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The genesis of village life was an unprecedented development in the evolution of human civilization. Communication was a key feature that advanced social life in the villages. In fact, the practice of youth dormitories as a community space started reflecting the social nature of man. Such dormitories were eventually transformed into hubs of learning and recreational activities.

The North-Eastern region of India is home to multifarious tribal communities. Most of these communities practice the tradition of youth dormitories. This age-old tradition not only signifies the dormitory service, but historically represents a platform for guarding the village, decision making, and organizing community feasts, and festivals. The dormitory system was limited to unmarried men so that they could acquire values and traditional skills for their future life.

The system of youth dormitories in North-East India predominantly occurs among the tribes who speak the Tibeto-Burman languages. It is an indispensable cultural element of the Naga tribes, the Adis, the Misings, the Kacharis, the Garos, the Karbis, the Lushais and the Lalungs. This system is called Hengseuki by the Zemi Nagas, Zawlbuk by the Mizos, Budonzwl by the Hmars, Terang or Farla by the Karbis, Nodrang by the Dimasa Kacharis, Morung Ghar by the Deoris, Murong Okum by the Misings, Chamadi by the Tiwas (Lalungs), Rensi by the Rengma Nagas, etc.

Traditional youth dormitory of the Mising community

Traditional youth dormitory of the Mising community

Some tribes also have dormitories exclusively for girls. In Galo and Zemi Naga tribes, girls’ dormitories are also available. The girls' dormitory of Galo in Arunachal Pradesh is known as Raseng, and that of the Zemi Nagas is called Leoseuki.

The youth dormitories for male adults in Assam are popularly called Deka Chang. The Assamese word ‘Deka’ means male youth, while ‘Chang’ defines a raised floor with a thatched roof and bamboo poles. The floor is conveniently made of split bamboo for different community events. The dormitories built for unmarried female adults are called Gabhoru Chang. The Assamese word ‘Gabhoru’ denotes female youth. The youth dormitories double as centres for recreational activities to shape the future of the village youth.

There are two main purposes behind the practice of the youth dormitory system. The preparation for a disciplined life with values that include compassion, solidarity, and gratitude is one of the vital purposes. Training boys in defensive activities in order to protect the village from enemies was historically another purpose of a youth dormitory system.

The dormitories are strategically constructed at the heart of the village to monitor the regular movement of people coming in and out. The communities residing in hills usually select the highest altitude to construct their dormitory. Interestingly, the interior of a youth dormitory reflects the artistic expressions of the particular community. The walls, cross beams and poles are decorated with different signs to reflect their folk wisdom and beliefs. The Morung of the greater Naga community display some motifs carved on its poles and beams as a symbol of valour and sacrifices. Most of the tribes of Nagaland still practice this system and it is an integral part of their social life. The youth dormitories have changed over the years, including making the structures using concrete. As a tradition, the youth dormitory system remains instrumental in promoting peace and harmony for community welfare.

Murong or the youth dormitory of the Nagas