Chámkát is one of the most important ceremony of the Loku festival. It is an initiation ceremony in the Nocte culture after which a person is formally recognized and revered by all. It is strictly practised by the male members only. In some villages, the ceremony can be observed anytime and even at the age of 10 or 50. On the other hand, in some villages, the ceremony is to be observed at a certain age and after which he will no longer be eligible to participate in the ceremony.
The first important task to accomplish the Chámkát ceremony is to find Seywa, a singer. Without him, the ceremony cannot be executed. The song that he sings, is in the Khapa dialect of the Nocte language. As a matter of fact, all the Nocte folksongs are sung in Khapa dialect only. This is one of the unique features of the tribe’s culture. The reason for this degree of acceptance of Khapa dialect has been interpreted by an interesting folktale, “Khapa is the language of God and He taught it to the first man and woman. Then one day, they decided to teach the language to the humankind and told them to bring baskets to store the language. When that day arrived, some man brought well woven baskets and some brought baskets with holes in it. After receiving the gift, all men carried it back to their villages. But some lost most of it on the way because of the holes in their basket. Only a few were able to retain the full gift.” Khapa is now spoken by three villages: Noksa, Polung and Tupi.
The persons who are going to observe the ceremony has to prepare the requisite items themselves. First, each person must sacrifice a pig or a buffalo and then roast the head and carry it to ceremonial site later that evening. Mostly, pigs are sacrificed for convenience. Second, Jumin, a rice beer, should also be there. And lastly, a set of beetle leaves and areca nuts. In Nocte culture, the consumption of beetle-nuts is important before commencing any religious ceremony.
After that, the person needs to take care of the traditional outfit that he is going to wear. He must carry a Pásong. Pásong is a blunt spear which is painted black and beautifully decorated with goat hairs dyed in deep red and black colours. In some spears, the hairs of a bear are also used. It is said that in the past, the head-hunters would decorate their spears with the hair of their victims. He must be in full traditional attire from head to toe.
As the sun begins to set, all the participants and their companions gather in front of the house of the Chopha, the village chief. The participants must carry the head of the sacrificed animal. The word Chopha asserts that the chief has the divine right to rule its people. The chief is also addressed as Ang and Khunbao. However, Khunbao is now an obsolete word and in reality, it is a Tai word which a person from royal birth. Khampti tribesmen also use the word Chopha to address their chief. To know why, please refer to the Genesis section. After the Seywa, all the participants and their companions have gathered, the Chopha would fire a blank shot in the air with his Vantho, a flintlock rifle. The shot is a signal that the ceremony has begun. A couple of shots can be fired too. The act of moving out for the ceremony is called Chámwang.
The group is led by the Chopha or a male member of his family and is followed by the Seywa. The group marches towards their ancestral shrine, which is usually located deep in the jungle. The Seywa has to keep singing all the way. He is usually an old man and sometimes he is carried by one of the members of the group. After reaching the shrine, more shots are fired.
The group is then divided into Súms, which means clan. Bamboo platforms are built for sitting and eating purposes. The Ramwa, which means priest, and the elder members of the group start to construct a throne and a table for the God, so that He can sit and dine with them. After the construction, all gather before the throne and begins to pray. Rice beer, meat, beetle leaves and areca nuts etc. are offered to the God.
Every one sits according to their clan and then feast on the heads of the sacrificed animal after Rangtam, a customary offering of rice beer to God. Customarily the animal heads are shared with one another. In the past, two rituals were practised during the feast:
1. Míkho Ramhun, where the priests would feed the severed human heads collected by the warriors to appease their spirits.
2. Ngamkho Ramhun, where the priests would feed the severed heads of the animal sacrificed for the ceremony.
After the feast, another ritual called Páphiam is observed where a number of thin bamboo sticks of arm-length are readied and then distributed to all the members. They have to throw away the sticks one at a time and verbally cast away evil intentions, bad luck and all kinds of negativity. One must be extra careful not to throw the sticks over somebody’s head, or else it is considered a very bad luck. The group offer their prayers and respect to the God and begin their journey back home. The group concludes the events and march back home. The Seywa has to sing all the way.
In the last stage of the ceremony, the group reaches the village and dances in the house Chopha first and then in the house of the Ngongwa clan. From here the girls can join the group. Merrymaking and dances follow. The Seywa is thanked for his services. He retires by singing Seyhap, the closing song. The concluding part of the Chámkát ceremony is wrapped up at midnight.
The Chámkát Sey, a 30-minute long song is sung from the beginning to the end of the ceremony, was sung by Rietdong Nocte of Namsang village. In brief, the Chámkát Sey means: “Today is God’s morning and we could not have chosen a better day for the occasion! Let us reaffirm the divine right of our Chopha and pray to almighty God for a good harvest or else we starve! Brothers and Sisters, please do not be mad at me because I will be drunk! Girls, forgive me if say something wrong! Let us eat, drink, dance and sing till the morning!”