PEKA - A giver of strength and courage: a detailed description of the most significant ritual among
Updated: Sep 9, 2019
Oral narratives and rituals are a part and parcel of tribal life. Oral narratives, i.e. myths, legends, tales and songs, are expressed, not only in symbolic words, but also in symbolic acts like rituals and rites, dance and drama, etc. Ritual is something special, unique, and separate from everyday life. Generally, rituals are performed in a special time and place, and use special objects. According to Mircea Eliade (1987), ritual arises from the encounter with the “numinous” or “sacred”, and in order to continually maintain such a contact, these rituals are repeated by priests or shamans. Hence, rituals may be defined as “those conscious and voluntary, repetitious and stylized bodily actions” (including verbal behaviour such as chants, songs and prayers) that are centred on cosmic structures and sacred presences. In my paper, I would like to discuss the ritual of Peka, practised by the Galo tribe of Arunachal Pradesh, and all the beliefs, myths and practices associated with it. This paper is based on the ritual, which was held at a particular household at Bam village of Basar.
WHAT IS PEKA?
Peka is considered the most important as well as the most elaborate ritual among the Galos. Peka, in itself is a deity, who is regarded as the most powerful spirit and the provider of courage, agility and strength, especially to the male members of a family. Usually, every man with enough financial resources as well as a large number of sons prefer to perform this ritual in every 2-3 years, for the wellbeing of the family. Others, whose sons are not smart enough in hunting, fishing, or building their own lives, also perform this ritual. Couples unable to bear children, or having only daughters and no sons also perform this ritual because it is believed that the deity Peka provides them with sons. Hence, this ritual is basically performed so that the men folk of a family are blessed with strength, courage and success, as well as for productivity, in the form of both wealth and children, especially male children.
ORIGIN MYTH OF PEKA
Long time back, our ancestor Abo Tani lived with an elephant and a tiger in the same house. Nevertheless, both the elephant and the tiger felt that they should be living a free life in the jungle and rule there like kings. So they left Abo Tani and settled in the forest, but before their departure, they warned him against telling anybody that they had ever lived with him. Therefore, Abo Tani kept it a secret. However, people started questioning him, asking him how and why he lived alone. They wanted to know if there had been any companion or had he been living alone all his life. They pestered him until he finally told them about the tiger and the elephant. The news passed from one person to another until after many years, it reached the ears of the tiger. By then, Abo Tani had married and even brought up many sons. The tiger was furious when he learned that Abo Tani had broken his promise, and decided to punish him. One day, while Abo Tani was sitting in the veranda and shaving a bamboo stick with his knife, the Tiger came and crouched under the house. Just then, the knife slipped and fell through the crack in the floor. Abo Tani sent one of his sons to fetch the knife, but when he went below the house, he couldn’t find it. This was because the tiger had covered the knife with the mud and hidden it from view. But as soon as the son left, the tiger dug it out, so when Abo Tani peered through the crack, he could see the knife glistening in the dark. So he sent another son to fetch the knife but the tiger played the same trick on him too. Hence, Abo Tani decided to go and get it himself. But as soon as he crawled under the house, the tiger pounced on him and he fell unconscious. The tiger then grabbed him by the neck and carried him deep into the forest. When Abo Tani’s sons found out that their father was missing, they set off in search. When they couldn’t find him anywhere, they approached the deity Peka for help. Using his powers, Peka located Abo Tani lying unconscious in the forest. The sons brought their father back home, and decided they should give Peka something in return as a token of gratefulness. But Peka refused to accept any gift at the moment. Instead, he asked that they perform a ritual in his honor every 2-3 years, and instructed them on the diipes and sacrifices to be made in the ritual. Since then, many families perform the ritual occasionally, according to their financial convenience.
When the head of a family desires to perform the Peka, first he consults a priest who then comes to his house and performs the ritual called roksin koknam. Here, the priest or Nyibo holds a young chick and starts chanting. He invokes the first priest Donyi Jillo and all the priests who descended him, and he also calls upon the powers of all the contemporary priests, and seeks their opinion on whether this particular family should conduct the ritual or not. He cuts open the chick and pulls out its liver, and then he holds the liver and gazes into it. He looks for some signs in the liver that signify a yes or a no. If the answer is no, the family cannot perform the ritual, and if it is a yes, they can go ahead with the preparations. Sometimes, the priest after gazing at the liver also says that the family is long overdue, and has to perform the Peka at the earliest as the spirits have been waiting for it.
After about a month, another ritual known as the Pippe Chinam is done. Here again, the priest examines a number of eggs to determine the sacrifices to be made. Now, each spirit is said to have its specific demand when it comes to sacrifices. For example, if the priest wants to find out about the sacrifice to be made for Peka Papin, he knows that one of the animals the spirit favours is mithun. So he holds an egg, calls out to the spirit and asks if he wants the family to offer him a Mithun in the ritual, and then he cooks the egg by putting it in a special spoon-like bamboo device known as piipur and submerging it in boiling water. The priest then carefully peels the egg so that he does not break the part of the shell covering the air cell and then he examines the inside of the cuticula as well as the egg yolk. By examining the egg shell and the egg yolk, he determines whether or not a mithun will be sacrificed in the forthcoming Peka ritual. Similarly, he takes another egg and repeats the process naming another animal usually favoured by the spirit. Hence, about 20-25 eggs are used for this examination, since Peka ritual involves a large number of spirits and sacrifices. Once the sacrifices have been decided upon, the priest fixes a date for the ritual. This ritual is performed within the months of November and April.
On the day of the ritual, a group of men gather in the house of the family for whom the Peka will be performed. They bring with them all the bamboos and leaves which are required to make diipes. Diipes are bamboo structures or idols that represent the spirits or deities, which will be invoked in the ritual. In this ritual, twenty-two different diipes (idols) were made. These idols are erected in a row right next to the house like a wall. A bamboo string is woven which goes around all the idols and extends up to the inside of the house. This symbolises the blessings of all the deities entering the house. After that, the actual ritual takes place in which one male member of the house makes sacrifices to the deities. He slaughters the animals and sprinkles their blood on the idols of deities. In this particular event, the house owner offered one mithun, five pigs, twelve hens and fifteen eggs. It is believed that the spirits consume the sacrifices when the blood is smeared or when the eggs are broken on the diipes (idols). Therefore, only a particular sacrifice demanded by a certain spirit is given to its idol. For example, the blood of mithun was smeared on the idols of Yapom nyiji, do yapom, pulek rablek, karu karom gibe, hiki aane, donyi nyitu jire, liru karu, kate kale gibe, ari rilek gibe, donyi nyite, poki nime, biru mugli, dere yapom nyite, bute nyite and the blood of a pig was smeared on the idols of jirmu lerom, kohii bejii kakam, Yule dapo, bepu beme, maja roja, dahi, uyi orom,and yachu and so on. It may be mentioned that only the blood of all the animals are smeared on the idols, the flesh or meat is consumed by the people.
The next day, the priests, family members and other participants of the event gather at the house and they have a feast. Then, a priest performs the ambin ritual. He holds some rice on a leaf and chants prayers. He says to the spirits, “you were called here to bless this family yesterday, you came and you spent the night in this house among us, now it’s time for you to leave, so we bid you farewell.” Then he sprinkles rice on the idols or diipe which had been erected outside the house. After this, the spirits are believed to have left the house. On this day, the people mostly spend the day feasting and having a good time around the fireplace.
Later in the evening, they settle the payment for the priests. Some pay in the form of adam and aame (copper bowl/plate) or in cash. There is no fixed payment for the priest, although he is free to demand any amount and it is usually quite reasonable and non-negotiable.
For the first five days, the person who had made the sacrifices does not leave the house.
He will not cut his hair or shave for at least 6 months. This is why the person who will be offering the sacrifices usually shaves off his head and face before beginning the ritual.
He cannot attend any festival, weddings, funerals or traditional rituals of any kind for one year. He can only attend peka rituals being performed in other houses.
For the first three months, he can eat only rice, dal and potatoes. After that he can start having other vegetables but he should avoid taake (ginger), onyor, raro, oji, ogiiyii, talap laamne (spring onions) for one year. This restriction is on all the members of the family.
The person who offered the sacrifices cannot eat any meat, or iitii (steamed cake made of rice flour) for one year.
For atleast 10-15 days, they do not have visitors at their house.
Finally, after one year, the priest comes and performs the ambin ritual again. He sits by the fireplace holding some rice in a leaf or a dutup (bamboo container) and chants. He tells the spirits how Peka was performed in this house and how this household followed the restrictions imposed on them for a year. And now, the priest asks the spirits to free them from these taboos. Then he goes out of the house and throws the rice on the backyard. It is believed that these grains of rice fly to the spirits and convey the message to them. After this ritual, the family is free to start consuming any food item, and attending any other rituals and festivals as they want.
EFFECTIVENESS OF THE RITUAL
Even in today’s day and age, with all the scientific and medical advancement, this ritual is still performed with much faith and vigour, because it has actually helped people in their times of emotional and social distress brought about especially by inability to have children. To cite an example, a couple in Nyigam Village had been married for about 11years and had two daughters, and no sons, so they performed the Peka ritual in 2014 and one year later, they were blessed with a baby boy. Now, whether, we call it a miracle or mere coincidence, it is evident that the prayers of the couple had been answered, and it sure has strengthened the people’s faith in the deity Peka.
-- By Isha Basar