Bethesda-Khankho Foundation

London Kut 2013: Rethinking Culture and Cultural Practice

Introduction:

On being invited to contribute to this publication, I have reflected on some pertinent issues facing our society and finally settled with the one above for two reasons; one, culture and cultural claims have increasingly become factors for conflict in the contemporary society and two, culture will remain important to us wherever we are despite its fluidity and complexity. What is needed is to find a new way to discover and cherish our culture and cultural practices for human peace. In this small paper, we shall attempt to answer three questions: What is culture? How does culture cause conflict? And how do we discover and cherish our culture for human peace?

What is culture?

Culture is a way of life. It is that which helps us live life in its fullest sense. That includes, cultural attire, food, ways and means of relating to others, language, history, land and the way of cultivation and so forth. That being the case, culture is as old as human beings. It must be also remembered that culture is old but it is continually changing like a saying, ‘you cannot stamp on a running water twice.‘ This further reflects the complexity of culture - the meaning, shades of the meaning, the plurality, and fluidity of culture. It should also be noted that all cultures include both good and bad, giving meanings according to a given time and space. In this paper, by ‘promoting culture’ we refer to good elements of culture.

‘Kut’ is a Kuki culture, once developed, bloomed, faded, now rediscovered and celebrated as a culture. Being a post-harvest festival, Kut was a time to share and celebrate the successful sowing, growing and harvesting of crops for the year. The festival was marked by feasting, sharing of local drinks, singing, dancing and merry making in a community. The festival was not only for the members of the village but also for the wider community including the unseen spirits.

How does culture or cultural claims cause conflict?

Culture and cultural claims lead to conflict when it is mistakenly misplaced usurping the place of a person. The human being comes first, then his or her culture and not vice versa. Culture develops by itself according to its given time and space so that a person can live the fullest life possible in his or her lifetime. A person or life must be given more importance than culture. A person has a sense of pain, hurt or happiness but culture does not; a person suffers in the fight over nomenclature for our people but not the names, ‘Kuki’, ‘Zomi’, ‘Chin’ or ‘Mizo’ which are lifeless and temporary like a mist that disappears with the change of temperature.

Culture and cultural practice also cause conflict when idealized and imposed on others for cultural supremacy. Vulnerable for such an idealization are, for instance; genealogical tree, leading some groups to claim for superiority with authority over others; interpretation of a myth of origin and migration, making some people feel they were the first settlers needing a special status; common historical past which make some to claim certain regions of the state as their ancestors’ land without having taken into consideration the acts of oppression which might have been committed in the process of making a community become what it is now? These are some examples of crucial issues we need to think about when we talk about our culture and cultural practices.

What is the way forward?

Having reflected on the nature of culture and its vulnerability for selfish means, we felt rather terrified but not without a hope. There is a way forward in dealing with the complex issue of culture and its potentiality of causing conflict in the society. I would like to offer the following three points as parts of the solution to the issue under discussion.

A living culture: The purpose of culture is to help live life in its fullest sense. Life is active and goes through changes and so does culture to support life. In other words, culture supports and transforms lives. It follows life, is active and is living. This forces us to think about Kut - what does Kut mean to the people today? Does it support our lives? Does it transform our lives and helps us become better members of human society? Kut celebration definitely includes merry making and we must enjoy the festival. But the enjoyment must not be destructive in all aspects but enhance lives in the community. Kut festival must not be a celebration of the past but rather an enhancement of our lives through the contextualization of the cultural past. Unless a culture does this, it cannot be considered a living culture. A living culture speaks to a present day context and often it spares no one!

A human culture: Is Kut only for the Kukis or for a wider human community? To be a human culture, Kut must benefit a wider human community one way or the other. If Kut becomes and remains only for the benefit of Kukis, it will be an idol, a dead culture in a coffin which will gradually lead the people to destruction. Earlier we have noted that the traditional Kukis included wider communities including the unseen spirits in their Kut celebrations. Here, whether or not the spirits have actually joined the celebration is not the issue but the mindset of the people which includes other human and non-human beings into their concept of community. Kut is a human property and it must not be privatized by a single community.

A culture points to its origin: Where does a good thing come from? We do not have a ready made culture at birth and as new situations develop with new challenges, there emerges appropriate ways to deal with them. These appropriate ways or call it ‘culture’ was not given to us ahead of time. Or put it this way, when God led our foreparents out of the Khul, God also guided and provided them with means and skills to face each new situations on their way to the surface of the earth whatever the myth means. The instant availability of appropriate ways to deal with new situations indicates that there is another source where these good things come from. A living culture comes from God and it humbles us as we celebrate it. Is a Kuki Kut a living culture? If so, how do we celebrate the human property for human peace?

Conclusion:

Despite its fluidity and complexity, culture will remain important to us whether at home or abroad. To cherish it as a living culture, we need to give our culture a fresh reflection in each new context and discover its meaning appropriately for common good. A culture cannot be considered a living culture unless it helps you in your present life’s situation; it cannot be a human property if it benefits you alone!

By Jangkholam Haokip, 1 Bellgrove Street, Glasgow, UK. The article was written for the London Kut 2013 publication.