Karbi Tribe Story

Naman Jalan

Marwari from Rajasthan

Sanskriti The Gurukul, Guwahati

Hi, I am Naman Jalan, belonging to the Marwari community of Rajasthan, residing in Guwahati and studying in class X. My story is about the Karbi tribe of Assam and their major festival Rongker and how they celebrate it.

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Naman Jalan

Karbi Tribe Story

It was a bright summer morning and I had woken up in my friend's humble abode in the Karbi-Anglong district of Assam. He had invited me to go trekking with him through the Mikir hills. Although I was a little scared since I had never gone walking up the hills before. I mustered up some courage and decided to go for it. “What’s the worst that could happen?”, I thought. I then started packing my fanny pack to take on the trek and I packed lightly. I added some painkillers, a couple of band-aids and some dry snacks in case I get hungry. At exactly 9:00 a.m. we set out. We got in the car and after a thirty minute drive reached our destination.

We were on the outskirts of the town that we were staying in and we put on our windcheaters and started walking up the hill. The trek was supposed to be two hours long and we told our driver to meet us at the drop off point later. Walking up the hill we saw a great view. We looked into the extensive grasslands filled with dew trying to spot wild animals that might be coming out of Kaziranga. As we stared into the vastness, we realized how we did not appreciate nature and its beauty. Even nothing was something here and its beauty was unmatched to any artificial aestheticity that humans may try to create or replicate.

On our way up, we had now walked 12 kilometers and got so tired that we wanted to take a little rest. That is when we came across some native tribal men. They were wearing their traditional attire and were coming down. They were wearing beautifully crafted headgears and a vest on top of which they wore a blue coloured shirt with white coloured necklaces which looked like they were made of  some kind of stone. They also wore lungi/dhoti type bottomwear.  Once we went a little further up the hill we saw a few more of them coming down and I realised that it was April and time for the annual harvesting festival of the Karbi tribe called Rongker.

We stopped some of them and asked if they were going for a celebration of Rongker and they said yes.They moreover added that we could join them if we wanted to. This got me really excited as I had always wanted to see a tribal festival. On the way to the ceremonial area, the tribals talking to me told me all about the festival.

 Rongker festival is celebrated by the Karbi people of Assam. It is a yearly festival and is celebrated to appease the local deities and to ward off evil from their community. It is usually celebrated in the first week of April but different villages may celebrate it at different times according to their convenience.

This festival is performed only by the men folk and the females are not allowed to take part in them or come near the place of ritual. Also every agricultural activity is stopped during this festival and no one is allowed to leave the village.

The 12 deities are kept in the eastern side of the site and earthen altars are placed along the deities. Although there are 12 deities, only 10 altars are installed as Hemphoo, Mukran and Rasingja are regarded as brothers and sisters.
It is a big festival and lasts for three days. The festival is subdivided into 4 parts- Sadi, Karkli, Rongphu-Rongling-Kangthin and Langhe Rongker.
During the Sadi phase all the local deities are worshipped and invited through prayers to their village. Then the Karkli phase would start. The deities are then worshipped by offering food and betel leaves. The main task of worshipping is done by a priest 'Kurusar'. Water is sprinkled with the sacred basil leaves to purify. Sacrifices are made for various deities on the altar 'duwan' except for one deity 'Bamun' who is vegetarian.

The religious specialists 'thek- kere' predict the future of the village by examining the heart and intestines of the sacrificed animals.

On the night of the second day, the Rongphu-Rongling-Kangthin starts. The evil spirits are driven out by dancing and a chicken is sacrificed at the end. The festival ends with the Langhe Rongker part on the third day of the festival. A cock is sacrificed on the altar for appeasing the Gods to prevent tiger attacks.
Nowadays various events are performed during this festival and people from other communities and places come to see these events.

On the trip down the hill with the Karbis, they told me that today was the second day of Rongker and therefore the Rongphu-Rongling-Kathling would start later. On the way to the worship area, I learnt a lot about the Karbi’s and their way of living. I learnt that their Villages are located in forest clearings. Since the Mikir's chief subsistence activity is agriculture, the location of a village changes when cultivable land has been exhausted. The floor of a typical house is elevated a meter or so above ground level and the structure itself is built on supporting posts. Construction materials consist of bamboo and thatching grass. Each dwelling contains two doors (front and rear) affording access to the outside of the structure. Pigs are kept beneath the house. The kam (guest's/servant's chamber) and kut (family quarters) are the major sections of the house and are separated by a wall containing a doorway.

When we reached the area, I saw all the men in traditional beautiful clothing and they started the ceremony. I was there during the entire ceremony and enjoyed the joyous occasion. Then the tribals took us to their village to eat dinner. I ate Pork with bamboo shoots and Fish. Although I was feeling adventurous, I did not want to eat the worms. By that time, the car had come to the drop-off point and then we went home.

On the trip back home, I thought about how humans can live in harmony with nature building and developing from one another, whereas we in the urban areas cannot go anywhere from the house without air-conditioning or mobile phones. We all need a little bit of “Karbi” in our lives.