Hunting to save? The Hill Tiwas of Assam call it tradition; a sacred way to preserve what is theirs.

The Tiwas of Assam who inhabit the hill areas or the foothills of Karbi Anglong and Nagaon districts love farming and agriculture. They rear pigs, chicks and ducks at home, and cultivate rice, ginger, chilly and cotton. But they are known for their unique hunting skills inherited over the generations.

The Hill Tiwas do not own guns. They hunt using spears and traps, though net hunting is the most popular method. Net hunting (Jal sikar) takes place as a community activity involving 15 to sometimes over 50 people. For a hunt, Tiwas generally use 10 to 15 nets up to 100 metres long, and form a semicircle of the same into which they drive animals from as far as half a km away. Two or three hunters would spot the animal first and inform the others in the team to set up the nets. The nets are hung on small trees or vines with wooden hooks at each end. The top of the net is then hooked on to other vegetation, and the bottom pegged to the ground.

Once the nets are set, hunters begin to drive animals from their hideouts right into the nets. This is an annual exercise to control animal population in the dense forest areas where the Hill Tiwas live. The tribe believes in protecting their cultural integrity and their right to wild resources upon which they depend.

However, net hunting is illegal in Reserve Forest areas.

Traditional hunting is practised not only by the Tiwa but many other tribal communities in northeast India, where hunting becomes essential to put a check on animals that destroy paddy fields. The entire cycle of setting up nets and catching the animals takes an hour. Different sites are chosen and in a day the hunters locate four to six places where they carry out the process.

Rice is the staple food of the Tiwas who consume meat, fish and eggs. Fowl and pork are considered delicacies.