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India’s Tribal Communities- The Rabha Tribe of Assam

Rabha, also, Rava, etc., are an indigenous Tibeto-Burman community of Nepal, Bhutan, Thailand, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, and the Indian states of Assam, Meghalaya and West Bengal.

• The language/dialect spoken by the Rabha people is mostly Rabha, a Tibeto-Burman language, as well as Assamese.

• In Assam, the Rabhas live mostly in Goalpara, Kamrup, Kokrajhar, Udalguri, and Baksa districts; and also in some places of Bongaigaon, Chirang, Sonitpur, and Karbi Anglong districts

• The Rabhas refer to themselves as Koch, and assert a connection to the historical Koch Kingdom in part of West Bengal.

• The Rabhas are considered as one of the most important and significant plain Tribes of Assam.

• The identity of the people consist of their racial, geographical, historical, ethnic, linguistic and other features, which give them distinct characteristics and distinguish them from other people of the land.

POPULATION: 369,000

RELIGION: Hinduism and Christian

LANGUAGE: Rabha, Assamese

LOCATION: Assam, Meghalaya and West Bengal

VARIOUS RABHA GROUPS 

• Rabha is a generic name for a number of communities, which can be designated as sub- tribes. From this point of view the Rabha comprises of eight socio-cultural and linguistic clans, such as —

  • The Pati,
  • The Rangdani,
  • The Maitari,
  • The Kochha (Koch),
  • The Dahari,
  • The Bitalia,
  • The Totla and
  • The Hana or Shonga

 

OCCUPATION

 

• Agriculture is the main occupation of the Rabha. During the off-seasons, some serve as day-labourers also.

• They undertake cultivation of both Ahu and Sali rice along with some amount of pulses, mustard seeds and jute.

• Vegetable gardens are raised by both the Pati and the Rangdani, but it is very rare among the Maitori.

• Those who reside on the bordering areas with Meghalaya resort to shifting cultivation to a certain extent.

• The Rabhas though basically agriculturist and practice wet paddy cultivation, only a few number of cultivators have taken to improved methods of cultivation leaving a large majority with their traditional system.

• Goats, cattle, pigs, dogs etc. are the major domestic animals. Economic hardship has compelled many Rabhas to earn their livelihood by different professions other than agriculture.

• Modem college and school education is another factor directing many Rabha to leave their home.

• The educated sections do not like to go back to the village to till the soil. They prefer jobs rather than ploughing.

• The well qualified persons get good jobs in Government establishment as well as in private concerns.

• Some have become school teachers in their own localities. A few become college teachers.

• Others earn their bread by motor driving, or by working as military men, policemen, chowkidars or by doing similar menial work.

 

FOOD 

• Rice is the staple food of the Rabha with an inherent interest for dried and powdered fish, pork and rice-beer (Jhonga) is their favourite drink and is prepared on festive occasions.

• Vegetables, pulses etc. are also taken as an important part of diet.

• Feasting and drinking play an important role in their social and religious life.

• But the traditional likes and dislikes have now tended to disappear under economic pressure brought about by many factors.

• The consumption of rice-beer is also gradually coming down due to strict enforcement of the excise law which is a healthy sign for the socio-economic growth of the society.

• Further, those members of the Pati-Rabhas who got themselves initiated into the Mahapurusha sect of the Vaishnavite school no longer indulge in eating pork and drinking rice-beer.

 

DRESS AND ORNAMENTS 

• The women of the Rabha Tribe are greatly attracted to ornaments.

• They used ornaments as a marker of social status, personal status, signifier of some form of affiliation for belonging to ethnic, religious and social tribe, and also used in artistic display.

• The ornaments of them are often prepared with gemstones, coins, silvers or other precious materials and likewise they are typically set into precious metals.

• The Rabhas are called efficient weavers in making traditional dresses.

• They use various kinds of dress in day-to-day life. In the antique times, both male and female together worshipped different deities, festivals; in that occasion they must have worn their traditional dresses.

• Those are especially found among the Pati, Rangdani, Maitari, and Koch groups with floral designs.

• Nowadays, the other groups like (Dahari Pati, Bitolia) of Rabhas also wear miscellaneous functions, ceremonies.

FESTIVALS 

• The Baikho is the principal deity of the Rabhas which is associated with the crops; worshipped only once in a year with great ceremony during the month of April and May.

• The literacy meaning of Baikho is, “bai” means deity and “kho” means great.

• Hence, the name indicates a great deity. It is celebrated to propitiate the deity of wealth adored for her “ability to bring forth rains, abundant crops and health for the community.”

• It takes place annually to ward off “evil spirits” through puja ahead of the spring harvest; during which time the community people offer animal sacrifices, play traditional music.

• In the festival, four goddess worshipped such as- Susari, Nakati, Tamai and Daduri. The Rabha people considered the “Baikho ” goddess were the national heroines and; worshiped in a fixed date in a sacred place of jungle.

• In ancient times, the festival continued for seven days and nights. But, now the festival is celebrated only three days or three nights. A significant song is sung during the puja, called Haimaru.

• This song is a memorial song of the past heroes and heroines who were the warriors of the Rabhas.

• There is a connectable thing that when the song is singing; no one can sleep at night. This auspicious occasion is celebrated with feasting and drinking of rice beer.

• It’s rituals are; the first day of the festival is called Nak-khitarkay, which may rightly be termed as the purification rite.

• The Mare-gan (a form of Ojapali associated with the worship of snake goddess Bisahari) performers are appointed for this festival, rice-powder are sprinkled on the rooftops of the houses of each family, which act is called Nak-junkay.

• The performers sing songs while they are sprinkling rice powder

IMPACT OF MODERN WORLD 

• Literacy rate is very low

• High number of unmarried population

• Migration for work to cities

• Change in food habits

• Started living in pakka house

• Lack of basic facilities such as Education, Health, Water, Electricity, etc.

• Poor irrigation facilities

• Lack of political representation

• Started wearing modern clothes and speaking different languages

• Improper implementation of Govt. Schemes.

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  1. The Original Rabha Tribe Official

    Baikho is the festival of the Rongdani and Mayturi Rabha. Sun Bai Tangi or Sin Paar is the festival of Kocha Rabha