Chabaan-Thaaba: a glimpse of an aged practice in our | Milaap

Chabaan-Thaaba: a glimpse of an aged practice in our contemporary society

I am an agnostic; however, I often try to understand different aspects of society. Such as, I talk to people seated next to me on the bus when he tries to preach about Christianity, when my learned colleague chatter about temples where menstrual problems are cured by a goddess (it is a gas that even in divine world, menstruation treatments are a domain for goddess), and so on. Yes, people do engage in such conversation on a serious note, despite the profound progress of technology. We are walking ahead with technology, where we do not have to worry about long-distance calls (where miscommunications dwells), we do not have to think of all the tremendous labor of cooking (unless someone is passionate towards cooking), commuting has never been easier (unlike places like Manipur, where bandh is in commotion rather than vehicles), and so on. Technology is in its peak where we are waiting for AI to serve humanity (it has already begun) but is this all that our society is concise of. Has our society so evolved that we only live in terms of bit-coins and life is all about dark-net? When Chandrayaan-II is bringing the news of further steps towards our advancement to technology, I configure that there are still prevalent traces of traditional culture in our society.
Let me take you through to one of such traditional cultures of our society which is not only prevalent but a respected/discarded profession in Manipur society. Here, a person who uses traditional methods of treatment instead of chemicals with a ‘knowledge of negotiation’ with the spirits is known as Amaibi(female)/Amaiba(male). They receive respect as they treat ailments, whereas, there is also speculation of their association with voodoo practices. It’s like the government doctors here in Manipur, who are discarded for their despicable services in government hospitals and regarded as a savior in their private hospitals.
I was privileged enough to speak to one of the Amaiba who was tending to one of his patients. These treatments are always internal family affairs and outsiders are not entertained. The process of treatment is natively known as ‘chabaan-thaba’. However, I got an in-pass. Being part of the same society, I am not new to such practices. However, I have never been part of such practices as an outsider. I was present to witness and document the ritual proceedings rather than being present as a family member or as the patient (yes, I have been treated by them on a couple of occasions and I am still contemplating the whole process).

A four and a half-year-old boy was scheduled to be treated by an Amaiba in the evening. We waited for him, but we got a message from one of the passersby that he will be coming the next morning. All that has been prepared by the boy’s grandmother was thrown away; all the ritual materials will be rearranged tomorrow. The mother of the boy was supposed to prepare for the ritual materials, but she restricted herself as she was menstruating. Her mother-in-law took charge.

When I saw Amaiba entered the courtyard at 7 am the next morning, he looked nothing different. I might even pass by him on the road unnoticed. I was told to position myself at a distance, not to bring any disturbance in the ritual proceedings. I was overly conscious of my presence. I was the unnoticed/unwanted presence of the ritual. He was offered a seat in the courtyard where the ritual materials are at a display to the sunlight. He examined as to check if anything else is required. He nodded to himself as an approval of the ritual materials.

He examined the boy’s wrist like a doctor. He nodded to himself again. He started making dough from the flour which was placed along with the ritual materials.

He made two items out of the dough. I could not restrain myself and ask about the items he was making. ‘One is an owl and the other one is a fish’, he calmly replied. He explained without my further hindrance to queries. ‘The spirit is demanding for an owl and a fish to leave the boy’s side’, he explained. I knew he sensed my confused expression and took the liberty to explain to me further. He told me that every spirit has different demands and we have to offer that to make/force them to leave. I enquired about the three types of flowers, leave and puffed rice. ‘The child is being followed by three spirits and the varieties are for them. However, I managed to negotiate only with an owl and a fish, they were asking for a whole lot a thing’, he smiled consciously. Not to disrespect him, but I thought of how successful he will be as a diplomat.

I enquired on how he can predict the demand for an owl or a fish for that matter. He states, ‘it is a given gift, not anyone can become an Amaibi/Amaiba. We have the senses for communicating with them’. We took a break from our conversation as he was starting with his treatment. He placed the ritual material in front of the boy and lighted an incense stick and a candle. He went into an unworldly mode and started chanting. I assumed it was in the old Manipuri dialect, which I am illiterate of. It sounded like he was having an intense conversation with his mind.
After an intense conversation with himself (it seemed that way), he cut through the owl and the fish with a knife. He asked the boy to fold his hand and repeat after him. The boy was having his own time of fun. He was refusing to do so. Everyone tried to convince him and bribed him with chocolates. He finally settled with more chocolates and extra time with his mother’s phone where he will play his own choice of game. I saw who the winner of the negotiation was. The boy obediently repeated after Amaiba. It was something like, ‘I am sorry I came across your path. I will not repeat it. I request you to leave my side so that I am healed’. After the statement, he laughed and he gold scolding of doing that. During all these negotiations and chanting, his innocence of the surrounding was the only thing that made sense to me.

Amaiba lifted the ritual materials and headed towards the main entrance, I followed him but was stopped by the mother-in-law. She told me to keep a distance in a serious tone. I respected her advice and took a peep on what Amaiba was progressing to. I saw that he was again in that mode of conversation. I couldn’t catch any of his words from the distance I had positioned myself that I thought was respectful enough.

He returned and touched the boy’s head and solemnly chanted few verses which were not easily audible to my ears. He blew three times in his head and exclaimed that the spirit has accepted the offer. ‘Faranida echasidi (my child, you will be fine now)’, he proudly addressed us.

He took his seat and the boy offered him a token of respect for his service. As soon as the boy bowed after offering him, he asked for the phone and rushed to his room like a winner.

I offered him tea but he gracefully rejected it. He took a betel-nut and started chewing. I asked about the most important part of his work. He explained that rituals can be performed by reading books as well, but the most crucial part is when the spirit leaves the patient. ‘As Amaibi/Amaiba is the negotiator, spirits tend to follow them if the ritual is not performed carefully. That is why there is a saying that “how learned a person be, she/he cannot become an Amaibi/Amaiba because it is a given gift and not an acquired one”, he stated with a serious tone. He turned his head to the mother and told her that everything will be fine as he has made the spirit go away and they would not bother her son again. I got up to see him off but was stopped by the mother-in-law. She said, ‘we are not allowed to see off an Amaiba/Amaibi because they are carrying spirits along who can follow us back’. I stood there staring at him with my agnostic thoughts in bewilderment.