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Hill Valley Ties Via Shumang Lila

A scene from a Shumang Lila

Tribal Shumang Lila appeared for a short period in the history of Shumang Lila in Manipur. A short span after display in remote villages, the Shumang Lilas unfortunately, discontinued for there was none to encourage and support it.

IN THE year 2002, a few interested people initiated an experiment by introducing ‘˜Shumang Lila’ among the selected tribal artistes groups and made them display this art in hill villages to spread useful messages. The result was very good and unexpected. There was active involvement and participation among the artistes and enthusiasm among the audience. Interestingly, when the premier show of ‘˜Tangkhul Shumang Lila’, ‘˜Ajawui Tuishot’ was first displayed at Dewlaland sometime in 2002, the 1000-packed audience was enthralled by the tribal artistes of C.R Film Industry based in Phungreithang, Ukhrul. The play was full of comedies. Even Meiteis who did not know Tangkhul dialect were rolling with laughter. Thereafter, these plays were shown in different villages of Ukhrul district on demand by the public.

Likewise, the Paites also developed their ‘˜Shumang Lila’, ‘˜Khangban Sham Doh Ei’ and performed for the first time at Paite Veng Imphal in the same year. The Thadous under the banner of United Rural Youth Artistes Manipur produced and played ‘˜Heo Neingadamin’ and the All Zeliangrong Art and Cultural Organization of Kabuis performed ‘˜Phaikan Kathan’. The Thadou play was displayed at Tuibong for the first time and Kabui play was shown at Pandon, North AOC. All these plays were neither drama nor theatre; these were the ‘˜Shumang Lila’ as performed by the Meiteis. The only differences were ‘“ it was in their own dialects and the females played female roles and males as males. There was no tradition of ‘˜Nupi Sabi’ among them. A short span after production and display in remote villages of hill districts of the state, the tribal ‘˜Shumang Lilas’ unfortunately, discontinued for there was none to encourage and support.

These plays were produced by the Manipur State AIDS Control Society for spreading AIDS awareness in tribal populated areas. The popularity of ‘˜Shumang Lila’ among the Meitei community and being a highly effective messenger for HIV/AIDS inspired the then project director of Manipur AIDS Control Society — Dr. Khomdon Singh Lisam. He put extra effort to introduce and experiment the age-old ‘˜Shumang Lila’ tradition among the different tribal communities. He had dual-objective ‘“ to spread awareness on HIV/AIDS in nook and corner of the states and also to enrich the tradition and culture of the hill people with the addition of ‘˜Shumang Lila’.

Those who took active part at the initial stage were playwright Chana Lukhoi, ‘˜Shumang Lila’ personality Narendra Ningomba, artiste Rai Khan (Tangkhul), writer Lanboi Kabui (AZACO), artist Angam (Thadou) and so on. The late Shumang Lila Ojas Mama Ibotombi and Heingang Binod, and Oja Ibema took the responsibility to train the tribal artistes by going from one hill district to another and staying there for a long period. It was a herculean task to teach ‘˜Shumang Lila’ to the tribal people as there was a language barrier between the trainers and the trainees. The development of ‘˜Shumang Lila’ in tribal dialects was a very difficult mission which became possible due to the enthusiasm of tribal artistes groups coupled with the commitment and quality leadership of the then project director of Manipur AIDS Control Society Dr. Khomdon Lisam.

The scripts were their own. The tribal brethren have their own stories related to HIV/AIDS — which they penned and dramatized. A committee comprising Oja Dr. Nognmaithem Tombi, Meghachandra Kongbam, Chana Lukhoi and Dr. Khomdon Lisam observed the plays and molded it to presentable shape. This writer had the opportunity to be involved in this mission under the valuable guidance of the experts.

In fact, the popularity of ‘˜Shumang Lila’ among the tribal people is no less than that of Meiteis. When they saw their own people playing in their own dialect, their enthusiasm grew ‘“ as if the tradition is of their own origin. Indeed, sharing of this tradition among the different communities of Manipur will bring about a closer tie among the people of the state.

As a regular spectator and lover of this art form, I can proudly claim ‘˜Shumang Lila’ is the most popular traditional media in Manipur, among different communities without a barrier for language and race. The artistic skills and intelligence needed for a Shumang Lila artiste has no parallel with the other forms like cinema. As we have observed, famous film stars of Manipur join ‘˜Shumang Lila’ ‘“ may be to extract and train themselves with the rich artistic intelligence and values. It is a totally live media; the artist performs at the centre of hundreds of spectators sitting around him. There is no chance of a rewind or recast. What has happened on stage is always the message. Right from the moment the artiste comes out on the stage to the moment he exits — every movement is the message. The audience is always active and alert in ‘˜Shumang Lila’. It is the only media which maintains a uniform emotion for its heterogeneous audience. The audience in ‘˜Shumang Lila’ ranges from the most learned to the most illiterate, the richest to the poorest, and the most foolish to the wisest.   It is the performance which can entertain people of all sections, all age-groups and all occupations. Its popularity as a very effective medium lies in its local touch. The story, the language, the artistes ‘“ is all ours. The messages given in ‘˜Shumang Lilas’ can go deep in our hearts.

The optimum utilization of the traditional media for public awareness purposes was in AIDS awareness campaigns. Of course, other government departments do use it sparingly. It is unfortunate now that the tribal ‘˜Shumang Lilas’ thus created found an immature death due to lack of nourishment. Neither its creator nor the government’s Department of Art and Culture seem to take its responsibility seriously. In the valley, people used to invite ‘˜Shumang Lila’ teams for festival entertainments thereby sustaining the artiste groups. However, such is not the case with tribal ‘˜Shumang Lila’ artistes. Until their play reaches the status and standard of Meitei performers, we need to nourish them. Who will take up this endeavor?

*The article was written by Seram Neken.

*The article was earlier published December 15, 2008

(Courtesy: Merinews)

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