Tiwa (Lalung)

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Tiwa (Assamese: তিৱা) is an ethnic group/indigenous tribe inhabiting the states of Assam and Meghalaya in Northeast India. They are recognized as a Scheduled tribe within the State of Assam.They were known as Lalungs in the Assamese Buranjis, Colonial literature[1][2] and in the Constitution of India, though members of the group prefer to call themselves Tiwa (meaning "the people who were lifted from below"). Some of their neighbours still call them Lalung.

A striking peculiarity of the Tiwa is their division into two sub-groups, Hill Tiwa and Plains Tiwas, displaying contrasting cultural features.

A Tiwa Lady

Hill Tiwas[edit]

The Hill Tiwas live in the westernmost areas of Karbi Anglong district (Assam) as well as in the Northeastern corner of Ri-Bhoi district (Meghalaya). They speak a Tibeto-Burman language of the Bodo-Garo group. They are divided into a dozen of clans recognized by specific names which they use as patronymics. Their descent system can be said to be ambilineal.[3] In most cases, the husband goes to live in her wife's family settlement (matrilocality), and their children are included in their mother's clan. However, in about 30% of unions, the woman comes to live with her husband. In such cases, children take the name of their father. This trend is on the rise under the influence of neighbouring populations which are mostly patrilineal. About one half of Hill Tiwas follow their "traditional" religion. It is based on the worship of local deities. The other half have been converted to Christianity since the 1950s. The Hill Tiwas society is organized around seven old villages which constitute its political as well as ritual centre. Each of them harbours a chief (loro) who performs judicial and religious duties for a network of settlements. Old villages are also characterized by their bachelor dormitory (samadi).

A Tiwa Women Preparing food

Plains Tiwas[edit]

A tiwa tribal woman during community fishing

Plains Tiwas live on the flat lands of the Southern bank of the Brahmaputra valley, mostly in Morigaon, Nagaon, Kamrup (Rural) and (Metro) and Dhemaji districts. The vast majority speak Assamese as their mother tongue, Tiwa language being still spoken on the foothills and in rare villages of the plains. Their descent system is definitely patrilineal. Their patronymics are not derived from their clan's names but are common Assamese/Other ethnic Tribes surname-names instead (Mostly Pator, Bordoloi, Konwar, Das, Doloi, Kakoti, Deka, Dewri/Deuri/Deory /Borah etc.). Their religion share many elements with Assamese Hinduism, but remains specific.

Tiwa Girls


The 2001 Census reports 171,000 "Lalungs"; this figure comprises only the Plains Tiwas. As they became a Scheduled Tribe after the 2001 Census, the Hill Tiwas were not taken into account. Their population may be estimated around 10,000. The total number of Tiwa speakers amounts only to 26,481 (2001 Census).[4]

A Hill Tiwa house

Official status[edit]

Tiwas, under the denomination of "Lalung", have been recorded as a Scheduled Tribe since the first Constitution Order (1950) for the State of Assam "excluding the autonomous districts of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills (now named Dima Hasao)", thus leaving the Hill Tiwas out. It was only in 2002 that the Lalung ST status have been extended to Karbi-Anglong district and thus to the Hill Tiwas. Tiwas still do not benefit the ST status in the State of Meghalaya.


Indigenous narratives give various accounts on the migration of the Tiwas to their present habitat.[5] Some of them claim that the tribe came originally from Tibet. Some others say the Tiwas had to flee the oppression of the Dimasa king of the Kachari kingdom. The Buranjis (Assamese chronicles) recount the meeting of Assamese soldiers with "people of the margins"(datiyaliya) and the settlement of 12 families of Lalung and Mikir, i.e. Tiwas and Karbis, in the plains in the 17th century.[6] Tiwa people are closely associated with the principality of Gobha.[7] The Gobha raja belongs to a Tiwa clan and his territory covers more or less the Tiwa cultural realm. Gobha is mentioned in the Buranjis since the early 18th century, as an important market for the trade between Ahom dominated plains, i.e. Assam, and the Jaintia Kingdom.[8] These two powerful neighbours have since been competing to keep Gobha principality under their authority, with varying success. The historical role of Gobha and the Tiwas as mediators between plains and hills in Central Assam is enacted every year during an old fair, the Jonbeel mela.

Origin mythology[edit]

There is a belief that the Tiwas were Kshatriyas, the Warrior class. When Parashurama set out to destroy all the Kshatriyas to avenge the death of his father at the hands of Sahastrabahu Arjuna the Tiwas decided to go into hiding and escaped to the Lalung hills which were somewhere to the north of river Brahmaputra. They lived many centuries in the Lalung hills in disguise eventually forgetting their original traditions and language. As a result, when they returned to their own land they were not recognised as Kshatriyas, but to be known as Lalungs after the Lalung hills where they had lived so long.[9]

A Sketch Of A Great Tiwa King "Jongal Balahu"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bhuyan S.K. (ed.) Deodhai Asam Buranji. Gauhati: DHAS, 1932.
  2. ^ Hunter W. A statistical account of Assam. London: Trubner, 1879.
  3. ^ Ramirez, 2014
  4. ^ The Joshua Project lists the Tiwa population as 348,000 with no quoted reference. This figure seems largely over-estimated Joshua Project entry on Tiwa
  5. ^ Gohain, B.K. The Hill Lalungs . Guwahati, Anundoram Borooah Institute, 1993
  6. ^ Bhuyan S.K. (ed.) Deodhai Asam Buranji. Gauhati: DHAS, 1932.
  7. ^ Ramirez, 2014
  8. ^ Bhuyan S.K. (ed.) Deodhai Asam Buranji. Gauhati: DHAS, 1932; p.35.
  9. ^ Chaudhdhary, Shyam, Das (1973). The Lalung Society. Calcutta: Anthropological Survey of India.