Naga Feast of Merit

Did you know?

The Naga of Northeastern India, numbering over 80 individual tribes, lived in a world all their own in the foothills of the Himalayas for around a thousand years before the arrival of the British in the 19th century. The name “Naga” comes from the Burmese word for “pierced ears,” as Burmese guides aiding British regiments referred to the tribes beyond their borders by their ear rings. The Naga tribes practiced a tradition known as the Feast of Merit, in which a married couple who had come into money or saved their wealth would host a feast for their entire village. The feast would last for days, only ending when its host ran out of money.

Hosting such a feast assured a couple honor and prestige both in their village and, per their beliefs, in the afterlife. A couple who had hosted the Feast of Merit would be allowed to place images of a gayal (a relative of the water buffalo) on their home, such as this panel on display in the Enlightenment Gallery at Discovery Park of America. The lower part of the panel is a series of gayal carvings, while the top of the panel represents the Naga villagers who are visibly pleased with the feast.

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