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"Mao Language and Etymology"

By:- Fr. William Nepuni


Let me start with some preliminary remarks. The topic which I am going to deal with is vast, and not merit putting it in a nutshell. The methodology I adopted in this present paper is to re-evaluate the history of "Our language and Etymology" based on primary source and field study. The primary sources are - the unwritten, unrecorded oral traditions, such as folktales, folksongs, wise sayings, and proverbs. Legends and classical phrases etc. collected from different interviews. The second source is from personal field study. I shall present the different views and opinions of village on the subject matter. These two sources provide us a wide information to establish the history, culture, and language of the Mao's. The secondary sources are written manuscripts both published and unpublished documents to substantiate the theme in this paper.

The scope and purpose - to unfold the past memories of the oral traditions especially "Our language and etymology" and understand them in the present situation: to interpret the meaningful values and sayings of the forefathers, regarding the concept of the term and bring them out the best among the present generation, to give a new thrust and a sense of belonging to the young generation on language and integrate them into the modern mode of teaching in the school curriculum.

Etymology of the word "MAO".

Preliminary notions - Allow me to use the generic term "Mao" to signify the four sub-groups namely, Ememei, Paomata, Lepaona, and Chiiluvei, (which respecting the aspiration our Poumei groups for an identity to be recognized as a tribe). Besides in accordance with the government of India's recognition of the Mao tribe as a major Naga tribe, and Mao dialects for introduction in educational institutions in Manipur in primary school level. The Mao Naga tribe inhabits in the North, the Marams and Zemei tribes in the west, the Tangkhuls in the west and Meities in the south. The area stretches along the foothills of Mt. Esii (Esii Pfoki) on the Japfu mountain range in the west to Mt. Houdu (Houdu Pfoki) on the north of Phuba (Epremei) and Liyai (Ozhimei) extending to Laini river (Laini Korii) on the Nagaland State. The two great rivers namely, Barak (Shuvorii) and Chiiherii river sources springs from the eastern part of Paomata and on the western part of Ememei respectively. Besides Ngari river (Ari korii) flows from the north of Chiiluvei area.

Etymology notions - The inclusive term "Mao" become popular with the advent of the British in the 19th century in Mao area. The usage "Mao" become an accepted word and synonymous with the Mao Naga tribe as well as the Mao dialect since then. The Britishers who had encountered with the Chinese during the opium trade must have had a remote concept in using the term "Mao" with that of the Mongoloid race or with the Chinese stock. Such doubts are still open to the social scientists, historians, and anthropologists to do such research. But today, the more accepted view and opinion of the term "Mao" is from the Maram Naga tribe, akin to the Mao's. The Maram call the western Maos as "Momei" = Maomei" in Maram accent. While the western Mao's called themselves "Emeo" after the great father and "Mei" stands for people. Thus, "Ememei" means descendants of "Emma".

"Mao is a Manipur name which was also adopted by the British. In their own language, however, the members of the tribe call themselves Memei, and their chief village Imemei."

"Mao Sezemei, Sopvomei, or Memei Nagas of Mao again have legends connecting them with the plain lands of Manipur."

The genesis of Mao language
The mythical conception - the oral folktale has it that there was conjugal relationship between the "white cloud" and a woman called "Dziiliamosiiro" while she was sleeping under the peepal tree. It is told that the white cloud came and enveloped her and she conceived and bore three sons namely -(a) Ashupfo Alapha, who is known as the forefather of the dark complex like the Aryan and Dravidian race (Kolamei pfope),(b) Chiituwo, who is the forefather of the Non-Naga Meiteis   race(Mikrumei pfope), (c)Khephio, who is the forefather of theNaga race(Nagamei pfope). There are difficulties and problems to trace the ancestral lines of the non-Nagas and the Meities race. The myth goes to say that Ashiipfo Alapha's descendants settled down in the dark jungle (Ive katei) on the west (kola po). The descendants of Chiituwo (Meities) settled in the south valley (Mikrii po). The generation of khephio (Naga race) spread and settled in the hills of northeast India and western Myanmar.

Genealogical evolution -

Progenies of shiipfowo - the oral tradition goes to say that shiipfowo was the eldest son of Khephio - "Shiipfowo" the name of a person and "Mei" stand for the people thus the term "shiipfomei" connotes the descendants of shiipfowo. He inherits the legacy of his father and according to the shiipfomei tradition; the lion share of the father's property goes to the eldest son. And hence, the following four sub-groups are the descendants of shiipfowo.

a) Ememei Sshipfomwi (Western area)
b) Paomata Shiipfomei (Northern area)
c) Chiiluvei Shiipfomei (Eastern area)
d) Lepaona Shiipfomei) Southern area)

There is a slight difference in tonalities and spellings of "shiipfomei" according to local dialect and pronunciation of the area such as "shiipfowo" "shepou" "shepao".

Second myth of conception - according to this version the white cloud came and overshadowed Dziiliamosiiro as she was sleeping under the peepal tree and she conceived and gave birth to three sons, Tiger(Okhe), God(Ora), and Man(Omei). On their departure the tiger occupied the vast jungle, while the god occupied space and the man, the bowel of the earth.

Linguistic classification

There is no universal language among the Nagas tribes, and the languages spoken by the various Naga tribes had different vocabularies, but all adhere to the same grammatical rules. And it is quite inevitable that languages and dialects varies from village to village and area to area. This is very true of the language, tune, accent, and tonalities among the Mao's. And such variation within  the four sub-groups can be a wealth, to enrich the literature and further the development of vocabulary. As such Mao language can be divided broadly into four sub-headings.........

Articles and contributions made by others does not reflect the stand of the Developers and the Designers.
Developed By Mr. B Koheni Moses.