We welcome you to the Land of the Legendary Tribes of India at North East India!
North East India is home to over 200 indigenous Tribes who have their own distinct culture and traditions. The origin of the legendary tribes of North East India can be associated largely with the ethnic groups of Indo Mongoloids, Tibetean, Burmese and the South East Asian communities as well as Asio-Austric. The Tribes of North East India can be distinguished mostly with their cultural and religious practices along with their dialect, their attire, jewelry and traditional dances. Each tribal community speak their distinctive language along with the mother tongue of each State. Some of these North East Indian Tribes live in very remote places and hills of the region resulting in generating utmost curiosity among researchers and travelers to study and visit their rich unexplored heritage.
The Tribes of North East India still practice agriculture as their prime occupation. These Tribes of North East India are also adept hunters and skillful craftsmen. Their traditional handicrafts and handlooms are well renowned across the world and demand for these products come from across the Globe. Agricultural being the major occupation of the Tribes of North East India, their festivals are mostly centered around the harvest and sowing seasons of the agrarian calendar of India.
Arunachal Pradesh is one among the largest State among all the 8 States of North East India and is inhabited by a number of tribes like Adi, Apatanis, Mishmis, Monpas, Nyishis, Wanchos, Notchets, Ypobins, etc. Adi is one among the important tribes of Arunachal Pradesh and are divided into different groups such as Padam, Tagin, Gallong, Tangam, Pailiba, etc. Another important tribe are the Noctes who are famous as salt producers and profess Vaishnavism. The Tangsas is also a major tribe of Arunachal Pradesh and they literally mean children of the hill. The Mishmi tribes have three important groups namely the Idus or Chulikatas, Digarus or Taroan and Mijus or Kaman. Their women are expert weavers. The Monpa tribes follow Buddhism and the Nishyi tribes are one of the biggest groups of people inhabiting Arunachal Pradesh in the Itanagar and Naharlagun areas.
Assam also has a wide population of tribal people inhabiting various parts of the State. The major tribes of Assam are the Bodos, Karbis, Mishing and Tai tribes. Bodo tribes are the oldest tribes of Assam and they earn a livelihood mainly by cultivation, tea plantation and poultry farming. Karbi people of Assam originally belonged to China and migrated to Assam. They generally reside in hilly areas and are called Mikir. The Mishing tribe belong to the Tibeto Burmese group and are settled along the river Brahmaputra at Majuli Island. The Tai Phake tribe of Assam are also known as Phakial and follow Buddhism. They speak Assamese as well as Phake language.
The tribes of Meghalaya can be classified into three groups namely Khasis, Jaintias and Garos. These tribes are named after their inhabited hills. The most striking feature of Meghalayan tribes is their following the matriarchal society wherein the property of the family is transferred to their daughters. They practice Christianity as their faith and their main occupation id Jhum cultivation i.e. shifting cultivation.
Nagaland is an entirely tribal State. The tribals here are called Nagas and they belong to the Indo-Mongoloid family. Major tribes under Nagas are the Angamis, Aos, Chakesangs, Changs, Zeliang, Sumis, Pochurys, etc. Each of these tribal communities of Nagaland have their own languages and cultural features.
The Mizos are a tribal community of Mizoram. Mizos have the second highest literacy rate in India and majorly speak Mizo and English. Mizos believe in the code of ethics which revolves around ‘Tlawmngaihna’ which means every Mizo must be hospitable, kind, unselfish and always helpful to the poor and needy.
The most dominant tribes of Sikkim are Lepchas, Bhutias and the Nepalis. Lepchas are said to be the original inhabitants of Sikkim nad are existed much before the Bhutias and Nepalis migrated to the State.
Manipur also has some indigenous tribal communities such as Aimols, Anals, Purums, Raltes, Semas, Simtes, Suktes, Tangkhuls, Thadous, Vaipheis and Zous.
Tripura has a few tribal communities like the Riangs, Chaimals, Halams, Mogs, Chakma Tipperas and Tripuris.
Some of the Major Tribes of each States of North East India are ~
1| Tai Ahoms ~ Margherita ~ Assam ~ North East India
The Tai people of Asia are a sub-race of the Mongoloid stock of human race who are found to spread from the West Garo Hills of North East India to the Hanan islands of South China Sea, covering a vast area of seven countries namely Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam and China.
There are around 2 million people of Tai origin who live in North East India. Ahoms, a group of Tai people, came to Assam in the early 13th century, fighting their way to the Brahmaputra valley in 1228 following their Prince, Sukaphaa. Initially they spoke the Tai language and practised Buddhism as their faith. But after the first generation, the Ahoms married the local people, Borahi ( a tibeto-Burman ethnic group) & Moran, and they started adopting the Assamese language. Their Kings and higher officials converted to Hinduism.
Prince Sukaphaa established his first state in the kingdom of Assam in 1253. The Ahom people kept good records of their past in chronicles called Buranjis. Ahom is the largest group of Tai group in India, settled mainly in Assam.
There are also other groups of Tai people namely Khamti, Phake, Aiton, Turun and Khamyang who came to the valley at later periods than the Ahoms and made their settlement in various places of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
2| Bodo Tribe ~ Manas ~ Assam ~ North East India
The Bodos are an ethnic group of the Brahmaputra valley in Northeast India. The Bodos use the term Bodosa (which is pronounced as Borosa meaning son of Bodo) to describe themselves. Even though Bodos are demographically separated they follow the same culture, tradition, language and religion. Very early on, Bodos had introduced rice cultivation, tea plantation, pig and poultry farming, and silkworm rearing in North East India. The traditional favourite drink of the Boros is Zu Mai a rice wine. Rice is a staple food of the Boros and is often accompanied by a non-vegetarian dish such as fish or pork. Weaving is another integral part of Bodo culture. Many 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. The Bodos are also expert craftsmen in bamboo products.
The local cuisine uses rice and fresh vegetables. Pork, chicken and fish are common, as the Bodos traditionally are non-vegetarians. The favourite drink of the Bodo’s is a rice-wine named ‘Zu Mai’. The Bodo culture is a rich blend of colours, sounds and dances. The growing of silkworms is common and from young age on girls are educated in the weaving of the colourful clothes that later become ‘dokhonas’ and shawls, the traditional customer. Almost every household owns a loom and handing over a shawl or a ‘dokhona’ to a visitor is an honour. Moreover, the Bodo are expert craftsmen in Bamboo.
3| Mishing Tribe ~ Majuli Island ~ Assam ~ North East India
The Mishing people are an ethnic tribal group inhabiting the districts of Dhemaji, North Lakhimpur, Sonitpur, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sibsagar, Jorhat and Golaghat of the Assam state in India. Their total population is more than 1 million in Assam.
They belong to greater Tani people community which comprises many tribes in Arunachal Pradesh in India and Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in China. All Tani tribes share linguistic, cultural and ritual similarities. All Mishings trace back their root to 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 civilisational 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.
4| Apatani Tribe ~ Ziro Valley ~ Arunachal Pradesh ~ North East India
The Apatani Tribes of Ziro Valley in the State of Arunachal Pradesh are friendly, simple and hospitable people with an interesting culture and legacy. They are a non-nomadic, agrarian tribe who share a responsible relationship with nature. The Apatani Tribes of North East India cultivate permanent wet land cultivation instead of dry land cultivation which involves burning forests. Apatani Tribes have few unique special characteristic features which differs from other tribes in Arunachal Pradesh and India. Few of these special characteristic features are ~
- Apatani Tribes of Ziro are permanently settled in one place whereas other tribes are nomadic in nature move from one place to another in search of fertile lands. They travel vast area of forests and settle temporarily for not more than four to five years in one place.
- Apatani Tribes cultivate permanent wet land cultivations whereas other tribes practice dry land cultivations by clearing the forests by burning the jungles.
- Apatani Tribes of Ziro Valley used to practice facial tattoos before but now they have dropped this custom few decades back though you can still see a few old women with tattoos which is a highlight of this place.
5| Monpa Tribes ~ Tawang ~ Arunachal Pradesh ~ North East India
The Monpa Tribes of Arunachal Pradesh are the among the principal Buddhist Tribes of North East India inhabiting the Tawang and West Kameng districts of the State. The Monpa Tribes are believed to be the only nomadic tribe in Northeast India, viz., they were totally depended on animals like sheep, cow, yak, goats and horses and had no permanent settlement or attachment to a particular place.
The Monpa are sub-divided into six sub-groups because of their variations in their language. They are namely:
- Tawang Monpa
- Dirang Monpa
- Lish Monpa
- Bhut Monpa
- Kalaktang Monpa
- Panchen Monpa
The Monpa are known for wood carving, Thangka painting, carpet making and weaving. They manufactured paper from the pulp of the local Sukso tree. They are known for their wooden bowls and bamboo woven products.
Principal Monpa festivals include Choekhor harvest, Losar, and Torgya. During Losar, people would generally offer prayers at the Tawang Monastery to pray for the coming of the Tibetan New Year. The Pantomime dances are the principal feature of Ajilamu.
6| Angami Tribe ~ Kohima ~ Nagaland ~ North East India
The Angami Tribes of Nagaland are based in Kohima, the capital of Nagaland. Angami Tribes of Nagaland are distributed in 4 regions in the South-Angamis are located on the foothills of Mt. Japfü, on the west they are on the west of Kohima, and the northern Angamis are located on the north of Kohima and the Chakro Angamis including mostly small villages around Dimapur. The Angami Tribes of North East Idnia are famous for their wood and cane craft, making furniture, weaving shawls and powerful machetes. They are fond of music and dance, their simple acoustic and percussionery music plays an important role in their rituals and festivals. Angami Tribal women practice pottery at their houses, they are expert in making baskets. Pork with bamboo shoots is a very common delicacy among them. Animism is a faith among the tribe. Their folklore are passed on to generations orally, and they speak Tenyidie which is the most common language.
The major festival of the Angami tribe of North East India is celebrated in the month of February and falls on the 25th day of the Angami month of Kezei. It is a festival of purification with feasting and singing. The most interesting part of the Sekrenyi Festival is the thekra hie. The thekra hie is a part of the festival when the young people of the village sit together and sing traditional songs throughout the day.
7| Ao Tribe ~ Mokokchung ~ Nagaland ~ North East India
The Ao Tribes of Nagaland are the fraction of the Naga Tribe in particular who took to Christianity very first among their fellow tribes, which made them exposed to Western education. They are from the Indo-Mongoloid race and their language is a branch of Sino-Tibetan dialect. They speak Chungli, Mongsen and Changki. Their historical evidence is totally on oral traditions, customs, habits, and tribal monograms.
The Ao Tribes of North East India observe Moatsu Mong after the sowing is done and the mother earth begins to show the sign of fertility. The festival marked by vigorous songs and dances, merrymaking and fun is now observed only for three days from 1 to 3 May. The women folks of the Ao tribes join the men folk in dancing, eating and drinking and composing warrior’s song. Singing songs in praise of the lover and the village as a whole was done and the older men folk would encourage the young people to be bold and heroic to defend and protect them from enemies as head-hunting was practiced during the time of fore-fathers.
8| Konyak Tribe ~ Mon ~ Nagaland ~ North East India
The Konyak Nagas are recognised by their tattoos, which they have over their face and hands, the facial tattoos are earned for taking an enemy’s head. They have the largest population among the Nagas and can be found in Myanmar, Tirap and Changlang district of Arunachal. They are known for their ferociousness and love for warfare. They often attacked nearby villages and take the heads of the opposing warriors as trophies to hang in the Morong, ‘a communal house’. The number of heads indicates the power of a warrior and the tribe becomes a collective totem. They maintain a much disciplined community life and strict duties and responsibilities for every individual.
The entire Konyak community in Nagaland, observes Aoleang Monyu in the first week of Aoleang lee (April) every year since time immemorial. Aoleang is observed after completing of sowing seeds in the new fields and also to mark the end of the old year and to welcome the New Year beginning with spring when a riot of flowers at every hue start to bloom.
9| Khasi Tribe ~ East Khasi Hills ~ Meghalaya ~ North East India
Dominating the population of State of Meghalaya, the Khasi Tribes of North East India are famously renowned for their Engineering Marvels of the Living Root Bridges. The Khasi Tribes call themselves Ki Khun U Hynñiewtrep, which means “The Children of The Seven Huts” in their language. A unique feature of the Khasi Tribe is that they follow the matrilineal system of descent and inheritance.
10| Garo Tribe ~ West Garo Hills ~ Meghalaya ~ India
The Garo Tribe of Meghalaya form the second largest ethnic community of the State of Meghalaya after the Khasi Tribes. The Garo Tribe of North East India are widely spread across the Garo Hills of Meghalaya with certain parts of population present in the State of Assam in the Kamrup, Goalpara and Karbi Anglong districts. The Garos are one of the few remaining matrilineal societies in the world along with the Khasi Tribes of Meghalaya.
The common and regular festivals of the Garo Tribes of Meghalaya are those connected with agricultural operations as agriculture is the primary occupation of the Garo Tribes. The Garo Tribes are also adept Huntsmen and skilled Craftsmen.
Greatest among Garo festivals is the Wangala, usually celebrated in October or November, is thanksgiving after harvest in which Saljong, the god who provides mankind with Nature’s bounties and ensures their prosperity, is honored. Other festivals celebrated by the Garo Tribes are Gal·mak Goa, Agalmaka, etc.
11| Rabha Tribes ~ Chandubi Lake ~ Assam ~ North East India
The Rabha is a little-known Scheduled Tribe community of West Bengal and Assam. The language/dialect spoken by the Rabha people is also of the same name. In West Bengal, Rabha people mainly live in Jalpaiguri districtand Cooch Behar district. Moreover, almost, 70 per cent of them live in Jalpaiguri district. In Assam, the Rabhas live mostly in Goalpara and Kamrup districts. The whole area of Eastern and Western Dooars, may be termed as the cradle land of the Rabhas. The Rabhas refer to themselves as Koch and assert a connection to the historical Koch Kingdom. The Rabhas belong to the Indo Mongoloid group of people and have similarities with other members of Koch group such s 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
12| Sumi Naga Tribes ~ Nagaland and Assam ~ North East India
The Sema or the Sumi Naga is one of the major Naga tribes in Nagaland, India. The Sumis mainly inhabit the Zunheboto district, although many have spread out and inhabit in almost all the other districts within Nagaland. They also inhabit the Tinsukia District of Assam They are also one of the most united tribe and the most aggressive tribe. Since times immemorial, the other tribes of Nagas have feared the Sumi tribe. Despite their ferocity and aggressive nature in warfare, the Sumi Tribe is also known for their simplicity and honesty. Their loyalty towards their tribesmen and friends is unparalleled. The Sumis practised headhunting like other Naga tribes before the arrival of the Christian missionaries and their subsequent conversion to Christianity. The Sumis have two different clan-heads, viz. Swu (Sumi) and Tuku (Tukumi). The major festivals celebrated are the Tuluni in July and Ahuna in November
14| Tangsa Tribe ~ Nampong ~ Arunachal Pradesh ~ North East India
The Tangsa is a community of several tens of thousands living in Changlang Districts of Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Tinsukia District of Assam, in north-eastern India, and across the border in Sagaing Region, Myanmar (Burma). The Tangshang in Myanmar were formerly known as Rangpang, Pangmi, and Heimi/Haimi. Their language is called Naga-Tase. Tangsa in the plains area of India practice wet rice cultivation. Traditional meals consist of a wide variety of recipes. But, staple foods are boiled or steamed rice, vegetables boiled with herbs and spices(stew) and boiled or roasted fish or meat. Snacks include boiled or roasted arum or topiaca. Traditional drinks include smoked tea and rice beer. Traditionally, the Tangsa kept long hair in both sexes, which is tied into a bun and covered with a piece of cloth, known in some Tangsa varieties as the Khu-pak / Khu-phop. The menfolk traditionally used to wear a long and narrow piece of cloth called lamsam / lengti that barely covers the hip and pelvis region. However, nowadays they wear a broad cylindrical piece of cloth called lungi that is green in colour and is lined with yellow, red and white yarns, and accompanied with a sleeveless shirt. On the other hand, the costume of the womenfolk traditionally used to be a piece of cloth wrapped around the chest and a similar piece of cloth wrapped around the waist extending just below the knees. Nowadays, with the availability of yarn, their costume include an artistically woven petticoat, which acts as the lower garment, and a linen blouse
15| Chang Tribe ~ Nagaland ~ North East India
The Chang Tribes inhabit the State of Nagaland in North East India and are one among the recognized scheduled Tribes of the State. The Chang Tribe is believed to emerged from a place called Changsangmongko.
The Chang, like several other Naga tribes, practiced headhunting in the pre-British era. The person with maximum number of hunted heads was given the position of lakbou (chief), who would settle the village disputes. He was entitled to maintain special decorative marks in his house, and to wear special ceremonial dress during the festivals.
Agriculture is the traditional occupation of the tribe, and jhum cultivation is practiced. Rice, millets, Job’s Tears, pulses and vegetables are the main crops. Trade and business were practiced mainly as subsidiary occupations.
The Changs carried out barter trade with the other tribes, exchanging shawls and other garments for the things they needed. Crafts such as wood-carving, spinning, weaving, pottery and basketry are also pursued.
16| Mizo Tribe ~ Mizoram ~ North East India
The Mizo are one of the hill tribes inhabiting the State of Mizoram in North East India. The state of Mizoram has one of the highest rates of literacy in India, at more than 91%. 88.00% of the Mizo are Christian, following a wide variety of denominations.
Mizo people are a part of the great waves of 18th-century immigration from Tibet and Yunnan of China into eastern and southern India. The term Mizo is derived from two Mizo words-Mi and zo. ‘Mi’ in Mizo means ‘person’. There is dispute on the term ‘zo’. According to one view, ‘zo’ means ‘highland’ and Mizo means highlander or people living in high hills. Historian Lalthangliana says ‘zo’ may also mean ‘cold region’ and therefore, Mizo signifies people of the cold region.
17| Dimasa Tribe ~ Nagaland and Assam ~ North East India
The Dimasa people are a group of people inhabiting Assam and Nagaland states in Northeastern India. Dimasa mythology says that they are the children of Bangla Raja (Earthquake God) and the great divine bird Arikhidima. Bangla Raja’s six sons— Sibrai, Doo Raja, Naikhu Raja, Waa Raja, Guyung Brai Yung, and Hamyadao and Arikhidima are their ancestors, and in Dimasa belief, are ancestral Gods. They are called Madai in Dimasa. Evil spirits born of the seventh egg of Arikhidima are responsible for disease, suffering and natural calamities.
Ancient Dimasa tradition maintains that sixty thousand ( 60,000 ) Moon months (Lunar months) ago, they left their ancestral land when it suffered a severe drought. After a long wandering, they settled at Di-laobra Sangibra, the confluence of the Brahmaputra and Sangi or Di-tsang. There they held a great assembly. The place is in the present West Bengal area where the River Ganga and the Brahmaputra join, and where the Kacharis established their first Seat. Over time, their kingdom over large territories.
18| Hajong Tribe ~ Assam ~ North East India
The Hajongs belong to the Indo-Tibetan group of the main mongoloid race. They had come from Tibet to the north-east India along the Brahmaputra and Tista and their tributaries and had spread over in the Sankush Valley. The Hajongs claim that their ancestral home was in Hajo area of present Nalbari district of Assam. The meaning of ‘Hajong’ can be comprehended as ‘descendants of Hajo. The Hajongs practise Hinduism as their religion and their language is an Eastern Indo-Aryan language the mixture form of Assamese and Bengali. Traditionally, the womenfolk chiefly wear ‘Patin’ or ‘Rangapatin’ used for covering the upper and lower part of the body from the underarm to the ankle similar to Bodo and Rabha tribes. It is a bright striped red dress with alternate layers of different colours between red stripes called ‘Theak’. Patin is woven by women at their family looms known as ‘Bana-gora.’ The Hajong Tribes celebrate Hindu festivals like Durga Puja and Kamakhya Puja. They also celebrate few festivals of their own culture. A traditional festival is celebrated in honour of the Bastu, Paabni and other group of deities.
19| Pochury Tribe ~ Nagaland ~ North East India
The Pochury Tribe inhabit the State of Nagaland. The Pochury Tribe is a composite tribe formed by three Naga communities: Kupo, Kuchu and Khuri. The word Pochury is an acronym formed by the names of three native villages of these tribes: Sapo, Kechuri and Khury. According to the Pochuri legends, these villages fought battles against each others, but united into a single tribe after their elders negotiated peace. Besides the three main communities, migrants belonging to the Sema, Sangtam and Rengma tribes have also been absorbed in the Pochury group.
Agriculture and animal husbandry are the main occupations of the Pochury Tribe. But many Pochurys in modern times have taken up other jobs. Many farming families are now above the subsistence level thanks to the modern equipment, scientific techniques, irrigation channels, government subsidies and new crops.