Brass Wine Jug Tells of Olden Days
Updated: Mar 18, 2021
(March 17) “It was given me by my father, who said it belonged to his grandfather,” Demsat Haokip, 52, told our Newsletter. Haokip, a former vice-chairman of the Beith Shalom synagogue in Churachandpur who is still awaiting his Aliyah, was commenting on a photograph he had sent us of a brass wine jug that has come down to him from his ancestors. Since Demsat’s grandfather inherited it from his own father, the jug is at least four generations old and must date to no later than the early 20th or late 19th century.
“According to what I was told,” says Demsat, “the jug was used as a ritual wine container for animal sacrifices. Since I never saw such a sacrifice myself, I can’t tell you exactly how it was used. This was in the old days when our old religion was still practiced, before the British came and brought Christianity. In those days, every village had a chief, a priest, and a blacksmith. The priest conducted religious rituals, but the blacksmith was just as important and no village could get along without one. Smiths made pots, pans, knives, swords, agricultural tools, and whatever else was needed by the villagers, and I assume that ritual objects like this jug were made by them, too.”
Elitsur Haokip, 85, who came to Israel in 2014 and lives in the Lower Galilee town of Migdal ha-Emek, is a generation older than Demsat. Having seen many sacrifices before they vanished as a result of Christianization, he knew exactly how the jug was used. “It’s a zuphit khon,” he said after studying the photograph, using a Kuki terms that means “wine-spraying vessel.” When sacrificing a goat or other animal on an altar, he explained, the priest sipped rice wine from the jug and sprayed it from his mouth onto the ground as a libation to Pathen, the supreme God of the old, pre-Christian religion. Perhaps this was a way of saying, “This wine is for God, and so rather than drink it myself I will give it to Him.” This particular zuphit khon, Elitsur said, was “a real treasure. Its owner must have been wealthy by the standards of those times. Not everyone could afford such an object. Most wine containers were shaped like this one but were made by a potter from clay. Smaller ones were of bamboo.”
Elitsur agreed that the jug was most likely made by a village smith. The brass, he said, would have been heated to its melting point and poured into a clay mold that was broken after the metal cooled. Its filigree crosshatching would have been made separately and soldered to it. Besides being an indispensable part of religious rituals,” Elitsur told us, “rice wine was widely drunk on social occasions, especially on holidays and festivals. For social drinking, there were special gobletsmade of hollowed and dried gourds.”
Elitsur did not think that possession of a ritual wine jug necessarily meant that its original owner was a village priest. “In the old pre-Christian religion,” he says, “there were public sacrifices that the priest performed, but there were also private ones that were conducted within the family and presided over by the head of each household. The zuphit khon in the photograph could have belonged to such a family.”
Demsat Haokip wishes he knew more. “If only I could go back in time and ask my father about these things while he was still alive!” he exclaimed. “There have been many people who wanted to buy this wine jug from me, but I’ve turned down every offer. Such an object is priceless. I’ll never part with it. I plan to bring it with me to Israel, and find a worthy place for it, perhaps in a museum or heritage center.”