Manipuri Food Habits

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Historical evidence suggests that there was a change in the diet of the Manipuris, mainly due to introduction of Hinduism at the beginning of eighteen century. The earlier reigns seem to have been one long feast with hecatombs of fat cattle and oceans of spirituous drinks, even culminating on more than one instance in fatalities due to an excessive appreciation of the good cheer[1]. But the official adoption of Hinduism created many food type prohibitions. Although fish is allowed, animal flesh is forbidden as well as eggs; onion and garlic.

Manipuri people are health conscious. Their food habit is healthy and generally consists of a balanced diet. Therefore apart from a few exceptions, they do not usually suffer from any severe health problems. Manipuris are mainly vegetarian. Rice is the main staple food. But they have some different food habits to the mainstream people of Bangladesh. Dal and different leafy vegetables (including yennum which is used instead of onion) are favorite food items. Manipuri women tend to use less oil when cooking curries in comparison to the majority style of cooking. Milk and butter are also popular.

Both males and females are inveterate chewers of pan-suparee and it is widely popular among the older people. Although tobacco is used by all classes and ages, female smokers are barely seen among Manipuris. While the cultural dietary rules are strictly followed in rural areas, they are less so in urban areas, especially among the young. Young generations of urban areas largely interact with majority culture and try to follow many of their cultural practices including food habits.

Mainstream food is widely popular among the urban Manipuris. When young groups go to their native villages, they try to continue the food habit in which they are familiar with in urban areas if there is nobody to resist this adapted food habits. We found a few villagers who are habituated with mainstream foods. But older people are still very strict and loyal to their tradition. [2]

Manipuri people produce their own foods. Most of the houses have vegetable gardens where they produce vegetables for their personal needs. A few also produce vegetables for commercial purposes. Rice, dal, and oil seeds are also homegrown. Although landownership is low, most of them have the capacity to fulfill their personal needs. Despite many Manipuri families facing severe poverty, none of the villagers were found to spend days without food. If someone does not have the means to feed themselves, relatives and community people help the person to arrange food.

1. Shashi, S.S. / Encyclopedia of Indian Tribes (Volume-4). New Delhi, 1997
2. Ahmed & Singh / The State of the Rural Manipuri’s in Bangladesh, Sylhet, 2006