By Dr B K Gohain
It is interesting how I stumbled into the truth that the Tiwas (Lalungs) of the hills are matrilineal. In Karbi Anglong, the Executive Magistrates have to try crimil as well civil disputes in the spirit of the Code of Crimil Procedure and Code of Civil Procedure as it is a Six Scheduled area. One day, I was hearing a case of inheritance when a lady from Amri Block claimed inheritance of the parental property vis-a-vis a gentleman who was her close kin. I was hearing both the parties and when the lady claimed inheritance of her parental property, I asked her how it could be so as the Karbis and the Lalungs are patriarchal. The Headman of the village wanted to meet me in my office chamber to discuss some social rules. I retired to my office chamber and heard him in presence of both the parties. The Headman informed me that the society of the hill Lalungs is matrilineal and so her male kin cannot inherit the landed etc. property of the family. Thus I came to learn that the hill Lalungs are matrilineal unlike their brethren of the plains. Thus a grave mistake was averted. After this, I went to Barmarjong village of the Hill Lalungs in the Amri Block nestled in the hills one sees from Nelli. After interacting with the villagers, I decided to do research on the Lalungs of the hills. Indersing Deuri, an Executive Member of the then District Council, Karbi Anglong became my friend and together we visited most of the hill Lalung villages and attended the religious rituals and festivities Once he showed me the Lukhumi Than( place of worship of goddess Lukhumi or Lakhsmi ) and pointed at the large heap of round stones, some large and some of medium size saying that in the ancient time, there used to be human sacrifices every year before the goddess to appease her. He proudly declared that a white man was captured and sacrificed before the goddess. Every year, a human being was sacrificed and as a token , a stone was put. He related that every year, a person from the plains used to come to Barmarjong village to become the king there. The village elders tested him if he was the chosen one by giving him a piece of areca nut with betel leaf without lime. They would see the spit the man he spat out. If the colour was red, they would take it that a man had come here for offering his life before the goddess. The person was given all the physical comforts till the night of the Lukhumi Puja. He was donned in new clothes. Then he was taken to the Than and offered as a sacrifice before the goddess. He proudly said that even a white Sahib was offered as a sacrifice before the goddess. I laughed at the impossibility. Later on, I saw an administrative report t in which one Captain Singer was killed by some tive people in the undivided gaon district near the hills when he went to control a mob. It was, however, not mentioned whether he was found in the village. I took the story with a large pinch of salt.
I even stayed in the Boys' dormitory in Barmajong village to have a close look at the youth and their youth organization and suggested to them to allow the Government to open an Adult Literacy centre in the Dekachang (dormitory). The hill Lalung families do not allow the male guests to stay in their homes and send them to the dormitory to which the admission of girls and women is strictly prohibited.
One interesting incident took place in the weekly market day at a place near Barmarjong village. I was visiting the market when I saw some young lads carrying a young man on a bamboo carrier with his hands and feet tied to the poles of the carrier. When I stopped the young lads, one old Lalung man whom I used to know came forward and told me that the boys were simply following a tradition of their society. Describing it further, he told me in presence of the young man and others that the particular young man from a neighbouring village took fancy at a girl and started visiting her in the evenings. The family allowed this as they thought that he would, one evening, stay for the whole night with the girl in the backyard and become the resident husband. But now the young people learned that he was avoiding the girl and seeing another girl in another village. So they caught him and were taking him to be married to the girl in their village as it is the custom in the hill Lalung society.
There being no Fire Service Station at Hamren, I used to get apprehensive when I saw the people burning the trees and shrubs while clearing for Jhum (slash and burn method) cultivation. As fire used to spread from one area to another and even was there during night, I tried my best to persuade the hill men to extinguish the fire during the day itself. As there are few areas of flat lands in the hills of Hamren and those are also high lands, it is useless to ask them to go for wet paddy cultivation. There was some timber merchants at Lumding, Hojai and Diphu, there were random felling of trees in Karbi Anglong district. I feared that one day, all the trees would disappear one day what with the then District Council Authorities of Karbi Anglong giving allotment of areas in the reserved forests as well as the village forests for cutting the trees and selling them after processing in their modern saw mills. The Forest Authorities used to say that they sold only the wind felled trees but the permits issued by the District Council Authorities were very large. Not that the felling of trees was there in the hills of Karbi Anglong and N.C. Hills, there were large scale felling of trees in the Brahmaputra valley and all the areas having the reserved forests had to bear the brunt of such illegal felling of trees. The large scale felling of trees in the plain areas on the North Bank of the Brahmaputra began after the formation of the Government in Assam by the Jata Party. The end result is the total ban of felling of trees by the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India which was a great service to ture.
One day, I was informed by some villagers near the small township of Hamren that a house was on fire. Hearing this, I sent a magistrate with police to try to control the fire. After coming back, the Magistrate related the funny side of the incident saying that the owner of the house who was there rushed into the house which was burning and tried to pull out two bamboo posts without caring a hoot for other belongings. Of course, all the dwellers were safe. With the help of his kin, he could take out the posts and with an axe, he cut the bamboo posts and it was found that many gold and silver coins came out of the posts and he heaved a sigh of relief. I laughed and said that in our village also, people stored the silver coins inside the bamboo posts for safe keeping.
One important event which remained memorable for the people of Hamren was the visit of the Governor of Assam for iuguration of the newly constructed office building of the Sub Divisiol Officer ( Civil) Hamren in 1982. When I was instructed by the Government to make preparation for the iugural ceremony of the building and Hon'ble Governor of assam had agreed to grace the occasion, I made preparations for the same. The date was communicated to us. I was informed by GAD that there would be a trial landing and I should prepare a field as a temporary helipad, I was highly elated. I chose the open field in the vicinity of my office in which the tiol Days like the Independence Day and the Republic day used to be celebrated with much fun-fare to the delight of the people of the Sub Division who gathered in large numbers. A date was fixed for trial landing. We made the preparations. On the day, we were waiting for the arrival of the helicopter. At the appointed time, we saw the helicopter flying over us when we observed that already a large number of people gathered there. As we posted policemen and encircled the field with bamboo fencing, we warned the people not to cross the lines. The helicopter landed and we had a discussion with the pilots. They informed that the helicopter would land on the field with the Governor at 11 O and we should make the necessary sign of 'H' on the ground in white and make arrangement for smoke sigls when we heard the sound or see the copter. Then some Karbi elders beckoned me. When I went to meet me, they made a request which was but the tural response of simple villagers at the sight of such a new thing for the first time in their life. They wanted a ride in the helicopter. Smilingly I told that it was not permissible. When the captain asked me what they said, I told him about their request. He smiled and patted my back and then went away in the helicopter.
Early morning, next day, a gang-man came running to tell me that already thousand of Karbis from all over the Sub Division had come and were sitting around the field. I went there and found that it was so. I saw many people from far-away places. My gang-man informed that all people came with packets of cooked rice and other eatables. I called the local elders who approached me with the same request. I requested them first go to the pandal and attend the meeting. They agreed to go. After the helicopter landed and we escorted the Hon'ble Governor to the meeting place. He first unveiled the iugural stone and then attended the meeting. I came in his vehicle to the helipad. He was impressed at the sight of thousands of Karbis ,ma le & female, in colourful costumes. They cheered for the Governor. I then told him about the unusual request of the local elders. He smiled. Then when we were taking him to board the helicopter, he talked to the head pilot and then he asked me if those elders were present. I saw them near the fencing and told the Governor. He asked me to come with them near the helicopter which I did. They came with great jubilation. The Governor told them in Hindi that they could come near the helicopter and feel it. They were overjoyed and did it. Thus the Karbis of Hamren had a field day and the group of five elders got a cheering.
One secret rite which is observed by the hill Karbis is Rongker. I was once invited by the Karbi Recho to attend the ritual in Niz Rongkhang, the village in which the Karbi Recho lives. I went there with my friend and neighbour Hemari Ronghang as it was his birth place. On way, I was told that in the ancient time, a human being used to be sacrificed. The person came himself to the village on his own. On the day of Rongker ritual, he was fed and dressed well. Then he was taken to the sacred place near the slope of the hill. The priest ,after, chanting his incantations, the man was prepared for sacrifice. He was not beheaded but his leg was slashed with a dagger and the bleeding man was pushed down the hill and a tiger appeared and took the living man into the jungle. This practice was stopped long ago and five goats are sacrificed. We reached the house of the king and went with him and the elders to the site. I saw many tall trees. As the females are not allowed, we saw only gentlemen and elders. It was a very sacred ritual and I was fortute to observe it. It is believed that the goddess Rasinja comes riding on the tiger to accept the sacrifice. She is the Mother goddess and can be equated with Durga. The presiding deity is Hemphu who, with a trident, made of bamboo may be identified as Lord Siva. Mukrang is another god who is the son of Hemphu.
The hill Lalungs, however, treats the tiger as the progenitor of a clan. When a tiger dies or gets killed, a particular clan observes mourning as though one of their kin died. They have no particular fear for the tigers.
The beauty of the tribes like Karbis, Lalungs in Karbi Anglong is that they have a vast collection of folklores and folk songs as each and every ritual has songs and dances associated with it. They even have songs to sing while working on the fields for jhum cultivation and every step of cultivation is tinged with songs. Some of the Karbi folk songs were got recorded by Mr. Prafulla Saikia of Diphu and our most respected, beloved and late lamented Bhupen Hazarika added magnitude to the beauty of these songs by singing them. How I wish I could go back to Hamren and collect the songs and get them sung recorded by eminent artists who have the feel for the tribes and how these songs could be translated into Assamese and get them sung together with the origil ones. I miss you, my little town Hamren as I miss Sadiya and Majuli which are the places of ture's beauty..
In 1984 I wrote a book on the Hill Karbis in English which was edited by Rong Bong Terang who found it interesting. This led me to proceed further in the pursuit of knowledge and I did my research on the Hill Lalungs ( Tiwas) who, unlike their brothers of the plains are strongly matrilineal. I got my Doctorate in Anthropology in 1991. Thus Karbi Anglong and particularly the Karbis of Hamren subdivision became my first love in the field of my research and I could gradually accept their theology as a part of the greater Hindu Philosophy. Thus the Government of Assam unwittingly did me immense good by posting me as the S.D.O.( Civil) Hamren and then Additiol Deputy Commissioner, Karbi Anglong. The people and ture there always beckon me as they left an indelible impression on me and led me to love the various tribes of Assam which are colourful and highly attractive. The entire North East is an ethnic mosaic, full of mystery and attractions.