Tai Phake people

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Tai Phake
Total population
5,000 (approx.)
Regions with significant populations
Myanmar, India
Tai Phake, Assamese
Theravada Buddhism, Animism

Tai Phake, (Thai: ชาวไทพ่าเก also Chao Tai Faagae literally Peoples Tai Old Wall) also known as Phakial or simply Phake belong to the Tai-speaking tribal group living in Dibrugarh district and Tinsukia district of Assam, principally along the areas of Dihing river as well as adjacent parts of Lohit and Changlang districts in Arunachal Pradesh.[1] As of 1990, their population stood at 5,000, which consists of less than 250 families. Princess Sirindhorn of Thailand visited one of their villages, and was able to communicate with very good mutual intelligibility despite centuries of distance.[2]


The Tai Phake people were believed to have migrated from the Shan kingdom Mong Mao (Muang Mao), Myanmar in the 18th century. The word Phake has been derived from the Tai words ‘Pha’ meaning wall and ‘Ke’ meaning ancient or old.

Prior to their immigration into Assam, they were residents on the banks of the Nam Turung or Turung Pani. Coming to Assam, they at first settled under their chief Chow Ta Meng Khuen Meng of the royal line of Mung Kong at a place called Moongkongtat, a little above Ningroo on the Buridihing.

In the early 19th century the Tai Phake people were subjugated by the then Ahom officer Chandra Gohain who visited the eastern districts with a small force. Chandra Gohain brought them from their original habitat to Jorhat. When the Burmese invaded Assam, they and others of the Shan race were ordered by the Burmese authorities to return to Mogoung. The Tai Phake people went up to Buridihing and settled there. On their arrival in Assam, they settled in the rich south bank of the Buridihing River, which came to be known as Nam Phake.


Significant population of Tai Phake people are found in Dibrugarh, Tinsukia districts of Assam and Lohit and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh. The village with most population of the Tai Phake people is in Namphake village. Besides Namphake, they are also found in Tipamphake, Borphake, Manmau, Namchai, Manlong, Nanglai, Ninggum, Phaneng, Lalung (Bordumsa) villages.


The main occupation of the Tai Phake people is agriculture. They cultivate crops such as rice paddy, mustard, potatoes. Besides agriculture they also have other subsidiary sources of income from which the people earn good income. They also rear cattle, buffaloes. Fishing is a major practice of the Tai Phakes.


Administrative structure[edit]

The Tai Phakes are essentially democratic and simple. Although the people do not possess any formal council, yet the meeting of the village elders headed by the "Chow maan"(Village chief) exercises the highest legal and judicial powers. Any dispute among the people are settled by the village meeting headed by the village chief. The Tai Phakes possess a written code called "thamchat", which is referred to by the village elders while deciding of local nature. The penalties for breaches of law, the idea of right and wrong, appear to be genuinely indigenous to their culture. The rules of conduct that the "thamchat" enjoins on its members are mainly based on ethical principles.


The Tai Phakes usually marry within the community. The society is basically patriarchal -the son inherits his father's property. They are monogamous although polygamy is not forbidden provided the man has the requisite means to support such a family. The Tai Phakes do not keep any matrimonial relations with people of other caste or tribes. Widow and cross cousin marriage take place in the Tai Phake society. The marriage is celebrated with a detailed ceremony. Divorce is not a common affair in the Tai Phake society. The husband or a wife files a divorce case before the "chow maan"(Village chief) who takes a decision in the meeting of the village elders which is final. Divorce can be made effective only by the verdict of the village elders meeting.


The Tai Phakes believe in the existence of esprit and certain rituals are observed to appease to malevolent spirits. Sympathetic magic is practised and efficacy of mantras is very much believed by them. For the ordinary personal ailments the Tai Phakes have their indigenous supernatural treatment. Traditional prescription in respect of sickness and cure are resorted to occasionally when the worship of Lord has no effect.



Main article: Tai Phake language

The Tai Phake people are bilingual. They speak Phake language among themselves and speak Assamese with an outsider. The Phake language is similar to those of Shan. They have their own separate scripts and also have preserved manuscripts. Most of them are religious scriptures.

The Tai Phake language has 10 vowel phonemes, 15 consonant phonemes, 2 semivowels, a few diphthongs, and 3 consonant clusters.[citation needed]

It is a tonal language and retains 6 prominent tones-rising, falling, high (mid), low high (falling) and low (mid). It is also monosyllabic. Suffixes are added to retain the monosyllabic quality of the words.

Being followers of Theravada Buddhism, some of the Tai Phake people are also able to read Pali.


The houses of the Tai Phakes are chang-ghars. Built on piles of wood above the ground locally known as "haun hang". Materials is like takau (toko paat) leaves, timber and bamboos are used in the construction of their houses. There are two hearths in each house and the inside one is considered as sacred. Every house has a drawing room called "kan nok", a prayer room called "khok tang-som" with a kitchen called "haun aom".


The Tai Phake women wear colourful dresses woven by them. Their outfit consists of an ankle-long skirt ("chin"), a blouse open at the front ("nang-wat") and fastened around the armpits and a girdle ("chai-chin") to tighten the skirt around the waist. The female child wears a skirt ("chin") and a blouse. A white turban ("phahu") is worn by the women folk on individual preference. The colours of their dresses are expressive of their ages. The girls wear white sarongs; women stripped red, yellow and green sarongs and old women deep purple and blue sarongs with stripes. The men wear lungis known as "phanoot", a kurta, and a folded chadar.

Fesivals and practices[edit]

Poi Sangken is the major festival of the Tai Phakes. It is similar to Songkran which is celebrated in Thailand. It marks the beginning of new year in the Tai calendar. It is celebrated for three days. Basically it starts from 13th or 14 April every year. In this festival people throw water on each other which signifies washing away the sins of one another. They also cleanse Buddha images and statues from household shrines as well as from monasteries by gently pouring water over them.

Buddha Purnima is also a major festival of the Tai Phakes. It marks the birthday of Lord Gautama Buddha. On this day the people gather together in the Buddhist Monastery and offer prayers to the God. This is followed by a feast. Generally this festival falls in the month of May.

Naun-wa is a three-month period in which no marriages or construction work are done. This period is considered to be inauspicious. In each month during the day of "purnima" the people of the village gather together in the monastery and offer prayers. It is not festival but an important religious practice.

Poi Ok-wa is celebrated after the three-months period of "Naun-wa". It marks the end of "Naun-wa". People from different villages and a union of monks gather together in a single village and offer prayers and pray to God to forgive them for their faults.

Poi Mai-ko-chum-fai is a festival which is celebrated during the full moon day of February month. Small piles of wood and hay are set on fire by the people at late evening of this day. During this occasion they prepare traditional dishes like "khau-laam".

In addition to above the Tai Phake people also celebrate festivals like Poi Lu-fra, Poi Lu-kyong, Poi Kithing, etc.

Food habits[edit]

Rice is the staple food of the Tai Phakes. Their meals consist of cooked or steamed rice wrapped in banana or tara or kau leaves that known as "khau how" and boiled vegetables. Moreover many wild leafy vegetables such as "pukut", "khi kai" etc. are eaten by them. Beside this their meals comprise meat, fish, eggs, steamed rice, dry fish, sour fish, dry meat, rice cakes. Tea is their favourite beverage. Killing of animals is prohibited so hunting is not practised by the Tai Phakes.


Cremation is the rule for normal death. For abnormal ones, burial is prescribed. The purification ceremony, in case of normal death is observed on the seventh day after death. Entertainment of the villagers with a feast and gift to the monks are the salient features of their purification ceremony. The Tai Phakes have special provision for the disposal of the dead body of a monk. The monk's dead body is not disposed on the same day, rather it is kept for a year or so in a watertight coffin. After about one year a big festival is arranged and all the Tai Phakes of different villages are invited and the dead body of the monk is ceremonially cremated.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ William J. Gedney (1992). Papers on Tai Languages, Linguistics, and Literatures: In Honor of William J. Gedney on His 77th Birthday. Northern Illinois University, Center for Southeast Asian Studies. p. 14. ISBN 1-877979-16-3. 
  2. ^ http://www.assamtribune.com/feb2109/horizon1.html

External links[edit]