Tribes of Assam

Ever since the very beginning of the history, the tribals have always been an integral and important part of Assam. With its magnificient and varied traditions and customs, it has been successfully revealing the very essence and synthesis of Assam and the people of Assam. There can be no doubt, without the wide contributions of the tribals; Assam would not have been so richer in its cultural life as well as in the socio-economic set-up. Assam has a much higher proportion of tribal population (12.40%) than that of the country as a whole (8.20%) in 2001. The tribal population of Assam can be widely divided into the Hill Tribes and the Plain Tribes. Dima Hasao (North Cachar Hills) District has the highest proportion (68.28%) of tribal population, followed by Karbi Anglong (55.69%), Dhemaji (47.29%), Kokrajhar (33.67%), Lakhimpur (23.49%), Nalbari (17.63%), Goalpara (16.63%), Darrang (16.61%), Marigaon (15.55%), Bongaigaon (12.23%) and Golaghat (9.93%). The remaining districts haVe proportions of tribal population less than the national norm. According to the list of scheduled tribes in the Indian constitution [order, 1950(a)], there are 23 tribes (14 Hills and 9 Plains) in Assam. The 14 Hills tribes are Chakma, Dimasa,

SC 84.,ST Population of ,Assam, 2011

 District                 Scheduled Castes (SC)           Scheduled Tribes (ST) population of Assam

 Baksa                   73,083                                           3,31,007,

Barpeta                95,320                                           27,344,

Bongaigaon        82,784                                         18,835,

Cachar               2,64,897                                        17,569,

Chirang                 35,135                                        1,78,688,

Darrang                40,260                                           8,419,

 Dhemaji              44,225                                         3,25,560,

Dima Hasao          4,337                                          1,51,843,

Dhubri                70,395                                            6,332,

 Dibrugarh           58,876                                          1,02,871,

Goalpara              45,094                                          2,31,570

Golaghat              62,298                                          1,11,765

Hailakandi           70,659                                             691

Jorhat                   88,665                                         1,39,971

Kamrup                1,07,827                                       1,82,038

Kamrup  M          1,01,789                                           75,121,

Karbi Anglong    44,961                                            5,38,738

Karimganj          1,57,890                                           1,940

Kokrajhar            29,570 ,                                            2,78,665

Lakhimpur           81,840                                             2,49,426

Morigaon            1,17,841                                           1,36,777

 Nagaon               2,66,350                                           1,15,153

Nalbari                  60,216                                              23,364

Sivasagar             42,347,                                              49,039,

 Sonitpur              1,09,130                                           2,32,207

Tinsukia               37,688                                                82,066

 Udalguri              37,844                                              2,67,372  

ASSAM                 22,31,321                                         38,84,371

Sown Final Population Totals, Assam, 2011

Garo, Hajong, Hmar, Khasi and Jaintia, Lakher, Maan (Tai speaking), Karbi, Pawi, Syntheng, any Kuki tribes, any Mizo tribes and any Naga tribes. The 9 Plains tribes are Barman, Bodo, Deori, Hojai, Sonowal Kachari, Tiwa or Lalung, Mech, Mising and Rabha. It is not possible to brief all the tribes in this chapter. We have tried here to give a little information about some of them including the 9 major tribes of Assam i.e. Bodo (40.9% of tatal STs population of the State), Mising (17.80%), Karbi (10.70%), Garo, Rabha (8.40%), Dimasa (3.40%), Tiwa (5.20%), Deuri (1.20%) and Sonowal Kachari (7.10%). Besides all these there are also various Kuki and Tai speaking tribes in the hills districts as well as in the upper Assam area.

• Barmans- The Barmans are Kacharies of the Cachar district, who follow the Hindu religion. The Barmans identified themselves as Kshatriyas. The Barmans are actually a group of the Dimasas. They came down to the plains, began living with the non-tribals and adopted some of the. traits of the Hindu priestly class. They gave up some of their original tribal habits such as eating pigs, rearing fowls and speaking their own Dimasa language. However although they forked from the original Dimasa group yet they did retain some of the basic culture.

The Barman villages are situated generally by the side of the hills. They mostly establish their villages on river banks. The villages are mostly homogenous, that is inhabited by Barmans only. The villages subsist on agriculture. Weaving is a household industry of the Barmans. Although agriculture is the main occupation of the Barmans yet the State of agriculture is in poor shape owing to lack of necessary inputs and modern knowhow. Ever since they adopted Hinduism the Barmans have discarded many of their old religious festivals excepting one the Dainie Puja. The Puja is worshipped with Hindu rituals. The Barmans have borrowed their Gods and Goddesses from the Bengali Hindus. Their marriage and funeral are governed by the Hindu rites.

• Bodos The Bodo of Assam are of Mongoloid origin and reside in the districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa, Goalpara, Nalbari, Kamrup, Udalguri, a portion of Darrang and in the two hill districts. According to some scholars the Bodos were the first Agricultural nomed who have entered this part of the world and introduced agriculture and irrigation. Besides, it was the Bodos who introduced sericulture in Assam. The Bodo village is a self sufficient unit. It is said that India has received the technique of weaving. and embroidery from Indo-Mongoloid. In Assam, the Bodos were decidedly the pioneers in this respect. The domestic animals of the Bodos are principally confined to common cattle and pigs. A Bodo house is seldom distinguishable from the  Assamese houses. The house is usually a two roof affair erected on the ground with scanty ventilation. The house consists of two rooms, a cowshed and grannary. The family looms are generally placed on the backyard facing the orchards. Agriculture is the main occupation of the Bodos. The Bodo women rear all kinds of silkworm. Many Bodo people work in forest Badari (team of logging-labour engaged by forest-contractors) and few families of Northern Darrang work as tea-garden labourers to supplement their family income. In Bodo-Kachari Villages the villagers own a common landed property and a granary. At time of distress the individual families can fall back on the assistance. from these common properties. In the fourteenth century under the patronage of the Bodo King Mahamanikya, the great Assamese scholar Madhab Kandali translated the original Sanskrit Ramayana into the Assamese language. Towards the later part of the eighteenth century, the Bodos had fallen so swiftly on the slide of history that for more than a century the Bodos were left in complete oblivion. In due course of time the assimilation of the group with the rest of Assamese population considerably emaciated the size of the Bodo population. The Bodos have a very powerful language of their own. The Bodo language in the course of time spread over a large area right from Sadiya in eastern Assam to Tripura, West Bengal and Nepal (there is still a scattered Bodo population in Nepal) in the West and passed through very many geographic strains and ramified into different regional dialects. As regards costumes there is wide gap between that used by the Bodos, living at the foot of the Bhutan Hills and the one used by the Bodo of other locations. Women of the former group wear only one unseen piece wrapped in more than one fold through the whole length of the body, while the later wear a Mekhela encircling the body from the breast-line down to a little above the heels. Married women add another piece to cover body above the breast-line. Occasionally they wear a black petticoat which they dye with the leaves of either guava or black berry. The two piece dress of Riha, Mekhela worn by Assamese women is believed to be later form of the original dress of the Bodo women. Marriage by negotiation is generally practised by the tribe. A Bodo youth can earn a bride by serving in her family. The Bodos generally follow exogamy. Sororal Polygamy was widely practiced at one time amongst the tribe; it is not a rarity even at the present time. The Bodo are very rich in classical music. Now-a-days the modern music has also become popular among the Bodos. Their contribution to the Music of Assam is very significant. There are also references to Bodo classical music of per excellence in Hiuen Tsang’s accounts of his travels in Kamrupa (the then Assam). The Bodo dance Doudini Mochanai (dance of the Doudini, the oracle-like dancer in the festival of the Kherai, the symbol of Shakti) gave rise to Deodhani Nritya prevalent in Assam. In points of rhytms pause, movement and clarity of appeal the Bodo classical dances have close similarities with the classical dances of North-Eastern India. Bodo musical instruments like Sifung also called Swifin (flute), Kham (the great drum), Jotha (cymbal), Serja (a type of violin) and Dhontra (dotara) have enriched the music and dance of the Bodos. The functions of male oracle (Deodhai) and female oracle (Deodhani) as priestly dancers of the time of Bathow worship and the national Kherai festivals are essential requisites. The rhyming metres of Bodo verses and songs always appeal to the readers’ ear and heart. The themes and beauties of the Bodo music and dance reveal their mode of life and attitude towards nature. Their primal God is Bathow or Sibrai. It is represented by a Siju plant. According to some scholars, Assamese Bihu and Bhatheli festival had their origins in the Bodo spring festival. • Chutias- Chutias are one of the ancient inhabitants of the State. Reside mainly along the banks of river Suwansiri and Assam-Arunachal border near Sadiya. In the early part of the 13th century, when the foundation of  . Tribes of Ass   429 Ahom kingdom was laid at Sivasagar, the whole ex ante to the east of SiMansiri and Disang in the north bank of Brahrflaputra was under •the Chutia kingdom. After being defeated by the Ahoms, the Chutia community mingled with the broader milieu. Now they are mainly concentrated in Lakhimpur, SiVasagar, Dibrugarh and Darrang districts. After conquering the Chutia kingdom, the Ahoms appointed a few prominent Chipas as important officials in the king’s court and established marital ties with them. After comingling with the Ahoms, four broad divisions developed in the Chutia community over time namely Hindu Chutia, Ahom Chutia, Barahi and Deuri. The ChutiOs were are the worshippers of Kesaikhati Gosani. Earlier, human offerings were made in the puja of the goddess.

• Dimasas Dimasas are tribal people of the North-Eastern part Of India. They live in Assam, Nagaland and its near by areas. ThPY are a branch of the Bodo tribe. Now they live mainly in North Cachar Hills, Silchar Sub-division, plains of Karbi Anglong, flagaon district, Twenchang and Dimapur of Nagaland and Dhan#In area. The Dimasas established their capital at Dimapur in neOr about 1086 and in 1536 they left Dimapur and re-established their kingdom at Maibang. In 1745, the Dimasa capital was shifted to Khaspur. In 1932 their kingdom became a part of the British empire. There are separate clans for males and females in Dimasa society. At present, there are 40 male clans (Sakong) and 42 female clans (lulu). Marriage is prohibited within the same clan. A priest is not needed to solemnise a Dimasa marriage ceremony. They get property according to the law of inheritance. The sons get the paternal properties and the daughters get the maternal assets. There is a custom of not to mix up maternal properties with paternal properties. If there is no daughter in a family, the maternal properties will go to a keen relative. female of the mother, but not to her son. Same law is applicable in case of paternal properties too. They have their own religious faith. They worship their own gods and forefathers. Their priests are called ‘Jonthai’ and the main priest is called ‘Gissia’. Like the ‘Deudhais’ of the Ahoms, there is a class of people in Dimasa society too who are believed to be graced with super natural and divine power. They are called ‘Pathri’. They can foresee the past, present and future and carry the divine message for all. In 1813, Dimasa king Krishna Chandra converted himself into a Hindu. From that time onwards Hindu religious customs entered into their society. Their main occupation are agriculture and buffalo rearing. They follow the custom of ‘Jhum’ cultivation. Their main agricultural products are cotton wool, mustard and sesamum seed. Males make artifacts of cane and bamboo. Females make clothes in their handlooms. There is a youth organisation of boys and girls in Dimasa society to work in a co-operative system which is called ‘Hangdao’. Dimasas have their  own traditional dresses which they make themselves. They also have a dialect. Many words from the original Dimasa dialect are incorporated in Assamese language on the process of its formation. The art and architecture of Dimasa people are very much developed. The ancient relics found in Dimapur, Maibang and Khaspur are examples of their artistic and architectural excellence.

• Deuris The Deuris are a branch of the Chutiyas which belong to the Bodo race. The Deuris are one of the four divisions of the Chutiyas who reigned eastern Assam prior to the advent of the Ahoms. The Deuris were the priests of the Chutiyas. At present the Deuris are mainly found in Lakhimpur and Sivasagar district. They are bilingual and speak both Assamese and Deuri language. Deuris’ villages are generally found in the riverine areas hang fertile arable land. The houses are constructed on a bamboo platform raised about fivefeet above the ground, and they face east to west direction, with the doors opening to the east. Agriculture is the main source of income of the Deuris and in many Deuri villages there are traditional community weaving centres of the girls. Deuris belonging to the Tengaponia sub-clan do not take mutton or flesh of the goat as it is forbidden according to a legend of the clan. They prefer rice beer to water evenwhile quenching thirst. The Deuris attach much importance and mystery to their religion. Their priests are Bor Deuri, Soru Deuri, Bor Bharali and Soru Bharali only. The term ‘Deuri’ appears to be a later coinage derived from ‘Deva’ which means A God. The Deoris observe Bihu during the month of Bohag. They also celebrate Magh Bihu. The Deuris have Deodhani who predicts about the prosperity or malady of the villages through the oracle. • Fakials Fakial is a small tribe of Assam. Their approximate population is only two thousand at present. They mainly live in Margherita, Naharkotia, Lidu, Nonglai, Long gaon, Tipam etc places of Assam. There are many clans within the tribe. Some of Tumten etc. Fakials are followers of Buddhism. All of them irrespective of male, female and children obey and observe the preachments of Panch Sheel and Osto Sheel. According to their religious faith animal slaughter is a severe sin. Fakial males wear a stripped piece of cloth on the waistline to cover the lower part of the body and stripped shirt for the upper part. Females wear Mekhela (piece of cloth encircling the body) on chest with a knot to cover the lower part of the body and Chadar (long piece of cloth) to cover the upper part. Young girls wear white clothes. After attainment of puberty they leave white clothes. Polygamy is accepted in Fakial society. There is also no restriction on widow remarriage. Their main occupation is agriculture. Females are experts in handlooms. Fakial males make Potteries, wooden and bamboo artifacts etc and make extra earnings by selling them. The main festivals of Fakial tribe are ‘Pani Bihu’ and ‘Bauddha Purnima’. At the night of full moon on the month of Fagun (the eleventh month of Assamese calendar) they burn straw-stacks and arrange feasts which is very much similar to the customs of Assamese ‘Magh Bihu.

• Garos- A tribe of the north-east. Habitat mainly centered at Assam and (3aro Hill in Meghalaya. Also found in Coochbehar and Jalpaiguri districts of West Bengal, Tripura and Nagaland. Garos have several sects (masong in local dialect) and sub-sects. The main masongs ; ire Sangma, Marak and Momin. Sub-sects are Abeng Arong, Cirus, Maji, Rongma, Diu and Hridma. Garos are Mongoloid tribes. They have their own language. Though basically Hindu, Christianity is silso making inroads into the Garo Society. Traditionally Garo womenfolk used to wear a shirt and a broad cloth covering the. portion of the body and dangling to their knees. Men used to a piece of cloth around their waist. Of course, gradually

Filler;, a mountain somewhere near the north-eastern border. Karbis first inhabitated a mountain somewhere between Diphu and Dimapur. The mountain where they used to live was within the jurisdiction of the Kachari kingdom and the Kachari kings inflicted enormous humiliation on the Karbis. They were even taken as slaves The process of convergence of the Karbis into the broader Assamese society began only during the Ahom rule. Karbis call fire may and water lang. According to myth, once a Karbi •man left a fire burning inside the house. When he came out, his wife asked him, ‘May akaar be? (Why are you leaving the fire so?). From may akaar be came the word Karbi. Basically a well-knit community, even disputes among the Karbis are resolved by the seniors of the society. Karbis are very strict about the sanctity of marriage. Boys and girls are allowed to meet at Chamangkan (a festival) when they dance together. God-fearing Karbis have both Hindus and Christians among them. The Hindus worship a number of gods. Believers of rebirth or re-incarnation, it’s a common practice among the Karbis to name the grandchild after their grandparents, who they believe have taken rebirth. Harlang or horap or saanj (a kind of wine) is the main offering in Karbi pujas. They burn their dead. The womenfolk wear pini (a piece of black cloth that covers the upper portion of the body and dangles to the calves), while rikong (a piece of cloth wrapped around the waist) is the customary dress for men. The traditional dress of women consists of the wankok (a belt), jis (for the upper part of the body), and knogthepi (earring) to add to their beauty. Likewise the men wear poho (a stylish turban), leko (necklace made of pearls), and tssoi (decorative shirts). Chokeroi (Worshipping of goddess Laxmi) is one of their biggest festivals. The Karbi literature comprises mainly of songs viz. Masira Koh/r, Karbi Keplang, Hachakekan, Chabin Aalun, Rong Kekim, Osa Kebu Aaiun, Thelu Aalun, Haimu Aaiun etc., stories and idioms. • Misings 1110 Misings are said to came from the northern hills. The Mising line down from the northern hills taking the western bank of It Dihing river and settled at first at the foot hills from the I )0 ling on the east to Sisi On the west. The Mising were also kii()wn as Miris. A Mising village usually consists of fifty or more houses built twilerally on two sides of a borren. The Misings today grow paddy ill Id mustard. Traces of primitive communism still exist amongst II Misings. They have Pigbo and Daglik system, where the village community extend help in the shape of personal labour to individual houses at times of need. In most villges all the villagers share the spoil of individual hunt, however small the game may be. . The Mising women are good weavers. As regards dress, they wear a sarong-type petticoat wrapped above the breast-line by married women and on the waist-line by unmarried ones which they call Ege, on the top of it they hem around another piece of unseen cloth which is known as ribi. Dugla Yamne Lanam meaning marriage by elopement is one of the chief forms of marriage sanctioned by the Mising society. Ali-ai Lrigang is their most colourful festival. With the advent of each spring, every mising village is plunged into gay abandon. When they get an exceptionally good harvest they celebrate Narasinga Bihu. There was a time when the Murong or bachelors dormitory played a very vital role in their society particularly during the Porag festival. But this system has now lost importance. The most popular form of songs among them are called Oinitam. The Mising have many Uyus i.e. supernatural beings to worship. They also observe Dobur Puja. The Mising bury their dead. • Rabhas The ethnic origin of the Rabhas is Mongoloid. Their hirsuite type, large supraor-bital ridges, broad face, low bridge, nose and sparse body hair clearly indicate their Mongoloid origin. In the districts of Goalpara, Darrang and Kamrup where a great number of this tribe has settled, they have been subjected to conversion or a gradual process of assimilation so that there is hardly any differences between the Assamese other backward classes and the Rabhas. Though clannish in nature, the Rabhas seldom care to make the village look an integrated one. Their house is a two-roof Wail-. It stands on the ground with the roofs almost touching the same on both sides. Almost cent percent of the Rabha people are agriculturist. Percentage of people engaged in other activities is negligible to make any impact upon the village economy. The Rabhas speak a language different from that of the Kacharis. The Rabha language is spoken at present by a handful of the tribe who belong to the Rangdaniya and Maintoria group. It is already in the process of becoming inflexional through intercourse with the Assamese and Bengali speakers. . The Rabha women-folk love the amber colour for their oostume which consists of three pieces. The petticoat encircles the body below the hips and flows decently to the feet. There is an amber scarf folded round the bosom besides a head piece, also of the same colour. The rabhas practise monogamy. Children belong to the Baraihuri (family) of the mother but a daughter cannot inherit the property of the father. The Rabhas cremate their dead. They observe a yearly festival for the dead kins of the clan, which is known as Farkhanthi. Their biggest festival of the year is Baikhu. During Baikhu the youth sing Sathar songs to the accompaniment of Kara flute and singa. Kingfisher is the sacred bird of the Rabhas. • Sonowal Kacharies The Sonowal Kacharies comprise one group of the Bodo tribe. During the rule of the Ahom kings their main source of livelihood was sieving gold (sone) from the sands of the river Suwansiri. Hence they are referred to as the Sonowal Kacharies. The Sonowal Kacharies reside mainly in the districts of Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur and Sivasagar. Presumably the Sonowal Kacharies spoke the Bodo language originally, although in due course of time alongwith the assimilation of the group with other tribes and the Ahoms, .the Sonowal Kacharies adopted the Assamese as their mother tongue. During the days of pre-Ahom rule the Sonowal Kacharies had their distinct culture, religious beliefs, traditions and customs. But, in the post-Ahom era their life style showed considerable influence of the Ahoms and other neighbouring tribes. They also become followers of Mahapurush Srimanta Shankardeva’s Namdharma. Despite this they have retained some of their own festivals such as,Bathow Puja, Gossain Puja, Swargadeo Puja, Pir Diya and Burha Puja. Haidang are the traditional folk songs of the Sonowal Kacharies. The Sonowal Kacharies subsist on agriculture. They are considerably backward in education. Even their technique of agriculture is outdated. Stiwas The Tiwas or Lalungs were none but a section of the great.Bodo-kachari race and during the thirteenth or fourteenth century they lived somewhere near the Bodo-Kachari capital at Dimapur. Later they took refuge amongst the Jayantiyas and ultimately  came down to the plains of Nagaon, Morigaon, Kamrup and Lakhimpur. There is striking resemblance between a Bodo-Kachari village and a Tiwa village. The Deka Chang or bachelor’s dormitory is an important feature in the Tiwa village. Deka Chang is a training centre for the young boys. Now-a-days the village library, village club have taken the place of the traditional Deka Chang. The Tiwa women are good weavers. In weaving and rearing silk the Tiwa women are as adept as the women of Bodo-Kachari tribe. The Tiwas follows the cult of polydemonism. Their princi-pal God is Pha which means a father. They 447. believe Pha to be Shiva. In their religious functions rice beer and chicken are used. In some functions they even use pigeon, vermillion and payas i.e. rice pudding, which are all Hindu items. During birth of a male child they grant the child an archer’s bow, and in the case of female, a bow for teasing cotton. The festivals of the Tiwas are related to their religious practices. The Tiwas worship different Gods and Goddesses celebrating festivals, in different time of the year. The Tiwas celebrate Mal Puja, Bison Kunwari Puja. Thal Puja, Soni Puja, Dewali Puja etc. at the Than. The Tiwas have also household festivals like Mahadev Puja, Lakshmi Puja etc. Besides these festivals the Tiwas also celebrate other festivals like Gobha Raja’s Mela, Jon Beel Mela with pomp and grandeur. These melas create brotherhood feeling among the intertribes.

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