Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 3, Issue 69, Tuesday, December 12 , 2006




Wanna festival: A narrative
of cultural change

Madhupur, the largest sal forest of the largest delta of the planet is the lifeblood of the region and its people. Wanna, the festival on the interaction of culture and ecology of the region, explores different aspects of this vital relationship.

It has been long since Habahuchhaa (jum) has disappeared; Mi-Mandi (jum paddy) has also become history years ago. However, Sangsarek Mandis still believe that Misi Saljong along with their children will come and join them at Wanna. According to Sangsarek belief, Misi Saljong taught Mandis the art of cultivation. This fertility ritual, also known as Wangala, is performed for thanksgiving to Misi Saljong for blessing human beings with rich harvests of the season. For Mandis, Wanna means an occasion for merry-making, drinking, eating and dancing. This year too, the Mandis from Chunia, Pirgachha, and Hagurakuri villages of Madhupur celebrated Wanna festival with fanfare and gaiety.

Wanna is the most significant post-harvest festival of the Mandis. It is generally celebrated with great pomp and grandeur in the month of November. It is associated with Habahuchhaa and marks the end of the agricultural year. It is also celebrated for peace and harmony. Usually it is celebrated for three days and sometimes continues for even a week. Wanna provides an alternative way of looking at life for themselves.

A day ahead of the festival the village chief Nokma pronounces the date of the festival. Before the festival houses are repaired, villagers prepare rice beer; collect new clothes, ornaments and other necessaries. Musical instruments like dama, khram, nathuk, aduri, rang and others are placed at a particular place in the house.

On the first day rituals called Rakkashi Amua, Rugala, Delangshua and Wancichokka are performed. All these rituals and items have different meanings.

Through these rituals Mandi people invite Misi Saljong to join the festival. Locally brewed rice bear flows freely during the festival. After Rugala, performed inside the house of the chief, the participants go to different house yards and sing and dance the whole night.

On the second day people of all age groups, dressed in colourful costumes with feathered headgear dance and sing to music to invite the deities and guests. On the day Rong Dik Do Rasatta, Jolana and Gorirua are performed.

On the last day Greeka, dances of joy, war and victory are performed. With traditional weapons-millam (sword), sphi (shield), participants express their joy, gratitude and pain. Through Bishiri Watta, Mandis bid farewell to the deities and hope to meet again in the coming Galmakdula. The festival ends with Katigala by playing all the musical instruments simultaneously. Jonik Nokrek of Chunia informs us that indigenous sports and competition are also a good part of the festival.

Mandi social life and culture has gone through great changes over the years because of the penetration of other dominant cultures into Mandi life. However, Sangsarek Mandis dare to organise Wanna with an intention of affirming their own traditional culture and staging a rejection of dominant cultures.

Not to preserve their culture to showcase as a museum item or to entertain the city middleclass with traditional jum dance and songs but to make a statement that there are other ways of living and other stories of struggle, these Sangsarek Mandis want to remind the younger generations of an optimistic approach through the festival. As part of the continuous struggle for survival Sangsarek Mandis of Madhupur started to arrange Wanna again after a long break on November 20-22, 2003 in the village of Chunia. Immediately after Wanna, Galmakdua was observed on March 18-20, 2004. The second and third Wanna festivals were held respectively in November 2004 and December 2005. This year the Wanna festival was observed in November.

Wanna provides a unique opportunity for Mandi elders to remind future generations of what they have tried to preserve as guardians of their own ancestral heritage and to create a discursive space for cultural revitalisation in their community. Searching for information about missing traditions, one can still seek enlightenment from Mandi elders.

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