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Marriage, Social Change and Customary laws: Mizo and Naga Tribal Communities


Human society has never been static, though it changes constantly, the principles, beliefs, and traditions evolve from time to time. In the fast pace modern world that we are living in, it is increasingly difficult to analyze the difference between traditional and modern values. Tradition and modernity are statements of values that try to describe how society and culture change as people progress through various stages of development. The term "traditional societies" also designates a certain historical stage of social and cultural development. Understanding the interactions between various Naga and Mizo society is the aim of the current article focusing particularly on their customary law, social organization and socio-political status of women. It examines whether there have been any changes to the Angami Naga and Lushai Mizo societies and their traditional customs. This study investigates their cultural and traditional practices. It also clarifies the reasons for change and stability in the Angami and Lushai society. It is evident that their social structure, reputation, and treatment of women have changed over the time.

Naga tribe

The Aos (Angami) are one of the major tribes of the sixteen major tribes of Nagaland. The Tenyimia Angamis, who live in Kohima District and some areas of Dimapur District, are the fourth-largest Naga tribe. The Angami word Tuonyümia, which is the source of the phrase Tenyimia, signifies a "fast walker." The Angamis are divided into four categories based on their geographic location: the Northern, Southern, Western, and Chakroma groups. The Northern Angami are the people who live in Kohima and the nearby villages; the Western Angami are the people who live in the west; the Southern Angami are the people who live in the south; and the Chakroma are the people who have settled in the plains and slopes along the national highway from Kohima to Medziphema and the area around Dimapur. The Angamis are of Tibeto-Burman origin and their spoken language Tenyidie is written in the Roman script[1] (Medonuo Pienyu, 2017).

Mizo tribe

Mizoram is located in the north-eastern parts of India, the home of a number of ethnic groups, the majority of whom speak Tibeto-Burman languages. “Historically, Mizo people have practiced slash-and-burn agriculture and regularly moved their villages. One of the most renowned Mizo tribes is the Lushai. The Mizo communities are typically found atop hills or spurs, and until the land was under British control, they were guarded by stockades. Even though people from many distinct clans lived in each hamlet, it had a separate government with a hereditary chief in control. In the Mizo society initially, there were four classes in Mizo society: chiefs, commoners, serfs, and slaves (war captives). The British put an end to fighting and headhunting and used the local chiefs to run the region”[2] (Virginia Gorlinski,2022).

Customary Laws

The majority of the rules, traditions, and customs of local communities and indigenous peoples are considered to be covered under customary law. Customary law is defined as being fundamental to the way of life and traditions of local communities and indigenous peoples.

What constitutes "customary legislation" and what qualifies as "custom" much will depend on how indigenous people and local communities themselves view these issues and how they conduct their respective local communities. According to one definition, “custom” is a “rule of conduct, obligatory on those within its scope, established by long usage. Valid customs must be of immemorial antiquity, certain and reasonable, obligatory, not repugnant to statute law, though it may derogate from the common law. General customs are those of the whole country, as, e.g. the general custom of merchants. Particular customs are the usage of particular traits. Local customs are customs of certain parts of the country”[3](WIPO 2016)

According to some authorities, customary laws can be defined as “customs that are accepted as legal requirements or obligatory rules of conduct; practices and beliefs that are so vital and intrinsic a part of a social and economic system that they are treated as if they were laws”[4] (WIPO 2016)

From the traditional context it is a type of law that, in the classical sense, can be firmly ingrained in the way of life and social norms of a possibly tiny community, where interpersonal ties may be of the utmost significance form of promoting and enforcing appropriate behavioral standards.

How is Customary Law Protected by Traditional Knowledge?

Information may be considered "traditional" if it is created, conserved, and passed down through generations in a customary setting, and customary law frequently defines and affects this environment. Therefore, when addressing the protection of traditional knowledge, understanding customary law may be important to address even the most basic query: What does this term mean? Indigenous people and local communities frequently cite this as one of the key arguments for why measures to protect indigenous knowledge against exploitation and misuse should be based on and support the execution of their customary laws. Therefore, using customary law as part of a more comprehensive strategy that may also include using indigenous and customary laws and rituals toolset for safeguarding indigenous knowledge.

For example, in Mizoram the biggest and most influential Non-Governmental Organization like Young Mizo Association (YMA) has taken numerous measures for robust awareness and legal protection to up hold and preserved the value of Mizo’s customary law among the masses and civil society as a whole. Among worth mentioning in the field of ceremonial funeral and marriage and other disaster management areas, customs are well put together preserved and protected with instruction and make guideline to pass down from one generation to next generation.

These tools may include existing intellectual property systems, adapted intellectual property systems with sui generis elements, and new stand-alone sui generis systems, in addition to non-intellectual property options like trade practices and labelling laws, liability rules, use of contracts, regulation of access to animal livestock, and remedies based on torts (delicts) like unjust enrichment, rights of publicity, and blasphemy.

Naga’s Angami marriage, divorce and inheritance

The unwritten or uncodified codes of conduct revered by long-standing observance in a given socio-cultural unit are known as customary rules, regulations, and customs. Customary behavior has a universal nature. Each civilization must have its own traditions. Some of them have social acceptance. They belong to the category of people who are socially interactive. Every community, no matter how backward or civilized, uneducated or literate, displays these characteristics. The written or codified rules controlling private or public behavior, as well as the constitutional provisions adopted by certain legislative bodies or organizations, should be contrasted with customary laws and practices.

The Angami only had monogamous relationships ceremonial marriages and non-ceremonial marriages were the two types of unions. The ritualistic marriage was place in accordance with the rules and was highly regarded. There were no formal ceremonies involved in the non-ceremonial union. Although both types of marriages were socially acceptable, the formal marriage commands more honor and respect than the non-ceremonial marriage. Women are free to select their partners, but the father or the clan leader will make the final decision. When a woman marries, her mother typically presents her with clothing, jewel, a basket, paddy, cattle, and even agricultural land, but this custom is not required.

In the Aos culture, marriage bestows a variety of legal privileges on the couple, including marital rights, the wives need to submit to and follow her husband, and the right to cohabitation and sustenance. Marriages within the same clan or bigamy are recognized as invalid under the customary rules. Some elopement weddings were null and void because they lacked parental consent; however, once parents approve, these marriages can be legally consummated. Marriage confers conjugal rights, and if either party leaves it, the other can seek restitution from their clan elders, who can look into the matter and issue a directive; if that doesn't work, remarriage is permitted.

A widow cannot get married within a year after her husband's passing; if this rule is broken, violated fine could be imposed. In contrast, a divorcee may get married at any time after the divorce has been approved by the society.

W. Davis who had conducted 1891 census in the area remarked, “widows are allowed to remarry at a decent interval after the death of husband. A year is the least interval that is supposed to elapse before a woman is allowed to take a new husband. If this rule is broken a fine is imposed. The rule with regard to widower is the same as that for widows. A woman who has been divorced for infidelity is not allowed to remarry without paying a considerable fine to her former husband”[5](Parwez, 2012).

The father, who acts as the family's head, is the sole owner of ancestral property in Aos society as self-acquired tangible and immovable property, the inheritance goes to the male line. The daughters whose marriage is outside the families, they were not eligible for the inheritance. In order to maintain herself and any small children she may have, a widow may hold property but, she was not entitled to inherit it; instead, it transferred to her son upon her demise. A widow was treated as the head of the home, even if the eldest son used to be the official head.

If the husband's infidelity led to the divorce, the property was split equally between the husband and wife. However, if the divorce was the result of the wife's adultery, she was subjected to a harsh punishment that required her to leave her husband's home wearing nothing but a skirt and shawl. Up until recently, one hardly ever heard about such a procedure. If the mother persisted in keeping the children, the sons would go to their father and the daughters to their mother. After a divorce, the father is in charge of the children. The laws governing divorce are still in effect today.

No male family member may claim a woman's right to construct her own home and farm a portion of her ancestral field if she chooses to remain single. She disposes of it as she sees fit after she passes away. Typically, the heirs are her brothers, their children, or those who look after her.

They were in a state of upheaval due to the spread of education, the rise of Christianity, and the influence of a globalized market economy. They want to update nevertheless they are eager to push their customary law and traditions, which serve as the foundation of their society.

Mizo’s Lushai marriage, divorce and inheritance

In the past, women in traditional Mizo society worked very hard and did a variety of household activities, such as caring for the water from the well, putting labor in the jhum all day, cooking, gathering wood from the forest, etc.

The father is the primary decision-maker in the family and has complete power over all of the family's members, wealth, and other financial resources. According to Mizo customary law, men inherit everything, and the family's property typically passes to the youngest son, but the father may leave parts to other sons. If a man has no sons, his property is inherited by the next male relative. Except for a very narrow exception, Mizo women have no inheritance or ownership rights, whether in their parental house or after marriage. They also have no claim to their income, their children, or their property”[6] ( J.Zorema ,2013).

A Christian relationship and a Mizo traditional union are combined in the Mizo marriage. On the one hand, Christian or modern varieties of marriage might carry out the social ceremony of marriage strictly according to custom, requiring a procedure of courtship, engagement, and ultimately settling for bride price. After a feast for those in attendance for the wedding ceremony, the newlyweds were blessed by a local priest at an ordination that was held in a church[7](Thangzakhup Tombing,2017).

“Women were being purch