A report by Stuti Das, Gold Award aspirant
North East India offers a comfortable home for diverse tribes in and around its forest ranges and hilly terrains. One such tribe is the Hmar tribe of Noxatila, a hilly village located around a forest range known as Matijuri, situated in the Hailakandi District of Assam, about 40 km from Silchar, the district head quarter of Cachar District of Assam. To study a tribe in their natural habitat is fascinating. The physiological environment in which they live, their way of life, their food, dress and ornaments, their domestic, economic and socio-cultural life, their religious beliefs and practices, health, hygiene and sanitation conditions in and around their habitation, traditional herbal medicines used by them, the role of government and voluntary organisations in their socio-economic upliftment - these and many other aspects constitute an interesting theme for an exploratory study on a tribal community. Based on such study some suggestions may be framed and advanced for their well-being and welfare. In addition, this Residential Project also aims at giving the Award participants an opportunity to render voluntary service to those marginalised sections of the population who do not enjoy all the essential amenities of life.
We started out Residential Project on 29 March 2013 where an introductory session was organised at the Department of Anthropology, G. C. College, Silchar, Assam addressed by Prof. S. Das, Co-coordinator of the Programme, who in her speech impressed us by highlighting salient points such as (i) the need for studying a tribe, (ii) the methods to be followed in such a study (iii) techniques to be adopted in order to make them comfortable and forthcoming so that they can cooperate with us. In the afternoon session the trainers imparted training on the study methodology, which includes details about various methods such as the personal interview, question schedule, group interview, direct observation and participant. The participants were also briefed about the do's and don'ts of the Residential Project.
Early the next morning we departed for the Project area and began our journey with a spirit of adventure. The journey was smooth for about half an hour after which our cars took a rough road. On the way we halted at a market place known as Dwarbond to take tea and snacks, and then we followed the Old Mizoram Road to reach our Project Camp. We freshened up and had our lunch by 1 p.m. We then took some rest and set out to meet the local people in order to collect relevant information about our Project Village. Before evening we came back to our Camp, attended the introductory session addressed by our Coordinator, and drew up the plan of work for the following day.
The next day we got up early, did some freehand exercises and proceeded to the Project Village. We had a very busy day ahead of us as we had decided to do maximum study on this day. We took lunch packets with us and decided to take lunch in between our study. After walking 5 kilometres through dense forests and enjoying the eye-catching beauty around us we reached our Project Village. As decided in the introductory session addressed by our Coordinator, we met the Village Headman at his residence. He greeted us warmly and expressed his pleasure to help us in every way. He offered us an interpreter-cum-guide for our investigation. Accordingly, we began our study on historical background of the tribe (Hmar) and stature of the people, their settlement pattern in the village, house type, household materials, their food and drink, their dress and ornaments etc.
The next day's target was to study the family system of the Hmars, their clan system, inheritance, marriage and divorce system, and rituals related to birth and death. By late afternoon we consolidated the day's findings and returned to our camp. Here we attended the learning session and chalked the agenda of the following day.
Day 5 was focussed on studying the language and religion of the Hmars. We reached the Project Village on foot. We went from house to house, interacted with the villagers and asked them questions to get our desired information. We concluded our study before evening and returned to our Camp as usual. After having some rest and recreation, we attended the introductory session where we had a group discussion on our findings and thereafter, we drew up the plan of the following day's work.
Next day we made an early start to our Project Village. After breakfast we proceeded on foot to our site with lunch packets and other necessities in our backpacks. We spent the morning teaching the students of Noxatila Lower Primary School, the only lower primary school of the village. The school has classes from 1 to 5 and aims at imparting education to the children of the village. All the participants were divided into groups of four and each group was allotted a particular class. We taught the children English and Basic Arithmetic for 2 hours. Then we started training the children for a skit that would focus on the victory of good over evil and the importance of following the path of honesty and truth.
Thereafter we had lunch and began our study of the social life of the Hmars. We focussed on aspects such as the culture, festivals, dance and music, and other related matters. We conducted a house-to-house survey, interacted with all sects of people and collected relevant information.
We came to know that the people of the village regard their traditional dance forms, festivals, music, as well as their traditional dresses and ornaments with great respect. Their expertise lies in conventional folk dance and folk songs that are nicely represented through scenes of adventures, battle, love, victory and other experiences throughout history. Their culture is enriched with amazing tribal songs and dance forms. The day's activities gave us immense pleasure. We returned to our camp in the evening.
On Day 7 like the previous day we spent the morning teaching the students of Noxatila Lower Primary School. We taught the children English and Basic Arithmetic for 2 hours and then trained the children for a skit that would focus on the victory of good over evil and the importance of following the path of honesty and truth. After lunch we embarked on the study of the political life of the Hmars.
The focus of Day 8 was the study of the economic life of the Hmars. We started our daily work by spending 4 hours teaching the children and helping them rehearse for the skit. After having lunch at around 1 p.m. we embarked on a study of the economic life of the Hmars. With respect to their economic life, our observation is that the economic condition of an average Hmar with his primitive tools and implements and age-old method of cultivation is far from satisfactory.
On Day 9 we conducted a survey on the state of infrastructure of Noxatila village. We spent the morning teaching the the children English and Basic Arithmetic, followed by the skit preparations. After lunch, we conducted a survey on some specific items that included interleaf, the communication system of the village, health and sanitation system, educational institutions in the village, etc.
On the last day the skit that we had been rehearsing for during the last few days was staged and we really enjoyed the show. In addition, the children had also prepared a short cultural programme for us. We also shared our experiences in their village with the students and teachers present. In the evening we went to the Village Headman's house to organise a short cultural programme for the villagers. All the villagers had assembled there. We sang a few songs and one of our fellow participants enacted a one act play. We expressed our gratitude to them for their hospitality, help and cooperation. We wished each other and then left for our camp.
Next day after breakfast, we started for our return journey to Silchar. I am grateful to the Anthropology department of G.C.College, Silchar, Assam for giving me the opportunity to participate in this exploration. I owe my debt of obligation to Prof. S Das, Coordinator of this exploration for her unstinting help, guidance and cooperation. Above all, the pleasant memories of this exploration will forever remain imprinted on the canvas of my mind.