People of Assam

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Assamese
অসমীয়া
Total population
31,169,272 (2011)
Regions with significant populations
 India 31,169,272
 Bangladesh Not estimated
 Bhutan Not estimated
Languages
Assamese Bengali letter A (red).png Assamese (and its dialect variants: Kamrupi, Goalpariya) • Bodo
Religion
Om.svg HinduismPatch of the 45th Infantry Division (1924-1939).svg Traditional, PanentheisticAllah-green.svg IslamChristianity
Related ethnic groups

KalitaAhomAssamese Brahmins (including Ganak) • ChutiyaKoch RajbongshiBodoDimasaKarbi/MikirMishing/MiriKukiDeuriKaibarta/KeotMoranMatakNathKumarKayasthaTiwa (Lalung)RabhaDom/NadiyalSonowal KachariThengal-KachariSarania KachariTai Phake(and other Tai groups)

Surname Families:

Barman •Barooah (and its variations) • Bharali • BorahChakraborty (and its variations)ChaudharyDasDekaDutta • Gogoi • Gohain • GoswamiHazarikaKalitaPhukan • Rajbongshi • Rajkhowa • Saikia • SarmaChutiaNayakKeot • Boro • Pegu • Doloi • Basumatary • Swargiary • Ramchiary • Mosahary • Brahma • Ingti • Hojai • Lalthangsa • Rabha • Borgohain etc.
Map showing the zones of assimilation of the people of Assam

The people of Assam inhabit a multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and multi-religious society. They speak languages that belong to three main language groups: Indo-Aryan, Austroasiatic and Tibeto-Burman. The large number of ethnic and linguistic groups, the population composition and the peopling process in the state has led to it being called an "India in miniature".[1]

People of Assam are a racial diversity of Australoid, Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Burmans including mix of all three types of races.

Populating Assam and social formations[edit]

Geographically Assam contains fertile river valleys surrounded and interspersed by mountains and hills. It is accessible from Tibet in the north (via Bum La, Tse La, Tunga), across the Patkai in the Southeast (via Diphu, Kumjawng, Hpungan, Chaukam, Pangsau, More-Tamu) and from Burma across the Arakan Yoma (via An, Taungup). In the west both the Brahmaputra valley and the Barak valley open widely to the Gangetic plains. Assam has been populated via all these accessible points in the past. It has been estimated that there were eleven major waves and streams[2] of ethnolinguistic migrations across these points over time.

Pre-historic[edit]

Anthropological accounts of Assam demography is marked by several waves of different racial migration. The Australoid race were the first inhabitants, they were absorbed or dispersed by the Mongoloids racial types who arrived just a few decades later.[3] The Mon-Khmer speakers (currently identified with the Khasi and Pnar people) and the Kamrupi Assamese speaking Keot/Kaibarta people (Wave 1) originated from Southeast Asia. These people settled in the foothills but some of them were pushed up into the hills (Khasi Hills, Garo Hills, and Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills) by different Tibeto-Burman speakers (Wave 2) migrating from Tibet and South China. Others like the Keot/Kaibarta people settled in the foothills of Lower Assam. The Keot/Kaibarta people were slowly converted from a tribe to a caste through Sanskritisation (like various other indigenous communities of Assam) and slowly began speaking Assamese (through Indo-Aryanisation or language shift) as the their first language.

The Tibeto-Burman speaking people are today identified as the Bodo-Kachari people scattered all over Assam; the Monpa and Sherdukpen peoples of Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh; the Mishings and Karbis of Central Assam.

Proto-historic and ancient[edit]

The third major ingress into Assam are attributed to the Indo-Aryan speakers from North India (Wave 3) into the Brahmaputra Valley after 500 BCE(mostly during the 3rd century AD Varman rule). This signaled the dawn of the proto-historic period and this immigration continued into the ancient and Medieval periods. There was another notable migration of a group of Dravidian people during the end of this ancient period. These were the group of Dravidian Nadiyals/Doms who migrated during the later stages of Kamrupa Pala rule. In the course of time they assimilated with various Mongoloid ethnic groups and now possess more Mongoloid physical features than Dravidian features. At the end of the ancient period (c1205), the first Muslims (Wave 4), captive soldiers of the defeated Bakhtiar Khilji, settled in the Hajo area.

Medieval[edit]

The next major immigrants were the Ahoms (Wave 5) when Sukaphaa lead his group into Assam via the Pangsau Pass in the Patkai from South China. The Ahoms were followed by other Tai peoples who were Buddhists (Wave 6): Khamti, Khamyang, Aiton, Tai Phake and Turung peoples, who settled in Upper Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. This continued well into the colonial times. At the end of the Medieval period a small contingent of Sikhs gave rise to a minuscule but prominent group.[4]

Colonial and post-independence[edit]

In the beginning of the colonial period in Assam after the First Anglo-Burmese War and the Treaty of Yandaboo (1826), the political instability led to the immigration of Kachin and Kuki people (Wave 7) into the region across the Patkai and Arakan Yoma. They constitute the Singphos in Upper Assam, and the Kuki-Chin tribes in Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao. The beginning of tea plantations in Assam (1835) by the British led to settlements of Mundari speaking people (Wave 8) (Munda, Santal, Savara, Oraon, Gond etc. tribes). The beginning of British administration also led to a large influx of service holders and professionals from Bengal, Rajasthan, Nepal, etc. (Wave 9). To increase land productivity, the British encouraged Muslim peasants from Mymensingh district of present-day Bangladesh (Wave 10) to settle in Assam that began in 1901. The last major group to immigrate are the Bengali Hindu refugees, especially from the Sylhet district of Bangladesh following the Partition of India (Wave 11).

Inputs from these and other smaller groups have gone towards the building of a unique multi-ethnic socio-cultural situation.

A temporal model of Peopling of Assam based on ethnolinguistic groups[1]
(The numbers in brackets indicate "waves" as described in the text)
Austroasiatic Mongoloids Mongoloids Indo-Aryans, Aryo-Dravidian, Mongol Dravidian
Period Austroasiatic languages Tibeto-Burman languages Tai languages Indo-Aryan languages
Pre-historic (1) Australoid
   - Khasi people
   - Pnar people
   - Keots/Kaibarta
Proto-Historic (2) Tibeto-Burman
   - Eastern Himalayan
   - North Assam
   - Bodo-Kachari people
   - Karbi people
  
Ancient (3) Hindus
   - Kalitas
   - Bhuyans
   - Nath Jogis
   - Dravidian Nadiyals/Doms
  
  • 6th century AD as per Nidhanpur copper plate inscriptions.[5]
Medieval (5) Ahom
(6) Later day (Buddhist) Tai
(4) Assamese Muslims , Assamese Brahmins
  *Settlements of Brahmins of various Gotras and Shakha for promotion of Vedic religion and culture.[5]
Colonial (8) Munda peoples (7) Kuki people, Kachin people (6) Later day (Buddhist) Tai (9) Hindus
   - Bengalis
   - Marwari people
   - Gorkhas
Post Independence (10) Bengali Hindu and Muslim immigrants

Social formations[edit]

The process of social formation in Assam has been marked by simultaneous sanskritization and tribalization (de-sanskritization) of the different groups of people that have settled in Assam at different times, and this process of social formation is best studied in three periods: (1) Pre-colonial, (2) Colonial and (3) Post-colonial periods.[6]

Ethnic groups[edit]

Assam is acknowledged as the settling land for a lot of civilizations. A number of tribal grouping have landed in the soils of Assam in the course of diverse directions as the territory was linked to a number of states and many different countries. Australoids, Tibeto-Burmans, Indo-Aryans had been the most important traditional groups that arrived at the site and lived in the very old Assam. They were well thought-out as the ‘aborigines’ of Assam and yet at the moment they are an essential elements of the “Assamese Diaspora”.

Tai-Ahoms were historically the dominant group of Assam and were the ethnic group associated with the term "Assamese". Along with Tai Ahoms, they were other prominent groups that ruled Assam valley during the medieval period, those belonging to the Koch, Chutiya and Dimasa Kachari communities. The first group ruled western Assam from 1515 to 1949, the second group from 1187 to 1673 in the eastern part of the state, while the third group ruled southern part of Assam from 13th century to 1854. Bodos are the dominant group in BTAD. They mostly speak the Tibeto-Burman Bodo language along with using Assamese to communicate with other indigenous Assamese communities as the lingua-franca.

Most of the indigenous Assamese communities today have actually been historically tribal and even the now considered non-tribal population of Assam were actually tribes which have slowly been converted into castes through Sanskritisation. Actually, more than 70-75% or more of the now considered non-tribal population of Assam actually have Mongoloid roots and origin and thus were historically tribal. Some of the tribal groups were able to enter into the Hindu upper caste society while some remained in the tribal or Hindu lower caste society. Thus, Assam has always been a historically tribal state.[7]

Ahoms along with Chutiya, Moran, Motok, Keot and Koch are still regarded as semi-tribal groups who have nominally converted to Hinduism even though keeping alive their own tribal traditions and customs. Ahoms like various other indigenous Assamese communities in Assam like Koch-Rajbongshi, Keot, Kachari, Chutiya, Moran, Motok etc (all having tribal origin) have slowly been converted into a caste through Sanskritisation.

As per latest development Tai Ahoms, Koch and Chutiya have realised the above-mentioned points and have applied for ST status along with Moran, Mottack and the Tea tribes.[8] This will make Assam a predominantly Tribal state having wider geo-political ramifications.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Taher 1993
  2. ^ Taher 1993. Waves are migrations at a particular point of time, whereas streams were continuous migrations over time, at albeit different rates
  3. ^ "Assam's Culture". assamtourism.gov.in. 
  4. ^ Assamese Sikhs in search of their roots, Indian Express Newspaper, March 13, 2009.
  5. ^ a b North-East India: Land, People and Economy, page #390
  6. ^ Bhagawati 2002
  7. ^ (Baruah & Sanskritisation and Detribalisation in early Assam 2008:116)
  8. ^ "6 Assam tribes may soon get Scheduled Tribes status". The Times of India. Retrieved 31 August 2017. 

References[edit]

  • Bhagawati, A C (2002) "Ethnic Identities in North-East India", N K Bose Memorial Lectures. Vihangama, IGNCA Newsletter, Vol II, March–April 2002
  • Taher, Mohammad (1993) The Peopling of Assam and contemporary social structure in Ahmad, Aijazuddin (ed) Social Structure and Regional Development, Rawat Publications, New Delhi
  • Guha, Amalendu (1984) Pre-Ahom Roots and the Medieval State in Assam: A Reply, Social Scientist, Vol 12, No. 6, pp70–77