Photospeak | Welcoming harvest, Tiwa style

The Wanchuwa festival is one of the most important celebrations in the life of the Tiwa tribe of Assam — a community that centers itself around a traditional form of agriculture

Updated - December 09, 2016 08:48 pm IST

Published - May 15, 2016 03:41 am IST

This is a blog post from

In the Karbi Anglong district of Assam, there lives a community far removed from the noise and influence of urban chaos. In the hills, they number only more than 10,000 (according to the 2001 Census of India) — there are more of them spread out in the plains and in the neighbouring state of Meghalaya too.

The Tiwas practice Jhum or shifting cultivation, where the land is first cleared of any vegetation that is later set on fire (slash-and-burn). The result is a more fertile soil that is freshly enriched with potash, all the more useful for a bountiful crop.

As with most tribal cultures, with every harvest comes song and dance, and a handful of rituals, as these two girls clad in their native attire would show you.

And the association with a higher power from nature. Here, it takes the form of pigs' skulls and bones which act as deities and are preserved through many generations.

There's plenty of makeup, of course. In the form of a paste made from rice powder, shown here on the face of a girl preparing herself for a traditional dance.

The boys are not far behind, adorning themselves with tattoo-like designs and joining hands as they shake a leg.

Celebrations can tend to run long after dusk and inside the dormitories of the youth.

A pig seems to be a staple part of their diet and their culture. Here, we see one being carried for sacrifice.

The animal's liver is examined for good luck by a priest, before its parts are roasted over a fire for consumption.

Traditional headgear on, the Tiwa boys encircle multiple pots of rice powder covered with plantain leaves.

Bamboo sticks in hand, they proceed to rhythmically beat the powder, occasionally pausing to move around the circle.

Wanchuwa is one of the most important festivals of the Tiwa tribal community living in the hills because of its connection with agriculture — the mainstay of their economy. Tiwas pray for a bountiful harvest as well as protection from pests and natural calamities.

Watch how the Wanchuwa festival proceeds:

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