Sushanta Talukdar

An ancient system is sustained by the Tiwas of Assam

Jagiroad: Sixty-year-old Ling Kuma and hundreds of others belonging to the Tiwa tribe came down from the Karbi Anglong hills on Thursday morning with produce from their jhum (slash and burn) cultivation. They went back by noon on Friday with the foodstuff they got in barter trading with the Tiwas living in the plains of Assam's Morigaon district.

The world's oldest system of trade has been kept alive by the Tiwas, a colourful tribe of central Assam, also spread in neighbouring Meghalaya, through the three-day Jonbeel Mela that this year began on Thursday.

The age-old barter system between the Tiwas of the hills and the plains was witnessed by the traditional king of the tribe, Deep Sing Deo Raja, who is in an English medium school in Meghalaya. The ancient Tiwa kingdom was known as Gova.

The goods

Ling Kuma and other hill Tiwas brought with them ginger, bamboo shoot, turmeric, pumpkin and medicinal herbs, which they traded with dried fish and pitha (rice cake made during the Magh Bihu festival). Upon arriving at the venue, the hill Tiwas from villages far away, both the men and women, started building small makeshift houses with bamboo brought from the hills, and thatch. They reaped the thatch from the paddy field where the trade takes place.

By the time the makeshift house was built it was almost noon, and time to have a quick lunch. They had brought cooked rice and fish packed in banana leaves, and drinking water in bamboo tubes, for lunch and dinner.

From early on Friday morning the Tiwas in the plains thronged the venue with dried fish and pitha. For the next couple of hours bargained with members of their community from the hills. They return home with fresh vegetables.

'Since childhood'

"I have been coming here and taking part in the barter trade... since my childhood. This barter system of trade is a very old custom of our people and is the most important event of this Mela," Shiva Bordoloi of Manikpur village, who emptied his stock of dried fish in exchange for ginger and medicinal herbs, said.

On Friday hundreds of people took part in community fishing at the Jonbeel, a vast waterbody. "The custom for the Tiwas living in the plains is that fish gathered from community fishing is cooked with bamboo shoot by adding salt and no other spices and offered to the deity at the King's palace, which is known as Nuwn. Similarly, the hill Tiwas perform pujas for their deity with the pithas they procure from the plains in the barter trade," said Joor Singh Bordoloi, secretary of the Jonbeel Mela celebration committee.