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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