26702491911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 11 — GennaThomas Callan Hodson

GENNA, a word of obscure origin borrowed from the Assamese, and used technically by anthropologists to describe a class of social and religious ordinances based on sanctions which derive their validity from a vague sense of mysterious danger which results from disobedience to them. These prohibitions—or system of things forbidden—affect the relations, permanent and temporary, of individuals (either as members of a tribe, village, clan or household, or as occupying an official position in the village or clan) towards other persons or groups of persons and towards material objects which possess intrinsic sanctity. The term is extended to the communal rites performed by the village, clan or household, either as magical ceremonies or as prophylactics on special occasions when the social, commensal, conjugal and alimentary relations of the group affected are subjected to temporary modifications. These practices and beliefs are observed among the hill tribes of Assam from the Abors and Mishmis on the north to the Lusheis on the south, all linguistically members of the Tibeto-Burman group, and among the Khasis, members of the Mon-Khmer group. Genna and taboo (q.v.) are products of an identical level of culture and similar psychological processes, and provide the mechanism of the social and religious systems.

Permanent Gennas.—The only universal genna is that which forbids the intermarriage of members of the same clan. In some cases in Manipur animals are genna to the tribe—i.e. they must not be killed or eaten—but tribal differentiation is, in practice, based on dialectical distinctions rather than on tribal gennas. The village as such possesses no permanent gennas, but the clans, as the units of marriage under the law of exogamy, have distinct elementary gennas, especially the clan to which the priest-chief belongs. The most important individual gennas are those which protect the priest-chief from impurity or contact with “sacred” substances such as the flesh of animals used in sacrifices. He may neither eat in a strange house, nor utter words of abuse, nor take an oath in a dispute, except in his representative capacity on behalf of his village. The first-fruits are genna to the village until he eats, thus establishing an opposition between him and his co-villagers. Married and unmarried women are subject to alimentary gennas; thus unmarried girls are forbidden the flesh of any male animal or of any female animal dying gravid.

Ritual Gennas.—Ritual gennas are held annually to foster the rice crops, all other industries and activities being genna (forbidden) during the cultivating season, to secure good hunting, to avert sickness, especially epidemics, to take omens, and to lay finally to rest the ghosts of all that have died within the year. The village gates are closed, men and women eat apart, and conjugal relations are suspended. Special village gennas are held when rain is needed, when a villager dies in any manner out of the ordinary, as women in childbirth, when an animal gives birth to still-born offspring, and when any permanent genna has been violated. Clan gennas are held for all ordinary cases of death. Household gennas are held on the occasions of birth (when the aliment and conduct of the father are specially regulated), naming, ear-piercing, the first hair-cutting, sickness, and, in certain areas, tattooing. Individuals are subjected to temporary gennas as warriors both before and after a head-hunting raid, pregnant women, married persons at the beginning of their married life, the wives of the priest-chief, and those who from ambition or pride of wealth seek to perpetuate their names by erecting a stone monument, an act which confers the right to wear the distinctive clothes of the priest-chief which otherwise are genna to the whole village. Ritual gennas are of varying duration. Some last for a month while others are complete in two days. As religious or magical rites, they prevent danger or establish and restore normal relations with powers which are potentially harmful or require placation.

Authorities.—Official records of the government of India, Nos. 23 (1855), 27 (1859), 68 (1870); Colonel T. H. Lewin, Hill Tracts of Chittagong; Report on the Census of Assam (1891), vol. i. Report, note by A. W. Davis, p. 237 seq.; Major P. R. T. Gurdon, The Khasis (1907); T. C. Hodson, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. xxxvi. (1906).  (T. C. H.)