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The Tribes of Dima Hasao District

The Zeme Nagas :           The Zeme Nagas are distributed in Dima Hasao and parts of adjoining Manipur and Nagaland states. They are classified by the anthropologists as one of the sub-tribes of the Kacha Nagas. The Zemes living in Nagaland call themselves Zeliang and those of the Manipur borders are known as Zeliangrong.

  Originally they migrated from Nagaland via Manipur and settled down in the north-eastern part of N.C.Hills and south of Maibang, the ancient capital of the Kachari kings.  They also settled as far as the bank of the river Kopili. With the decline of the Kachari power, the Zemes became easy victims of the depredations of the mighty Angami Nagas in the neighbourhood. As a result, some of the Zemes migrated to the west and settled in the hills beyond the Diyung valley. They  speak their own zemi dialect and are living peacefully along with the other tribes like Dimasa Kachari, Kuki, Hmar for more than two centuries. The Zemes are well built, strong ang healthy with thick black hair and a fair complexion.

The Zemes have six clans – Napame, Nkuame, Heneume, Nriame, Sogame, and Pnma. Of them Napame and Nkuame are considered as belonging to the same clan and marriage between these two clans is not encouraged. The clans are exogamous. There is a system of bride price which is paid in terms of Mithuns by the bridegroom to the bride’s parents.  

TheThe Zeme Nagas are animist and they believe in the existence of one supreme God and eight other gods under Him who are associated with health, water etc. They believe in witchcraft and black magic. They also believe in the existence of a spiritual world. When a man dies, they believe, he takes a journey to this spiritual world and provisions of food etc. are made for this occasion by keeping aside a share in a basket from the feast to the departed soul held by the realtives of the deceased. The deadbody is put in a coffin and buried. A flat stone slab with some markings is placed on the grave as a symbol of identification.

The Zeme villages are on the breezy hill-tops. Each village has dormitories for young boys and girls. The boys’ dormitories are called Hangseuki and the girls’ are known as Langseuki. All the young unmarried boys and girls spend the night in their respective dormitories. As soon as one is married he or she ceases to be  a member of the dormitory which are considered as centers of learning as well as village recreational  activities. The girls are taught weaving, spinning, singing and dancing etc. and the boys are taught  wrestling, hunting and making of handicrafts. These dormitories also serve as guest houses.

Though a small section of the Zemes have been converted to Christianity, the larger section still honour their traditional festivals connected with agricultural activities and other social institutions. They celebrate some six important festivals during the year.

Youth dormitories play an important role in celebrating their festivals. The main festivals are – Heleibame, Sangbambe, Fokfatmi, Engkamngi, Siami and Kahagaba – mostly connected with agricultural activities.

Of the folk dances of the Zemes the popular ones are – Haripivelim, Johumpeselim, Kanguibelim, Kerapsaplim, Hakalim, Nbzchuinelim etc.

In their songs and dance performances they use their traditional musical instruments – Inchum, Hembeu, Inlubai, Kebuike, Metiyah, Inar, Kumtoi, Into etc.

The Zeme traditional male dresses are named as Injingni, Heni, Mopahai, Lauhepai, Khampefai etc. The young boys decorate their legs with rice powder paste and tie cane ropes just below the knee. The girls wear Mini Hegiangnine, Faimang, Faitik, Limfai and ornaments made of silver, brass and colourful bird feathers for the earlobes.