[su_quote style=”default” cite=”” url=”” class=””]With the advent of colonialism and globalisation, many of the tribal and indigenous peoples in the North- east are slowly losing their rich traditional and cultural heritage. The region has also become ahotbed of ethnic conflicts partly caused by the misunderstanding of cultures between the communities. The Don Bosco Centre for Indigenous Cultures (DBCIC) fills the gap by way of promoting better emic and etic knowledge of the region and its peoples…[/su_quote]
India’s North East, which consists of eight States, has over 220 ethnic groups and an equal number of dialects of Indo-Mongoloid, Tibeto- Burmese and proto-Australoid language families. They provide a cultural bridge between India on one side and South East Asia on the other by ethnic and linguistic angles. Majority of the indigenous peoples in North East India are tribal and are largely scattered all over the States of North East India. Each of the tribes can be distinctly marked by their cultural trends such as festivals, customs, dances, arts, folklores, traditions and other social activities. However, with the advent of colonialism and globalisation, many of the tribal and indigenous peoples in the region today are slowly losing their rich traditional and cultural heritage.
Not only that, the region has also become a hotbed of ethnic tensions and conflicts that can be attributed, in part, by the misunderstanding of cultures between the various indigenous communities. This is where Don Bosco Centre for Indigenous Cultures (DBCIC) fills the gap by way of promoting peace and harmony, bridging communities, dialogue on cultures and peoples and better emic and etic knowledge of the region and its peoples.
Acclaimed as the finest museum in Asia on indigenous and tribal cultures, DBCIC or Don Bosco Museum as it is popularly known, located at Mawlai Phudmuri, Shillong adjacent to Sacred Heart Theological College is a major tourists’ attraction that provides a glimpse of the rich and multi- cultural lifestyles, history and traditions of the indigenous peoples of North East India by showcasing many galleries that provide an insight into the beautiful and diverse cultural richness of the eight States of India’s North East under one roof. The Museum, run by the Salesian of Don Bosco of the Catholic Church, houses and documents the various indigenous cultures, arts and crafts of North East Region.
The Museum was started with the laying of its Foundation Stone in July 1994. Architect from Delhi Shri Vivek Verma completed the construction of the seven- storey museum building by 2001. It took almost 10 years to collect traditional and cultural materials for the Museum from the various States in North East India. They are currently displayed in the different galleries of the Museum.
By 2008- 09, computerisation of materials was done, thanks to the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi. Though the Museum was opened to the public since 2005, it was formally inaugurated on March 5, 2010 by Smt. Sonia Gandhi. Apart from the locals, the museum’s attractions to domestic and foreign tourists increased multi- fold ever since. The museum started with only 2 galleries but now has 19 galleries, a mini museum for children and a Skywalk. The museum is regarded as one the largest in Asia in the promotion and preservation of indigenous and tribal cultures.
There is also a forthcoming gallery – Community Information Centre Gallery – where more than 800 paintings will be displayed representing all tribes, subtribes and sub- sub tribes of North East India.
Don Bosco Museum Entrance
As one enters the entrance of the Museum, which is structured in the form of a traditional Naga house, there is a tunnel- like pathway. The main door contains carvings representing the different aspects of North East cultures. Over the door are a Khasi shield and a pair of Khasi swords, representing the undaunted spirit of the Khasi warriors.
The exhibits in the Museum covering 56,000 sq ft of floor space and 15,154 sq ft of display wall space starts right from the entrance gallery named Alcoves Gallery. This last mentioned, showcases twenty- two alcoves with colourfully dressed statues representing the various tribes of the region with background paintings that depict the natural beauty of the region. Explanation of each of these is available in the touch- screen at the end of the alcoves gallery. Close by are charts showing the linguistic families of the world, of Asia, of India and of North East India.
The glass-encircled area nearby has computers with interactive quizzes where visitors are welcome to play and learn more about the region. Children can also play and enjoy in the Mini Museum while their parents tour and visit the galleries. The Souvenir Counter has a collection of various tribal and indigenous products and handicrafts, artefacts, traditional cloth and shawls, necklaces and memorabilia that the visitors can buy and take home.
The Museum also acts as a Research Centre – North Eastern Institute for Research in Anthropology (NEIRA) – and has already published a number of books in an effort to share knowledge about the tribes, traditions and cultures of North East India. The Otto Hopfenmueller Library of the Sacred Heart Theological College is also located at the same Campus. Presently the Library has 110,473 volumes of which some 8,000 deal with cultures of North East India and 12,518 are bound volumes of reviews or journals.
The library subscribes to 130 journals/ reviews (mostly Indian). The facilities provided by the Centre are frequented by school students, research students and anthropologists.
In addition to projecting the rich cultural heritage of North East India to the entire world, the Museum also plays an important role in the overall development of the local communities in various ways. The growing popularity of the Museum is not concentrated only within the premises but also has assisted in providing employment to the local youth, and has created an environment of entrepreneurship, from taxi operators and guides to tea kiosk nearby DBCIC. Visitors can tour the museum starting from Basement- II where the Neighbours Gallery is located and then move on upward to each of the other galleries in the sevenstorey building. It would take at least three hours to tour and experience the Museum.
The newest addition to the museum is the Food Gallery, for Culture and Food goes along together. Visitors can taste and enjoy a wholesome gourmet of various indigenous cuisine of North East India. The Food Gallery was added on the requests of visitors who would like to taste the different cuisine of the region.
Galleries in the Museum
The Neighbours’ Gallery showcases the neighbouring countries surrounding North East India – Nepal, Bhutan, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh. It is a small but beautiful ‘ jewel’ among the other galleries and the touch- screen provides basic information on each of these countries.
The Photo Gallery houses a large number of rare photographs. The black and white photos go back to over 50-60 years ago of village life in North East India. The colour photos are of more recent origin.
The Mission & Culture Gallery houses a array of dances and ornamental figures at the top rim of the gallery. An encounter with cultures is shown below the top rim all around the gallery at eye- level. In the Meghalaya gallery which is an inset, you will find a replica of the first wooden church that was destroyed by fire in 1936. In its place stands today, the beautiful Cathedral in Laitumkhrah, Shillong.
The Introductory & Pre-History Gallery provide the visitors a clear picture of the tribal world of the enchanting corner of India along with its geo- political importance in South East Asia. The bio- cultural evolution of man through different stages is the subject matter of this gallery. As you enter this part of the gallery, you will notice a shot explanation saying that there is no contradiction between evolution and creation.
The Land & Peoples Gallery introduces the visitors to the immense topographical richness of North East India whereas the Fishing, Hunting and Gathering Gallery highlights a number of creative indigenous tools for fishing, hunting and gathering used by people in the North East.
The Agricultural Gallery portrays the types of cultivation the region has been practicing from time immemorial – wet cultivation, jhum cultivation and terrace cultivation; while the Traditional Technology Gallery looks at the economic life of the vast majority of the people of the region, it also gives you a tour of some of the various villagelevel occupations.
The Basketry Gallery showcases that Basketry is a vital skill for all communities in North East India. Each tribe in the region engages in it, and baskets are produced in many shapes and forms and are used for different purposes.
The Musical Instruments Gallery has a rich collection of indigenous musical instruments of North East India. One can get a taste of the simple and sweet indigenous melodies in this gallery. Indigenous musical instruments become alive as you take a look at this gallery.
The Religion & Culture Gallery shows that both in religion and culture, there are elements that can unify humanity. Starting with non- literate societies, the gallery takes you through all the major religious beliefs of the world – a real spiritual and cultural tour!
The Weapons Gallery is a reminder of how people struggled for survival. The different weapons used by tribes in North East India displayed at the gallery are crude, simple but functional and consist mainly of swords, shields and helmets.
The Costumes and Ornaments Gallery opens a window to the rich collection of a variety of colourful shawls, ornaments and jewellery and traditional costumes which are the pride of every tribe in the region.
The Don Bosco & Culture Gallery provides a mini world tour of Don Bosco’s contribution to education and culture. Today, the all- round educational service of Don Bosco is present in over 132 countries in all five continents of the world.
The Housing Pattern Gallery provides a glimpse of the terrain and traditional houses in the region and the Art Gallery has a collection of rare paintings and artefacts from various States of India’s North East. This gallery is a window to the peoples’ creativity.
The Media & Culture Gallery, which has a 150 seating capacity, offers videos, CDROMs with programmes on the North East. If you miss viewing some of the documentaries shown in this gallery, you might be missing a lot on the North East.
The Museum’s 76 metres long Skywalk provides an exciting and exhilarating panoramic view of the Pine City of Shillong to the visitors, without the need of going elsewhere.
Apart from the galleries, the Museum also provides various facilities such as elevator for the elderly and sick, media and conference hall, touch-screen computers, computer area for kids, sensor lighting system, drinking water, vehicle parking, toilets, electricity generator, etc. Also, if you are in a group of 15 plus, you can contact the Museum for a bus to pick you up from any spot within Shillong city at a reasonable fare.
Don Bosco Museum, as a cultural museum and intercultural research centre, is truly a pride not only for the State of Meghalaya but for the entire North East India and its peoples. The popularity of the Museum increased manifold over the years. It has become a must-visit destination for people of all ages and cultures as it provides a glimpse of the rich, multi-cultural lifestyles of the indigenous peoples of North East India under one roof.