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Murongs Birth and Death

Birth

Birth of a baby in an Mro family is a matter of great joy. Before birth the child's sex is predicted with the help of a plant called 'law-haw'. After a little digging, the plant is uprooted. If the root is found to be straight without branches, the child is predicted to be a boy. If the root has branches, the child is to be a girl.

At the time of delivery, the pregnant mother is taken to the special 'kimsa' room where one or more midwives wait to provide all support for safe delivery. According to English travellers Klaus Dyter Blaunze (?) and Laurence G Laughler (?), a thin slice is taken out from a special bamboo pole in the room to cut off the baby's umbilical cord. The new¬born is placed on a banana leaf bed. No farm work is done on the day after the child's birth. This custom is aimed at protecting the paddy crop of jhum. On the ninth day after delivery the mother is allowed to go of the kimsa room.

According to the Mro custom, a new-born has to be named within the first week. They follow a lunar calendar. The midwife has to pronounce the child's name. The parents hand over the selected name to the midwife. She pronounces the name as she puts half a piece of raw turmeric on the forehead of the child. In the evening the midwife and her assistants are given a feast with chicken and pork. They are also given presents.

The mother has to take liquid food during the days of her confinement in the kimsa room. During those days she has to take the heat of fire for about twelve hours a day to restore her health. She has to follow some other rites to cleanse herself. The Mros believe that if a pregnant mother takes egg, fish caught with a hook or meat of trapped animals she will have problem in delivery and her child will face bad luck.

Death

According to the Mro custom, two things have to be done immediately aner someone's death - killing a chicken and a dog since they lead the dead person's soul to the heaven. The dog is the soul's pathfinder and the chicken is its companion. The dog's body is kept at the end of the area's main road. The chicken is cooked and along with some rice is kept in a clay pot on the right side of the dead person's body. It is called 'lulukoim' and is regarded as the last meal of the dead.

It is the general belief in the Mro society that all the dead go to the heaven. It is believed that in this journey the devil take the form of insects and cause the soul a good deal of trouble. The chicken eats up the insects. During its lifetime the dog guarded the house as a faithful servant and alerted the inmates of the house whenever any fierce animal appeared on the scene. In the same way the dog guides the dead person's soul on the way to the heaven. A pig is also killed after the death. A feast with pork and a bottle of liquor is arranged.

The dead person's body is washed with warm water and covered with new clothes. If the body is of a man a turban is put on its head and if it is a woman's body it is decorated with ornaments before keeping it inside the house for up to a week for the visitors and relatives to see. All visitors are entertained to a meal of pork and chicken.

According to the Mro tradition, the dead person's body is to be identified by someone from the maternal side as without their consent the body cannot be cremated. The maternal side has to be told the cause of death and the body is to be kept for a number of days to remove any suspicion regarding the death. Cremation without the consent of the maternal side may lead to litigation and problems. This is why someone from the maternal side has to be present before cremation.

In some cases the relatives of the maternal side and other relatives live far away behind hills and it takes them days to reach the dead person's house. For these days the body is kept in the house amidst playing of musical instruments. The Mros believe this keeps the dead person's soul in peace and helps its departure from this world less painful. The people from the community keep a whole-night vigil on the dead. When the relatives have gathered the women go out to collect the firewood for cremation. The Mro families also contribute bundles of firewood. Men are forbidden to collect the wood.

On the day of cremation, the body is taken out of the house early in the morning and with great care taken to the burning ground ceremonially. Men's bodies are burnt with three layers of wood and women's bodies are burnt with five layers. The Mros call a crematorium 'chengprang'. Women's bodies are burnt with more wood as during lifetime they collect wood.

For cremation, the face of a dead man is turned towards the east as they have to face the rising sun while going out for jhum cultivation. A woman's face is turned towards the west as at sundown women have to return home for cooking food. Someone from the family ignites the face.

The crematorium of the Mros is located usually close to a river or a canal so that its water can be used to extinguish the pyre immediately after the body has been burnt to ashes. It is believed this brings peace to the soul of the dead. For this purpose a tiny hut is built at the centre of the crematorium and on a bamboo pole of the hut a piece of white cloth is hung. The Mros believe the soul lives in the hut for up to seven days.

After cremation all the people take a bath in the river or the canal to purify themselves before returning home as otherwise evil spirits may enter their households. Before entering their hung houses by ladder they throw a fistful of ashes into a fire so that the evil spirits are destroyed. The Mros observe purification as a matter of religious rite known as 'yang siri'.

Someone killed in an accident cannot be kept in the house for long. The body has to be cremated quickly to avoid any evil. In case someone from the maternal side is unduly late in coming, some elders from the village are called in to act as witnesses before cremation. If a woman dies in childbirth she is regarded as a victim of an accident and therefore quickly cremated. The relatives of someone killed in an accident do not take rice with curry until its cremation. They eat only with salt. Someone who dies of an incurable disease is taken far away into a forest and buried there.


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