TRIBES OF NORTHEAST INDIA
Northeast India, considered as one of most culturally diverse regions of the world, is a land inhabited by more than 200 fascinating tribes. It is no wonder the region has ever-since captured the imaginations of anthropologists from all over the world.
The north eastern part of India shares its boundary with China, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Northeast India comprises of eight states. They are Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura. Nagaland and Manipur share their boundary with Myanmar. Meghalaya and Tripura share it with Bangladesh whereas Assam shares it’s with Bhutan. Sikkim shares its boundary with China, Nepal, and Bhutan. Mizoram shares with Bangladesh and Myanmar, and Arunachal Pradesh have their boundaries shared with China and Myanmar. The closeness of the region so many international borders have left the region much unexplored due to its sensitivity.
The entire area of northeast India is full of lush green valleys, mountains, springs and green vegetation. The land with its natural beauty and cultural heritage has always topped the list of an ideal destination for travellers from India and World. Vast research and studies are also done by scholars and research groups who wish to learn about the life, food habits, culture, tradition, language and source of living among the tribes. The Indian Government has also started taking keen interest in developing the living standards and tourism among these tribal occupied states.
Different ethnic groups and tribal groups inhabit the region of northeast India. They all have their own culture and tribal tradition and all speak their own tribal languages. This has made Northeast India one of the most culturally diverse regions of the world. The cuisines and attires also vary among the tribes. Each tribal community has their unique way of living. Tribal people mostly live and earn through the hills and forest areas.
ORIGIN OF THE TRIBES
North East Indian tribes have originated from the ethnic groups of Tibeto-Burmese, proto Austrioloids and some groups of Indo Mongoloids. The trend can be seen in the looks, traditions that are visibly followed by these communities. They also show a cultural bridging with the neighbouring countries. And India has till now provided them with a safe haven, compared to living in neighbouring communist nations of China and Burma.
TYPES OF NORTH-EAST INDIAN TRIBES
North-East tribes constitute a major part of Indian tribal community. They are all scattered over all the states of North East. Arunachal Pradesh consists of around 25 types of tribes. Nagaland has around more than 16 major tribes even. Some examples of prominent tribes are Garo, Khasi, Jaintia, Adi, Nyishi, Angami, Bhutia, Kuki, Rengma, Bodo and Deori. They are scattered throughout the region. Christian-ism is followed among many of the tribes and some also follow Hinduism and Buddhism. The rest still have their indigenous beliefs and practise animism.
Some major tribes of North Eastern India are :-
♦ The Bodo Tribe is a vast tribe and shares a good number of populations in Assam. The tribal people have also migrated to other parts of India as well as to neighboring countries. It’s said that Bodo tribes have introduced rice cultivation, tea plantation, poultry farming, and silkworm rearing in the North Eastern parts of India.
Bodos are non vegetarians and rice is considered a staple food, and the traditional favourite drink of the Bodos is Zu Mai (rice wine). Rice is usually accompanied by a non vegetarian dish such as fish, meat or pork.
Weaving and silkworm rearing is another part of Bodo culture. Many families rear their own silkworms. The cocoons of the silkworms are spun into silk. Bodo women teach their girls the art of weaving from a young age. One can always find a Bodo courtyard with a loom. Women weave and wear their own Dokhnas, which is the traditional dress of the Bodo women with shawls. The Bodos are also expert in making beautiful crafts from bamboo.
♦ Kuki Tribe or the migrant ones can be found all over the northeastern states. The language of the tribe varies but are all similar in a way, and can broadly be termed as the Kuki Language. They prefer to live on hilltops. The villages of Kuki tribes are a cluster of closely constructed houses. The tribe cultivates dwarf cotton and spun yarns.
Using vegetable dye, beautiful and intricate designs are woven which are mostly geometric in nature. Kuki men wear colorful Sangkhol, a jacket and a ‘Pheichawm’ (short dhoti). Sometimes a Chaddar or a wrap is used. They also wear Tuhpah (head cover). Women wear a nih-san underneath a pon've or a wraparound. The dress is worn from above the chest. Ornaments include earrings, bracelets, bangles, necklace and a typical ring shaped earring to stretch the ear lobe.
Smoking is enjoyed among these people. Extensively crafted pipes are used for this purpose and are made up of stone and brass-metal. They prefer cross-cousin marriage. Mimkuut Festival is the major festival celebrated by Kukis and falls in the month of January.
♦ Adi Tribe (have two divisions namely Bogums and Bomis) are found in Arunachal Pradesh. They live on the hills and have their own village council. This group is again divided into various small sub tribes.
The dress for women and men are naturally weaved by the women folk of the tribes. Men wear helmets made from cane, bear and deer skin, depending on the region. Older women wear yellow necklaces and spiral earrings. Beyop is worn by unmarried girls (ornament consisting of five to six brass plates fixed under their petticoats). Tattooing of hands, arms and face is very popular among the older women of the neighboring Apatani Tribe.
Rice cultivation is practiced by this community and rice serves as the staple foods for the Adi. Trapping and hunting is also popular and the Adi people keep pigs, chickens and grow vegetables in their home.
♦ Nyishi or Nishi Tribe has originated from the Indo-Mongoloid stock. They are mainly inhabited in the lower region of the Subansiri district in Arunachal Pradesh. They are considered a large tribe according to the area and population in Arunachal Pradesh. Their spoken language is different from the other tribes, which is a part of the Tibeto-Burman language family.
The hairstyles of the tribe’s are unique. They plait their hair and tie it neatly at the forehead using a Tibetan thread. Skewer made up of brass is passed horizontally through the tied hair. Rings made up of cane are worn around the waist, arms and legs. Additional decorations vary from a person to person.
Men wear sleeveless shirts made from thick cotton cloth. Striped gaily with blue and red together with a mantle of cotton or wool are worn around the throat and shoulders. Strings made of beads are also worn, mainly for decoration purpose. The Nyishi women generally wear a sleeveless mantle of striped or plain cloth. The upper part is tucked tightly over the breast. It allows the body to envelop from the armpits to the center of the calves. A ribbon is tied at the waist. A girdle and cane garters are worn at the waist. Hair is parted in the middle, plaited and tied. The ornaments for the females include colorful bead necklaces, brass chains, metal bells, silver earrings and heavy bracelets of various metals.
♦ One of the major tribal communities of Nagaland is the Angami Tribe. This community is also found in Manipur and has a total population of 12 million. The tribal community follows Christianity and speak Tenyidie. They cultivate rice and grains on the hilly areas.
The pattern and design of the clothes worn by the Angami men and women are almost different from each other. Men wear shawls and women wear Mechala. It’s a wrap around skirt and shawls with unique designs and patterns. Both men and women enjoy wearing beautiful ornaments which comprise of beads, pendants, bangles and bracelets.
Angamis are popular for their woodcraft and artwork and are famous among Indian people as producer of bamboo work, cane furniture, beds and shawls. Music is a part of this group and is played with the help of drum and flute. This art is passed on from one generation to the other. Music plays the important role in their rituals and festivals. Traditional dancing is also performed by the tribe during festivals and occasions. Angami women also practice pottery and basket making. Pork with bamboo shoot is considered one of the common dishes among the Angamis.
♦ Rengma Tribe are a Naga tribal community, and are found in both Nagaland and Assam. The total population is more than 50,000 in entire Nagaland. The community is further divided into two categories - Eastern and Western Rengma’s. They are considered experts in terrace cultivation.
The traditional Rengma clothing consists of various types of clothes and is worn according to the status and position of the weavers. Rhikho is worn by a man who has never been able to offer a great feast or has never killed and enemy. Rhikho is a white cloth with four narrow black bands and the number of black bands varies with the age of the wearer.
Moyet tsu, another ordinary type of cloth are usually worn by the young men. It is a dark blue cloth with a very broad median band, with the red zigzag pattern at the edges. Alungtsu is a cloth worn by well-to-do men. Rengmas are famous for making yellow dye from the flowers of a tree. They also practice painting on cloth.
♦ Bhutia Tribe are the prominent tribal community of Sikkim and have migrated from Tibet. The residing places for the tribes are the Lachen and Lachung areas of North Sikkim. They speak Bhutia (a dialect of Tibetan language). They are counted among the most developed tribes and earn their livelihood through agriculture, government jobs and local business.
The dressing culture of the Bhutia tribes is unique compared to other tribes. Women were heavy jewelry of pure gold with full sleeve blouses. The main garment is a loose gown. Males wear Bakhu, which is a loose traditional full sleeved dress. These tribal people live in a rectangular shaped house called Khin and follow Tantric Buddhism. The remarkable feature about the tribe is their legal framework, termed as Dzumsa.
Agriculture and breeding of sheep and yaks are the main source of occupation. Bhutia tribes are mainly rice eaters. They also eat animal fat and beef. Bhutia tribes in India are famous for preparing awesome food. Some examples are Momos, Ningro with Churpi, Sidra Ko Achar, Phulaurah Gundruk, Phagshapa, Sael Roti. They are very fond of Chaang or the millet beer and serve it in a special bamboo container called Tongba which has a hollow pipe made up of Bamboo.
♦ Garo Tribe are the second largest tribal community of Meghalaya. They constitute 1/3rd of the total state population and mainly reside in the Garo hills of Meghalaya, some districts of Assam and West Bengal. Their traditional religion was Songserak and later was changed to Christianity. These tribes speak the Garo language. This language is further divided into different sub-languages.
The main features of the Garo tribes are the women. The Garo women are the property owners and there is a custom where the youngest daughter inherits the property from her mother. Unlike other marriages, in this tribe a man shifts to his wife's place after the marriage rituals are over.
These tribes are a great lover of music and dance. Various traditional musical instruments like stringed instruments, wind and self sounding instruments are used by the tribe. The Garo men wear turban with clothes whereas women wear blouse and a cloth tied around their waist. The traditional jewelry is made of beads and other material.
Garo’s also celebrate different festivals and Wangala is one of the significant festivals generally celebrated in the month of October. The Garo’s celebrate this festival as a symbol of thanksgiving ceremony to their deity Salijong after harvesting of the crops. The food habits of the Garo’s are non-vegetarian with rice as the staple food. Liquor is consumed among this tribe and is made at home from food grains. The main cultivation crops are rice, ginger, millet, bananas, vegetables, chilly and cotton.
♦ Khasi Tribe are one of the major tribal communities and occupies almost half of the total population of Meghalaya. They reside in the Khasi and Jaintia hills of Meghalaya and follow the matriarchal society. Their language is known as Mon-Khmer which belongs to the Austro-Asiatic Family.
In this tribe, Women are given more importance than men. The youngest daughter inherits the property from her mother. Men wear Jymphong, which is a long sleeveless coat without collar. They also wear turbans. Women are very fond of wearing jewelry and earrings. They have a tradition of wearing silver chains around their waist. U Blei Nong-thaw, Ulei Longspah (god of wealth), Shnong and many other gods are worshiped by this tribe.
Rice is the staple food and they also consume fish and meat. Rice beer is used as liquor. Nongkrem is a famous festival celebrated amongst the Khasi tribes. This festival falls in the month of November and is celebrated for five days.
OCCUPATION AND CULTURE OF THE TRIBES OF NORTH-EAST INDIA
Agriculture and farming are the biggest occupation between the tribes. Along with agriculture, they also depend on weaving and rearing of woolly animals. The women’s community does the job of weaving. These woollen products are very famous among tourists. Another source of income lies in making and selling of tribal arts and crafts, which is widely loved by tourists and visitors. The tribal art and craft shows the rich culture, creativity and tradition of the tribal communities. Some major developed tribes like Bhutia’s, Nyshis and Adis earn their livelihood by working in Govt. Jobs and some have also engaged themselves in local business.
The cultural trend of the tribal community is reflected beautifully in their dance, food, festivals, arts and other social occasions. The tribes are very lively and energetic people and enjoy dance, music and drama with great enthusiasm. Each tribe has its own distinctive way of dressing, jewellery designs, and dance. They all have their separate festivals grouped with tribal songs in their own language.
Some of the festivals celebrated are Nyokam, Ngada, Ka Shad Suk Mynsiem, Ka-Shad-Kynjoh Khaskain, Wangala, etc.
Ponung, Rekham Pada, Ajima roa and Chambil mpa are some among the major dance forms found among the North-eastern tribes.
North East Indian tribes are undoubtedly one of the most colourful and culturally rich communities of India. They represent a totally unique trend and living among the Indian tribal community.