Kaireila Shangcham: The chieftess of Talui

By FrontierManipur | Published On 23rd Feb, 2021, 02:15 GMT+0530

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In her 10 years as the female chief regent, she showed remarkable leadership and capability. For her legacy, even today Talui Village Authority continues to induct a woman to the Hangva

BY Tennoson Pheiray

The role of a woman in nurturing and sustaining her community is multi-layered as well as overlapping. The important role Tangkhul women have played in building their community cannot be argued. Yet, participation in political decision making has continued to elude them, even today. Thus, the personal accounts of Kaireila Shangcham of Talui stand out as a leader who effectively participated as a woman in decision making.

Kaireila was born in 1841, and she was the only child of the chief of the Vashum clan. She married the chief of Talui, Mingthing Shangcham. She was somebody who did not follow the ways that were accepted as appropriate behaviour for women in those days.

She drank khor with the men instead of serving, sat crossed legged which was unheard of in those days, and joined the village meeting council. Just like men did, she carried a basket meant for men, across her chest.

For the Tangkhul community, as a custom, once a girl married, she had to leave her parental house and live with her husband. In Kaireila’s case, after her marriage, her father came to live with her new family. This is something very rare and even rarer among the family of the chief of the clan.

After her marriage, she took up the responsibilities of running the village affairs. Because of her intelligence, and with a gift of Meiteilon, she was the first and the last Chieftess (Awungva) who took upon the title of Chief Regent of Talui Village from around 1910-1920 after the demise of her husband, chief Mingthing Shangcham.

Back then, when chief Mingthing Shangcham and the Hangva had meetings with the Meitei Maharaja, she acted as the translator and the communicator for the chief and the Hangva as they had language barrier. She was the only person who could speak Meiteilon. She was highly regarded by her people for her intelligence in socio-political welfare.

In her 10 years as the female chief regent, she showed remarkable leadership and capability. For her legacy, even today Talui Village Authority continues to induct a woman to the Hangva.

Based on her remarkable legacy in a male dominated society and as a marked of honour and respect, Lungrei Vashum, a well-known designer of traditional attires has designed the “Kaireila Kashan” (a traditional wrap-around) in 2011.  Few of his works include Rangsin Kashan, Rangphei Kachon (for male), Hungpung Ahungshi Kashan, Taraola Kashan, Shilin Kashan and others.

The iconography of Kaireila Kashan is the red colour in the base to exemplify intelligence and courage. The four black lines denote devotion and hard work. The “Khaifa Kashin” (frog waist) indicate chieftess Kaireila Shangcham’s irrefutable communication skills and gift of language. The “Ngatang Phophuk” signifies the qualities and sacrificial nature of a woman.  The pattern “Rairai Khamei Pheithei Phor” indicates the dignity and stature of a woman. The “Photap and Khaiwun kiw” denotes unity and closeness.  The “Chonkom Khamahang” is to signify Hangva Shim (the Cabinet House) and the “Junkokap Akhan” means eagle’s eyes signifying her sharp vision. Talui Shanao Long, the custodian of Kaireila Kashan has strictly warned against modification in any form.

In many ways, Kaireila broke the male domination. Even today, her story is a great example against the absence of women in decision making of traditional bodies. Kaireila’s story is a reminder that women are equally capable as men in making decisions and participating in the traditional body.

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