Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Social bonding depiction

Irrational Activities Continuing to be Part of Social Life Indicates an Inherent Need for a Reconciliation Between Subjective Aspirations and Objective Consequences

Herbert Spencer is of the view that the working mechanism of society corresponds to that of an individual living body where living organisms with unity of differentiated and mutually dependent parts, each of which cooperate with others for the benefit of the whole. The society that we live in, is not in a chaotic state but are structure and arranged in an orderly fashioned i.e., the numerous parts like polity, economy, religion, family or education cannot be studied in isolation but are integrally related to each other and it is this inherent relationship that sustains the society. And the contribution which each part contributes to the maintenance of the whole social system is what sociologists refer to as function. But there is always a difference between the common sense observation and sociological perspective. And sociological perspectives need to break away from the common sense perception to bring out how society truly operates and to understand the function of any cultural or social item. The common sense explanations are based on ‘naturalistic’ or ‘individualistic’ explanations which rest on the assumption that one can really identify natural reasons for individual social behavior. It is unreflective in the sense that it lacks critical thinking or scientific procedures about the origin, context or social situation within which our beliefs, identity or tradition about ourselves, no matter how valued and cherished it is, has emerged or evolved. And for that we need to go back in time to bring out meaningful and unsuspected connections which can only be reached by placing the item or issue through masses of connections.

Take the case of the economic activities carried out between the Mao traders and people in the valley in the recent time. The traders from Mao who came to sell their produce obviously would subjectively aim at earning their livelihood and to make a certain amount of profits from their sales. But the objective consequences and the latent function which we see is how it promotes inter-community bonding, solidarity and economic interdependence between the hill and valley people. It enhances human relationships that bridges the sense of separateness and interdependency itself leads to unity and social solidarity. Therefore we need to look at the observable objective consequences of social action and not the subjective disposition of what they do. It is indeed a boon and opportunity for a genuine leader to work out for a leeway that such occasions provide at this junction of time considering the long standing trust deficit and conflict between the hill and valley people. Therefore the state government must take the responsibility seriously and carry out action with immediate effect and establish a permanent structure of market place where the traders can comfortably sell their ware instead of locating and shifting the place at different locations.

In the common sense perception, the layperson is likely to see only the immediately visible consequences but they might not always see the deeper or latent functions of what they do. It is here Robert K Merton evolves the new meaning to functional analysis. He evolved the notion of latent function distinguishing from the manifest function. Merton postulated that any item which is to be subjected to functional analysis must be closely observed in order to provide a clue with regard to the functions of the item. Therefore he makes a distinction between intended and unintended consequence in dealing with any cultural or social item with regard to functional analysis.



One of the classic examples is the rain making ceremony of the Hopi Indian, a Native American tribe. This native tribe had a rain making ceremony that attempts to invoke a rain in time of drought and water scarcity which is followed by performing a rain dance with the aim of magically producing a rain. It is an intended action i.e., manifest functions (subjective disposition) that they will get a rain which is unlikely to result from a scientific vantage but the real consequence which they achieved were solidarity and cooperation in time of hardship or in other words solidifying the community bonds that are largely scattered i.e., latent functions (Objective consequences) which the community themselves might not be aware of.  Thus Merton advises the social thinker to go beyond the common sense perception and to see the latent consequence of any cultural or social practices.

Similar religious rituals can be found in our society too. The Meitei religious tradition had a rain invoking ceremony known as ‘Nong Kouthaba’ which is a national religious rite performed since the historical past. People believed that there is a natural relationship between the king and the state. The animals, plants and weather were mystically associated with the king and it is believed that natural calamities or droughts are caused by unruly conduct of the king. His private morality and vices were thought to have an unseen effect on the country. It is quite sensible to think that such living culture or cultural practices seem irrational to the modern mind. But the latent functions it serves cannot be outrightly rejected. It reminds, educates and socializes the people and the younger generations that once we were a community of a proud sovereign kingdom with its own glorious past and culture and we are the descendants of those great souls. It provoked each and every generation to search their soul and identity and emancipate them from a long, inured and subjugated slave mentality.

In one of the media reports given by the titular king, Leishemba Sanajaoba said that the ‘Sana Konung’ perform approximately 60 such rituals in a year which had been passed down across the generation. In times of hardship and crisis one or the other ethnic community informed the king to perform certain rituals to alleviate them from the crisis and hardship they encounter in the duration of social life. And such tradition and ritual latently serves to tighten the ethnic bonds, emotional support in times of hardship and enhance the age old tie that the community share with each other. The dichotomy of manifest and latent functions helps us to understand and explain why apparently irrational activities continue to be part of our social life. And it precludes naïve moral judgements.

There are also many practices and belief related to plants and trees. Many plants are used for healthcare purposes, predicting the weather in forecasting natural calamities and alleviating misfortunes. It is believed that if the bamboo bears flowers, then there will be famine in the coming years and when there is bamboo flowering, then the number of rat population will increase consequently damaging the crops. And the cutting down of bamboos on Tuesdays and Saturday are strictly prohibited in the olden days. It is believed that the bamboo colony may die shortly and prosperity of the family may decline. This belief revealed how our ancestors kept their relationship with the nature, environment and the ecosystem they live in.

It shows a pure and organic relationship they share with Mother Nature. Though the anticipated scientific reasons cannot be validated, it serves as a mode of reverence and homage to the natural environment which unintendedly prevents and restricts selfish human needs to keep bar and encourage healthy relationships with the natural environment. It is surprising to see the stark difference between how the so-called modern educated class maintain and commit crimes towards nature to fulfill their selfish ends and how our illiterate (in the modern sense of the term) ancestors preserve their environment.

One of such cultural practices among the older generation is the notion that they should not relieve one-selves (micturate) or defecate in certain spots and places when they are out of home (lamang-tumangda mapan thokchinganu). Or if they are to do it, they should worship the presiding deities ( tutelary deity) or spat out saliva before acting on it. The intended believed was that they might receive certain undesirable misfortune if they are disrespectful of what they do. Such practice latently enhances our civic sense and social etiquette and the value relationship with our environment promoting cleanliness and moral value which now has eroded in course of time.

The Manipuri pony, which is one of the rare breeds known for its stamina, speed and intelligence often used in wartime by cavalry in the past, enshrined in myth, deified in ritual and lauded in song. Once the Manipuri pony had a special elevated status in the Manipuri culture. It was considered to be a sacred horse with a godly status and was never used for carrying a pack or transport purpose which now has totally downgraded often found roaming in the streets and reduced to eating garbage. The myth goes that the ancestor of the pony was the sacred winged horses called ‘Samadon Ayangba’ which is believed to be created by ‘Sanamahi’ to avenge the loss of his kingship to his younger brother ‘Pakhangba’. However ‘Pakhangba’ with the help of other goddesses trapped the sacred pony and cut off its mane and wings. Thus according to the myth, this is how the pony was created. The Manipuri pony played a prominent feature in the ‘Lai Haraoba’ rituals. It is also considered as a sacred mount of god ‘Marging’ and worshippers often offer a little pony statue at the smaller shrine to ‘Samadon Ayangba’. During the monarchical regime, it is reported that the court of the kings appointed a ‘Sagol Hanjaba’ or ‘Keeper of the ponies’, who inspected the pony and punished owners for poor maintenance. But it is said that it was hardly necessary because every household maintained ponies lovingly as they have sacred emotional attachment and often used for the purpose of religious rituals.  This is how Manipuri ponies were preserved, revered and protected in the past. And it is evident that the religious and mythological significance attached to it had elevated the status of the pony, not only as an animal but as a metaphysical object of reverence which contributed to the conservation of this rare animal. However to this day, the loss of such religious significance and the status it occupies in the collective psyche of people is perhaps one among the various other reasons why the pony is near to become an endangered species in contemporary time. If a pony had occupied the level of status and reverence which it once had, then it may have latently contributed to the conservation and protection to a great extent of this rare breed.

In the past few decades Manipur society seems to have undergone through a series of changes. The traditional solidarity and community bond that once existed has weekend and diminished considerably. During our childhoods days, in any of the life cycle ceremonies conducted in the Meitei household, people of our locality and neighbors used to come and gather and every work required for managing the ceremonies was done collectively. However in the present-time, all the work that was once done concertedly, to a large extent is substituted by professional tent houses. Such decline of mechanical solidarity in the Durkheimian sense of the term has possibly reduced the community bonds, love and respect that we once shared. The rapid urbanization and globalization can be one of the reasons why such community bonds get decreased in course of time where people become more individualistic and busy in their own walks of life.

Religious rituals and ceremonies which was once prominent and enhance community bonding and solidarity appears to lose its significance in contemporary time, which to some extent is affected by present revivalist movement. We see remarkable changes in the celebration of ‘Kaang chingba’ in the present time. Earlier the festivals had been observed with grand pomp and grandeur. The elderly people used to prepare and plan in advances. There was a culture of contributing certain amount of money in the locality or  responsibility being given to certain household for one day requirement of the festivals which  we in the common parlance refer to as ‘ Palli Puba’ where a grand feast (khechri chaba) is prepared in the evening during the duration of the Kang festivals. After the return of the ‘Kaang’ elderly people, men, women and children used to gather in the ‘Mandop’ to watch ‘Khubak eshei’. At the end, the ‘Choidep Chongba’ was performed by women, men and children singing the glory of the lord. And there is a day during the festive period known as ‘Ningol palli puba’ where women go to every household in the locality requesting to contribute rice, vegetables and money with festive mood and happiness. But at the present time people hardly contribute any articles or monetary requirement for the festivals. The ‘Ningol palli puba’ is no longer observe consistently as was in the earlier days. The question that matters is not about being a devout person or an atheist but the latent function which it serves to intensifies society faith’s in collective conscience and the community bonds and solidarity that  once existed  seems to loss considerably in present time.

Modern society is in a constant state of flux and we come into contact with many new ideas and values that do not necessarily link with the traditional grand narrative guiding its development. As Giddens writes, “Postmodern society is highly pluralistic and diverse. We come into contact with many ideas and values, but these have little connection  with the history of the areas in which we live or indeed with our own personal histories”. People are exposed to new thoughts and beliefs and the education itself encourages and promotes critical thinking to the younger generations. Therefore it leads to the process of social mobilization where old social, economic and psychological elements are transformed and new social values of human conduct are set up. So through the light of new knowledge, it is likely that people will question, change their belief that may not necessarily correspond to the line of the preceding generation. Therefore, what we need is the secular synthesis of the old and new values that encourage rational and critical thinking without inheriting dangerous defects of any cultural value whether  foreign or indigenes because not all cultural or social value are beneficial and they do have a harmful latent functions.

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