Keeping alive the cultural heritage of Kom

IMPHAL, 13th Jul: Inhabited by different communities, Manipur is known for its various art forms and cultural expressions to the world outside and there are many people who are working for the preservation of these rich heritages of the state.
Situated around 8 km from Moirang Bazar in Churachandpur district, the Ethological Museum at Khoirentak is one such cultural repositories of the Kom tribe, where one can find huge collection of Kom artifacts.
The name of the museum doesn’t appear on the list of top tourist destinations of the state, but art enthusiasts often visit the place to explore the beauty of Khoirentak and witness the decades old collections of Guru S Achon Kom, who is the main person behind the establishment of the museum.
Inaugurated in 2017, ‘Ethnological Museum, The Cultural Interpretation Centre' was constructed under the aegis of Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya (National Museum of Mankind), Bhopal, Ministry of Culture with aim to preserve the cultural artifacts of Kom tribe.
In an exclusive interview with The People’s Chronicle, Guru S Achon Kom (57), founder of Kom Cultural Dance and Research Centre, recounted how he and his team struggled for years in collecting the cultural artifacts.
“The beginning was really hard; we had to sit for long hours with village elders so as to learn the oral narratives of Kom tribe,” Guru Achon said.
When asked about the site of collection and how much time he took in collecting the artifacts, Guru S Achon, who was conferred with the title of ‘Guru’ by NEZCC, Dimapur in 2005, said that most of the items (nearly 70%) have been collected from Khoirentak Village itself and it took him more than 35 years to collect the items.
“Some happily extended cooperation, while there were times when the collection team exchanged heated arguments with many people,” Guru Achon recounted.
Distributed in one-storeyed building, the main attraction of the museum was the collection of various Kom cultural attires beautifully placed inside a glass box.
The attires included Pasepon (shawl for dignified man of Kom tribe); Khamtlang (women’s garment); Nuhmei-Ponshi (prestigious shawl worn by women); Ponkokhoi (regarded as the face of Kom women) and Ponthle, which is the most revered shawl used by people belonging to Kom tribe and mythologically, it is believed that Kom ancestors wore this at the time when they came out of the Khurpui, i.e. the Cave.
In a corner of the museum, one can also find a collection of traditional musical instruments and weapons used by Kom ancestors. Sapui-The (spear made up of wood/bamboo and iron); Rusem (aerophone type musical instrument made with bamboo reeds and dry bitter gourd); Serangdar (musical instrument made from Marvang tree), etc., are some of the traditional musical instruments and weapons which are being preserved in the museum.
Apart from these, the museum has a good collection of ornaments and basketry works of Kom tribe.
When asked about the future plans of the museum, Guru Achon said, “I did had a lot of plan but now I am weak and not in a position to knock on the doors of department concerned so as to execute the plans.”
Recounting the struggles of S Achon Kom; his wife Hmangsoyang Kom lamented that though there are many people who take pride of the rich cultural heritage of Manipur, in practice there are only a few who can empathize.
With advancement in age and no hope for help from government department concerned, Achon’s family has decided to stop cultural activism, thereby posing a big question on the part of the government which doesn’t have any policy to encourage cultural activists like Achon and why such people who are working for the preservation and promotion of state’s rich art and culture, are losing.

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