Nokpante: A Traditional Torch House Among The Garo
Ruel C. Sangma
Origin of the Traditional Nokpante:
‘Nok’ means house and ‘Pante’ means bachelor. The word “Nokpante’’ literally means ‘a house of bachelors’. The Nokpante or the bachelors’ dormitory was the only traditional institution that could be regarded as the center of learning among the garos. In ancient times every Garo village had one such Nokpante.
In the big villages, each clan had its own Nokpante for unmarried young men, but in some small villages, there was no Nokpante and the unmarried men slept either with their parents in the same house or in the house of the old widower. But now a days nokpante traditional learning house is rare among modern garo society. The Nokpantes were constructed at the centre of the village and in most case opposite to the Nokmas’s or Chief’s house.
The Construction of the Nokpante was slightly different from that of the ordinary family dwelling houses in that the Nokpantes were more strongly build and were usually larger than the dwelling family houses. Some Nokpantes were about 6 metres high, about 10 to 12 metres wide and 25 to 30 metres long.
Decoration of the Nokpante:
Huge timber posts crossbeams were decorated with color or carved designs were used in the construction of the Nokpante. Human figures, figures of animals like tiger, hog, reptiles, and birds were carved out on the posts and beams.
K. R. Marak (2005, pg-17) said some of these decorated posts and beams preserved from generation to generation. In Some Nokpantes, pig heads, elephant tusks, feathers fowls, horns of cattle, drums, and brass gongs which belong to the whole community were also kept in the Nokpante.
Nokpantes’ Roles in Garo Society For Youth Education: Some Observations
- It is here that they receive various training and act according to the direction of elders for various duties. Once the boys reach adolescence they were kept in a Nokpante as the Garos regard it improper for a grown-up boy to sleep with his parents and sister in the same house.
- All unmarried men from age seven or eight slept in the Nokpante. They usually went there after their supper and slept in the night. Basically, the Nokpante is divided into two parts-one in the enclosed walls which formed the sleeping room where the young men talked, heroic deeds of ancestors were told by the elders in songs and the other part was verandah. The verandah was used as a sort of schooling by old and experienced men of the village who came to the Nokpante and taught the young bachelors how to sing, about arts and crafts of woods, cane, baskets, mats, fishing nets, and other useful arts.
- Nokpante was a very important ground for the training and education of their young man in the sense of their culture and life. It was a preparation for them to take up responsibility in the family and in their clan. It was essential that every young man learns all kinds of traits before marriage.
- Thus, in the Nokpante boys were trained in various skills of art, martial arts, sports, games, craft, music, oral literature, and poetry which included various folk songs, mythological folklore, traditional accounts, ancient tales of war and adventure; principles of animistic worship, etiquette, and morality, traditions, customary laws and all the skills that a boy ought to know, like farming which was considered a must for every young man, as it was the main source of livelihood, making of baskets, fishing nets, musical instruments as well as the art of playing these instruments; house construction, use of timber, bamboo and cane, wood carving and painting with indigenous colors extracted from natural sources like roots, leaves, barks, etc., and making of hunting and war implements.
- It was the skilled elders of the village who took the responsibility of imparting their skill and knowledge to the younger generation and thereby keep alive the old traditions and culture.
- Various folk songs, mythological folklore, traditional accounts, ancient tales of war and adventure, principles of songsarek worship, etiquette, and morality were also taught and narrated by the elders and the katta agangipa.
- The art of beating drums, playing of flutes, harps, and such other vocal and musical instruments and dancing were also taught in the Nokpante by the senior and elders of the village. Besides, gymnastics, wrestling, high jump, long jump, tug of war, and other ways of the trial of strength were also practiced and there were also given practical lessons on discipline and on the sense of duty in the nokpante.
- It is pertinent that the Nokpante was also used as a courtroom where the Nokma or the village chief held his court. K.R. Marak (2005, pg 18-19), said that one of the important decisions have been taken at a meeting in front of the Nokpante of Bonepa was to change over from patriarchy to matriarchy as the former was not found suitable to their new environments. The custom of bringing his own nephew to marry the heiress was also said to have been decided in this meeting.
- In the Nokpante, where bachelors live also served as the guard of the village. In times of natural catastrophe, clash with the neighbor, fire incident, wild animals invasion like elephants or tigers the nokpante bachelor boys were expected to extend their helping hand.
- Every young man was expected to keep himself physically fit and to be vigilant for the safety of the village. Life in the Nokpante, in fact, was an education in the art of living where the youth learns discipline and is molded into men with all-round skill, personality, and sense of responsibility.
- Nokpante was also used as an assembly place for the village elders and young men, whose opinions were also considered as important in decision making. It is said that an important decision which had effected the culture till today was taken in front of the Nopkpante of Bonepa: that of change over from patriarchy to matriarchy and the customs of taking the nephew of a man as a Nokkrom (husband of the heiress).
- It also served as a courtroom of the Nokma or the Laskars. Laskars are a body of men formed since the annexation of the Garo Hills by the British Government who act as a kind of rural police and also as honorary magistrates and are empowered to deal with all minor matters and settle unimportant disputes. At times the Nokpante even became a guest house for strangers in the village.
- The Nokpantes that still exist in the villages of Siju and Emangre are outstanding where we find intricately carved and colored king-posts called ‘Do.kaku’ which resembles the totem poles of the American Indians.
- The other modern replica of the ancient Nokpante stands now as a showpiece at Naga Heritage Village at Kohima and one still under construction at Rajaronggat in South Garo Hills, Meghalaya.
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