In Rabha, the classificatory terms (a single term indicating more than one relationship , from the anthropological point of view) are as follows:
(i) Father’s younger brother
(ii) Mother’s younger sister’s husband
(iii) Elderly man (not as senior as his/her father or mother)
(iv) Reverse terms addressed by the father’s younger brother (baNbaN) and his wife (tshitshi),the mother’s younger sister(amaN) and her husband (baNbaN), the elderly man of society(not as senior as his/her father or mother) to their nephew and like.
(i) Father’s elder brother
(ii) Mother’s elder sister’s husband
(iii) Elderly man (as senior as his/her father or mother) of society.
(iv) Reverse term addressed by the father’s elder brother (phadzoN) and his wife (madzoN), the mother’s elder sister (aitsuN) and her husband (phadzoN), the elderly man of society (senior to his/her father or mother) to their nephew and like.
(i) Father’s younger or elder sister
(ii) Mother’s younger or elder brother’s wife
(iii) Husband’s/wife’s mother i.e.mother-in-law (presently not in vogue, the term is replaced by aya i.e. mother)
(iv) Reverse terms addressed by the father’s younger or elder sister(mani) and her husband (mama) and mother’s younger or elder brother (mama), his wife(mani) to their niece and like.
(i)Mother’s younger or elder brother
(ii) Father’s younger or elder sister’s husband
(iii) Husband’s/wife’s father i.e.father-in-law (presently not in vogue, the term is replaced by baba i.e.father)
(iv) Elderly man of society, particularly of same clan (parents’ generation)
(i) Younger brother (paternal uncle’s/aunt’s son,junior to self)
(ii) Younger sister (paternal uncle’s/aunt’s daughter, junior to self)
(iii) Husband’s younger brother and his wife.
(iv) Husband’s younger sister and her husband
(v) Wife’s younger sister and her husband
(vi) Wife’s younger brother and his wife
(vii) Younger man or woman of society or same clan (same generation)
(i) Wife’s elder brother
(ii) Husband’s elder sister
(i) Elder brother (paternal uncle’s/aunt’s son, senior to self)
(ii) Wife’s elder sister’s husband
(iii) Husband’s elder sister’s husband
(iv) Husband’s elder brother (new term adopted in place of phobra from other society particularly Assamese caste Hindu )
(v) Elderly man of same clan
(vi) Elderly man of society(same generation)
(i) Elder sister (paternal uncle’s/aunt’s daughter, senior to self)
(ii) Husband’s elder brother’s wife
(iii) Wife’s elder brother’s wife
(iv) Wife’s elder sister (new term adopted in place of dzaNbra madzu from Assamese caste Hindu society)
(v) Elderly woman of same clan
(vi) Elderly woman of society (same generation)
(i) Elder brother’s wife
(ii) Maternal uncle’s daughter (senior to self)
(i) Elder sister’s husband
(ii) Maternal uncle’s son (senior to self)
(iii) Reverse term addressed by brother-in-law (gimi) to his wife’s younger brother (dzoNkobra)
As in other societies, the kinship organisation is also found in Rabha community. The three types of kinship organization in Rabha community are consaquinal, affinal and ritual/social. Hence the kinship terms or relations are categorized into three broad divisions as follows: see annexure I &II
(a) Addressed by female: Umba 'husband' phobra 'husband’s elder brother' anaNbra 'husband’s elder sister' nInaNbra 'husband’s younger sister' dzONkobra 'husband’s younger brother' tshItinibra 'husband’s another wife' dzaodzibra 'husband’s younger / elder brother’s wife' dzaNbra maba 'younger sister’s husband' (b) Addressed by male: mitshik 'wife' dzaNbra madzu 'wife’s elder sister' nutshibra 'wife’s younger sister' khutsibra 'wife’s younger brother' anaNbra 'wife’s elder brother' tshadubra 'wife’s elder sister’s husband' bayburibra 'younger brother’s wife' buinidzaNoi 'elder sister’s husband' (c) For both: nebramutsha 'father-in -law' nebramitsa 'mother-in-law' biyai 'son or daughter’s father-in-law' biyaini 'son or daughter’s mother-in-law' namtshakbra 'husband’s sister’s daughter', 'wife’s brother’s daughter' namthaybra 'husband’s sister’s son,wife’s brother’s son' bhatidza / kaytshabra mutsha 'husband’s brother’s son ,wife’s sister’s son' bhatidzi / kaytshabra mitsha 'husband’s brother’s daughter ,wife’s sister’s daughter' dzaNbra 'son-in-law' buribra 'daughter-in-law' gimi 'elder sister’s husband' budzi 'elder brother’s wife'
tshiki 'ceremonial male friend' tshikini 'ceremonial female friend' mita 'a name-sake for male, husband of mitani' mitani 'a name-sake for female, wife of mita' tawai 'father’s/mother’s ceremonial male friend' mawai 'father’s/mother’s ceremonial female friend' tshoNra 'son or daughter’s friend’s father' tshoNri 'son or daughter’s friend’s mother' ataram 'senior-most person of the society' (grandfather’s generation)
The lexicons relating to the body parts do not reflect much on the culture of Rabha society. However, in addition to dzubra 'mother' and tshabra 'off-spring', some of the body parts are named in the sense of primary / great and secondary / diminutive respectively. e.g.
tatshikhu 'finger'+ dzubra 'mother' = tatshikhu-dzubra 'thumb' tatshikhu 'finger'+ tshabra 'baby' = tatshikhu-tshabra 'little-finger'
Moreover, boma ‘younger one’ and kina ‘elder one’ are used in naming some body parts. e.g.
tatshikhu 'finger'+ boma 'younger one'= tatshikhu-boma 'ring finger' tatshikhu 'finger'+ kina 'elder one'= tatshikhu-kIna 'pointing finger'. etc.
Generally the terms related to colour (secondary) are extracted from the names of the natural sources viz. bantho 'brinjal', haldia 'turmeric', laha 'lac',tiya 'parrot', betshor par 'mustard flower' etc. In contrast to primary colours which are based on ak 'black' and ay 'bright'. Some of the primary and secondary terms related to colour are given below:
(a) Primary colour: akkay 'black' > aktshakho 'blackish',akgak 'dark black' tshakkay 'red' > tshakplek 'orange', tshakroN 'deep red' bokkay 'white' >boktshlek 'whitish', boktsrao 'pure white' naykay 'bright' > naybrak 'very bright', nayrok 'glittering' bhaykay 'yellow' > bhaytshram 'light yellow', bhaybhay 'deep yellow' (b) Secondary colour: bantho 'binjal' > banthoroN 'violet' haldia 'turmeric' > haldiaroN 'yellow' laha 'lac' > laharoN 'magenta' tiya 'parrot' > tiyaroN 'parrot-green'
Like Assamese and other Indo-Aryan languages, there is no social reflection of personal pronoun or demonstrative pronouns in Rabha. In Rabha, personal pronouns are used irrespective of social norms i.e. honorific-non honorific basis and sex i.e. masculine-feminine-neuter basis, e.g.
naN 'you' (honorific-non-honorific, . masculine-feminine) O 'he/she/it' OroN 'they'(honorific-non-honorific, . masculine-feminine)
But in the case of interrogative pronouns, there is a distinct division between personal and impersonal (neuter) e.g.
tsaN 'who'. (masculine-feminine) ato 'what' (neuter), bekay 'which'(neuter) etc.
Though, the Rabha society is basically matrilineal in nature, the elements of patrilineal society is seen prominent. Hence the Rabha society is leaning from matrilineal to patrilineal. As a matrilineal society, it preserves matrilineal clan (baray-huri) system, bride-price (gao-dhon) system, djaNOy-dhaNkay (a son-in-law marriage) system of marriage, cross-cousin marriage (marriage with the son or daughter of one’s maternal uncle),junior sororate (marriage with wife’s younger sister) system of marriage etc. On the other hand, as a patrilineal society they have adopted some new customs which are prevalent among the neighboring caste Hindu society viz. transferring of hereditary property from father to son, practice of polygamy in place of polyandry, presence of junior levirate (marriage with husband’s younger brother) system of marriage, presence of buri-sINkay (marriage by force) etc. Thus the kraNtshi buri (widow marriage),nok dhaNkay/pay raNkay(love marriage or marriage by eloping)etc. are the common phenomenon of both the matrilineal and patrilineal societies, which are present in the Rabha society.
In Rabha, following terms are used commonly to address somebody, with respect to his/her age and relation:
ba/baba : 'senior male person equivalent to one’s father' : 'junior male person equivalent to one’s son' aya/mao : 'senior female person equivalent to one’s mother' : 'junior female person equivalent to one’s daughter' mo/momo : 'contemporary person both male and female equivalent to one’s younger brother or sister' babuN : 'very dear one, Mister' rani/maotshona : 'very dear one, Mistress' natshikay/mandai : 'o my darling(to newly married wife)' marikay : 'o my darling(to aged and long termed married wife)' girikay/bandai : 'o my darling(to newly married husband)' budakay : 'o my darling(to aged and long termed married husband)' ayaroN : 'ladies(public address)' babaroN : 'gents(public address)' momoroN : 'brother(public address)' baraytaN : 'guests(public address)' lIgataN : 'friends'
In Rabha, the sense of ‘sorry’ is expressed by producing a peculiar type of sound (clicking)
Other expressions by emphatic/clitics –de, -dei, -khu, -tsoN are as following:
hego : 'please' hao : 'attention please' natshi mane : 'kindly' naN kakay : 'your kindness' aNa maph khar : 'forgive me' ta nemtsa nuk/boya man : 'please don’t mind'
tshri ratshoN : namaste, 'good morning' nem phuN : 'good morning' nem phar : 'good night' nem ratshoN : 'thank you' natshi riba : 'welcome'
The terms above-mentioned are newly adopted. Generally, in olden age, Rabha people welcomed others (kin i.e. baraitaN) by conveying the message informally, about good or bad news, without any salutation. But at the time of departure he/she must salute hand to hand (passing the right hand in support with the left hand at the elbow). Generally the following words (phrases) are used during salutation:
Host: bo ato toNbaini name ato matshano.baro botsorni mIdraN tsaotsa ribanata.bo ato matshano
'With what food I will receive you. I have nothing at present. You have come after a long break. What you would like to have (things you will get to enjoy)'.
Guest: ato lagia aro lagitsa de kitsuan. naroNi khopor ranatshe ribanata naroNto tsiNabe dzamuNdzowan.
'There is no need of anything. I have come only to see you. You have forgotten us'.
Host: reN ba/mao/mo/batsimukhaN_ raotshai reN.
'bye dear/father/mother/brother/sister_ we are not able to serve you properly'
Guest:narONi dzio dzutshu-o tshadzo-rUNdzo, digdari rakhudzo, tebe reNatshe/dzarnatshe, raotshaye toN.
'we have consumed your everything including stool(ironical term for food), urine(ironical term for ricebeer) and troubled you much. Now I/we am/are leaving you. Curse upon us'.
In Rabha there is no clear-cut difference between the speech of men and women. However, lexically they use some kinship terms differently. Periphrastically some phrases and idioms related to taboo or slang differ in the speech of men and women’s e.g.
dzinoN : 'younger sister; speaker: man' dzanoN : 'younger sister; speaker: woman' dzoNkobra : 'husband’s younger brother; restricted only for woman' nunaNbra : 'husband’s younger sister; restricted only for woman' dzaodzibra : 'husband’s younger or elder brother’s wife, restricted only for woman' sItinibra : 'husband’s co-wife, restricted only for woman' dzaNbra maba : 'younger sister’s husband, restricted only for woman' khutshibra : 'wife’s younger brother, restricted only for man' nutshibra : 'wife’s younger sister, restricted only for man' dzaNbra madzu : 'wife’s elder sister, restricted only for man' tshadhubra : 'wife’s elder or younger sister’s husband'.
(i) Restricted among women: tshalara-hai : 'I feel proud to see your distress' hat tshala : 'I take revenge on you (for woman: lit. people will censure your lie)' hat tshalli : 'I take revenge on you (for man: lit. people will censure your lie)' babra dzukay : 'heinous sexual intercourse(lit. sex with one’s own father)' dzubra dzukay : 'heinous sexual intercourse(lit. sex with one’s own mother)' tshalli : 'good for nothing(lit. sister-in-law)' tshumen kektsOk tsha : 'I condemn you(lit. lick my clitoris)' ella : shame '(censure publicly)' (ii) Restricted among men: tshudir bhai/baler bhai : helper or partner in sexual intercourse(loan term) mak tshudai : heinous sexual intercourse(lit. sex with one’s own mother, loan term) maN marani : heinous sexual intercourse(lit. sex with one’s own mother, loan term) aNi rimen phok : I condemn you(lit. uproot my pubic hair) tshalla : good for nothing(lit. brother-in-law)
The ethnomy of language is Rabha katha or Rabha khurang and the speech community is Rabhatang or tsiNi kaytaN i.e. own people.
Thus the exonomy of language is Rabha Bhasa and the community is Rabha Jati or Rabha Jonogosthi of Assamese.
Rabha khusuk is the exonomy of the language and Rabharang is the speech community of Garos.
The concept of space and time are basically marked in two degrees i.e. remote and far. Very remote and very far are also marked by other ways. e.g.
Space near very near far very far itshi hitshi utshi hutshi 'here' 'in this place' 'there' 'in that place' hemphlaN homphlaN 'this way' 'that way' kaphay kantsari natray 'near' 'beside' 'far' Time tetshan iyantshan hapay tenoN 'now' 'just now' 'then' 'lately'
Thus karay 'on', kamay 'below', karaN 'up', kamaN 'lower', tIkaN 'ago', dzaday 'in future', tsabani / dzikhari 'backside', khutikaNi 'infront', bhitraN / pimuN 'inside', badziN / baheraN 'outside' etc.
Morever in interrogative sense, bitshi 'where', beNa / biduNa 'which way', bedaotshe 'when', bitshUrki 'in which moment' etc. are used in Rabha language.
Direction: karaha : 'east(lit. high land)' kamaha : 'west(lit. low land)' dzaktshiha : 'north(lit. land of left side)' dzagraha : 'south(lit. land of right side)' tundaha : 'south-east(hot land cf. Sanskrit: agni 'fire')' kundiha : 'north-east(the land from which kundi i.e. breezing wind is blown)' batshiha : 'north-west' khatshiha : 'south-west(the land from which khatshi i.e. monsoon is blown)' ha-karaN : 'zenith(topland)' ha-pimuN : 'nadir(bottom land)' Time: dhumuk : 'moment' dzowa : 'time' karal : 'date' tshan : 'day' phar : 'night' raNtshi : 'evening' phuNi : 'morning' dIpOr : 'noon' tshantshiya : 'week' raNgrethoN : 'biweekly' bItshar : 'year' telaN : 'this year' tebirtshi : 'last year' bIttrI : 'next year' te : 'today' gaphuN : 'tomorrow' miya : 'yesterday' maya : 'the day before yesterday' tshuniN : 'the day after tomorrow' bruniN : 'two days after tomorrow' kruti : 'three days after tomorrow' krati : 'four days after tomorrow'
The Rabha’s possess rich folk literature. There is huge number of folk-tales, folk songs, ballads etc. preserved by them. Myth and mythology relating to the origin of various deities and origin of the ancestors of certain clan, including the tribe and sub-tribes are worth mentioning. Some popular myths (legend) about their origin and migration is given below:
(i) “According to the legend about their origin, Risi-bay or ‘Lord Rishi’ who dwells in Rang-karang (heaven) is the creator of the world and in accordance with his orders, Takmanbra controls the Prithimi(world).That Risi-bay created the human race in separate groups and a group consisting of three brothers namely_Bingga, Ringga and Raba with their families were brought down to the Prithimi from Rang-karang for settlement. The last group being most important has extended its fame everywhere. Rabha in Rabha language means ‘to bring’. So, this group of people have been designated as Rabha. Here, the word Rang-karang apparently indicates the Tibetan region which is the roof of the world and thus represents the heaven above and the word prithimi indicates the country situated to the south of the Himalayas. The legend narrated above is still prevalent among the Rabha’s of Goalpara and Garo Hills districts but told with minor variations in different localities.”(The Rabhas: 2002, pp1-2)
(ii) Friend Pereira, in The Rabhas in census of Assam states, the Atongs (a section of the Garos) are the Kinsmen of the Rongdanis , both of them being descendants of two sisters Sae-Bonge and Bonge-kate . The elder sister married a Garo and became the member of the Atong clan. But the younger one had a liaison with her own brother and the guilty couple being driven away by their people became the progenitors of the Rangdani Rabhas.
The Rabha speech community has some universal belief regarding the life of human beings. Some such general beliefs are enumerated below:
(i) Belief in re-birth and karmaphol (consequence of one’s action in previous birth): The Rabha’s believe that, in this world an human being is born as a dove or an ant before being reborn as a human being.
(ii) Belief in various deities: The Rabha’s believe that there are (a) benevolent deities (bai dhaNkay) who bring welfare to people and (b) malevolent deities (bai kakkay) who cause damage to the people. Such deities are propitiated seasonally, individually, group-wise immediately after being affected. They also believe the presence of divinity in certain specified stone which is known as roNdzumuk (divine-stone).
(iii) Belief in witchcraft: Witchcraft in Rabha society was gravely prevalent and several names of the witches like tikar, bira, daini, dzOkhini. were associated with it. The practice of tantra-mantra (black magic) was also widespread among the Rabhas.
(iv) Belief in bride and bride-groom selection: It is believed that prosperity arrives if the marriage is arranged with the daughter or son of the maternal uncle (mama). On the other hand, calamity comes if the marriage is between the spouses of the same clan. So, they strictly observe the social taboo (khekay / khechakay) in selecting bride or bridegroom.
(v) Belief in the ancestral worship: The Rabha’s believe that the blessing of the ancestors is required for the well being of the next generation. So, they remember and offer tributes to the forefathers during holy occasions like Bihu, Domasi. Offering Choko in the name of the forefather is a typical practice of the Rabha’s.
The worldview of the Rabha speech community is found reflected in the proverbs and idioms included as entries in the lexicon. These proverbs and idioms have been discussed in the following section:
Some of the proverbs popularly used by the Rabha’s are discussed below:
(a)dumdakayan na tsha?a, mantsaleNkaotshan dotshiya 'all birds eat fish, only the king-fisher has a bad name'. (b) kUmbay tsika phuNkay plukplaktsa. 'The water in a filled pitcher does not shake'. (c) odza paNdoNbe kay tshiya. 'Too many physicians kill the patient'. (d) bay rakhuwa kay kriktsa. 'God gives, man does not accept'. (e) antakayni tatshi bedobatshe natshi one earns regards from others merely, cf. God helps those who help themselves.
various indigenous knowledge systems found in Rabha’s are as following:
(a) Dying threads not only makes gloss but also saves from ant-attack.
(b) If the wood is collected on the dark-moon day and kept inside the water, it lasts long.
(c) The appearance of turung (ant) foretells the coming of rain.
(d) Moreover Dakor Bachan (Saying of Dak) and Khonar Bachan (Saying of Khona) are abided by the Rabha’s.
The various ceremonies observed by the speakers of the Rabha community are mainly related to birth, marriage and death. These are discussed below:
(i) Bokthay Phakhakay: This is a purification ceremony performed after the birth of a baby. This ceremony is observed on the occasion of a baby’s naval-thread separation.
(ii) Tatshi gInkay: This is an auspicious ceremony related to birth. This is celebrated to gratitude dhaima i.e. the wet nurse of the baby. It is believed that if this ceremony is not performed the mother of the baby has to feed her blood to the dhaima after her death.
(i) nok-dhaNkay: This is basically a love-marriage
(ii) dzaNoy dhaNkay: This can be called a son-in-law marriage i.e. the boy stays in the girl’s house after the marriage.
(iii) buri-tshiNkay: This is a socially arranged marriage through the negotiation of the parents.
(iv) kraNtshi-buri: This is a marriage ceremony without feasting.
(v) to-thakay: In this marriage ceremony the cocks are sacrificed.
(vi) hatasuani : The ceremony of distributing food to the public for the first time is known as hatasuani.
The well-known ceremonies related to death are:
(i) pharganthi: A post-funeral ceremony observed by tying a holy knot (ganthi) for one night (phar).Hence it is known as pharganthi>pharkanti.
(ii) tOrONga: A post-funeral ceremony observed by setting up a decorated serpent made of bamboo piece (tOrONga) by the Dahori sub-group of the Rabhas.
(iii) hatapak: A very expensive and ancient post-funeral ceremony observed for a week (hatapak).
(iv) masuani shradha: A very popular and newly adopted post-funeral ceremony observed offering prawn and other fish to the deceased as well as the public. It is related with caste-Hindu’s Matsya-sparsha (masuani shradha).
Rice is the stable food of the Rabha’s. They have the tradition of taking rice thrice in a day. The major food prepared by them are as following:
(i) phakay : 'A type of food prepared by powdering rice in a bamboo tube.' (ii) khitsharkay : 'A curry prepared with alkali.' (iii) dzaokay : 'Fried food prepared using mustard oil.' (iv) phokchak : 'The food prepared in a bamboo tube using edible leaves.' (v) bikay : 'This type of food is baked with the help banana leaf.' (vi) aotaykay : 'This type of food is prepared solely with water.' (vii) bamtshi kalay : 'The curry prepared out of powdered rice.'
Other light foods are - bam 'cake', roNchu 'flattened rice', rOmpe 'parched', atakuta 'solidly flattened rice pounded into lumps' etc.
Other drinks are: - makham 'an edible residue of rice beer', tshintshina 'a preservable and tasteful rice beer ', tsOko 'rice beer' etc.
Some drugs and narcotics are: - kui / dakhOr 'betel-nut', pana / phati 'betel leaf', aola / taNkhu 'tobacco leaf', khatshereN 'a native bidi', tshilam / hoNka 'a hookah' etc.
(i) Dress: rIphan : 'skirt' kambuN/kambaN : 'sheet; scarf' padzal : 'cloth used by men' khOpoN : 'turban used by men' khodObaN : 'cloth used by women on head' etc. (ii) Ornament: nambri : 'ear ornament' tshaNka : 'bracelet' khutshumakroN : 'a typical hairpin collected from porcupine’s spine' kantabadzu : 'an armlet' bali : 'a kind of nose ornament' etc.
Some of the lost vocabularies are:
rIphan tshakba (rabha rIphan ): This term for traditional female dress is not in vogue nowadays.
kantabadzu : A name for armlet which is not used nowadays.
phobra: This kinship term used for husband’s elder brother is nowadays replaced by dada
gimi-budzi: These two terms used to address elder son and daughter of maternal uncle respectively are not in vogue nowadays and are replaced by dada-budzi
Besides these, names of some traditional houses and household parts are not used nowadays. e.g. bhoroNnok 'house built on the tree', tograb 'store room for rice beer', kraNtshaN ‘a raised platform on the fire place etc.
Copyright CIIL-India Mysore