Table of Content
Results and Discussion
A Brief History of the Hajongs
The Micro-field and Demographic Composition
Inheritance and Descent
Birth and Death
Dress and ornaments
The present paper is a brief ethnographic report on the Hajong tribe of Assam. They are a least studied small endogamous Bodo-Kachari tribe having a trans-border international presence i.e. in NE India and in Bangladesh. A huge number of them migrated to India from their homeland in erstwhile East-Pakistan. The paper is based on the data collected through standard anthropological methods from two remote Hajong villages viz. Kuhiarbari and Kotha Adarsha, located along the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border in Margherita Sub-division, Tinsukia district, upper Assam. The Hajongs are patrilineal, patriarchal and patrilocal; and in marital alliances the rules of tribal endogamy and clan exogamy are followed. They have the traditional custom of paying bride price - Khalti. The people by and large live in nuclear families. Agriculture is the main occupation of the Hajongs. They follow Hinduism; Bastu puja and Bash puja are important religious ceremonies of the people performed by the Deoshi (traditional village priest).
KEYWORDS: Ethnography, Hajong, Culture, Ranga pathin, Margherita, Assam
Ethnography is a written observational science which provides an account of a particular culture, society or community. It is one of the most in-depth studies dedicated entirely to field work, is aimed at gaining the emic perspective or the "native's point of view". Cultural and social anthropologists have always placed a high value on doing ethnographic research in order to seek a deeper insight of the ways of life of living people. Northeast (NE) India comprising eight states viz. Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura shares 4500 Km of international border with Bangladesh, Bhutan, China (Tibet) and Myanmar. The region is endowed with rich natural resources in the form of soil, water, and floral and faunal diversity. Further, the region is complemented by a rich mosaic of cultures, traditions and people who live amicably. Majority of the population of NE India are predominantly tribal belonging to the Mongoloid stock. The diverse Mongoloid groups in course of time settled down in different habitats and ecological settings of the north eastern region crystallized into distinct entities which are referred to as tribes today (Bhagabati, 1992). There are more than 145 tribal communities out of the total 461 found in India. They constitute around 12% of the total tribal population of India and 25.81% of the total population of NE India (Ali and Das, 2003). Due to the presence of a large number of tribal groups inhabiting the hills and plains and with diverse socio-economic-cultural traditions NE India is considered as a living Anthropological Museum; a unique feature that makes NE India a fruitful region for conducting different aspects of ethnographic research.
The great Bodo-Kachari group of the Indo-Mongoloid family, in the distant past migrated from their original abode in Tibet and Northern China, were the earliest settlers of the Brahmaputra valley from where they spread in many directions. This includes most of the areas of NE India, North Bengal and parts of Nepal and Bangladesh. Chaterji (1974) stated that “long ago one section of the Indo-Mongoloids spread over the whole of the Brahmaputra valley, North Bengal and East Bengal giving rise to various tribal groups inhabiting this region”. The Hajongs are a small endogamous Bodo-Kachari tribe with a rich socio-cultural heritage. They form a unique tribal community having a trans-border international presence i.e. in the NE Indian states of Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram; in West Bengal and in Bangladesh. They are an indigenous people of Assam, Meghalaya and Bangladesh; a huge number of them, however, migrated to India from their homeland in erstwhile East-Pakistan (now Bangladesh). A number of ethnographic studies have been conducted among different tribal groups of India (Prakash and Raju, 2010; Aiyadurai, 2011; Ramya, 2012; Sabar, 2014). However, information on the Hajong tribe is very scanty both in anthropological literatures as well as in the socio-political and economic spheres. In this backdrop, the present paper attempts to provide an ethnographic account of the Hajongs in Assam. It is hoped that the present study will be a small step towards documenting their society and culture as well as enrich the knowledge bank of anthropological research in NE India.
The present study was conducted in two remote Hajong villages viz. Kuhiarbari and Kotha Adarsha, homogenously inhabited by the Hajong people, located along the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border in Margherita Sub-division, Tinsukia district, upper Assam. The intensive field-work was carried out during 2013-2014 by conducting several field visits to the micro-field. Data was collected through standard anthropological methods viz. household survey schedule, observation, extensive in-depth personal interviews (semi-structured and open ended) with key informants (such as village elders, knowledge holders, etc.) and informal discussions with a cross-section of the villagers. In addition, available and accessible literatures viz. books, documents, articles, etc. were reviewed as part of secondary data collection. The collected mass of data was sorted out, systematically analyzed and presented under the following headings and sub-headings.
Results and Discussion
A Brief History of the Hajongs
There is a lack of consensus regarding the origin of the term ‘Hajong’. It is opined that the term is derived from the Kachari word Hajo, which literally means ‘the people who live in high hills’. Also, in the dialect of the Rabha tribe, another Bodo-Kachari tribe of Assam, Hachu + ong means ‘people living in high hill’. According to Hajong (2009), the term may perhaps originate from ‘Hojai Kachari’. Whereas, it is also presumed that the term has originated from the Garo word Ha-Jong, Ha: land and Jong: insect, meaning like an insect of earth (Hajong, 2000). The Hajongs upon their settlement in the plain areas at the foot of Garo Hills used the plough to cultivate the land. For the Garos, who practised jhum cultivation, this new method was something like digging of the soil by an insect, and hence, named the people as Ha-Jong. Dalton (1872) considered the Hajongs to be a branch of the Kachari race, identical to the Hojai Kacharis of North Cachar, and the early settlers of Assam. According to Blaines (1912) the Hajongs are akin to the Garo and Bodo, inhabits the southern slopes of the Garo Hills, and has made its way into the Surma valley. This descent into the plain appears to have resulted in the formation of two clans, the upper, which remains true to its tribal ways of life, and the Brahmanized community of the valley. The latter have also abandoned their tribal dialect in favour of a corrupt form of Bengali, the others speaking one of the varieties of Garo.
According to oral history, the Haj Paragana or Hajo area in present Kamrup district, Assam was the original homeland of the Hajongs. One version of their oral chronicle says that in 700 AD, during the reign of King Bharat Barman, the last king of an ancient dynasty that ruled Hajo, the kingdom collapsed. As a result, some twelve thousand people migrated from Hajo to western Garo Hills in Meghalaya, and named the settlement as Baro-Hajari (a place in present-day west Garo Hills is still known as Barohajari Joar). These immigrant people from Hajo were known as Hajons or Hajongs (Hajong, 2000). From here the people gradually spread out into the Surma valley, Goalpara, and towards south to the areas of greater Mymensingh in search of fertile land. Another oral account says that, around mid 1400 AD a king named Hajo or Hajgoya ruled over the Hajo kingdom. About the same time the Koch kingdom of Kamrup was founded and there was marital relation between the two royal families. Although both the royal houses were of Bodo origin the later cast off the tribal ways of life, converted to Hinduism, and began calling themselves as Rajbongshis. While, the kinfolk of Hajo began to call themselves as Hajbongsis which, in course of time became known as Hajong. It is also presumed that during 1600 and 1700 when western Assam was under frequent attacks from Muslim invaders many Hajongs took refuge in the Garo Hills, later some settled in the surrounding regions stretching as far as into present-day northern Bangladesh and some moved to other areas of Assam.
Prior to India’s independence, the Hajongs were confined to distinct geographical locations marked in the north by Suwarkona in Goalpara district; in the east by Jamkona, near Sylhet; in the south by Jongkona in Sherpur and to the west by Morkona, near Mankachar of south Dhubri district (Hajong, 2011). However, after independence and the country partitioned on religious grounds, Mymensingh district, where maximum Hajong people (who were Hindus) lived went to East-Pakistan. During partition, communal violence targeting the minority tribes along with widespread crimes committed on them by the majority Muslims forced a large number of Hajongs to leave East-Pakistan and seek refuge in India. Following the Nehru-Liaqat Ali Pact of 1950 some of the Hajongs went back to Mymensingh, but the Pakistan Government denied them the right over their land and property. In 1964, due to Pakistan's policy of persistent religious persecution of the minority tribal groups and the various inhuman atrocities committed on them forced majority of the Hajongs to abandon their fore-father’s land forever and migrate to NE India. The insecurity of life, loss of land and livelihood, and fear of politico-religious persecution in East-Pakistan forced the Hajongs, a Hindu tribal minority groups to move from Mymensingh district to the northeast India (Chakraborty, 2002). At the beginning, the people had to spend several months in different refugee camps set up by the Indian Government. Subsequently, they were settled in different areas of NE India.
The Hajong population of India is estimated to be around 200,000 (Ali, 2012). They predominantly inhabit the state of Meghalaya, in the valley areas of South West Garo Hills and West Garo Hills districts bordering Bangladesh. They are the 4th largest tribe of Meghalaya with a population of 31,381 (Census of India, 2001) and are recognized as Scheduled Tribe (ST) Hills. In Assam, several small Hajong villages are dotted in the districts of Barpeta, Bongaigaon, Darang, Dibrugarh, Dhemaji, Dhubri, Goalpara, Kamrup, Kokrajhar, Lakhimpur, Nagaon, Nalbari, Sonitpur, Tinsukia, and in the two autonomous Hill districts of Dima Hasao and Karbi Anglong. Maximum concentration of the tribe is found in Goalpara and Nagaon districts. In Arunachal Pradesh, they are settled in Namsai district and in Miao, Bordumsa and Diyun in Changlang district. A very small population of Hajong is also settled in Mizoram and West Bengal. In Assam, they are a ST Plains, under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Orders (Amendment) Act 1976 (List of notified STs, Govt. of India). However, those who are residing in Arunachal Pradesh are still considered as refugee, although they were settled there in 1964, after their exodus from East-Pakistan. It will be relevant to note here that in Bangladesh, the Hajongs live in north Mymehsingh district and in the Sherpur, Sylhet and Netrokona regions; their population is around 17,700 (Joshua Project, 2015).
The Micro-field and Demographic Composition
Both Kuhiarbari Hajong village and Kotha Adarsha Hajong village are rehabilitated revenue villages founded in 1965 and 1969 respectively. Due to their remote location, the study villages lack proper transportation and communication facilities. The village roads are kutcha (made of mud) and are not graveled; and during the rainy season they are at their poorest condition. The nearest urban centre for Kuhiarbari is Ledo bazaar located at a distance of 3 Km from the village, whereas for Kotha Adarsha, Jagun bazaar is the nearest urban centre which is 5 Km from the village. Essential items of day-to-day requirements are purchased from the village grocery shops. The people avail public as well as private means of transportation from the urban centre’s to other places. In both the study villages, postal service and telephone connections are not available; however, in recent times a few people have taken mobile phone connection. For conducting cultural functions and other important events of the village there is one small community hall in Kotha Adarsha, whereas, there is no such common structure in Kuhiarbari. There is provision of electricity in the micro-field; however, there are frequent power cuts on a regular basis. Drinking water is obtained by the people from the individually owned tube wells. The health care service is extremely poor in the micro-field. There is no Primary Health Centre (PHC) or Sub-Centre in both the study villages.
The total population of Kuhiarbari village is 799 (Male: 378; Female: 421) and that of Kotha Adarsha village is 542 (Male: 272; Female: 270). And, the total number of households in Kuhiarbari village and Kotha Adarsha village are 137 and 97 respectively. The houses in the micro-field are not scattered but, are systematically arranged on both sides of the main village road and other paths. The people of Kuhiarbari village are originally from Mymensingh district, of erstwhile East-Pakistan. After their immigration to NE India in 1964 they were initially given temporary shelter in government refugee camp at Ledo, Margherita. Thereafter, the Assam Government in 1965 settled 80 families at the present setting with a compensated of Rs.1800/- and 2.31 acres of cultivable land per family. On the other hand, the Hajongs of Katha Adarsha are originally from Dhemaji district of Assam. Due to flood and erosion, the people were displaced from their original habitat. Hence, the Assam Government resettled them at the present location in 1969. Initially, about 28 families were settled without any compensation; later they were allowed to occupy the nearby forest land for cultivation. The other Hajong families that came to the village in later periods are also flood affected families, besides some came from other areas in search of livelihood.
The village organization is very simple; both the study villages have a government registered village headman (Gaon bura) who presides over the village council which consists of a group of elderly persons. The post of the headman is not hereditary. He plays a crucial role in all village festivals and ritual ceremonies. Generally, occasional disputes related to land, small offences, marital relations as well as conflict between families are settled by the village council. The village council is also entrusted with the responsibility of looking after the general welfare of the villagers.