The State of Assam is home to several major tribal communities. Because of sharing borders with many countries, Assam was the gateway to India for many nations; hence the state became the settling ground for many civilizations coming here through different routes at different points in history. Assam opened its heart to everyone and everyone adopted the land with mind, body and soul!
The list of ethnic communities in Assam includes Bodo, Rabha, Mishing, Deori, Dimasa, Sonowal, Karbi, Tiwa, Mech, Hajong, Barman, Zemi, Rengma, Kuki, Hmar, Khasi, Garo, Tai-Phake, Tai-Aiton, Tai-Khamyang, etc. some of them also having presence in different adjoining states. Most of them belong to Mongoloid race; while the Bodo, Dimasa-Kachari, Sonowal-Kachari, Mech, Barman-Kachari, Tiwa and Rabha communities come from the Bodo group of Indo-Mongoloid family, the Jaintias and Khasis are said to be of the Mon-Khmer family, all believed to have entered from the east. The Koch Rajbongshi community too comes from the Mongoloid stock and is believed to have arrived from the Nepal route Again, while Hmars and Kukis belong to the Kuki-Chin group, the Rengmas and Zemes belong to the Naga family. Aryan culture on the other hand was brought to Assam by the Alpines (kalita community) and Brahmins who were rapidly mixed up with other racial elements soon after their migration.
Assam – the very mention of this word brings to one’s mind the delightful blend of culture, heritage, faiths and beliefs of the numerous ethnic communities residing in the region. The culture and tradition of the State, its music, dance and literature are all interwoven into a social fabric and cross barriers of caste, creed and religion.
Assam has been a highway of migration from times immemorial. While the earliest human footprints here have been traced back to Early Stone Age (pr Paleolithic Age: 40,000 – 35,000 BC), the roots of various communities belonging to Assam are linked to Austric aborigines, pre-Dravidians, Eurasians, Australoids, Mongoloids, Alpines or Armenoids, Mediterraneans, Indo-Aryans and Irano-Scythians as well.
The melting pot that Assam is today, has a culture that again has been enriched by contribution of diverse races, ethnicity and traditions, making the communities here most secular in character. Through a sizeable section of the Assamese people are Vaishnavites – who revere Vishnu and Krishna in a way shown by Srimanta Shankardeva, another major section practice Shaktism with their rituals also including animal sacrifice. Different tribal communities on the other hand practice their traditional methods of worship. These practices and traditions in turn have shaped different cultures in the State, with the most wonderful aspect being that each one of them has contributed various elements to the others. This has made the culture of various communities in Assam interrelated and more importantly inseparable from one another.
Assamese, the language spoken by the majority of the people in Assam, is one of the first two languages alongside English which has developed prose even when all other languages were still on verse as a medium of knowledge dissemination and scholarship. The Assamese language developed out of Sanskrit as as in the 7th century AD, with its direct ancestor being Magadhi. While Austric or Mon-Khmer languages like Khasi and Sino-Tibetan languages like Bodo and Tai or Ahom had greatly influenced in shaping the original Indo-Aryan Assamese language, it is also said to be the most compact yet complex modern among all Indo-Aryan languages. Moreover, Assamese is also one of the two languages in the entire World which has developed prose literature as early as the 16th century, the only other language being English. While Northeastern India is home to over 220 languages, Assam’s share is about 30, which includes Bodo, Rabha, Mishing, Dimasa, Karbi, Tai among others.
Muslims on the other hand first arrived in Assam in the early 13th century, with a series of invasions from adjoining BEngal leading to both settlements of people who came as invaders as well as conversion of the local people. In 1630 came Shah Milan, a Muslim saint from faraway Baghdad, who not only preached Islam, but also created wonderful literature in the form of zikir and zari songs.
Yet another inseparable part of Assamese society and culture is the tea tribe community – combination of several groups of people, majority of whom were brought by the British to Assam in the 19th century from the Chotanagpur plateau and adjoining areas of central India to work in the tea plantations. These people today not only belong to Assam, but also have enriched Assamese art, culture, literature and social life.
Some of the major Tribes and People of Assam are ~
1| Singpho Tribe ~ Margherita ~ Assam
The Singphos are an important tribe inhabiting the North Eastern part of India. They are mostly concentrated in the Tinsukia district of Assam and Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh. They are namely divided into four groups, locally known as Numhpuk Hkwang, Diyun Hkwang, Tieng Hkwang and Turung Hkwang. Hkwang is a term meaning of area and each of these groups is named after a local river. It is believed that the Singpho Tribe originally migrated from Mongolia at around 700 BC and entered to the South West of Tibet at around 600 BC. Later at around 300 AD the Singphos entered the Brahmaputra Valley and settled by the banks of the surrounding rivers.
The Singphos are mostly settled in the villages of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Although their villages are not well defined ones they have a mystic charm to it and the homes are mostly constructed out of wood, bamboo and thatched leaves. The villages are mostly clusters of houses spread over a considerable area facing all directions. Usually, the Singpho villages are large ones consisting of sixty of more houses and the name of the village is kept by the clan name of the founder.
The Singpho society may be broadly classified under three estates namely the chiefs, the plebeians and the slaves. The Singpho chief is known as the ‘Gam’ and is also the head of the village. The Singphos are also organized into a number of clans. Each individual bears a clan name to which he belongs. The Singpho term for clan is “Fan” which means belonging to the same blood. The principal clans of the Singphos are – Tesan, Mirip, Lophae, Lutong and Mayrung.
At the beginning the Singphos were not cultivators. They survived with the food they obtained from hunting and fishing. But recently they have started the cultivation of rice on permanent basis among. In the Singpho community the practice of shifting cultivation is nearly absent. However, they traditionally cultivate tea and prepare a drink called ‘Fallap’. At present, agriculture is the main source of livelihood for the Singphos. Besides agriculture they are now engaged in government and private jobs, local businesses and horticulture. They are also engaged presently in the cultivation of tea, vanilla, citronella, etc. on commercial basis. Animal husbandry, poultry, piggery and some other sources of livelihood. The Singphos are also skilled in cane and bamboo work and wood carving. The Singpho women weave fine quality traditional costumes.
The food habits of Singphos are still traditional and they prefer boiled foods and meat. Rice is their staple food locally known as ‘Chatmukai’ or Topola Bhat. A special type of beer that is brewed from rice is their conventional drink and it is a part of their festivities. The food is generally boiled using bamboo shoots, laisa, chilli and salt.
The Singphos practice Buddhism as their religion but have not given up their traditional beliefs of their ancestors. Spiritual worship (Nat) is also practiced. According to their belief, malevolent and responsible spirits causing miseries to the tribe are worshiped on ceremonies by offering sacrifices of cattle like bulls, pigs, cows and chickens to appease the spirits. The main festival of the Singphos is Sanken Poi that is observed with due solemnity, where the image of Lord Buddha is brought out of its abode and bathed ceremoniously with great devotion. This is their new year festival, during which the monks and villagers pour holy water on the image. The religious festivals are greatly popular among the members of the Singpho tribe and they celebrate them with great pomp and show. In the month of April, the Songkon festival is celebrated in memoir of Gautam Buddha.
The Singphos are a tribe who in addition to preserving their culture and tradition, have also started adapting to the practices of the Modern world.
2| Bodo Tribe ~ Kokrajhar District ~ Assam
The Bodo Tribe of Awesome Assam is an ethnic group of peope inhabiting the Brahmaputra valley in Northeast India and these tribal people use the term ‘Bodosa’ (which is pronounced as Borosa meaning son of Bodo) to describe themselves.
It is believed that very early on, the Bodos had introduced rice cultivation, tea plantation, pig and poultry farming, and silkworm rearing in North East India. Rice is a staple food of the Bodos and is often accompanied by a non-vegetarian dish such as fish or pork. Weaving is another integral part of the Bodo culture. Many Bodo tribal families rear their own silkworms, the cocoons of which are then spun into silk. Bodo girls learn to weave from a young age, and no Bodo courtyard is complete without a loom. Most women weave their own Dokhonas (the traditional dress of the Bodo women) and shawls. Almost every household owns a loom and handing over a shawl or a ‘dokhona’ to a visitor is an honour. The Bodos are also expert craftsmen in bamboo products. A detailed insight into the life and culture of the Bodo tribes of Awesome Assam can be seen by visiting the Manas National Park.
3| Karbi Tribe ~ Karbi Anglong District ~ Assam
The Karbi tribes of Awesome Assam are one of the major ethnic tribal groups of North East India. The Karbi tribe are the principal community of the Karbi Anglong district of Assam also inhabiting parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Meghalaya. The Karbi people of Assam belong to the Tibeto-Burman linguistic group.
The Karbi tribal people of Awesome Assam are adept in the practice of Jhum cultivation. Primarily depending on agriculture, the Karbis grow a variety of crops including food grains like rice, vegetables, fruits, etc. The Karbi people mainly speak the Karbi language but also converse in the local Assamese language too. The primary festival celebrated by the Karbi tribes of Awesome Assam are the Chojun and Peng Karkli.
4| Mishing Tribe ~ Majuli Island ~ Assam
The Mishing people are an ethnic tribal group inhabiting the districts of Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Sonitpur, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sibsagar, Jorhat and Golaghat of the Assam state in India. Their total population is more than 1 million in Assam. The Mishings belong to greater Tani people community which comprises many tribes in Arunachal Pradesh in India and Tibet Autonomous Region in China. All Tani tribes share linguistic, cultural and ritual similarities. The Mishings trace back their root to the Abotani or Abo Tani (The first man on earth) like any other Tani tribes.
The Mishings were believed to be original inhabitant of the northern part of Shansi river stretching Mongolian steppe. The Mishings are East Asian, similar to the mixture of the Mongoloid sub-races inside political China as people from Southern China may look more like the South East Asian brown-skinned Mongoloids and more towards the Northern China more fair skinned Mongoloids dwell. They were dwellers of the hills of present day Arunachal Pradesh. Somewhere around the 13th century, they started migrating towards the plains of Assam, most probably in search of fertile land.
Mishings presently living in plains of Assam were not a one single tribe, but evolved into one when many tribes from various Tani tribes in Arunachal Pradesh migrated to the plains of Assam in search of fertile land as well as in search of civilization progress. Over a period of time, they became known as Miris which means priest in Mishing language. This explains the presence of many Mishing clans with different Mishing dialects as well as different levels of development.
The Mishing Tribal people are a majority population on the World’s largest inhabited river island – Majuli. This island, has a very rich heritage and has been the abode of Assamese Vaishnavite culture with tremendous option for spiritual and Ecotourism. This island has been the cultural capital and cradle of Assamese civilization for the past five hundred years. The ‘Satras’ of Majuli preserve antiques like weapons, utensils, jewellery and other items of cultural significance. The handloom work of the Mishing people of Majuli are renowned internationally. Although handloom is a major occupation of the Mishing people of Majuli it is mostly a non-commercial occupation. Their practice of weaving is exquisite and intricate with the use of a variety of colours and textures of cotton and silk, especially the Muga Silk. Fishing, dairying, pottery, boat making and mask making are the other important economic activities of the Mishing people in this island.
5| Tangsa Tribe ~ Border of Assam and Eastern Arunachal ~ Assam
The Tangsas are an indigenous tribe who inhabit the easternmost part of the state of Assam and the Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh. Originally from Mongolia, the ancestors of the Tangsa Tribe came from Yunan in China and settled down in Myanmar by the banks of the Iravati river. Later they migrated to the Patkai Hills in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and settled by the banks of the rivers Kharsang, Namchik, Tirap and Dehing.
At present, this tribe inhabits in the hills of Tinsukia district in Assam and Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh at places named Tikak, Kharangkong, Monglai, Nampong, Jairampore, Miao, Kharseong, etc.
The Tansa people stay in homes named as ‘Chang Ghors’ that are made out of Wood and Bamboo. Every member of the village helps in constructing a house and the end its a ritual to celebrate the completion with Alcohol and Pork meat as a token of gratitude. Each Tangsa village has a head known as the ‘Gaon Bura’ and a group of villages have another head called the chief ‘Gaon Bura’. The village heads preside over the law and order of the village and also organize the major festivals of the village.
Although the hunting of wild animals and fishing are prevalent occupations of the Tangsa tribe their primary occupation still remains that of agriculture. The major produces are potatoes, maize, ginger, leafy vegetables, etc. It is noteworthy that the female members of the tribe toil equally as the men folk in the fields. The staple diet of the Tangsa people are Rice, Leafy vegetables, Meat and Fish (all grown locally in their fields and the Meat and Fish are obtained by hunting in the wild and fishing in the local river respectively). The rice is normally cooked by steaming. Meat and fish are cooked by roasting over wood fire and on ‘Khorika’ Sticks. The use of bamboo shoot in their recipes is a usual practice of the Tangsa people. The guest loving Tangsa people feel great satisfaction by serving the guests with a meal of fish, meat and rice. It is also interesting to note that these people are pretty aware of the medicinal properties of the local herbs that they seldom visit a Hospital to get treatment for their ailments. Instead, they prepare medicines from the local herbs and feed it to people who head for a speedy recovery.
The Tangsa people wear traditional clothes weaved by the women folks of the village. They dye the threads with color from local herbs and themselves weave clothes on a loom which they operate by tying it to their hips (this is called the Naga Loom).
The Tangsa Tribe host festivals and these are celebrated around the year. The major festivals are celebrated during the onset of harvest of the ‘Jhum cultivation’ and are known as ‘Laiphak’, ‘Samphang’, ‘Dang Tong’ and others. During the festivals they dance to the tunes of the local folk songs, hunt and fish in groups and sing praises of the Lord almighty.
The Tangsa Tribal people are inhabiting today’s world far off the hustle bustle of the city life and cut off from the modern technological advances. Still surviving on the natural resources gifted by mother nature and the food they grow locally, these people have been successful in preserving their tradition, culture, practices and most importantly the legacy of the ‘TANGSA TRIBE’!!
6| Moran Tribe ~ Dibrugarh District ~ Assam
The Morans are an important tribe of North East India who inhabit the Doomdooma region of the Tinsukia district of Assam. The Morans are considered as the aboriginal people of Assam but for various reasons, in spite of their glorious role in the past history of Assam, they have been unable to attract the attention of the historians, excepting only casual and stray references.
It is believed that the Morans migrated from the Hukong Valley in upper Burma into Assam. Over time they moved from centres on the eastern edge of Assam, then to the Brahmaputra River and thence north to where they are found in numbers today in Tinsukia District but there are families of Morans who chose to stay in some of the early centers of Namrup, Sivsagar, Moran and Moranhat, Dibrgarh and Tinsukia. It is believed that the Morans came to Assam from across the Patkai Hills and settled in Upper Assam much before the coming of Ahom (1228 A.D.), which enabled them to set up and consolidate a principality of their own by the time the Ahoms came to Assam.
According to certain numbers of Elders, the word owes its origin to a myth. It is said that an old lady of the Moran community, a physician by profession, had the supernatural power of giving life to dead ones, for which she was called ‘Moran’, meaning one who can call back a dead.”Mor” means die and “an” means call back.
The Morans were the first among the tribes of Assam to accept initiation from the Mayamara Vaisanava Mahantas and at present happen to be the most dominant one among the disciples of the Mayamara Satra (founded by Sri Sri Aniruddhadeva) that is also the hati sect of Neo Vaishnavism founded and propagated by Sri Sankardeva. This has helped them in getting organized into a distinct community within the greater Assamese people and culture. This tribal community contributed greatly to the cultural, political and economic prosperity of the Ahom Kingdom, the successor state of the historic ancient Kamrupa kingdom.
7| Deori Tribe ~ Tinsukia District ~ Assam
The Deori Tribal people are one of the major ethnic ethnic tribes of Assam inhabiting the Sibsagar, Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Sonitpur, Dhemaji, Tinsukia districts of Assam and Lohit, Changlang Districts of Arunachal Pradesh.
Historically, the Deoris have been known to live in the upper plains of the Brahmaputra Valley. The Deoris belong to the Sino-Tibetan family of Mongoloid stock. In the ancient times of Ahom and Sutiya kingdoms, the Deoris used to serve as priests in the temples of their kingdoms and therefore the origin of the name ‘Deori’ – that means ‘Priest’ in the local dialect. The Deori Tribal people of Assam have maintained their racial traits, languages, religion and folk tales, beliefs through centuries.
The word `Deori’ comes from the word ‘Deu’ meaning Great, Wise and O and R meaning Male and Female respectively. The term ‘Deori’ thus refers to a ‘Great’ or ‘Wise’ male/female human being! The Deori people are expert craftsmen who make exclusive bamboo handicrafts and their handlooms are well renowned across the State of Assam in North East India.
8| Sumi Naga Tribe ~ Tipong ~ Assam
The ‘Sumi Naga’ is one of the major tribes of the State of Nagaland – ‘the Land of the Warrior Tribes’. The Sumi Nagas mostly inhabit the central and southern regions of Nagaland in the Zunheboto and Dimapur districts. Although not many in number, a small population of the Sumi Nagas inhabit a small village in the eastern most corner of the State of Assam at Tipong Colliery. A right turn from the Historic Stilwell Road at Lekhapani will lead you to the Sumi Naga Tribal Village at Lal Pahar in Tipong Colliery. The Sumi Nagas of Tipong Colliery still practice traditional customs and have kept the age old practices of the fierce Naga Warrior Tribes alive. Keeping alive their traditional customary practices specially of Weaving on the Loom, the female members of the Sumi Naga society weave out exquisite wonders from their traditional ancestral looms at the small village.
The Sumi Nagas are one of the most united and most aggressive Naga nations. Since times immemorial, other Nagas have feared the Sumi Nagas. Despite their ferocity and aggressive nature in warfare, the Sumi Nagas are known for their simplicity and honesty.
The two major festivals of Sumi Nagas are: Tuluni and Ahuna. Celebrated in the month of July, the ‘Tuluni’ is a festival of great significance for the Sumi Nagas. This festival is marked with feasts as the occasion occurs in the bountiful season of the year. Drinking rice beer indispensably forms as part of the feasts. Rice beer is served in a goblet made of bamboo or made from the leaf of plantain. This drink is called Tuluni which gives the festival its name. Tuluni is also called “Anni” the word of which denotes the season of plentiful crops. This midyear festival is a time of communal harmony and merry-making for the Sumi community.
Celebrated in Novmeber, the ‘Ahuna’ is a traditional post-harvest festival of the Sumi Nagas. Ahuna signifies the celebration of the season’s harvest in ‘Thanksgiving’, while invoking the spirit of good fortune in the New Year. On this occasion, the entire community prepares and feasts on the first meal of rice drawn from the season’s harvest cooked in bamboo segments. The receptacles for cooking or serving on this occasion are freshly made, curved or cut, from locally available resources prolific and abundant in the countryside.
During your visit to the Lalpahar Sumi Naga village you may also interest yourself in visiting one of the oldest underground coal mines of India at Tipong Colliery. Started by the AR&T company during the British rule, the Tipong Colliery boasts of Colonial Bungalows of the British Era and one of the oldest operational Steam Locomotives in the world of the likes of ‘796’ and ‘David’ manufactured by W G Bagnall of Stafford in England in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The charming and warm hearted people, the lush greens and majestic mountains and the gushing waters of River Tipong will surely make your visit to Tipong Colliery one of the most memorable one of your lifetime!
9| Rabha Tribe ~ Chandubi Lake Area ~ Assam
Rabhas are among the nine plan tribe and fourteen hill tribes of Assam. The Rabhas belong to the Indo-Mongoloid group of people and have similarities with other members of Bodo group such as Garos, Kachari, Mech, Koch, Hajong and others.
The traditional economy of the Rabhas in general, is based on agriculture, forest based activities and weaving. In the past, the Rabhas used to practice shifting cultivation. They continued to cultivate the land with Gogo or bill-hook. Later they took up the job of settled cultivation and started cultivation with plough. Besides cultivation, hunting was also an old practice of Rabha people. Weaving was a traditional occupation of the Rabha women.
Like in most tribal communities, dances and music play an important part in the lives of the Rabhas. After every ritual they perform various dances to ingratiate their deities. Most of the Rabha women can both sing and dance. Like most tribal dances, those of the Rabhas are connected to some daily agrarian activity. They have a unique dance form named “Nakchung Reni” to celebrate fishing in the forest rivulets. Rabha women of all ages take part in this dance wholeheartedly.
10| Tai Phake Tribe ~ Naharkatia ~ Assam
The Tai Phake Tribal group belong to the better known Tai tribe of Assam and they inhabit the Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts of Assam and the Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh in the north eastern most corner of India principally along the banks of the Dehing River that serves as a lifeline to the people of Upper Assam. Known to have migrated to Assam from the Shan Kingdom of Myanmar in the 18th century the Tai Phake people settled in the rich south bank of the Buridihing River, which came to be known as ‘Nam Phake’.
The Tai Phake tribal community ’til today rely on Agriculture as their primary occupation. They cultivate crops such as rice paddy, mustard, potatoes. Besides agriculture they also have other subsidiary sources of income from which the people earn good income. They also rear cattle, buffaloes. Fishing is a also major practice of the Tai Phake tribal people.
A special attraction of the Tai Phake Tribal villages are their traditional houses. The houses of the Tai Phakes are chang-ghars. Built on piles of wood above the ground locally known as “Haun Hang”. Materials is like takau (toko paat) leaves, timber and bamboos are used in the construction of their houses. There are two hearths in each house and the inside one is considered as sacred. Every house has a drawing room called “Kan Nok”, a prayer room called “Khok Tang-som” with a kitchen called “Haun Aom”. Each tribal home offers a traditional meal to a visitor at their village. This meals consist of cooked or steamed rice wrapped in banana leaves that known as “Khau How” and boiled vegetables. Moreover, many wild leafy vegetables such as “pukut”, “khi kai” etc. are also served. Beside this the meal also comprises meat, fish, eggs, steamed rice, dry fish, sour fish, dry meat, rice cakes. Also served regularly is the savory Assam Tea which is also the favorite beverage of the Tai Phake people.
11| Tea Garden Tribes ~ Various Districts ~ Assam
Have you ever wondered from where does the fresh cup of tea that you savor every the morning comes from? The answer ,without any doubt, that comes to your mind will be India! In India, tea is grown across several parts of the country across the East and South. But the best quality of tea is grown at the tea gardens of the beautiful State of Assam. The State of Assam has been blessed with a vast reservoir of natural resources like Oil, Coal, Minerals, Timber, Bamboo, Tea, etc. It was because of this availability of resources that the British put every bit of effort to develop means to harness the economic potentials of these resources. One of the most important resources that has put Assam into the map of the World is the Assam Tea.
It was in 1839 that the British incorporated the Assam Tea Company that started the production of Assam Tea across the fertile plains of Upper Assam. To cater to the labor needs of the vast tea gardens the British colonial planters brought in many people from the Chhota Nagpur Plateau region to Assam during this period in multiple phases for the purpose of being employed in the tea gardens industry as laborers. These people in due course of time became a part of the Adivasi community of Assam and also started to be known as Tea Garden tribes locally. As the Tea plantations started growing across the State these people spread across and today they are found majorly in the districts of Kokrajhar, Udalguri,Sonitpur, Nagaon, Golaghat, Jorhat, Sivasagar, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia and almost all the districts of Assam in smaller numbers.
Known to be hard working workers, these people start their day as early as 4 AM in the morning when they head out to the nearby tea gardens and pluck the fresh tea leaves that are sent to the local factory for processing.
One prime characteristics across all the community members of the Tea Garden Tribes is their love for Music. Their music is usually collectively performed for a variety of occasions like weddings, festivals, arrival of seasons, ushering-in of new life, and harvests. The community is rich in a variety of music and dances. Through the folk music and dance, they try to convey their perspective on social issues and define their daily life styles and their history. In some dance forms, martial arts are displayed to convey their age-old rebellion against the British.
‘Jhumur dance’ is a famous folk dance form of the Adivasi community through which they are identified with in Assam. But they also possess other numerous dance forms like Santhali dance, Chhau dance, Karam naach, and Kharia dance which are performed during different occasions.
12| Sonowal Kachari Tribe ~ Tinsukia District ~ Assam
It was during the reign of the Mighty Ahom Dynasty that the kingdom of Assam started flourishing and the knowledge of the wealth of Assam spread far across the world. During the reign of the Ahom king his Majesty Godadhar Singha, a certain population of his subjects were engaged in washing gold particles from the sands of rivers of the Assam. These people in due course of time came to be known across the State as ‘Sonowals’ (Gold washers). The term ‘Sonowal’ was added to their name to their name to signify them. Also, according to an another anecdote, the ‘Kacharis’ of upper Assam who became the disciple of ‘Gossian’ (a religious head) named ‘Kechaideo’ were considered to have super-natural power of offering a certain quantity of gold in a bamboo tube and hence these people came to be known as ‘Sonowal Kacharis’.
The Sonowal Kacharis today, are one of the indigenous ethnic group of the North East part of India. They form a branch of great Bodo-Kacharis, a major tribal community in Assam, and are also found in other states of Northeast India. They are predominantly inhabitants of the Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Tinisukia and Dibrugarh districts of Assam. They are also scattered in the districts of Sibsagar, Jorhat, Golaghat and in the States of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.
One distinguishing factor of the Sonowal kachari Tribes is their knowledge about medicinal herbs. The Sonowal Kacharis are strong believers in traditional herbal medicine and do not advocate alternative forms of medicine such as allopathic, homeopathic and ayurvedic medicines. Through generations of testing herbs and plants, the knowledge of herbs and plants in their medicinal properties are established and passed down from generation to generation. Knowledge on effective medicines acquired by the tribal people through experience is usually passed on orally as a guarded secret of certain families. The Sonowal Kacharis believe that the secret of medicinal herbs and plants boils down to the knowledge withheld and passed down from their forefathers. As such, the secret of medicines are kept to retain the efficacy of these plants and herbs. Among the Sonowal Kacharis, there are a few herbal specialists or medicine-men, who are called ‘Bez’. The bez have a wide knowledge of the available herbs and their various medicinal use, and most of them are the elders of the community, as the younger generation of today are less interested in being such specialists.
The following of traditional practices are common across all households the Sonowal Kachari Tribes of Assam. As per their Mythological beliefs, the Sonowal Kachari believe that they were the descendants of great Bhaskar Varma, Narakasur, Ban, Bhagadutta, Hadimba, Ghototkach, Bhim, Prahlad and Bali. They worship lord Shiva and performs the Bhouwa dance in praise of Lord Shiva. This dance signifies the beginning of a new life, a clean society and the removing of bad omen.
13| Tai Ahom People ~ Upper Assam ~ Assam
The Tai Ahom Tribal people are the descendants of the mighty Ahom Dynasty who ruled the kingdom of Assam for more than 600 years. Believed to have migrated from the Yunnan Province in Myanmar as early as in the early 1300’s , the Ahoms are the descendants of the ethnic Tai people that accompanied the Tai Prince ‘Sukaphaa’ into the Brahmaputra valley in 1228 and ruled the area for six centuries. Sukaphaa and his followers established the Ahom kingdom (1228–1826) and the Ahom dynasty ruled and expanded the kingdom until the British gained control of the region. The Ahom Kings were among the bravest rulers in the History of India. Although not spread across many books of History, but the Ahom Kingdom was the most feared dynasty in the eyes of the Mughal Kingdom who failed to defeat the Ahoms across many battles of history. One prominent name of the Tai Ahom kingdom whose name is mentioned across all the books of history in the State is of ‘Lachit Borphukan’ – the brave General of the Ahom Army who put forward his duties to his motherland before anything else. It is known that he beheaded his own Uncle for showing negligence towards his duties to his Motherland!
In the present day the Ahoms are found mostly in Upper Assam districts of Golaghat, Jorhat, Sibsagar, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Lakhimpur, Dhemaji. Tai Ahoms are also found in large numbers in Lohit District of Arunachal Pradesh. The Ahoms of present day form a part of the modern community of Assam and hold key positions across major Government organizations and business holdings. Their traditional practices of Ahom tribal community are still followed in certain distant villages of the Tinsukia district in Assam. One such practice is that of ‘Divination’ where the Ahoms still apply the method of ‘Geomancy’ i.e. casting of auguries with the aid of chicken’s thigh bone together with the hyoid apparatus (lin-kaii) of the fowl.
This practice is better known as the ‘Do-Kai’ (examination of the chicken’s bone). For this purpose, the Oracle thigh bone is prepared for the augury chicken (Kai-seng-moung) by killing it with a method call ‘Tham-kai’ (killing the chicken by casting a powerful spell). A pair of chicken bone of the same breed is chosen. The pair of divination fowl is then boiled and the thigh bones are cleared of the flesh. Small bamboo sticks are introduced in the holes of the oracle thigh bone. Then comparing the geometrical figures thus formed with those of the drawings of the astrological treatise called ‘Ban-seng’ predictions are made. ‘Ban-seng’ is actually making an appointment or fixing a date of religious function. Such religious practice of the Ahom community can be observed at the festival of ‘Me-Dam-Me-Phi’celebrated every year on January 31st, which is also a religious practice to show respect to the departed ancestors and remember their contribution to society.
Another celebration of noteworthy importance of the Ahom community is their practice of Marriage known as ‘Sok Long’, where marriages vows are taken across a hundred burning oil lamps and the bridegroom promises to keep his bride safe and happy throughout their life by holding a sword and swearing by the fire of the oil lamps!
14| Tai Khamyang Tribe ~ Tinsukia District ~ Assam
Across a majority of the tribes of north east India one can find a close resemblance with the communities of South East India. One such tribal community of Assam are the Tai Khamyang tribes. Known to have migrated to Assam from the Kachin State in Myanmar the Tai Khamyang people derive their name from the Tai word ‘Khamyag’ meaning ‘people having gold'(‘kham’ meaning ‘gold’ and ‘yang’ meaning ‘to have’). Many Khamyangs have also historically used ‘Shyam’ as a surname, which is a cognate with ‘Siam’, the old word for Thailand.
The Tai-Khamyangs, represent a brethren of Great Tai/Thai family of South East Asia. They are numerically tribal group found in Tinsukia, Jorhat, Sivasagar and Golaghat districts of Assam as well as adjacent parts of Arunachal Pradesh. Their population totals about 7,000 of which only a small minority speak the native Tai Khamyang language. The Khamyang are followers of Theravada Buddhism and are closely related to the Tai-Khamti. They maintain good relations with other Tai Buddhist tribes of Assam.
The Tai Khamyangs, in the Patkai Mountain Range, got divided into two groups namely the Maan Nam or Pani Nora (Low Land Nora) and Maan Loi or Dum Nora (Upper land Nora). These settlements lies near the great lake ‘The Lake Of No Return – India’s Bermuda Triangle’. In the mid eighteenth century, due to the critical surrounding for the presence of couple of Cobras in the lake and problems faced from the Kachins, the Tai-Khamyangs crossed over the Patkai hill and settled in a fertile valley of Arunachal Pradesh. It is said that they constructed a pagoda which is still present near the ‘Lake of no return’.
15| Hajong Tribe ~ Goalpara District ~ Assam
The Hajong tribal people inhabit the Dhubri and Goalpara districts of Assam and also parts of Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. The Hajong tribal people belong to the Indo-tibetan group. Primarily practicing Hinduism as their faith the Hajongs celebrate the festivals of Durga Puja and Kamakhya Puja. The Hajongs are adept in traditional arts and crafts.