The states of north east India are inhabited by various tribes and they are mostly Mongoloid by ethnicity. However, each tribe has distinct culture, religious norms and lifestyle. The nice thing is that they have co-existed in the region despite subtle differences in mindset, religion, culture etc. Among such tribes residing in North East Indian states the Mishing tribe deserves a special mention. They are found mostly in some districts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The culture and lifestyle of Mishing tribe reflect their belief in age old values and traditions.
Nuances of Mishing tribe
They are basically a peace loving tribe and violence has no acceptance in their social structure. The Mishings rely mostly on agriculture for living- since ancient times. They cultivate various rice types and mustard, mostly. However, with time and exposure to modern civilization- the younger generations have embraced other type of jobs. They prefer living close to riverbank and build houses which are called "Chang Ghar" using materials like bamboo, thatch and wood. The houses are built on stilts because the River bank areas are prone to flooding. Except monsoon months, the area below the house is used for keeping livestock.
In Assam, they are found living in places like Lakhimpur, Golaghat, Sonitpur, Sibsagar and Dibrugarh. In Arunachal Pradesh, the Mishing people are seen mostly in areas like Lohit , Lower Dibang Valley and East Siang district.
The Mishings are basically a sub-race of Mongoloids, and their roots belong to ancient Tani tribes. Whether they migrated from China remains a debatable topic but it is certain they came to Assam centuries back, in quest of fertile lands. Owing to interaction with civilized communities after migrating to Assam, they got rid of violent tribal nature with time and later adopted Vaishnavite religion. The Mishings are also among most educated tribes in the North east India.
The language and sub groups
The language used by the community is called the "Mishing language". It has roots in Yileto- Burma class of language. However, most of the community people can speak Assamese too. The Mishing tribe can be categorized into two groups- Dagdok and Degdoong. Those living on the northern side of Brahmaputra River are called Degdoong and those living on southern bank are known as Dagdok. There are subtle differences in dialect in the sub groups as well.
Marriage rituals of Mishing tribe
In the Mishing community, 3 types of marriages are practiced. Those living in really poor condition, resort to a ritual where the elders visit the house of the groom and bless the newlywed couple with rice beer. Marriage by elopement is also a practice among the community people. This takes place when the groom is not rich enough to bear the cost of traditional wedding. The third is formal wedding ceremony where all age old rituals take place. While divorce is not usual it is not forbidden either. The traditional Mishing wedding is replete with dance and songs and gorging on sumptuous foods.
Related: Marriage Rituals of Ahom Tribe
Food habits of the Mishing Tribe
The Mishing community makes use of literally all types of plants and animal sources to make yummy and healthy dishes, both for daily consumption and special events. They make use of a lot of herbs and most of their dishes lack excess spice. The popular Mishing delicacies include chicken cooked made with bamboo shoot and pork with sesame seeds. Rice is a staple in their cuisine and they also use a lot of fish variants. They are fond of cooking aromatic Joha rice.
Related: Cooking Muri Ghonto, Assamese Style
Culture and festivals of the Mishing tribe
Like most other tribes in Assam and adjacent states, the Mishing tribe adheres to their festivals and rituals. They celebrate quite a number of festivals all over the year. However, among these events, the "Ali-Aye-Ligang" spring festival is the most significant one. It is their age old seed sowing festival with roots based in concept of worshipping the deities for good harvest. It is held for a period of 5 days. They also perform worship to prevent the community from several ailments and well being of spirit of the ancestors- sticking to ancient beliefs. Urum-posum is their annual ancestor worship, for example.
Porag is a major post-harvest festival of this community. It is a 3 day festival but in some villages it is held for a couple of days too. For the Mishing tribe, it is also celebrated as an occasion to reunite with close people living away from the villages. Apart from these, the Mishing people also celebrate seasonal Bihu festivals.
Related: Karbi Dehal Festival of Assam
Despite conversion to Christianity, which also happened to their fellow tribes in the Northeast, Mishings have not deserted with their ancient religion and rituals. A section of the community now follows Hindu festivals and religions- a result of spending a long time in the mainland. As per their ancient religious belief, Sun and moon are deities symbolizing the mother and father respectively.
Weaving -an intrinsic part of Mishing community life
While the Mishing community largely sticks to agriculture till date for sustenance, they are also known for their penchant for weaving. The Mishing women have exceptional weaving skills, which make tourists awestruck. As it is, Mishing women receive training in nuances of weaving handlooms as early as they reach teen hood.
They mostly weave attire like cotton jackets, shawls called endi, towels, thick loincloths etc. They also weave skirt type attire for women. They also make gadoo, a specific type of blanket made using traditional loin loom. The women mostly make use of silk and cotton for weaving such garments using their traditional handloom equipments. Especially, the Mishing women hailing from the famous Majuli Island are exceptionally talented in this craft and their shawls and blankets are extremely popular. The attire woven by Mishing women are known for their bright colors and exquisite design patterns. They make use of hues like red, green and orange a lot. The nice thing is they resort to using natural dyes for weaving such garments. The muga silk based attire made by the Mishing community is famous and the art has been passed down from generations to generations.