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The People
Mao Nagas occupy parts of the Mao-Maram subdivision of the Senapati District of the state of Manipur. Ethnoculturally, they are with the Nagas of Nagaland, being closely related to the Angami Nagas. They have long since enjoyed a settled life. Practise agrarian economy; rice culture is their main stay, the cultivation of potato being common too. Maos have long since given up swidden cultivation, terracing being more common now. Ownership of land is both collective and individual. They bury the dead. Festivals are in the main, bucolic, agriculture-related. Villages are divided into exogamous clans, each headed by a leader. The dormitory system where boys and girls would freely interact without prejudice to sex, and which once played a vital role in the sociocultural life of the village is fast getting into limbo. Joint families are alien to their mode of life. As in Europe, once married, the son typically has a separate establishment. Patrilineal and patrilocal [cü-vu [husband’s] house-go is the verb ‘to marry’ when the speaker is a female], they practise tribal endogamy and clan exogamy, people have increasingly married within the clan and outside the tribe with impunity, though. Adjudication, dispensing of justice and administration of punitive action is prompt with the aid of an open and mobile court system. Maos were animists till about 1927 when a large scale proselytisation into Christianity swamped them and made deep dents in their primievally vital mode of life. Paganism still survives, persists among some. In fact the headman of most villages is a pagan. Headmanship is hereditary. People have a strong sense of village identity. Social solidarity is at its strongest at the village level. A word about the genesis of the word ‘Mao’ will end this laconic ethnological note. The word ‘Mao’ has nothing to do with the Chinese strongman who dominated China until recently. There are various stories about how Maos came to be called Maos.
The term Mao could be from the word memeo who is fancied to be their progenitor, forebear of whom all the Maos are descendants.

When Britishers set foot in this part, they travelled from Kohima straight to Imphal without contacting the tribals on the way. They came into contact with Marams first. The Marams must have called Maos ‘mao(mai)’ or when asked about the tribe the Britishers passed by, must have said ‘mo’ meaning ‘I do not know’, which the Britishers took for the name of the tribe. The mo came to be spelt as muw which spelling is still there in the British records in Imphal and as mow which spelling is still there in the British records in Kohima, and later as mao which has come to stay.



Grierson [1903,3, 3:45] says, "Mao is the Manipuri name of their chief village", which of course, is empirically empty. Memi which could be a transformed, mutilated form of memeo that we broached earlier or from imemüi [ime from Memeo and müi ‘man, person, people’], is an autonym. Sopfomie is an Angami exoethnonym. This could be from the name of shipfo who is fancied by Maos to be Memeo’s progenitor. The primogeniture of shipfo is established beyond argument among the Maos. Sopfoma and Sopfora are Angami exoloconyms for the Mao township.



The word Mao could also be from omo ‘pumpkin’ - A Zemi version has it that Maos grew very good pumpkins and so came to be called amomüi [‘pumpkin men’], which, with the passage of time, developed into Mao.


The Language
Mao {Naga}, phonemically măŏ [nāgā], is spoken in the Mao-Maram subdivision of the Senapati District [formerly called the North District] of the state of Manipur and in a couple of solely Mao villages in the Phek District of the state of Nagaland by a population of 35,381 (all India figure in th 1971 census], now conservatively estimated to be over 50,000. It is spoken in exclusively Mao villages which are perched on hill tops - sixteen of them, Punanamai, Pudunamai, Kaibi, Choynu [Chowainu], Kalinamai, Shongshong, Shajouba, Tobufü, Tadubi, Makhel [Maos believe all the Nagas originated in this village], Chakumai, Makhan, Mao Pongdung, Choynamai khulen, Choynamai khunou and Rabunamai. Mao, which is not an exclusively Mao village but a township on the kohima-Imphal highway, is an exonym, an exoloco-, exoethno-, and an exoglossonym [=names that an outsider calls a place, tribe





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