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|Tai Khamti ชาวไทคำตี่|
Diorama of Tai Khamti people in Jawaharlal Nehru Museum, Itanagar
|Regions with significant populations|
|Khamti, Shan, Burmese, Assamese, other|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Thai people, Lao people, Shan people, Dai people|
The Tai Khamti (Thai: ชาวไทคำตี่, Chao Tai Kam Dtee) (Burmese: ခန္တီးရှမ်းလူမျိုး, Hkamti Shan) (Shan language: တႆး ၶမ်းတီႈ [tai˥˩]) (Khamti : တဲး ၵံးတီႈ) or simply Khamti as they are also known, are a sub-group of the Tai peoples found in the Sagaing Division, Hkamti District in northwestern Burma as well as Namsai district and Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh in India. Smaller numbers can be found in the Lakhimpur district of Assam and possibly in some parts of China. According to the census of India (2011) the Khamtis have a population of 140,31, out of which 12,925 live in Arunachal Pradesh and 1,106 in Assam. However in Myanmar their total population is estimated at 200,000 people1. The tribe's name is also spelled Khampti by the Assamese.
The Tai Khamtis who inhabit the region around the Tengapani basin were descendants of migrants who came during the 18th century from the Hkamti region, the mountainous valley of the Irrawaddy. The Khamti possess South East Asian features.
The Khamti society is divided into classes, each signifying distinct status in the social hierarchy. The chiefs occupy the highest positions, followed by the priests, who wield considerable influence over all ranks. In the past, the slaves constituted the lowest rank.
The name "Chao Tai Kam Dtee" should be written as "Chao Tai Kham Tee"
Lifestyle and customs
The Tai-Khamti are very strong believers of Theravada Buddhism. Every house has a prayer room and they pray every morning and evening by offerings flowers (nam taw yongli) and food (khao tang som). They are peace-loving people.
Houses of the Tai-Khampti are built on raised floors with thatched roofs. The roofs are constructed so low that the walls remain concealed. Wooden planks are used for flooring and the walls are made of bamboo splices.
The Khamti are settled agriculturists. They use the plough (Thaie) drawn by a single animal, either an oxen or a buffalo or even an elephant in olden days.
The Khamti raise crops such as paddy rice (khow), mustard/sesame seeds (nga) and potato (man- kala). Their staple food is rice, usually supplemented by vegetables, meat and fish. They also drink a beer made from rice (low) as a beverage which is not served during festivals. Some of the well known dishes are khao puk (made out of sticky rice and sesame seeds), khao lam (bamboo rice), paa sa (fresh river fish soup with special herbs), paa som, and nam som among others. Beef is considered taboo.
Language and Script
Khamti is a Southwestern Tai language spoken in Myanmar and India by the Khamti people. It is a Daic language, specifically Kadai, Kam-Tai, Tai, Southwestern, Northwest branch. The language seems to have originated around Mogoung in Upper Myanmar. It is closely related to Thai and Lao languages.
Three dialects of Khamti are known: North Burma Khamti, Assam Khamti and Sinkaling Khamti. All speakers of Khamti are bilingual, largely in Assamese and Burmese.
Currently there are about 200,000 Khamti speakers in Myanmar and 130,00 in Northeastern part of India (Arunachal Pradesh and Assam areas)
The Tai Khamtis have their own writing character called Lik-Tai.
Tai-Khampti alphabet, which is in pristine form, closely resembles Northern Shan alphabet of Myanmar with some of the letters taking somewhat divergent shapes. Their script is evidently derived from the Lik Hto Ngauk script since hundreds of years ago . There are 35 letters including 17 consonants and 14 vowels. The script is traditionally taught in monasteries on different subjects like - Tripitaka, Jataka tales, Code of conduct, doctrines and philosophy, history, law codes, astrology and palmistry etc. The first printed book was published in 1960. In 1992 it was edited by the Tai Literature Committee, Chongkham. And in 2003 it was again modified with tone marking by the scholars of Northern Myanmar and Arunachal Pradesh.
The traditional Khamti dress of men wear a full sleeved cotton shirt (siu pachai) and multi coloured lungi (phanoi). The women's dresses consists of a blouse (siu pasao), a deep-coloured long skirt (sinn) made from cotton or silk, and a coloured silk scarf(famai). However, married woman have a different dress code to depict their marital status. They are seen in plain black long wrap around skirt (sinn) and above that wears a shorter green wrap around skirt (langwat).
Their jewelry consists of bright amber earrings, coral, beaded necklaces and love wearing gold ornaments. The Khamti men usually tattoo their bodies.
The Khamti tie their hair into a large knot, which is supported by a white turban (Fa-ho). The chiefs wear a long coat made of silk. The hair is drawn up from the back and sides in one massive roll, measuring four to five inches in length. An embroidered band, the fringed and tasseled ends of which hang down behind, encircles the roll.
The Khamti are renowned for their craftsmanship. Their sword (known as pha-nap). Their priests are also known to be amateur craftsmen, who use wood, bone or ivory to carve out religious statues
It is believed that by shaping ivory handles of weapons they will evince great skill. Their weapons include poisoned bamboo spikes (panjis), spear, bow and arrow, sword, and shield, usually made of rhinoceros or buffalo hide. The Khamti also have firearms which resemble old flint muskets and horse pistols. The sword is carried on the frontal part of the body, so that its hilt can be grasped in the right hand if needed.
Dance and Drama
The Tai Khamti dance "Ka Poong Tai" is one of the main dramatic art form of the Tai Khamtis. Unlike many forms of traditional Arunachali dance, the Khamti dance is a dance drama, expressively and elegantly reflect the rich culture of the Khamti Buddhists. All the traditional folk dances of the Tai khamtis have their roots in South Asian countries like Thailand and Myanmar. The community has many folk dances and each dance has religious background behind them. Some of the popular Tai khamti dance drama are: 1. Peacock Dance: Also known as Kaa Kingnara Kingnari is a prominent dance among the Tai Khamti tribe. This dance is a Buddhistic belief in nature which depict the slow and gracious dance of mythical half human and half peacock that existed in the Himalayas. 2. Cock Fight Dance: Also known as 'Kaa Kong Tou Kai' is a popular dance of Tai Khamti tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. It is performed by two or four people who wear a head gear shaped like the head of the cock, accompanied by the beats of Drum (Kongpat), Cymbals (Paiseng) and a set of Gongs (Mong-Seing). This dance usually shows a fight between two cocks and is inspired by the ancient tradition of entertaining the king with a cock fight. 3. Deer Dance : According to the legendary story, deer-dancing (Kaa-Toe) in the month of October (Nuen-Sip-Eit) is a celebration of the light festival based on the story of the spirits of the people and animals welcoming the return of Buddha after his preaching and thanks giving to his mother and other spirit in spiritual world. This dancing of Ka-Toe is in fact a Buddhist belief and religious in nature. 4. Demon Dance : The demon dance 'Kaa Phi Phai' in khamti language is another prominent dance and is performed on important social and religious occasions. The theme of this dance revolves around the attainment of the enlightenment by Lord Buddha despite attempts of 'Mara', the king of evil spirits to disturb deep meditation of the Lord. Kaa Phi Phai symbolises the victory of the holy over the evil and marks the Buddha's attainment of 'Nirvana'.
Sangken is the main festival of Khamti. It is celebrated on 14 April. You can check out the true colors of secular India at the Sangken festival where people irrespective of their tribe, caste, culture, race, etc., participate in the rituals of the celebrations.
The main attraction of the festival is splashing clean water, which is the symbol of peace and purity. The images of Buddha are taken out and after the ceremonial bath. The procession is accompanied by drums, dances and enjoyment. This holy bath of lord Buddha is an auspicious event in the festival. The celebration takes place for three consecutive days. During the celebration the locals make homemade sweet and distribute them. The exchange of gifts is also a common trait of the festival.
There are festivals other than Sangken celebrated throughout the year calendar. Some of the festivals are namely: [POI-PEE-MAU(Tai Khampti New Year)], MAI-KASUNG-PHAI, KHAO-WA, POAT-WA, etc.