Belated celebration for Manipuri expats in Melbourne

By Our Reporter
Manipuri women in their colourful phi and phanek

After the cancellation of two major events—Cheirouba (Lunar New Year) in April and Ningol Chakauba (a festival celebrated to strengthen the bond of love between married ladies and their paternal families) in November, the small Manipuri diaspora finally got out of lockdown mode and got together this weekend to make up for lost time.

Like any other diaspora, the Manipuris or Meiteis, who originally belong to the north-eastern state of Manipur in India, wear their culture on their backs and love to replicate the celebrations they have been brought up with.

Kelvin Angom, an IT professional, and his wife Minolata hosted the event at their home. For the Angoms, this was special as they had two new members to be part of the celebration—their daughter who they welcomed just before the start of the pandemic, and their visiting mother from Manipur.

The day was marked with the cooking of indigenous foods such as ngatoi (fish curry), ooti (special greens and lentil curry), singju (special salad spiced with perilla seeds, fermented fish, ghost pepper), keli channa (a special chickpea preparation), laphutharo eromba (the essence of every Manipuri meal made of banana flower), to name a few.

The women were dressed in their best Meitei colourful attires and happily posed for photographs to share on social media and their families back home, who encourage what they see as linking together the often fragmented worlds people inherit when they leave their roots.

For Reema Maisnam, a garment technician, married to Aakash Oza, an IT professional and a Gujarati, these celebrations are a great bonding time with a family away from home. Their six-month old son, who was born during the pandemic, is now a part of the vibrant culture about to inherit an amalgamation of cultures. “I am so happy to introduce Aarush to everyone,” she beamed.

The tight-knit group of over 30 members (and growing) have over the years also seen the inclusion of Manipuris originally from Bangladesh. “Irrespective of where you come from, the fact that you speak the same language, share the same food and culture creates an emotional openness and sense of belonging,” said Gita, a professional health worker, who migrated to Australia in 2007.

Interestingly, Manipuris are known for their rich contribution to arts, culture and sports in India and the world. The Manipuri dance is one of major Indian classical dance forms, the sport of Polo is said to have originated in Manipur and Mary Kom, Indian boxing sensation and world champion, who won a medal at all eight AIBA World Boxing Championships since its inception in 2001, is also a pride of Manipur.

The small diaspora does carry a chip of this pride on their shoulders!

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