and Bogley, the god of water. Khumis have similarity with the Murongs in the observance of cow slaughter puja. They use plung flute of Murongs, although they do not dance in a group as the Murongs do.
A Khumi man dances with a woman by his side during this ceremony. Nadag puja is observed before jhum cultivation and also before the harvest. A dog, a boar and an odd number of cocks and hens are offered as sacrifice on the riverbank during this festival. People ceremonially dance and sing. Sacrificial flesh is cooked and a morsel of stewed flesh is placed on the riverbank before consuming the sacrificial meat.
A child’s birth in a Khumi family is considered as a very good omen. A pregnant woman has to observe a series of traditional rites until the date of delivery. When a baby is recovered from its navel sore, they name him/her after their ancestors. During name- giving ceremony, mother’s wrist is wrapped up seven times in a thread when the participants wish the newborn, saying: ‘May God bestow good health and bright future on you!’ It is their belief that a departed soul returns to the mortal life through a newborn. Ears of lads, lasses and children are pierced in Khumi society. Children are socialized by having their hair trimmed.
If one dies in Khumi society, the corpse is kept in a house for four or five days. During this period, drummers beat their drums, as they believe that it would mitigate the sufferings of the dead. Then, the dead body is cremated, and the ashes are stored at a house built beside the burning ground. The clothes and the weapons, once used by the dead person during their earthly life, are kept in this house too. It is because the Khumis believe that the departed soul would need these things in its journey to life hereafter. The funeral feast is arranged a year after the death of a person.
Like other ethnic groups in the hill regions, the Khumis have their own recreational systems. Both men and women partake in a dance festival called Lamnah. There is another dance programme called Charanah, which is arranged to celebrate the victory in a war. Some 20 to 25 youths take part in the function and gyrate to drumbeats. It is also known as victory dance. When dancers move round in a circle, some of them also take raw liquor. The Khumis also have traditions to dance during a funeral rite.
They often play two of their key-musical instruments Alung and Atong to express their immense delight. The Khumis have a rich collection of legends, fables and myths, which have been orally transmitted through successive generations. Besides, they celebrate Nabanya festival (a ceremony observed on first eating new rice) in the month of Agrahayan and new years’ day on the first day of Baishakh – all according to the vernacular calendar. Girls decorate themselves with wild flowers and join the new years’ day party.
Although marginal in number, the Khumis who have lived in the Chittagong Hill Tracts for centuries have successfully kept their values and culture intact. Slavery was there in Khumi society in the past. One of their good qualities is that although they are by nature ruthless, they never attack anyone belonging to their own clan. Living in a band, their distinctive lifestyle, the typical dresses they wear, varied ways of dancing and singing and the intact social order are the inevitable features of their culture and values.
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