It was an absolutely fabulous, pleasurable moment never repeated in my life. Sakewa begins almost at the end of spring at dawn. My curious eyes opened from a long sleep, and I squatted in the hard but comfortable bed. I squinted through the big scenic window; the rain sprinkled. Just a moment later, the sun rose with warm and bright rays. The wind carried an aromatic breeze, and the rivers sang deep and harmonious. The garden, farm, and the hills were covered by the color of green. Trees of banyan, oak, pear, mimosa, and cherry moved on the slow motion. I lost my all senses in the elegant world of the flowers. I took a fresh breath; Sakewa spread into my soul and mind. My excited heart vibrated like an earthquake. I began to think for a moment about what had happened. It was in fond sweet imagination of the Sakewa where I reveled.
Every year, I enjoyed Sakewa with my family, friends, and relatives. We celebrate through dancing, singing, eating, gathering, and with new clothes. We have various fables and factual opinions about Sakewa’s origin, but nobody has proof of the origin of Sakewa. Yet, it is a very sensitive subject, and it requires broad and deep scientific study and research. However, it is a fact that Sakewa is the biggest festival of Kirat Rais which is observed two times a year by Rais’ cultural heritage. The Sakewa festival is a very significant part of the Kirat Rais because it expre sses the civilization of the Kirat; it introduces and applies ritual activities, and conveys the history, arts, culture, music, and literature of the Kirat. Sakewa is a traditional and customary fete. It has been observed since the ancient era, and is directly related to the Kirat Rais’ religion. Therefore, Kirat Rais perform their religious activities in Sakewa. The Kirat Rai communities pray and preach to their supreme gods Paruhang and Summnima for their power. They worship and give gifts to the gods and the dead spirits of their ancestors for the good health and harvest.
With Sakewa, an i ssue rises about the roots of my race. My ancestors were at the forefront of Nepali history, but only recently are we re-emerging back into the mainstream. The history illustrates Kirat Rais are the real and ancient citizens of Nepal. Over the centuries, numerous cultural and authentic identities were lost. Kirat ruled for about sixteen hundred years in ancient Nepal creating a justice system that was directly based on the truth. As a result, the Kirat judiciary procedures proceeded through their spirituality, which was directed by the conduct and quality of a person’s soul. Religiously, they conceived that the human spirit is the supreme, and it defines as good or evil. Pure soul that was in an excellent rank, were graded the highest mark. They were related to the divine power in nature. Their belief guided them to follow the way of honesty.
The Kirat Rais are separated in many subdivisions, and they have different language variations. For example, Sakewa is called by Bantawa language as Sakewa, by Koyu/Koyee as Sakel, by Chamling as Sakela, by Thulung as Wapsi, by Wambule as Dhowanku, by Jimee as Secro, by Dumee as Toso and by Puma as Phagu. However, their language, regular lifestyle, and ritual functions are similar between each other. In Nepal, non-Kirat Rais refer to Sakewa as Chandi Nach.
The Kirat Rais celebrate Sakewa for ten days. It is started five days before the main celebration and then followed by five days of the main solemnization. The Sakewa festival is mainly observed at the Henkungbung/ Chandithan (or a place for the main pray and worship), where the Kirat Rais’ priests (or Nakchhung/ Dhami) perform religious rites. He prays to the gods for power, wealth and prosperity of human beings, and for the protection of the universe and mankind.
The Kirat Rais hold Sakewa many different ways, but it has mostly four main components: Bub (or worship), Laak/ Silee (or dance), Chham (or songs) and Dhami rituals. These have specific guidelines and rules. The worship is the most significant component of Sakewa as it signifies the Kirat Rais’ faith and belief. This occurs in the first five days of the festival. All Rais perform worship in similar fashion but varies in subtle ways according to the Rais’ subdivision’s (or Thar) customs. However, the meaning remains unchanged. Before the main observance of Sakewa, the Kirat Rais are absorbed in various kinds of worships and adorations: Phengma Bub/Devi Pooja (or godde ss’ worship), Sohanseng/ Dhara Pooja (or water tap worship), Chaleem Laatma/ Dhanko Biruwa Jhiknu (or rooting out rice sprouts), Hutlung Khutma or Suptulung (Chulaa)/ Agena Pooja (or wooden stove worship) and others. The Maweeyo (or main priests), who worship and pray in Henkungbung (or special place where just main priest can worship and pray), does not get involved in Sakewa Bub activities except for the Sohanseng. Other lower priests of the Rais lead rest of the religious proce ssions.
The dance is the main feature of Sakewa; it carries the real spirit of Sakewa. They dance in a circle to the rhythmic sound of big drums and cymbals, and the loud and melodious songs of the ma ss. High to low the mild and touchy sound of a pung ( or big horn of buffalo ) affects to the activities of heart. A peaceful mind begins to oscillate itself in own imaginative world. The sakewa laak (or dance) displays the Kirat Rais’ original lifestyle in the past and the present. During the dancing, Silee Hangpa (or male dance leader) and Hangma (or female dance leader) lead the ma ss in Sakewa dance with their artistic and skillful movements of hands and feet.
Silee is the art set of a Sakewa dance. The Sakewa dance has various kinds of silees to dance. For examples; Silee Hangpa and Hangma perform dance acts as animals and birds, approach of harvest, hunting, and others. The Silees are divided into about one hundred and thirteen forms. Only the most popular ones listed here: Chasum (or narrative of social evolution), Narowa (or slow bird dance), Tawamakhiyam (or cloth weaving), Jhekwa (or fast bird dance), Phalekwa (or way cleaning) and Shikari (or hunter). Rais dance in different tempos from slow to moderate to fast. In addition, it depends on their Thar (or subdivision) and on the dancing styles of geographic locations. Sakewa dance has diverse principles for the dancing. These are practiced through the Nakchhong (or dhami/ priest dance) and Silee Hangpa/ Hangma.
Another main component is the Sakewa Chham (or song). It has mainly two types of songs. We can define or divide it in specific and general songs. Those songs are also divided in several forms. According to the Koyu/Koyee Rai’s cla ssical norms and values, the Rukhuwa Chaam is a kind of specific song which can be sung by just the Kirat Rais’ priests (or Nakchhung). Common people are prohibited from singing these kinds of songs. Legends have it that if the commoners sing, their gods and ancestors become angry, who consequently punish and curse upon those who perform the misdeeds. These songs are related to Kirat Mundhum (or religious text). Since the Mundhums have been lost through the centuries, exact meanings of the songs remain a secret. General Sakewa songs can be sung by anybody it doesn’t have any social restrictions. These kinds of songs expre ss the feelings of happine ss, sadne ss, tragedies, pain and love, but at the end it leaves the singers excited. A person’s mood is transforms into an enthusiastic gesture of a romantic elation.
The Sakewa pleasure is shared by children and adults both men and women. At the time, they forget all their pain and grief, and they exchange their intimate belongings in hopes of making peace with their psyche. The Sakewa brings about different moments. It establishes a good relationship with novel person. It helps in the making of pure friendships. The Sakewa allows intercommunications between relatives and friends.
Sakewa is the best tool of the Kirat Rais which presents their real identity, and other communities easily identify it to the Rai society and culture. Sakewa is a good opportunity to share the love and affection between each other. In this occasion, a Rai man and woman exchange Binayo (or string instrument played by the mouth) by males and Butte Rulmal (or embroidered handkerchief) by females as valuable presents. They are the symbols of deep love and through exchange it is believed that there will be an eternal love that exists as a mythical dream. Their relation then converts as beloved and a new journey enters into the cosmos. Mainly, Sakewa is celebrated at the Chandithan, which has several places for praying and worshipping. The Kirat Rais main priest pray and worship in Henkugbung, and other a ssistant priests worship in the Samkha (or worshipping the spirits of ancestors), Thampuk (or hunter) and Helawa Mang (or prayer for the monkey god). Rais bring gifts to offer to their gods and ancestors. Maweeyo (or main priest) worships with his a ssistants. They receive every household’s gifts, and Maweeyo prays and offers it to the gods in the name of the bringer of those gifts. Chadinthan becomes a parade ground in which Rais and other people enjoy it in different ways. Some people engage in greetings, dancing and some are involved in singing and playing the instruments. Some enjoy it with variety of tasteful foods and decent alcohol. The audiences are entertained with the festivities.
Also, as another part of the festivities, with shouting and preaching for gods, Chandithan is transformed into a slaughterhouse. They behead the chickens and stab a piglet. This is a moment that is indicative age of the savagery in a bygone hunter society. Because of the remote isolation, my forefathers weren’t infused with new ideas that could have introduced them to new ideas and knowledge. Thus, I feel that the slaughtering of animals is an archaic reflection of the past that is best abandoned.
Unfortunately, the Kirat Rai theology has disappeared in the darkne ss of history. I feel that I have lost the Kirat Rai glory, pride, brotherhood, and vivid destiny with the succe ssion of history. Every person has a particular cultural upbringing and experience that will shape his/her ideals about their place in a society. But with the lo ss of doctrines and younger generations choosing to forget their traditional past, I have fears of a complete demise of Kirat-Rai culture. However, hope remains; I have a beloved festival that is left to me by my predece ssors. For this reason, Sakewa is etched in my mind with its reminiscent panorama reflected in my eyes.
March 28th 2007 – Chandra Rai ‘Aakash’ (Colorado, USA)