Monday October 23, 2017

Lalung Tribe of Northeast India: What Makes them Stand Apart!

Currently India has 645 tribes recognized as Scheduled Tribes, meaning indigenous people whose status has been formally acknowledged by national legislation. (representational image) Wikimedia
  • Hailing traditionally from Tibet, Lalungs believed to have resettled in Indian subcontinent around the mid-1600s
  • ‘Tiwa’ means those who have been lifted from below

Assam, August 9, 2017: They’re hidden in the farthest corner of the country, in the states of Assam and Meghalaya- tiny pockets of people whose traditions, customs and dress have decidedly chosen to NOT remain anachronistic, while still continuing to stay true to their roots. There’s no question that the people of the Lalung tribe live a lot closer to their old way of life than the average, while at the same time showing signs of embedded liberalism and modernism.

This article aims to present a complete breakdown of the Lalung tribe, with an intent to introduce the masses to one of the lesser known communities of the country, and about what makes them stand apart.

Tiwa means the people who were lifted from below
The Lalung tribe is also known as Tiwa tribe, an indigenous tribal community from northeast India. Wikimedia

Among several other tribes of India, the Lalung tribe is recognized as Scheduled Tribes in Assam and are divided into two sub-types based on their terrain and ecology-

  • Living on hills
  • Living in the plains

The Lalung tribe, also known as Tiwa tribe associates with the race Bodo and does not have a clearly defined history. It is popularly believed that their ancestors have their roots in Tibet and later moved along the Brahmaputra river down south, eventually settling in the plains around the mid-1600s.

The word Lalung has its roots in the Karbi word and can be divided into two exclusive words

  • Lang means water
  • Lung means to sink in it

When compounded together, the word Lalung came into existence.

The tribe has an affluent mythological and historical origin and migration, and there is more than one tale of their formation.

The Origin Of the Lalungs

According to some legend, the Lalungs are believed to have fallen into Kolong river in the Nagaon district during Assam’s invasion by the Myanmarese. It was the Karbis who allegedly rescued them and began calling them ‘Lang-Lung’, which eventually became Lalung.

While this tale is popularly believed, another legend holds that the Lalungs condemned their homeland and began resettling at the banks of river Nailalung, in the Karbi Anglong districts and thus, derived their name from the river.

A Defined System of Administration

The traditional village council of the tribe is known as ‘khel’, and the village headman presides over the sittings of the tribe.

The Khel selects a ‘Giyati’, who is essentially a priest, to preside over all religious ceremonies and occasions.  Other important administrative positions include a ‘Barilk‘ who is a connection official between the headman and the villagers and the ‘Zolo‘ who is a person expert at folklores. Officials to these positions are also selected by the Khel.

While the decision of the village headman is final in all matters, religious issues are usually dealt by the Giyati.

ALSO READ: Why Indian tribes need more opportunities to ‘Make (a living) in India’

The Lalung Way of Being

If in or around Lalung land, one can be prepared to be exposed to a method they must have read about in school Geography books. Lalung tribe swears by the ‘slash and burn’ farming method.

Majorly influenced by wet rice cultivation methods, rice is their major crop. However, they also grow sesame, ginger, mustard, and chilies.

If you’re wondering what problems and drawbacks the Lalung economy faces, they aren’t much different from other similar tribes – land estrangement, indebtedness, absence of modern farming tools and techniques, and inadequate credit and marketing facilities.

Staple Diet Of The Lalung Tribe

A sumptuous serving of rice, meat, fish, or eggs form the staple diet of the Lalung tribe.

A helping of their bona fide, locally brewed rice-beer completes their meals and forms an imperative part of their culture.

While the practice of the rice beer is gradually dying among the plains Lalung because of economic setbacks, it continues to enjoy an important element of religious ceremonies.

What Do The Lalungs Speak

While many hill dwellers are bilingual and speak both, Bodo and Lalung, many of the Lalungs thriving in the plains speak only Bodo.

The Faith And Devotion Of The Lalung Tribe

The Lalung tribe holds Goddess Keshai Khaity in utmost reverence.

It is believed that a Keshai Khaity mandir (temple) had been built by the descendants of the tribe in 1266 AD which is heralded as the foundation of their faith. Thereafter, all following generations pursued the traditions set by their forefathers and worship the goddess in the month of Bohag (April)

While the tribe has rather liberal traits in terms of their cultural practices, they continue to be orthodox with respect to their devotion and its practices. Only the men are allowed to take part in the religious ceremonies while the women can only observe the activities, however only from a distance.

The ‘Holy’ Offering Of Blood

According to popular Lalung beliefs, Goddess Keshai Khaity accepts blood from her devotees. Also known as Kalika, she stands as the epitome of power and strength for the Lalung tribes and hence, no stone is left unturned to gratify the Goddess.

The head priest (Bor Deuri) offers blood of hens, pigeons, among other animals to the deity. Surprisingly, a tortoise is also offered to the goddess, which comprises the main item of the worship.

The annual puja witnesses more than 300 devotees in attendance as more than 200 birds are sacrificed each year to encompass the offering.

Lalungs’ Belief In The Evil

Laying tribes are the followers of the cult of polydaemonism. In other words, they believe in and/worship a multitude of demons and demoniacal power, with their supreme god called phi meaning father.

Officially classified as Tantrayana Buddhists, they are also believed to have been influenced by Hinduism as well.

The Warmth of The Lalung Culture

While the Lalung tribe comprise a close-knit community, aspects of their culture are more contemporary than those of similar tribes and sets them apart,

  • Lalung villages on the plains are not exclusive pockets. Instead, they interspersed. And coexist mutually with many other non-Lalung villages. Most of these can be accessed by well-built roads.
  • The Lalung tribe is famous for its exogamous clans. This means that they are allowed to marry people from other clans.
  • Same divisions of the Lalung tribes are matrilineal. This means, they trace the line of their descents through their maternal relations.

Like most tribes of India, the Lalungs function like a close-knit family, and cooperate with one another as a community- whether it is in terms of building roads, constructing houses, plantations, or religious activities.


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The race is on: Tiger vs Man in the forests of India

Locals being axed of their ancestral lands to safeguard a tiger habitat

Tiger vs Man in the forests of India, credits-pixabay

Bhubaneshwar, Feb 27, 2017: In the Similipal forests, man and tiger co-exist in huge numbers. The race is now on to see which animal will win supremacy on their ‘home’.

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The indigenous villages are ripped off their rights fighting against the tigers with more clout.

Sanghamitra Dubey, an activist with an informal Indian advocacy group for forestry rights asked, “Why are indigenous people being asked outright to leave without even attempting to explore reasonable options of coexistence with wildlife?”, mentioned a report on Similipal forests by Thompson Reuters Foundation.

Dubey further highlighted the stripping of the ancestral lands of the people to protect the shrinking number of tigers and how it led to the extinction of the traditional ways of life, like the old rope plaiting technique.

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Nearly half the estimated 3200 tigers of the world are found in India, in dozens of different reserves built since the 1970s.

The tiger has more cloat than the human, Source: Pixabay

Wildlife tourism serves as a growing money maker for the country. However, conservationists continue to debate if the tourists encroach their habitat or help protect the species.

The relocation process:-

Notice: last November, to protect the Tiger habitat in the forests, hundreds of families from about 44 different villages were asked to relocate.

Anup Kumar Nayak, a senior forest officer in Bhubaneswar said, “relocations are voluntary but a number of villages around Similipal were in the ‘core’ habitat zone or so close they were “as good as inside it” and would need to move. Only the Buffer zone is for human-animal coexistence.”

Only months ago had the villagers acquired rights to the 25000 hectares of woodland area.

The Forest Rights Act of 2006 permits Tribal Households to harvest and utilize the forest resources for maintenance of their ancestral lands.

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One-off Settlement: A visit by the Park Officials was reported by the villagers in November, offering them a one-off payment to evacuate their homes and lands to clear the forest lands under human activity.

Tribandha Barja, a villager reported that most of the people refused the offer. “(They told us) take one million rupees keep it in the bank and live better with the bank interest,” Barja said.

Dubey also commented that 50 families from a neighboring village were also targeted though it was nowhere near the core zone.

As per official figures, about 2750 square kilometers of dense forests are covered by tigers reserves including bio-diverse land and adjoining forest which is used as a corridor by other animals.

According to the report by Thompson Reuters Foundation, 10,000 people are estimated to live within the park including the buffer zone by the Authorities. Also, half a million people are estimated to live in 1,200 villages within a 10km radius around the park.

The 10 year tiger conservation plan of Odisha highlights that 800 to 1000 square kilometer area is required by 80 to 100 tigers.

As pointed out by Nayak, this serves as the reason behind the relocation.

However, only 26 Royal Bengal Tigers were found by the official Odisha government in the Similipal reserve last year.

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The End of the rope plaiting : In the core of the park, in the Jamuna Garh Village, only 3 out of approximately 35 families have stayed back and decided to continue to use their land. The others chose to relocate, accepting the compensation.

One of the holdouts, Telanga Hasa said, “neighboring families had been paid one million rupees via bank deposit in September 2015 – of which 30,000 rupees was paid in cash.”

“All are still waiting to be allocated the two acres of farmland they were promised.”
“Now they have no forests, no farm land and no livelihood …how can they live with dignity?” Hasa also said that 25 families in the hillside village in Bakua had also stayed back.

The villagers are unable to access the sacred creeper ‘siali’ from which the rope os plaited. This rope, very strong, is highly demanded by farmers.

Presently, the locals have been forced to purchase plastic potato sacks for rupees three per sack for the purpose of plaiting ropes out of them. These ropes are then sold for a petty gain.


-By Nikita Saraf of NewsGram, Twitter: @niki_saraf


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Tiger sways man in Indian tribal village, Allocation of a new land now

Anup Kumar Nayak, a senior forest officer in Bhubaneswar proclaimed that wildlife protection laws refused to allow humans from living within critical wildlife habitat.

Tiger, pixabay

Feb 20, 2017: India has nearly about 3,200 tigers in dozens of reserves established since the 70s, with some of the nominated land shared with primeval tribal villagers. Wildlife tourism has grown widely and is a medium for earning huge amount of money for India.

However, conservationists are dubious as to whether travellers help protect threatened species or trespass onto their habitat. According to a report published in Reuters, the tigers that roam around these dense forests of eastern India have more dominance than the people that live alongside, tribal activists say, this is a drive to boost thriving wildlife tourism and trump the rights of poor villagers of tribal areas.

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Sanghamitra Dubey, a worker in an informal Indian advocacy group for forestry rights questioned,”Why are indigenous people being asked outright to leave without even attempting to explore reasonable options of co-existence with wildlife?”

Now the situation arises such that one of the two will win the priority and, the place too. The families of the ancestral land have already been asked to shift, just to protect a handful population of tigers. Last November, hundreds of families from these tribal villages were asked to vacate their homes to ensure the security of a local tiger habitat.

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Anup Kumar Nayak, a senior forest officer in Bhubaneswar proclaimed that wildlife protection laws refused to allow humans from living within critical wildlife habitat or what is deemed the ‘core zone’ of a national park. He further added by saying, ‘the relocation are voluntary but a number of villages around Similipal were in the ‘core’ habitat zone or so close they were “as good as inside it” and would need to move’.

Following the trail, in the village of Jamunagarh, in the park’s ‘core’, just three families out of more than 35 families decided to stay on and continue to use the land they won in 2015. The others chose to take the compensation and move away.

(Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation report on The Goat Village)

By Naina Mishra of Newsgram, Twitter @Nainamishr94

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Caste Out: The Bagris of India

A look at one of the lesser known caste and it's cultures

For representational purpose. Pixabay

In the nation that proudly brags of Unity in Diversity among thousand of cultures some are more overlooked than others. The Bagri is one such caste. In addition to being termed as a scheduled tribe, it’s also declared a denotified one (a tribe addicted to the systematic commission of non-bailable offences) according to the criminal tribes act of 1971.  A label which has tempered with their development for decades and continues to hinder their growth still.

According to their traditions, The Bagri arose with the intermarriage of Kshatriya class of prominent Gujjar, Rajput and Jatt communities. They are now are now mostly settled in the original abode of these communities namely Rajasthan (Gujjar and Rajputs) and Punjab (Jatts) and all over Madhya Pradesh. In Madhya Pradesh it is spread all over the state with different names like Bagari, bagariya, bahagari and baioriyaz according to Dr Raja Ram Singh. After the partition a substantial population also moved to Pakistan eventually settling there or in Afghanistan even.

Most of the Bagris traditionally raise livestock as the source of livelihood with some getting involved in the handicraft businesses and even fewer engaging in manual labor.The Bagri are divided into a number of sub-divisions, the main ones being the Chunarias, who are cultivators, the Datanias who sell twig toothbrushes, the Vedus who sell gourd, Salaat, who are stonemasons, and the remaining clans being landless agriculture workers. Their minor sub-divisions include the Mori, Bajania, Kakodia, Bamcha and Pomla.

Important traditions of Bagris include always wearing a sacred thread and marrying among themselves. They also believe in removing their dead cattle with their own hands as said by Mr.R. V. Russell who is Superintendent Of Ethnography, Central Provinces in Indian Civil Services.


One of the glory days for Bagri caste, one of their spokesman meeting the then prime minister. Picture used for representation purposes. Courtesy of Wikimedia
One of the glory days for Bagri caste, one of their spokesman meeting the then prime minister.
Picture used for representation purposes. Courtesy of Wikimedia

The social lives among the Bagris is dominated by a strict caste system still.Most castes have certain occupations that all its members follow. As usual,some castes are considered better or higher than others and intermingling between lower and higher classes is minimal and frowned upon. They also have an effective caste council which also acts as an quasi-judicial body settling disputes between communities.

Monogamy and exogamy is practiced in Bagri culture. Unlike most of Indian cultures, widows and divorcees are allowed to remarry but this is with a peculiar feature. If a widow refuses the brother-in-law’s proposal she must pay compensation.

The religious beliefs of Bagri caste is mostly influenced by Hinduism and worship a lot of Hindu God and Goddesses. But almost all Bagris also practice ethnic religion, their ancient traditions and religions. In particular, they are animists, meaning that they believe that objects, plants, and animals have spirits according to Eric Holmlund.

The Bagris face a lot of discrimination and seen in a bad light because their ancestors were bandits and robbers. This is interferes with their employment opportunities evident by the fact that only handful among the approximate 2 million own land. This alone show the neglect that the government has shown them and how much they need to helped.

We need to remember that true unity will only be when we grow, taking all cultures together