Assam: Land of the red rivers and blue hills

Brahmaputra river

Assam is one of the Eight Sister States of North-eastern India. Known for its rich culture and diverse population, the culture of Assam is a fusion of Indo-Burmese, Mongolian and Aryan influence. It is bounded to the north by the kingdom of Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh, to the east by Nagaland and Manipur, to the south by Mizoram and Tripura, and to the west by Bangladesh and the States of Meghalaya and West Bengal.

The name Assam is derived from the word asama meaning “peerless” in the now extinct Ahom language. The neighbouring states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Meghalaya were once part of Assam. The capital, formerly Shillong (now the capital of Meghalaya), was shifted to Dispur, a suburb of Guwahati, in 1972. The beautiful land, known as the ‘land of red rivers and blue hills’ is a little paradise with untouched natural landscapes worth traversing for its pristine beauty.

Major tribes of Assam

Dancers at the Bihu Festival
Bihu Festival

Ahom or Tai-Ahom: They are the admixed descendants of the Tai people who reached the Brahmaputra Valley of Assam in 1228.
Karbis: They are one of the major ethnic communities in Assam and especially in the hill areas of Assam.
Bodo-Kacharis (also Kacharis or Bodos) are an anthropological and a linguistic group living predominantly in Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya.
Mising is an indigenous community inhabiting parts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
Nyishi community is the largest ethnic group and they live in the Sonitpur and North Lakhimpur districts of Assam.
Rabha live mostly in Goalpara, Kamrup, Kokrajhar, Udalguri, and Baksa districts; and also in some places of Bongaigaon, Chirang, Sonitpur, and Karbi Anglong districts.
Rajbongshi or Koch-Rajbongshi is an ethnic group inhabiting parts of Assam, Meghalaya, and northern West Bengal.
Tea-garden community composed of multi-ethnic groups of tea garden workers and their dependants in Assam. They are officially referred as “Tea tribes” by the Government of Assam. They are the descendants of indigenous people brought by the British colonial planters as labourers from the regions of present-day Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh into colonial Assam during 1860-90s in multiple phases for the purpose of being employed in the tea garden industry as labourers.

Customs and traditions

Bamboo art and craft

Customs and traditions play a significant role in society and the Assamese strictly adhere to the customs laid down by their forefathers, pertaining to their communities. These customs are beliefs that originated in the past and have been followed ever since, generation after generation. Weddings, births, deaths and festivals in Assam include many customs that are supposed to be followed by all.

The people of Assam always believed in the joint family system and it is still prevalent among both tribal and non-tribal communities. Some of the tribes follow the matriarchal system, which asserts that the mother is the centre of the clan and that her property will be given to her daughters. If there are no daughters, it will be passed to the youngest daughter of her sister. The prevalent custom among the Dimasa-Kacharis is that the sons inherit the father’s property while the daughters inherit the mother’s property. The Assamese use bamboo to welcome guests because of their attachment to the bamboo culture.

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C. Joseph
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C. Joseph

C. Joseph is as a counsellor in St Joseph’s College, Jakhama in Nagaland. He has written a number of articles and has produced several music albums in English and Tamil.