A Morung for our times

I have just returned from a very successful visit to Mount Olive College, Kohima. And I have been suitably impressed. We were picked up by car so we took the British road meaning the road that forks off downward after crossing the hospital and comes out at Tinpati. Mount Olive has two entrances and the lower one is right next to the road constructed by British engineers during the war.  

Since the days of its humble beginnings three decades ago, the college has progressed in leaps and bounds and is a testimony to hard work, a great can-do philosophy and a genuine desire to bring good education to the community. The location is quite desirable now where it stands in the heart of Kohima town accessible both by the New Market road and the lower road. The most attentive students sat through my talk and eagerly participated when we had an interactive fragment in the course of the talk. Their wooden desks were transformed into make-believe log drums on which we drummed out different beats, festival beats, warning signals and a slow mournful funeral rhythm. That was their introduction to the book, The Log drummer Boy. Their instant participation demonstrated that our youngsters are very willing to learn our cultural patterns and, regardless of the age-group, they become enthused when given the right stimulus. We have been using school desks in different schools as log-drums and managing to produce quite impressive sounds. However this was the first time that a collegiate group was beating upon their log-desks and thoroughly enjoying it!  

In keeping with the Sumi setting, we did a story-telling session of the story of the beautiful Pelikutoli who had refused suitor after suitor because her intended had appeared in a dream to her to tell her that he would return one day to marry her. After rejecting several offers, Pelikutoli’s faith was rewarded when her sky-husband came to her one night, in a shaft of blinding white light. He told her to prepare the wedding feast on an appointed day on which he would come and wed her. Though it was hard for her family to believe her account, Pelikutoli’s family gave enough berth for spirit happenings, and they accordingly prepared the wedding feast and invited the whole village to her wedding.  

When the guests began to assemble, the older ones voiced what was on everyone’s minds, “Where is the bridegroom?” Pelikutoli could not answer them, but her sky-husband did not keep her waiting for long. Following his instructions she had herded all the guests into the house indoors, warning them that it would be mortally dangerous to venture out when her husband arrived. Soon, in another shaft of light, her brilliantly handsome husband came and carried her to his sky-home. The story has been transmitted to us by the witnesses to this amazing marriage.  

These kinds of stories, which are our lore and our wealth, are missing an appropriate setting for their telling today. The setting needs to be a village hearth or even a morung where eventually folk art can thrive in a setting natural to its performances. While we cannot expect to find the setting of old in today’s world, it is still possible to reinvent a morung in our towns. Going back to the Mount Olive College as an example, an excellent multipurpose auditorium is being completed in the new building. A place like that could easily become the new morung which facilitates oral narratives to be told in a congenial environment. I doubt such a place would want for an audience, not after the eager participation from the students of the college.  

Our communities still have some of our elderly with us. A constructed morung could utilize the storytelling talents of our elders so that the educative properties of oral narratives could be passed on to the next generation. A morung would be a way of retrieving the past to pass it on into the hands of the young generations. At the same time, all our indigenous history which has never been featured in our school textbooks could finally find a place for its narration and transmission. This is an idea pregnant with possibilities and I have no inhibitions in pushing it forward. Just think of it – a morung for our times.  

Don’t our children deserve it?