Alcove 2 – Traditional Weaving

The indigenous handicrafts that in other parts of the country are confined to professional castes were practiced as household industries in the valley of the Brahmaputra. In Assam proper, there is no dearth of raw materials. Every family in Assam proper has looms to meet the requirements of the household. The looms are in fact the centre of domestic economy.

Weaving is done with handlooms. They are of the plainest kind and none of the latest improvements had been introduced. The different local varieties of spinning and weaving had been used in different parts of the province and posted loom used in the plains are different from the hill tribes in which the warp is tied up in split bamboo to the ends of which are fastened a leather strap which passed across the weavers.

The ancient loin loom, seen in the painting, found generally in Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram and some parts of Assam is a typical primitive loom. The dhakbundas of Garo tribe, the breast cloth of the Tripura girls, phenek belt and the longhand of the Naga and Vaishnava ladies of Manipur, and the dance dresses of the Ukhrum Naga girls provide ample testimony to the large variety of fabrics that can be manufactured on this loom. These age-old looms are simple in construction and easy to operate. They are cheap too. They have neither permanent fixtures nor heavy frames and so are easily portable. Apart from these, the greatest advantage that lies with these looms is the unlimited scope that they offer for designing. It is also called the Back Strap loom.

Nearly all types of weaves can be woven in the Loin Loom. The possibilities of weaving pattern in a Loin Loom are unlimited. The weaver sits with a loom fixing the back strap, keeps her legs against the footrest, which is adjustable for keeping the loom in tension.

The weaving in the loin loom is governed by the shedding motion, the picking motion and the beating motion. The healt bar is lifted up with the left hand and the circular bamboo bar is pressed down by right hand simultaneously. Sword is then placed in the shed and kept vertical and the weft is passed from the right side by the right hand by means of the shuttle (a bamboo piece ship containing yarn) and picked up by left hand. The weft is then beaten up by the sword. The sword is then taken out and the center shed is produced through which the shuttle is passed by the left hand and is picked up by the right hand. The sword is then again placed to beat the weft. The process is repeated. When the weaving just begins, the two-bamboo splits work as the first weft. This is the technique of plain weave of one up and one down and the process is continued until any pattern is woven.

The main distinctions between tribal weaving and village or city weaving:

1) The weaver and the designer are usually the same person.
2) Designs are usually woven from memory and passed down from one generation to the next.
3) The weavings are usually made for use by the weaver or by the tribe to which she belongs.
4) Weavings often have a practical function as well as an aesthetic one.

CULTURE

The culture of the Bodo people in Assam is influenced by the land where they currently live. For a long time, Bodos have been farmers, with a strong tradition of fishing, keeping poultry, piggery, rice and jute cultivation, and betel nut plantation. The Bodos also cultivate mustard and corn. They make their own traditional attire. In recent decades, they have been influenced by social reforms under Brahma Dharma, Assamese Sarania, Islam and the spread of Christianity. They are deeply independent and proud of their Bodo identity, which has given rise to political assertion in recent times. The Bodo linguistic ethnic groups arrived the earliest and settled in the region, and have contributed to the cultural traditions of the Assamese and others in the north east of India.

Weaving is also a popular occupation of the Bodo tribes. All the exquisite products that these Bodo tribes have created over the years have been the main force of enabling the Bodo tribal community to reach to its zenith. Several Bodo families rear their own silkworms, the cocoons of which are then spun into silk. Amongst the Bodo tribal females, weaving has gained fame and popularity. Since a very early age, these Bodo girls learn the art of weaving, and thus loom is an inseparably thing in the courtyard of a Bodo house.

LANGUAGE

Bodo (pronounced as BO-ro) is a Tibeto-Burman language spoken by the Bodo people of north-eastern India, Nepal and Bangladesh. The language is one of the official languages of the Indian State of Assam, and is one of 22 scheduled languages given a special constitutional status in India.

LOCATION

The Bodos (pronounced BO-ros) are an ethnic and linguistic community, early settlers of Assam in Northeast India. According to the 1991 census, there were 1.2 million Bodos in Assam which makes for 5.3% of the total population in the state. Bodos belong to a larger ethnic group called the Bodo-Kachari. The Bodos are recognized as a plains tribe in the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. Udalguri and Kokrajhar are considered the centre of the Bodo area.

TRADITIONAL DRESS

Dresses of the Bodo tribal community is quite exquisite, thereby, exhilarating the beauty and glamour of females to a wide extent. The conventional dress of a Bodo female is popularly called Dokna, which these Bodo women knit on their own hands only. Shawls also are in fashion of the Bodo tribal community.

MUSIC & DANCE

The Bagurumba: The Bodos traditionally dance the Bagurumba. It is practiced and performed usually by young village girls and also evident in schools and colleges dominated by the Boro community. This dance is accompanied by the Bagurumba song which goes like this:

Bagurumba, Hai Bagurumba
Bagurumba, Hai aio Bagurumba
jat nonga bwla khun nonga bwla
thab brum homnanwi bamnanwi lagwmwn kha
hwi lwgw lagwmwn kha…

Musical instruments: Among many different musical instruments, the Bodos use –

Siphung: This is a long bamboo flute having seven holes rather than six as the north Indian Bansuri would have and is also much longer than it, producing a much lower tone.

Serja: A violin-like instrument. It has a round body and the scroll is bent forward.

Tharkha: A block of bamboo split into two halves for clapping.

Kham: A long drum made of wood and goat skin.

Khawang: A pair of round metallic plates, tied by a rope, a smaller version of that being used in namghar.

ECONOMY

Over the years following the traditions and culture of some of the other tribal communities of the whole of the Indian subcontinent, these Bodo tribes too have taken up several occupations. In the early years, the Bodo tribal community practiced all types of cultivation and farming. Rice farming, tea plantation, pig and poultry farming, and silkworm rearing are quite significant amongst them. Moreover, the Bodos are excellent bamboo craftsman and the Bodo tribal community has also developed craftsmanship in creating several products from things like bamboo.

Tea Plantation: One of the major income sources, the Bodos turn to working in tea estates. The women working in assam tea estates are mostly bodos.

Sericulture: Silk rearing, the Bodos take special interest in this work. Not only it is a source of livelihood, it is also one of the best means to know about the best quality silk.

SOCIETY

The Bodo society is patriarchal with some features of matriarchal society. For e.g., if a man dies without paying the bride money, the daughter in absence of the wife pr wives can inherit the property of the deceased.

RELIGION

In the past, Bodos worshipped their forefathers. In recent years, Bodos practice Bathouism, Hinduism.

Bathouism is a form worshipping forefathers called Obonglaoree. The siju plant (belonging to the Euphorbia genus), is taken as the symbol of Bathou and worshiped.

In the Bodo Language Ba means five and thou means deep. Five is a significant number in the Bathou religion.

A clean surface near home or courtyard could be an ideal for worship. Usually, one pair of Betel nut called ‘goi’ and betel leaf called ‘pathwi’ could be used as offering. On some occasion, worship offering could include rice, milk, and sugar. For the Kherai Puja, the most important festival of the Bodos, the altar is placed in the rice field. Other important festivals of the Bodos include Hapsa Hatarnai, Awnkham Gwrlwi Janai, Bwisagu and Domashi.

MARITAL SYSTEM

Unlike the general caste people, a groom did not go to the bride’s house. But now-a-days, this system has become obsolete. ‘Donkharnay Haba’ and ‘Raikhas Haba’ are no more amongst the Bodo-Kacharis. The non-tribals never agree to offer a girl for marriage to a boy of different religion but the Bodo-Kacharis recognise a marriage between Hindu and Christian communities.

Moreover, as the Bodo-Kacharis of this region have been living along with the non-tribals generation after generation, they have been influenced by the non-tribals and vice-versa. The non-tribals have accepted many ingredients of the Bodo culture.

Originally, the Bodo marriage continued for seven days and seven nights and so soon as the marriage ended the family had to face abject poverty. They overspent money for eating and drinking. But now-a-days the Bodos do not overspend. The marriage ceremony according to Braha Cult is very simple. The Bodo priest performs the marriage ceremony reciting mantras written in the Bodo language. In the wedding ceremony of the Brahmas, only tea and sweets are served to the guests. Like the caste-Hindu people they also arrange feast at night for the groom and his party.

CURRENT SCENARIO

The Bodos led a gory struggle in the name of self-determination in late 80’s under the leadership of Upendra Nath Brahma, who is now regarded as the father of the Bodos (Bodo-Fa). After a decade long agitation, the Bodos have been granted the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), an autonomous administrative body that will have within its jurisdiction the present district of Kokrajhar and adjoining areas. The movement for autonomy was headed by the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), an outfit believed to have undertaken many extremist activities in Bodo dominated areas. The BSF, Boro Security Force, an underground organization of the Bodos, now known as NDFB, National Democratic Front of Bodoland, is still involved in insurgency. Following the establishment of the BTC, the BLT has come over ground.

During the early 1990’s, the Bodos insurgency had a significant impact on forests and wildlife populations in the Manas Wildlife Sanctuary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The poaching of rhinos and swamp deer, in particular, severely diminished the stocks of these endangered species, to the point where they are said to locally extinct. The damage caused by the insurgency is the main reason why the wildlife sanctuary has been on the World Heritage Council Danger List since 1992.

In 2006 Assam Assembly elections, the former Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) members under Hagrama Mohilary formed an alliance with the Indian National Congress and came to power in Dispur. Educational and job opportunities remain the biggest problem for Bodos.

TRADITIONAL FOOD                  

Oma Bedor: Most Bodo people like Oma (Pork). It is fried, roasted, or stewed. The meat is often smoked in the sun for several days.

Napham: Napham is a unique dish in Bodo cuisine. It is made by grinding smoked fish, specific leafy vegetables, ground powder, and the mixture is allowed to age in a sealed bamboo cylinder. Thereafter, aged napham could be fried or used as is, – it tastes like pate.

Onla: Onla is a gravy made from rice powder and slices of bamboo shoots cooked lightly with khardwi and spices. Chicken or pork can be added.

Ju Mai: Rice wine is produced mainly during festivals like Bwisagu and Domasi. Jumai can be of two types, (a) Gishi (wet) and (b) Gwran (dry). Gishi is brewed by fermenting rice; when plum is added to the gishi mixture during fermentation, the product tastes like plum wine. Gwran is produced by distillation – it tastes like Japanese sake. The Bodos examine the strength of the wine by throwing a cup into the fire. A flash of fire indicates strong wine.

Narzi: A bitter gravy that is made from dried jute leaves. Pork or fresh water fish can be cooked together to generate a distinct taste. Narzi gravy tastes like Japanese sea weed soup.

Serep: A beverage traditionally produced by women by distillation. It is even stronger than foreign liquors. Sudempuri used to be one of the major places of its production and consumption.

HISTORY

In the aftermath of socio-political awakening and movement launched by the Bodo organizations since 1913, the language was introduced as the medium of instruction (1963) in the primary schools in Bodo dominated areas. Currently, the Bodo language serves as a medium of instruction up to the secondary level and an associated official language in the state of Assam. The language has attained a position of pride with the opening of the Post-Graduate course in Bodo language and literature in the University of Guwahati in 1996. The Bodo language has to its credit large number of books of poetry, drama, short stories, novels, biography, travelogues, children’s literature and literary criticism. Though the spoken language has been affected by other communities, especially the Bengalis, in and around Kokrajhar, it is still to be heard in its pure form, in and around Udalguri district.

REFERENCES

Endle, Sidney. (1911). The Kachari, London
Pulloppillil, Thomas., & Aluckal, Jacob (1997). The Bodos: Children of the Bhullumbutter,
Mushahary, Moniram. (1981) Bodo-English Dictionary.