Cultivation and fishing are their major occupations and they supplement their income by working as agricultural labourers. Their women are expert weavers… The Misings of Arunachal Pradesh were hunters, gatherers, fishermen and trappers. Now the majority of them practice shifting cultivation. Recently some have taken to growing pineapple and betel nut. Some are also engaged in service, trade and business settled cultivation, spinning and weaving (Encyclopaedia of South-Asian Tribes, 2000).
The Misings have been gradually assimilating themselves with the other indigenous people of the plains of Assam and their culture. They have now become a part and parcel of the Assamese society and have been contributing a lot to the growth and enrichment of the Assamese culture. However, both communities live in separate villages, and do not easily intermingle. Misings do suffer from being a minority community in the large scenario of Assam. Socio-economically as well as educationally, the Misings are struggling to shine forth. The Misings are cultivators. While coming down from the hills to the fertile flats of the river banks of Assam proper, the Misings were accustomed to the practice of shifting (jhum) cultivation. When they came down to the plains, they could not, all of a sudden, give up the practice and they moved from place to place in search of fish and drinking water. There they could, at ease, graze their cattle in the open fields and these places yielded as much crops as they required without much effort. This easy going life continued, perhaps fro centuries, in the riverine flats of upper Assam.
The Misings finally learned settled cultivation from the Assamese speaking neighbours. The words for agricultural instruments, such as, plough (nangal), yoke (junwoli), harrow (moi), switch (esari) etc. are, therefore, still in Assamese since they did not have the instruments of their own. In the early decades of the 19th century, the scope of raising revenue from the Misings created a good deal of controversy amongst the British officials, because till then, the Misings did not occupy a definite area of land for their permanent settlements, nor did they consider a plot of land as property. So the British rulers had to devise a new method of land revenue for tribes like the Misings.
Misings are a peace-loving and fun-loving people. During their rituals and festivals they enjoy themselves to their hearts content. Both men and women are hard workers. The women are comparatively more hard-working than men. Cooperation among the villages is an important feature of the Misings. When a person is unable to cultivate his fields, he may request the cooperation of the villages. For the construction of a new house, the whole village assists the individual. In return, they are to be fed with ‘apong’ (rice beer) and meat. Misings are a democratic community. The village council is supreme authority in the village. All complaints or anti-social activities are brought to its notice. It has the power to judge and punish the offenders. The village-headman is the chairperson (gaon bura), who is elected to the post. Women are not allowed in this meeting. The kebang meets usually in the Murong (Community hall).
Among Misings, their women occupy a very significant role, especially in their economic life. The womenfolk of the community perform almost all kinds of works connected with agriculture. Right from the stage of preparing the soil for spreading seeds upto harvesting crops, the Mising women associate themselves in the entire process of agricultural production.
In addition the women manage time for weaving clothes not only for themselves but also for children and men-folk. A young woman who is not an expert in weaving finds it difficult to find a husband of her choice. Gadoo – a kind of heavy cotton cloth woven by Mising women are well known. It is the duty of the woman to prepare meals, and the apong (rice-beer). Village women have the additional duty of collecting vegetables and firewood, and fishing. By selling pig, chicken and woven-clothes the women can earn personal income for buying clothes, ornaments and other personal effects. This income is not necessarily shared even with the husband. They generally bear the expenses of providing clothes for their children.
Women have no rights to inheritance although she is a major contributor to family economy. In the event of her husband’s death, a widow can enjoy the share of her husband’s property by getting married to her deceased husband’s younger brother. She cannot marry the husband’s elder brother, who is considered a father figure. Women have absolutely no place in the community’s decision making bodies (called Kebang). A woman may come to a community meeting only as an appellant or as a witness in a case of litigation. In political matters too the women have no role. In some religious functions the Mising women play secondary roles of preparing and serving apong, and cooking food for the invitees. A woman can never become a Mibu (priest), and can never sit in the same row in which the male priest or co-priests are seated. In many other religious rituals, like the dobur ui, women’s access is prohibited.
All decisions in family matters are taken by the male members. Her opinion may be taken into consideration regarding children’s marriage. Inside the house, the woman occupies the lower part, called koktog, where all the ordinary (and profane and dirty) stuff of the home are kept. The male members, starting with the father sit in riseng, the upper part. It is here that important (and sacred) articles of the family are kept. Though women scholars judge this as discrimination, some others deny that this is an instance of discrimination against women, but is done to maintain social discipline. Facts clearly show that Mising women are accorded a lower status in their society. But education, which is still limited for the girls, is certainly bringing about a sea-change.
Misings generally love to live in joint families propped upon patriarchal principles. Thus, the father and/or the senior-most male member of the family becomes the Head who exercises control over the behaviour and activities of the members; He supervises and directs agricultural operation and also represents the family in attending socio-religious functions organized by relations and by the community.
Misings practice clan exogamy and tribal endogamy in their matrimonial system. Marriage within the same clan is never allowed. Similarly, marriages are restricted within the same sub-clan too. Cross cousin marriage is common among them. Marriage is a relationship between two families; individuals are secondary. According to the patrilineal system of the Misings, the girl when married goes to the husband’s house, and her children bear the surname of the father.
Misings are monogamous. However, some marry more (till old age) than one wife, if they are economically capable of maintaining their wives and children. In the event of husband’s death, a widow may marry her husband’s younger brother if he so accepts. In all such cases, the first wife enjoys the highest position among other wives. Polyandry is unknown to the Misings.
• Midang arranged by parents. A priest is not needed to solemnize the marriage, instead an unblemished pig is sacrificed, and the new couple is allowed to eat from the same dish. Finally the couple bows down before the assembly of elders who pray for their happy conjugal life. Drummers, specially appointed for the occasion, accompany the celebration. Guests are served ‘apong’, and ‘ngasan’, and they return presents. In earlier days, a mithun or its equivalent of Rs. 100.00 was charged as bride price, as compensation to bride’s parents, because the girl, who was an asset to the family’s income, is taken away from them.
• Dugla-lanam: In this type of marriage the young couple takes their own initiative by eloping. In this case a higher bride price is requested. But the over-all expenditure becomes less than the arranged marriage.
• Kumsu Dosu: The boy may sometimes seek the blessing of the parents to get a girl. He stays in the future in-laws’ house and works for a certain number of years, and finally asks for the girl’s hand. This is done by poor families which are not capable of bearing the expenses of an arranged full-scale marriage celebration. Divorce and widow re-marriage do exist among the Misings.
They do not have any restrictions about selecting the age-limit for the marriage of a girl. Though Miri social life is patriarchal, the male persons can marry a small girl even in their old age. Both the family members make discussion and fix the proposal. Then omens are read on eggs and chicken livers by the father/guardian of the groom. After that day they fix another day for discussing about the bride price. They pay bride price according to their economic status and wealth. For marriage the bride party comes up to bridegroom’s place. The bride is decorated with various types of bead-chains and other jewelry. The bride party includes the priest, the bride’s kinsmen, friends, males, females and other villagers. Gifts and beer are brought for the bridegroom’s party. Bridegroom along with other relatives waits for them in the entrance of their village. Marriage is taken place in the house of the groom. Sacrification is also done for the sake of their ancestors’ spirits. They all spend that day in bridegroom’s house and on next day the bride’s party leave bride there and return their own village.
Misings are divided into nine distinctive groups, namely, Pagro, Delu, Oyan, Sayang, Moying, Dambug, Samuguria, Tamar (or Temera) and Bongkual. Of these, the last three groups, viz. Samuguria, Tamar and Bongkual may be treated as of a single group. Each of these groups is again sub-divided into clans.
The Pagro group has, for instance, such clans as Doley, Pegu, Patir, Kumbang, Mili etc. Nearly fifty such clans have, so far, been identified in the Mising society and while the clan Mili is common to all the groups, Morang, Noroh, Kuli, Taid, Payeng etc. are found in more than one clan. Clan names are used as surnames or last names by Misings.
According to B.B. Pandey, there are thirty-two clans grouped into four phratries present in Hill Miri tribe, they are as follows-
Phratry Clan Sub Clan Eri 1. Bini Chao, Nigo, Chaf 2. Rotam Linti, Dei, Ror, Biku 3. Biku Biku 4. Kina Jokam, Pabo, Kina 5. Nido Gemchi, Gemli, Dakpe 6. Gocham Champak, Chamrak, Chamlar 7. Taya Gei, Rible Kechi, Kamtam 8. La Kariom, Karlom, Chikar, Membak Eyi or Peyi 9. Kabak Tago, Le Nido, Mobu 10. Meli Sarki, Meli 11. Kicho Malo Kicho, Chamra 12. Yukar Boomrik Bomlon, Yukar 13. Kigan Goomto, Gangitei, Tidoo 14. Maga Maga, Himi, Nimook 15. Golam Loomku, Loomdik, Simi Heel 16. Godak Besi, Bannar, Goba 17. Moortan Moortam, Makhha, Magra Tele Todum 18. Chimir Hipoo, Haro, Goochi, Loomi, Tezi 19. Boya Bongam, Bomi, Puri, Bar, Koop, Tenni 20. Tap Tado, Tap 21. Pegumir Yom, Pigmir 22. Balo Beki, Balo 23. Hate Yom, Hayo 24. Ia Aif, Ai 25. Rakee Bolli, Niji, Rake Pat 26. Limdak Yeed, Boppi, Boya 27. La Ham La 28. Moogli Moori, Moogli 29. Dakpe Dagni, Gungi, Game, Dakpe 30. Baza Babla, Baza 31. Donn Dong, Donn 32. Nizzi Ligu Nizzi
Misings have their own peculiar folk music, dances and musical instruments. Most of these are used or performed on their social and religious festivals.
It is a verse of hymn of praise and worship of gods and goddesses. Abang is sung by the Mibu (priest) at rituals. There is also community Abangs generally used in Pobua, a ritual festival, praying for better crops, health and happiness.
It is one of the oldest forms of Mising folk songs. It is lamentation music and recalls sad events. At the death of a dear one, the women burst out into a sort of cry and song which for an outsider may sound funny.
It is a romantic lyric, narrating some love encounters.
It is a melancholic song, sung in lonely places like jungle.
These are lullabies sung either at home or in the field, taking babies to places of work. The baby is tied to the back of the mother or the young baby-sitter.
This is usually sung at the time of ushering in a bride to her new home, often in order to tease her. These too are rather melancholic, since they depict the sadness of brides wailing at being separated from her family, friends and the familiar childhood environment.
It is the most popular form of Mising folk song, sung by Mising youths when they are working or moving about the fields, woods, etc. It is an integral part of the Mising Soman (dance). It has a variety of themes ranging from romance, humour, tragedy, and socio-cultural motifs. Each line in a Oi Nitom is of seven syllables.
Misings have rich folk music. Apart form dumdum, lupi, lenong, marbang, bali, etc. used in gumrag dance and which are common to other locals, the following are the typical type of traditional instruments played in Mising folk music: ezuk tapung, derki tapung, tumbo, tapung tutok tapung, ketpong tapung, gekre tapung, dendun, dumpag koreg, gunggang, tulung etc. These are mostly wind instruments made of bamboo. Yoksa (sword) is used as a musical instrument by the priest during religious dance.
There are many types of Mising dances, and each has their particular rules. Gumrag is performed five times in circles. Drums and cymbols are the usual musical instruments for the dances.
It is a priestly dance performed mostly during Porag, the harvesting festival, observed in the Murong, the community hall of the Misings. The priest sings the Abang while performing this ritual dance.
This is a kind of merry-making song and dance often performed for fun, by young boys and girls with the accompaniment of drums or cymbols. It marks the beginning of influx of the Mising people from hills to plains of Assam.
Occasionally, all sections of Mising people indulge in singing and dancing lereli in sheer fun and merriment, especially at meeting old friends.
This is a very ancient form of dance performed to the accompaniment of ejug tapung, a wind instrument resembling the snake charmer’s been.
This dance is performed on the occasion of Ali Aye-Ligang.
This dance is performed on any occasion, as an expression of joy or community celebration. Old and young, all join in these dances.
Even though most Misings have taken to all the religious and social festivals of the surroundings population, they have their own celebrations too. Thus they celebrate the Assamese Bihus three times a year, and many join the Hindu Pujas, as many times as they occur. They have a traditional priest (miboo) and he performs all the religious rites.
It is the spring festival associated with agriculture, especially with the beginning of the Ahu paddy cultivation. The festival is celebrated on the first Wednesday of the month of Falgun of the Indian calendar. The main objective of the festival is to pray to mother earth for the production of Ahu crop. Before the festival they clear up the jungles for jhum cultivation (in earlier days), manure the plot, erect new fencing and collect other necessary things for cultivation. In certain places, like Sadiya, men folk still go for the traditional hunting a week before the festival. On the auspicious day, they prepare food and drink in the morning hours, and in the afternoon the heads of families plant a handful of Ahu paddy seed in their respective fields by reciting prayers to Mother Earth. After that they offer a few drops of Apong in the four corners of the fire-place. Then the celebration starts. Purang Apin (packed boiled rice), Apong, meat and fish are the main items of the feast. On these days, they abstain from all sorts of work, especially work on their Ahu field, so that Mother earth will be happy to give them plentiful crops.
Porag festival too is connected with agriculture, marking the harvest time. Before the festival a Murong, a traditional community hall, is constructed whose platform is four feet above the ground and parallel to the river flow. The whole management of the festival falls on the shoulders of the organization of young adults (mimber-yame, a festival). Four to five pigs, without blemish, reared specially for the occasion are sacrificed.
Mising people build their houses on raised platforms with thatched roofs. They love to live in communities. Hence families cluster together. Joint family system is very common. Mostly, there is only one fire-place in a house. However, more fire-places are sometimes made for the married sons. The houses are long halls without significant partitions. However there are precise traditional rules for the making of Mising houses. The floor and the roof of the house have five layers each. The most sacred part of the house is the fire-place, which is consecrated by the libation of ‘apong’. Similarly the five-step ladder leading to the house too is consecrated by libation. Guests are always held in high esteem, and well attended to. Murong, which can be best termed as a socio-cultural tribal institution, is gradually losing its original function.
The Hill Miris have their own myth and mythology about their origin and creation of human. They have a great faith on supernatural powers and believe that man is followed by the various spirits. B. B. Pandey has collected some myths from various sources such as Myths of NEFA, and stories collected from informants, etc. We can quote those mythological stories as usual for our present purpose.
“Long ago, before the world was made, the Wiyu Chungum Irum was living with his wife Chingum-Erum. One day when this woman was lying asleep, a little water fell and flowed into her. She woke up and felt bitterly cold inside. She looked everywhere to see what had made her so cold, but there was nothing. She told her husband about it, how she was shivering with the cold thing that had entered her body, but he too could not make out what it was.
Twenty days later, Chungum-Erum laid an egg. Husband and wife looked at it in wonder and put it carefully aside. After six months it broke open of its own accord, and out of it came Schi the earth, Togle the great mountains and Togji the little hills.”
“Everything was water, water as far as the eye could see. But above the water rose the tree Teri-Ramula. As time passed a worm was born in the tree; it began to eat the wood. The dust fell into the water, year after year, until slowly the world was formed.
And then at last the tree fell to the ground. The bark on the lower side of the trunk become the skin of the world; the bark of the upper side became the skin of the sky. The trunk itself turned into rock. The branches became the hills”.
In the beginning there was a long rope swimming to and fro, in the space suspended from where nobody knew. Two gite and momdine banana plants came out of it, and grew green leaves and beautiful flowers. Snow (chila) fell on the leaves and the plants turned into a man and a woman.
There was a big tree with of large heavy boughs. It fell down on the earth Chutu sprang from its roots on the Si (earth). He met a girl and lived with her. Of them were born two sons Tuni and Teki. The former was Abo Tani the father of all men.
Teki’s children settled in the plains. They were called Nilo (Nipak) and the priest (gohain) were the highest among them. Many different types of gods and goddesses, large animals like tiger, elephant, pig and birds were his children and they also settled in the plains.
The children of Tuni (Abo Tani) were Nine (Apatani) Nidum (Dodum, Dopum and Dol), Nichi (Gallongs) Ni (Gachi, Gai of Pasighat) Nikom (Chikam) people of Pade pat (of Daporijo area). They settled in different places. Ni-yi and Niri, settled in these hills.
The Misings believe in the existence of spirits. The mountains, streams, rivers, forests, moon, sun and ponds, according to them, are the abodes of those spirits. They attribute illness, accident, unnatural death and other such misfortunes to these spirits and appease those by sacrificing fowls, pigs and liquor (Encyclopaedia of South-Asian Tribes, 2000).
Misings are famous for using particularly colourful scarves. Along with these scarves, shawls, headgear, bags, draperies are also being used by them. They weave their own clothes. They make those scarves of endi silk and are often designed with human figures, flowers, butterflies and geometric patterns etc. For their textiles, figure of elephants, peacocks, tigers, fish, dolls, horses, butterflies, legendary figures are used as designs.
Traditional Clothes for Women are- Yakne Age-Gasar (Mekhla and sadar of black colour) Ribe Gaseng (Sadar) Gero (Pathali kapur) Segrog Traditional Clothes for Men are- Gonro Ugon (Dhoti) Mibi golug (Shirt) Dumer (Towel)
On different cultural functions they wear above traditional clothes. Ladies wear Ribe Gaseng and Gero at the time of their child birth as well as on other rituals. They prefer to wear Age, Ribe Gaseng, Gero of black colour.
They purchase their clothes from the local markets of the plains. A long cloth of black markin is used for the purpose of covering the torso up to a little above the knee. Male persons use to tie the upper two ends on the chest with a bamboo or cane pin, while women tie on the shoulders. Men wear a loin cloth inner to this and a long length of cane fillets around their waist. Women use broad cane belts as bodice. They also use a head-gear and back-shield made up of a kind of wild palm fibres. While going out women use to carry smaller bags than men. Men use to keep small leather tobacco pouch. They carry flint stone and an iron ring inside it. Middle hair parting is common among females. The leave-caps with neck shields are used by the females are meant for protection from rain.
For making hunting bags normal people use monkey skin while the priest uses the skin of either tiger or bear.
Both male and female make hole in their ears from early childhood. Silver ear-rings and varieties of bead necklaces are used by the Miri ladies. On the eve of special occasions ladies are decorated themselves with above ornaments. One kind of a long chain of white beads is considered as costly ornament and also the bride is gifted this in dowry from her parents at the time of marriage. At the same time they too present her a designed basket made up of bamboo or cane, in which she can keep her costly clothes. Some common ornaments worn by them are given below-
Tase sitan- It is a long chain of white beads and worn on neck only in special occasions.
Mola- It is of stone beads. Especially red beads are very costly and worn on particular occasions. Tasar (a long chain) is made with these.
Karja- This is made up of white beads. It is cheaper and used more frequently.
Murko- It is a chain of silver coins and considered as costly one and worn on special occasions. According to the number of coins the price differs.
Tese bile- It is a chain of red beads of cheaper quality. Both men and women also children can wear this.
Using of necklace of varieties of beads is very common among them. Now-a-days beads of plastic, glass are also available in their local markets. Except these ornaments, women use bangles of metals such as bronze, brass, silver, etc. Children wear plain bangles without heavy design. Men wear a cane garter on the leg below the knee whereas women wear at the ankles.
Rice, the main food and vegetables, meat, fish and beer are eaten by them if they are available. Maize is given the next place of rice. It can be baked, roasted or boiled before use. They also prepare beer out of this. Along with vegetables the roots and leaves of several wild plants are used by them. Except these they eat almost all kinds of fruits.
They eat all kinds of meat i.e. bear, tiger, monkey, rat, pig, goat, fish, birds etc. They have their own way to cook meat. Sometimes it is roasted, and sometimes boiled with rice.
Beer (called as apong or apo) is the universal beverage and can be prepared from rice, maize, millet and from some fruits or food grains also. On the occasion of special days such as festivals, marriages, funeral, etc., millet or maize beer are served to guests, others are used in normal days. Tachi beer made up of fruits is considered as low variety of beer and only poor people use to offer their guests. The Hill Miris of Subansiri district prepare banana beer. They make it from ripen banana mixed with yeast powder. This kind of beer is considered as the strongest one among all other beers.
Copyright CIIL-India Mysore