Paan : The Traditional Institution of the Konyak Naga
It is not an easy task to write on traditional practices or customs of belief about a particular tribe or community. We need to do a lot of research and fact findings, interacting with renowned historians and village elders. That will enable us to gather enough information. As I lack experience and research, my article might not penetrate into the very core of our social practices and beliefs. So it might appear vague or incomplete to some readers. However, I have given my best efforts by getting help from many reference books, especially a book entitled From Darkness to Light written by A.Yanang Konyak which was of immense help for me in portraying the greatness of ancient traditional institution of the Konyak. Here the traditional institution refers to Morung or Paan among the Konyak that served in educating them morally, intellectually and physically. A Paan may be called 'Bachelors house' or 'Boys’ dormitory'. It was a great social institution where the Konyak boys received education orally. The Paan or Morung deals more with social structure than individuals or family. The Paan in every Konyak village is usually the biggest house. There can be more than one Paan in a village where there are three to four hundred houses. So, the bigger the village, the more the number of Paans The Paan house is constructed by the whole village or by the members of the Paan.
The Paans in Konyak villages are usually built close to the entrance of the village, perhaps for security and defences of the village in case of attack. Haimendorf (an anthropologist) remarked about the Konyak Morung: "The men's house or morung (Paans) appeared with its open front, like the wide open mouth of some gigantic whale, numerous carved sticks and boards, dangling from the caves, sounded softly as the wind hit them one against the other. Powerful posts carried the palem-thatched roof and gable carving, painted a faint red and forming the happiest contrast against a delicate blue sky, stretched their arms heavenwards. High up on these carved gables three hornbills perched, as though taking the whole house under the protection of their wings. These sacred birds, with their enormous beaks, formed with tigers, elephants, snakes and humans, the motif of the manifold carvings on the coloured frieze. Differences of sex were emphasized clearly and not always with great delicacy. Fantastic carvings adorned the open porch of the morung- the head and tusk of an elephant, a life-sized leopard running head downwards, and two warrior, holding captured heads in their hands flanked the open door-ways leading to the central hall,...... and there were also couples of lovers.”
The Paan of the Konyaks serves as a council hall where the rights and obligations of every member are regulated. It serves as dormitory for the young men of the community where they learn the traditional arts and crafts, various activities like hunting and tactics and also several religious and social activities. It is in this Paan that young boys learn the culture and custom of his people.They also learn the way of life, stories about their ancestors and the many tales of heroes of wars of the past. Every boy on entering adolesence becomes the member of the Paan sleeping there every night until the time of marriage and every boy whether rich or poor, literate or illiterate, is compelled to spend at least three years for disciplinary training Paan is full of life and activities, therefore, it is not easy for some men to break away from it suddenly. It resembles the military rule of present time . During his stay at paan, he is thoroughly indoctrinated in the wisdom and lore of his tribe and taught the skills of hunting,agriculture and other trades including the construction of house. He is also initiated ino the mysteries of the Konyak religion. There is a huge flat log placed in front of the paan's house that serves as a sent. There is another a huge hollowed log (i.e log drum) which is used as a gong through which messages are sent to neighbouring villages by beating the gong in various appropriate ways. There are messages of war, sickness, epidemic or death. Those who violate the paan rules were punished or fined and they had no right to voice against the law. But it does'nt mean that it was tyrannical or autocratic in nature; rather, it was a democratic institution governed by the members of the morung comprising adolescent and elderly persons.
In a Paan or morung the seniors are highly respected. In any gathering, the seniormost among the paan members will always be served first, any matter regarding the problem of the village is settled in the paan and the general will of the senoirs are accepted for the welfare of all. Thus, the Konyak people were guided, shaped, bound and were obliged to obey the rules that enabled them to safe-guard their lives, property, family, and clan. This resulted in building a strong, organised, disciplined and efficient administration under the jurisdiction of their village.
Therefore, though generations have passed, the paan still survives in many Konyak villages and it continues to influence the people in the villages. It remains unshaken and uninterrupted by external contact and modern legal system. And I believe that it will always remain as a great heritage for the Konyak people even in the years to come.