Like other ethnic tribal groups of the North East India and Assam, the Rabha tribe also have their own distinct language, literature and culture, which they express through mythology, folk songs, ballads, proverbs, etc. This community has rich oral literature, which passes from generation to generation.
The Rabha oral literature can be classified into three major groups- namely (1). Folk songs, (2). Proverbs, riddles, sayings and charms, and (3). Folk-tales.
The Rabha oral literature is endowed with rich and variegated folk songs. Such traditional songs are basically found in the subgroups such as Maitory, Rongdani, Kocha, Pati, Dahuri, Totola etc., who have retained their traditional faith and dialects. Rabha folk songs can be classified into the following categories:
(a) Songs associated with worship, fair and festivals; (b) Songs connected with the rites of passage; (c) Seasonal songs; (d) Songs of love and yearning; (e) Songs associated with merriment; (f) Songs associated with agriculture; (g) Work songs and (h) Miscellaneous songs.
Seasonal fair and religious festivals are common in Rabha Society. These religious festivals are especially arranged for agricultural purposes.
Among these religious festivals the worship of khoktshi or baikhu is very significant. It is primarily a dance and song based festival, organized before the commencement of the agricultural activities of the year. The festival begins with wishing each other a happy new year and in the memory of dodan and marukhetri. Deities like khoktshima, bairaNgiri, mairaNgiri, etc. are also individually worshiped, where praise-worthy huimaru or baikhu song of dodan and marukhetri, daduri, tshutsari,dzimari are sung through out the night. Beside these, sathar song is also sung by the youths.
The specimen of the song is quoted below: - hoi aiya tshitsora aiya tshitsora tolotshi porano dONa, tematshe hoi aiya tshitsora. aiya tshitsora tontshera doNa tematsha hoi aiya tshitsora.
'Oh Goddess earth, please satisfy our heartiest salutation and listen to our humble prayers. Oh mother, bless us with grain and wealth. Oh mother, we are the descendents of marukhetri'
Tukuria geet is another significant folk song related to religious festival. Tukuria geet is sung at the time of worshipping tukuriadeo (Goddess). In this ballad like song, the description of langadevata (mahadeva) , narayani (parbati), kashulkumari, supuni, ghardeboti, rathawali kachaikhaiti, dudhkwari, subsani ( nine sisters ) and gosani, coming down from heaven along with herkapeta (ganesh) with the intention of worship is enunciated.
The Rabha society has a wide-ranging numbers of folksongs connected with the rites of passage. Among these, mention may be made of to-tekamni tsay (Marriage related), pharkanti (folk song related to death ceremony), etc.
Pharkanti is a folk song presented in 'sradha' ceremony. This kind of folk tradition is found in Maitori and Rongdani sub-groups. A part of pharkanti song is given below:
tondoleka ana ana korok korok khara ato dzonOm rano ure naNtshe phamana oh bhai mansheleNka naNTtshe phamana. 'Oh kingfisher, you know what our brother will be born as'
Since time immemorial, the agrarian society of the Rabha follows different agriculture or season related festivals, where the pan picture of society is depicted through a variety of songs. Among these mention may be made of 'bhaluk notshuwar geet' (Bear dance), 'Ori / arimaga geet (bagging song)', 'hatshoN puja geet', 'Grimbuda', etc.
e.g.: 'ori/arimoga geet'-Ori or Arimoga geet is associated with begging, i.e., a group of children go from house to house singing in order to collect remuneration or money. This kind of folk song is prevalent among Pati Rabha's. A part of Ori or arimoga geet is given below:-
ahiluNre orene mahalaksmir tshorone mahalaksmir ditshe bor dhan topata olai por
'we have come wandering, to the feet of goddess laksmi, please offer us something in the name of laksmi who is blessing you'
Songs of love and yearning (pronoigandhi geet) are very popular among the Rabha’s. Among these songs mention may be made of 'sathar geet' 'bahuraNi geet', Baikho-trokkay geet.
e.g.: sathar geet: The ‘sathar geet’ is sung in baikhu festival. bhogobano urgino bhog-tultshirai nukbarkaiyo urgino tshale rumal phulo rai hurtshai hurtshai
'Submit to the almighty with ‘tulsi’ submit to the dear ones with floral 'rumal' i.e. handkerchief'
Baikho-trokkay is another significant love and yearning song sung in Baikho worship. The Maitory and Rongdani Rabha’s specially sing this song. The young boys and girls generally present it. The entire course, which includes dance, is performed throughout the night.
BahuraNi geet is also a very popular love and yearning song prevalent among the Pati Rabha’s. A part of BahuraNi geet is given below:
ki diluN nidiluN gabur ki diluN toke ratio ghumti nahe tshopon dekhoN toke
Songs associated with merriment are very popular among the Rabha’s. Among these songs mention may be made of Dhemelia geet , Pronoy Gondhi Geet, Ahu Tshali Geet.
Example of songs associated with merriment may be cited below:
baitshak kal tsabani phar tseNa tseNa; nemkai katha kanita naroN ana reNa.
'After the month of spring (Bohag) morning begins to come early; why you go away while saying loving words.'
The Rabha society is mainly agrarian. Here the real masses have direct relationship with agriculture. The farmers plough and raise crops of various kinds in fields and they sing songs while doing so. Such songs are termed as ‘songs associated with agriculture’ or Kritshir Logot Jorito Geet. Among these popular ones are Hamdzar TaNkai Tsay.
The significant role of field and crops are reflected in songs like ‘hamdzar taNkai chay’ which is quoted below:
riba riba phui riba tshakai tshoNi dumdakai riba, habaina hutsuina tatshi bakenN rai tshakai hamdzar bhona. haba hatsu bhona tsime khore bakhu raimene kaNka kodal rai mene hamdzar grona.
'Come oh come, come out. Let us raise crop in Jhumming field. By taking knife (dao)-axe-spade, by clearing the forest and digging let us raise crop in jhumming land'.
The Rabha’s earn their living by different means. They earn their living through hard labour. In order to get relief from monotonous labour usually folks sing various songs. Such folk songs are called work song or 'korma geet'. Examples of such folk songs are 'mod protshtutir geet' (Song related to preparation of rice bear), ‘gotsh-katar geet’ (tree felling song), 'lakhor geet' (Songs of cowherd), 'na bokai / mashmara geet' (Fishing song), 'maraN mathaN tsai / shikaror geet' (Song related to hunting), etc.
The Rabha’s have the tradition of fishing and the young men and women folk while going to fishing grounds along with fishing tools like 'zal' zakoi, polo, punga, sing some songs. Example of such a song is given below:
riba riba oh—na bona riba na bona dzupuN dzupuN ha bidzan tupuN tupuN mandai nemen tsithowa na tsunkai rIme rana OrONatshe tshana nemo na tshabra tarImre OrONabe tshathotsare khudur phuNe na bona riba riba. 'oh, come, come for fishing. Fishes are moving here and there We should catch the zakoi(fishing implement)'
The legend refers to oral chronicles in prose or verse, which is transmitted traditionally from one generation to another. The Rabha folk-life is endowed with rich legend or legendary histories. Due to the lack of sufficient written history about the Rabha community, the ‘legends’ are the main source for socio-cultural and economic studies.
The legends of the Rabha’s can be divided as: - (i) Mythological legend; (ii) Local legend; (iii) Explanatory legend; (iv) Romantic legend; (v) 'Barai'’ or clan based legend; (vi) Legend connected with deities or worship (vii) Natural creation based legend.
Legends that are based on mythological beliefs are called mythological legend. Legendary histories like Dodan-Marukhetri, Naluwa-Chaluwa, Rondona-Chondona etc. are examples of mythological legend.
The Rabha’s believe that Dodan, the Major general of Bana, King of ancient Sonitpur was the first and foremost king of the Rabha’s who was defeated in the battle of ‘Puran’ i.e., in the famous "Hari Harar Yuddha".
When he was a king he invaded many small kingdoms situated in the Southeastern parts of Sonitpur. King Dodan accompanied by people of different ‘Barai’ or clans like Churchung, Rungdung, Tengtong and Pam went to Bhutan seeking for help and shelter, but the Bhutanese king refused to give shelter and help. So he had to return back to the Brahmaputra valley and settle down at Bagbor hill near Barpeta. His wife Tobarani, sister Soso and Soso’s daughter along with his husband Marukhetri, the Major General, accompanied the king. After some years he left for Saulkocha riverbank. Through Jogighopa Pancharatna he crossed the Brahmaputra River and took rest at Hashila 'Bed' near Goalpara. He at last established the Kingdom at Dadan, near Lakhipur. The Rabha’s lead a happy and peaceful life under King Dodan. Unfortunately, the Kingdom was smashed by Chamkrong and Banakrong and the strongman Dodan was killed by the army of Kasiraja, king of the neighboring country while he was alone, without arms. According to the legend Marukhetri, a Kshatriya got married to one of Dodan’s niece and as he got married to a Rabha girl without his mother’s permission, Marukhetri had to face curse and was killed in the seventh war.
Besides this popular mythological legend there are also the legends of Naluwa-Chaluwa and Rondona-Chondona in which the sources of migratory history of the Rabha’s are found.
There are several interesting local legends, which have been a source of the accounts of the places that the Rabha’s have inhabited. Among these, mention may be made of the places like Mechpara, Rongdan, Athiabari, Kulung (Luki), Boko, Bongaon, Bogai, Pantan, Jalukbari, Beltola, Raniduwar, Chandardinga, Tikrikila, Paglatek, Mandashila (Garo Hills), from Simsang in the south of Meghalaya to Tambrongdhapa (i.e. Brahmaputra) in the north, from Haha-huhu in the West to Nilgiri-Nichigiri (Nilachal-Kalaphar) in the East. The predominance of the Rabha’s is depicted in 'Purana' and in Playfair’s 'The Garos' (1909). A mention of it is also made in 'The Ethnic affinities of the Rabha’s' (1960) written by Dr. B.M. Das.
The Rabha’s have many interesting explanatory legends. Among them, the legend of Kumbaichung – a rich but miser person’s legend may be mentioned. Besides this, the legend that gives explanation about the origin of Rabha tribes and their subgroups, Hasong Takkai Khircha (cosmology of world) is also remarkable.
Dodan-Duimukshi’s love story is considered very popular among all the romantic legends of the Rabha’s. According to this legend, King Dodan fell in love with a beautiful girl named Duimukshi, whom he met while he was going for hunting. But their love was a failure as her father obstructed Duimukshi. Similarly, Dodan too had a curse. Finally, helpless Duimukshi transformed herself into a stone monolith at Mogha near Baida while Dodan committed suicide and transformed himself into feet at Fedordoba near Nowapara.
The legends like Naniden-Phanindar, Tore-Tosre, Sisu-ginal (Porpoise and crocodile), provide information about the origin of Barai-huri or clan system in Rabha’s.
In this type of legend, mention is made of various God’s, Goddesses and deities adored and worshipped by the Rabha’s. Among them a few popular legends like Pangba bai, Rontuk (Lakshmi), Jakuwadeo, Moirabai, Khisambai, Jaglang, Memang (Spirit) are worth mentioning.
This type of legend is also associated with the Rabha’s. They believe that each and every God’s creation has its meaning associated with the Rabha’s.As for example-
Chong Janong (a weeping wild insect), Bang-Khong (Cricket), Notrong (Small verity of cricket), Bibur (Spider), Huti (elephant) etc have their meaning associated with the Rabha’s.
This legend is about two Rabha sisters, who lived together. One day the elder sister brought a basketful of millet (masi) and asked her younger sister (Janong) to dry it up in the sunlight and husk it, so as to prepare packet lunch (masitolpa) and left for fishing. On her return she found a very small quantity of packet lunch and rebuked her younger sister about consuming the major portion of lunch. When the younger sister denied, the elder became furious, lost control on herself and killed the younger sister by slitting her stomach. But did not find anything inside. Since that event, it is believed that the wild insect weeps during sunlight in the season of millet harvesting.
Ballad may be defined as ‘a short narrative poem’ adopted for singing. It is simple in plot and material structure and is divided into stanzas. Ballad is characterized by complete impersonality as far as the author or singer is concerned.
Depending on its subject matter or theme, Rabha ballads can be sub-divided into: (i) legendarical ballad, (ii) etiological ballad, (iii) mythical ballad and (iv) realistic ballad.
The ballads that characterize the historical or legendary elements of the Rabha folk includes the stories of the great king, Dodan, Sati Duimukshi, Kumbaichung, Marukhetri-Kurukhetri and others.
The story of King Dodan is one of the significant stories of the Rabha’s. According to the legendary belief, King Dodan, who was leading a happy life with his subjects, was left vulnerable as his clans, with whom he was acquainted with, migrated to different locations. In the Meantime two kings of his dynasty namely, Chamkrong and Bankrong attacked Dodan’s Kingdom and smashed it to ashes. In the ballad, the precarious condition of king Dodan and his people have been depicted as follows:
ato tema dzoraidzo tsamkroN radza, ato tema dzoraidzo bankroN radza, uan dodanni tshakai ruNkai naiyan tsamkroN radza, uan dodanni tshakai ruNkai naiyan bankroN radza, uan una nakare tsamkroN radza, uan kakaini doNdzi hainipara maNtsaimuN bankroN radza, uan okoro budhi aloNkar kharmuN tsamkroN radza uan okoro budhi bakarsari budhi aloNkar kharimuN bankroN radza, ato bekhere bhaNowa tsamkroN radza, ato bekhere tsaNowa bankroN radza. 'Hey lord Chamkrong Hey lord Bankrong what bend of word do you apply what word knot do you use seeing leading a happy life, sleeping in Dodan quietly of which forest storm’s king hey Chamkrong by what device ‘hey king Bankrong Dodan’s near and dear have been smashed today ousted the king with all the relatives In the dark night Attach and arrest as if your own land Hey! Lord Chamkrong you are very skilful Hey! Lord Bankrong you are very cunning'. Rondona – Chondonani Chaychari (Randona-Chandona’s ballad): hey Rondona ah hey chandana oh hey naroN kidzora raye bitshina nil-niltsimonioh’ rakhate proNe proNe reNdzo?
'oh! Randona- Chandona! Accompanied by a pair of dogs where are you going? Your beloved girls have become homeless.'
A ballad that depicts the history of the creation of universe i.e., for e.g.: creation of birds, insects, plants, animals, etc in the form of song is called etiological ballad. Naluwa-chaluwa’s story, which is prevalent among the Rabha’s is a glaring example of etiological ballad. Two separate legendary histories are related to Naluwa-Chaluwa Ballad.
The mythical ballads in Rabha are based on some unnatural events or supernatural elements.
The Baikhu festival, which is prevalent among the Rabha’s, is basically a presentation of ‘folk dance and song’ in combined form. The festival begins in the month of May and ends in the first week of June. The onset of spring season gives a new outlook to nature. During this festival, Rabha folk start sowing seeds in the fields with a hope of prosperous year ahead. In the festival Hai-maru-ha (ballad) is sung in memory of king Dodan and his captain Marukhetri.
A ballad that reflects life in real sense and describes ordinary affairs including love is termed as Realistic ballad. Examples of such ballad includes, love story of the legendary figure, Rabha and Jogen Bantho who had an affair with Tansen Dorai (damsel).
A stanza of 'Jogen Bantho-Tansen Dorai' ballad is as follows:
dzogen bantho reNeta tomtoma motori/tansen dorai Khape moNdzo akoN pani.
'Jogen Bantho is going on tomtoma (Scooter) and akon is peeping through (shrub) Tansen Dodai weeps and remains heart shattered.'
Proverb is one of the significant characteristics of Rabha folk literature .It is termed as ‘suluk’ in Rabha language. By the use of proverbs, the experienced and other older persons, provide knowledge to the inexperienced. Sharing knowledge is one of the main objectives of Rabha. Besides, the use of various proverbs has far reaching influence on the lives of the working group Rabha’s. A simple, normal and systematic Rabha society is reflected in these proverbs.
Depending on subject matter and mode of expression, Rabha proverbs can be classified as:
(i) Social proverbs; (ii) Agricultural proverbs; (iii) Moral proverbs; (iv) Philosophical proverbs; (v) Religious proverbs and (vi) Proverbs on different objectives.
Various aspects of society, especially socio-economic activities, are the main subject matter of social proverbs. For e.g.:
(a) dzani towa, unan rakhuwa 'Money concentrates money' (b) mai kentsa toNttsa, bhandar hama. 'To build castle in the air'
Agricultural proverbs deal with several aspects of agriculture. Agricultural Implements and terms like land, water, seeds, farming techniques, etc. gains prominence in this. It is composed for the farming community.
e.g. kai nemtsa thutsi ha nemtsa phats
Rain makes the land fertile as perfume makes a man handsome or beautiful.
The use of Moral proverbs is common in Rabha society. The main essence of this type of proverb is to keep the society in high moral condition.
e.g.: bar doNbe Khama, tsika doNbe tshima. ‘One does according to ones capacity’
The social life of the Rabha’s is greatly influenced by religion. The community in its day today life widely uses religious proverbs.
e.g.: bai rakhuwa, kai Kriktsa. 'God gives, man does not know how to take'.
The Rabha community uses a variety of proverbs in its social life, in order to make a systematic living. Such proverbs have different objectives.
e.g.: (a) Odza paNdoN, kai tshia 'many man, many mind' (b) naNi khutsem tseNtseNa; mantsayse rabadzo naNa 'Emotion leads to melancholy' (c) ki hoNkai kaktsa. 'Barking dog seldom bites'
Rabha riddles can be classified as - (i) Descriptive riddles (ii) Natural riddles or riddles pertaining to nature. (iii) Rhyming riddles (iv) Mathematical riddles. (v) Slang riddles (vi) Indigenous riddle or riddles pertaining to traditional dress, food habits, livelihood etc. (vii) Physiological riddles or riddles pertaining to physiology. (viii) Riddles on different objectives.
The description of different materials used by the Rabha people in their daily life constitutes the main theme of descriptive riddles.
Popular descriptive riddles of the Rabha’s –
(a) hatshmunda munda kan tsuNa kiNdzuN gotshan. Answer: makapbor (ss Riddle: 'one bone gigantic body'.)
The riddles that deals with natural elements like plants, trees, fruits , flowers, animals, birds, river, streams, etc are natural riddles.
e.g.: Hatshmunda munda PhaNkaraN the, the karaN phaN Answer: Anaros (Pineapple) (Riddle: ‘Stem upon fruit, fruit upon stem’.)
Some riddles rhyme in nature. End Rhyme is the special characteristic of Rhyming Riddles.
e.g.: tseN tsokola tsika nagala Answer; Khen (crab) (Riddle: ‘maimed toes and moving in muter’).
The Riddles that are based on arithmetical table or pattern is Mathematical riddle.
e.g. : Hatshmunda munda heN heN peN peN tshaita tatheN. Answer: tshotsheN (house fly) (Riddle: ‘who is buzzing and crying with six legs?’)
The riddles that look slang, but still bears good messages or good external meaning are called Slang riddles. Such riddles are very popular in Rabha society.
e.g.: Tinkona madzari khal Rime rana nema. Answer: Choreng. 'a tringale fishing scoop with a hollow three corners and it is very advantageous to hold'.
Riddle: Various household implements like weaving instruments, knitting related materials and various domestic material, which includes food and livelihood, are different sources for composing riddles in Rabha society.
e.g.: KaraNba trap, pimugra trap, madzari, bhanraNa tupu//dzhaNdoNbe kani srap srap aro dzaNtsadaNbe munaN munaN khap. Answer: Maku (loom). 'Upon and under there are two layers in between there is a track of snake who else can say very fast otherwise keep quite.'
Some riddles are subject to transformation according to time, place and objective. These riddles are called riddles on different objectives.
e.g.: Hatshmunda munda baini kondam toina dzaNtsa. Answer: Tupu (snake) Riddle: ‘the stick of god no one can touch’)
Like other ethnic groups, the Rabha’s also have the tradition of using certain hymns (mantras) related to specific festivals, rites and rituals. On the basis of subject matter and mode of use, the charms can be classified into six categories – (1) hymns used in religious ceremony or worship; (2) hymns used in marriage, birth and death, (3) hymns used for relief from ailments and diseases; (4) hymns used to charm opposite sex (Muhini mantra); (5) hymns used for success in hunting, etc and (6) hymns used to subordinate enemy (Kumantra).
Among the various religious rituals and worships of deities in Rabha society, special mention may be made of hatshoN pudza, baikhu pudza, kontso pudza, moirabai pudza, khutshumbai pudza, etc. During these religious rituals, some subgroups of Rabha like Rongdani, Maitori use Rabha language while the other subgroups like pati, Dahori, Totola, Bitolia and others use mix languages i.e. Rabhamese.
As for example a few lines of hymns being used in Rontuk pudza may be cited
Aya hentsen chari aya kodamtsari, tsiNa, dobahaina kodoNba katsi haina kodoNba, doba haina prebati katsi haina premati phaNtshan phaNradza doNphana tsoNtshan tsoNradza doNphana, ………………………………………………………………………………..
'Henchen chari or owner of Ahu (Ahu paddy) if we saw seeds in low land or upland to grow there, one sapling to many, one bunch to many and to foster these, pray not to die in bud,..............'
Like the Aryan Hindu society, the Rabha’s also have the tradition of singing different hymns at ceremonies like childbirth, marriage and death. Though the Rabha’s are non-Vedic, the rituals they use are more or less similar to the Aryans. They use these rituals for the sake of maintenance of families. For e .g., a hymn being used in conclusion of marriage ceremony is as follows:
Ahem premen! tshirigini ritshi Teni para naNo tshakhi rayan Brohmonrani agirani KhumaN raikhuta. ………………………. ……………………….
'Parmeswar! Lord Rise of heaven, from today by keeping your witness in front of 'Agnidevata' (two earthen lamps in the name of groom and bride) amuk-amuki (so and so) groom and bride’s conjugal life should be knotted with love.'
Mukhagni Mantra (hymns of last rite) Hay bar! Te naNi kolai bomai Amuk (name of deceased) tshikaini kan ganthio Thipe rakhudzo NaN natshiye thikhame ra.
'oh 'agnidevata' (god of fire) today the crops of the person (name of deceased) is handed over to your womb. Make him ashes.'
A tradition of worshiping and praying in order to get rid of various diseases is common in Rabha society. A number of God and Goddess’s like ghorgotshani, tshhideo, tsardeo, namdeo, kuber, daini, dzokh-dzokhini, bormani, bira or patson, etc are worshipped by the Rabha’s. In order to please these God and Goddesses different ‘mantras’ are chanted.
e.g.: for stomach pain accompanied with diarrhea and vomiting a 'mantra' applied in water is used. A few lines of this 'mantra' is as follows: Korti Korti nag-nagini kiba kota Katto Akash daini, patal daini, deo daini for daini Kugiyane kumantre ulta korti mantre Katia koriluN khan khan. ……………………………………………… ………………………………………………
The ‘mantra’, which is used to attract others, is ‘Muhini mantra’. It can be classified primarily as hati muhini, mayur muhini, tshobha muhini, etc.
• 'Hati muhini' is a mantra which is used to attract elephants. Such type of charm is also used to attract the wicked persons.
• 'Mayur muhini' mantra is used to attract life partners. It is believed that if such a mantra is applied on a person who is very steady and gentle, he will turn out unstable in character and becomes light, which makes easier to motivate him.
• 'Rajmuhini mantra' is a special kind of mantra, which is used to attract king, ministers or anyone whom the user desires.
e.g. hat muhini, bat muhini radzako muhilo prodzako muhilo, muhilo tshalar hati, TheNar tala kati Raidze ahitshe katsi ……………………………………………… ………………………………………………
Sobha Muhini is also another kind of Mantra used by folk artists of 'ojapali', Dhulia, Bhaona, Bharigan, etc. The artists in order to attract the audience sometimes take the help of tshobha muhini mantra.
Since the ancient time, hunting is being considered as a way of life, by the Rabha’s. At present, people living in some specific areas, have retained the practice of hunting animals, birds and fishing. In order to make hunting or fishing a success, the society makes use of mantras.
'Kumantra', an interesting and significant mantra is used in the areas inhabited by the Rabha’s. This mantra is used to harm or destroy enemies. The person who adopts this mantra is called ‘Daini’. Among these mantras, mention may be made of - mantra being used to destroy cake (food item), ‘mantra’ burry under earth, mantra to elope girl, mantra that transforms man into a tiger etc.
e.g: a few lines of ‘Daini mantra’ is given below: ahem phui tikkar bai tikkar kai tikkar tshonNini – nukini, bhaNurini-bhanguchuNi, tshonibari-maNalbari manbataN dammi-khoki manbatany tsutshar ghati dzoraghati manbataN khali-dzaNali manbataN. Khali-dzaNali manbataN …………………………………… ……………………………………
'Hey! Come witch of god origin or human origin! of village and neighour reacting of unmeeting learning witch craft in Saturday and Tuesday learning witch craft in bed stead of well yard river side or jungle…………..'
Like the other ethnic groups, the Rabha’s also have the tradition of folktales. Each and every Rabha folk tale has a distinctive name of its own. The subject matter of such folktales is based on socio-cultural attributes of the community. These folktales have distinctive characteristics. A few tales are in the form of series and it takes complete three days and nights to finish the whole narration. Among the various folktales, mention may be made of tales of tshati dumuktshi, kumbaitsuN, dzaglaN memaN, naluwa-tsaluwa gandhitshiri, thope netshe, moyra-moyri, rondona-tsandona, tatshrai radzu-naloN, nirimani bitshimani, bitshkoram ali-koram, to-maikho-nhjamer etc.
Depending on objective, reference and function, Rabha folktales can be divided into a number of sub-genres, such as –
(1) Tales of the supernatural or wondrous tales or Romantic tales, (2) Animal tales, (3) Jokes or humorous tales, (4) Tales of folk history (5) Religious tales. (6) Trickstar tales (7) Etiological or explanatory tales and (8) Traditional tales.
Bringing a close affinity or likeness between man and supernatural or adventurous elements is the main objective of supernatural or romantic tales. In these type of tales importance is given to the hero of the episode. Most of the time, the hero encounters several odds and sometimes he is killed by the enemies while entering into thick jungles. But the hero resurrects, i.e., he comes back to life. He, in course of time becomes a great hero and gets married with a beautiful princes or heroine. In the later part, the hero and heroine try to establish a progressive society. These types of super natural as well as romantic tales are very popular among the Rabha’s. ‘Moira –muirini khirtsa (tale of peacock and peahen) is the most popular tale of such kind.
In animal tales or fables, the inner characteristics of human beings are depicted through the story of animals. Such tales help human being to understand their own characteristics and forbid from misbehaviors. Among the popular animal tales, mention may be made of ‘Makra aro tshitsal’ (Monkey and Fox).
Though humorous tales are composed for entertainment, they fulfill the psychological needs of human being. Such tales import moral education.
Even though when Rabha folktales are not directly related with history, historical elements may be traced out in some. Among them the separation of two sisters of Garo may be mentioned Rongdani subtribest Rabha and Bongekate, anohestor of subtribe sae Bonge anchestor.
Rabha religious tales are related to religious beliefs and the perception of human vice and virtue, heaven and hell etc. holds important in this tale.
The tale of a 'Brahman', who is reborn as a cow to help human beings in cultivation activities, can be cited as an example of religious tale.
In Rabha society, cow symbolizes a farming tool and therefore it is worshipped as God.
Tenton is a word or character common in Rabha society. In Rabha folk tales ‘tentons’ or ‘lathuwa’ stands synonym to trickster.
Lakhor-tshabra’s (cowherd boy) tale is a good example of such trickster tale.
Tales that deals with the creation of universe, which includes the formation of different objects, animals, birds, insects, etc and their characteristics, are Etiological tales.
Tshristi bidhan taraNa (cosmology or tale creation of universe) is a suitable example for Etiological tale.
The tales composed in connection with the traditional beliefs like evil spirits (dzaNlary memaN), tikar (witch) religious beliefs customer, trail and traditions, etc are popular among the Rabha’s. The story of a greedy old witch, story about the visit of a departed husband’s spirit to his living wife (widow) are examples of Traditional tale.
Scholars consider Rabha as a branch of Tibeto-Burmese language, which owes its origin to China. The Chinese language having its written literary instances prior to 1200 B.C. has several distinctive characteristics of its own. But Rabha, like other Tibeto-Burmese family of languages has acquired several new characteristics, in course of time. The geographical separation of the Rabha’s for many years and their assimilation with the Aryans is perhaps considered responsible for this. One of the prominent features of the Tibeto-Burmese family of languages including Rabha is the non-existence of its own script.
The rock-inscription (supposed to be of Rabha) at Rendu-Bendu hill (at Goalpara district of Assam) is the only historical evidence of the written instances of Rabha. It is only after the arrival of Britishers, that writing materials became available and writing tradition got initiated among the Rabha’s. Yet, the few Rabha’s who learnt writing wrote their language using English, Bangla or Assamese script. Therefore, there was no literary writing in Rabha-during pre-independence, except the selected chapters of the Bible, whose translation was done by the missionaries. The translation of The Prodigal Son into Rabha in 1900 A.D (1903) is the first instance of such translation work and it is recorded in Linguistic Survey of India. Thereafter, several references of Rabha language and culture by several anthropologists and historians emerged. Among these The Garos (1909) by Playfair, The Kacharis (1811) by Endle and Ethnology of Bengal (1872) by Dalton are worth-mentioning. Moreover Grierson offered descriptive note on Rabha grammar in about four pages (1st, Vol. III, pt. II, pp 102-105).
The translation of The Gospel of Mark into Rabha Markni Nima Saikai (in Rongdani dialect) written in Bengali script in 1909 is deemed to be the earliest literary work. This translation, although, was done basically for preaching Christianity, contained the characteristics of a literary work.
Thus, it is only after the independence, with the publication of a magazine called Champai in 1978, the true literary work in Rabha began. Based on this epoch-making Champai magazine, Rabha literature can be put in three categorical periods i.e. Pre-Champai, Champai and Post Champai.
Pre-Champai age (1950 A.D. – 1978 A.D.): This period can be termed as the revolutionary age of Rabha language and literature. This period brought awareness among the Rabha’s about the existence of their language. Books on Rabha language learning, grammar, glossaries etc. began to be published thereby opening a new vista for Rabha literature.
This period evidenced the outgrowth of lyrical and poetical literature. Literary magazines like Badungduppa (1961, ed. Samar Sing Rabha), Jatini Khurang (1973, ed. Prakash Rabha) and various mouthpieces, souvenirs etc. brought out Rabha lyrical and poetic compositions.
Dramatic literature also began during this period. The composition of legend drama titled Dodanbir by Prassanna Kumar Pam in 1957 is an important event in the history of Rabha dramatic literature.
Lakhi Phenang composed the only verse in Rabha called Rondana-Chandana during this period (1967).
The foundation of Rabha literary body called Bebak Rabha Krowrang Ronchum (BRKR) in 1973 also paved the way for the progress of Rabha literature.
Contributions made by Prasanna Kumar Pam, Rajen Pam, Ganapati Pam, Bineswar Kr. Santok to dramatic literature during Pre-champai period are worth mentioning. Besides these, Listi Rabha Rangkho, Prakash Rabha, Samar Singh Rabha, Mani Rabha were the eminent Rabha writers of this period.
Champai age (1978 A.D. – 1982 A.D.): The Rabha literary magazine called Champai, ed. by Listi Rabha Rangkho came out in four editions from 1978 to 1982. Although this age (Champai) encompasses a very short span of time, it is the most successful age in terms of various aspects of Rabha literature.
Literature in both prose and poetry flourished during this period. Some Rabha writers tried Writing on new subjects like science, fiction, education and social science. This period can also be said as the emergence period of Rabha short story, Farce, biography etc. Writing on folk-tale and folk-culture also emerged during this period. This is the renaissance period of Rabha literature.
The voluntary organization called Rabha Bhasa Parishad found in 1980 played a vital role in spreading Rabha language.
The trend of translation also (basically from Assamese Poetries into Rabha) was initiated during this period.
Charumahan Rabha, Prakash Rabha, Listi Rabha, Suranjiv Baksok, Someswar Rabha, Upen Chandra Rabha (Dr. Upen Rabha Hakacham) etc. were the eminent Rabha writers of Champai age.
During this period, Rabha language reached a standardized stage. A linguistic study on Rabha language by several scholars, created a congenial environment for the growth of Rabha literature. The introduction of Rabha language as a discipline in primary schools of Assam in 1988 is considered an important event of this period.
The bilingual dictionary Khurangnala (2000) composed by Dr. U. V. Joseph also happened to be a rich contribution.
Anthology of poems by several poets was published. The number of literary works like mouthpieces and souvenirs also increased during this period. The bilingual magazine (Rabha Assamese) Karanol (ed. Surendra Mohan Rabha) contributed for the development of Rabha literature.
The addition of Rabha section in the literary magazine of Dudhnoi College from 1995-96 sessions (ed. Bhudeb Rabha) is also worth mentioning fact of this period.
Besides short stories and fiction, new literary creations like writing on memories and travel account gained popularity in Rabha. Biography and novels also emerged in few numbers.
Another notable fact of this period is the progress in literary criticism. ,/p>
The writers of Champai age who continued their literary writing can also be included in the list of post-Champai Rabha writers. Prakash Rabha, Listi Rabha Rongkho, Dr. Upen Rabha Hakacham, Charumohan Rabha belong to this group of writers. Eminent Litterateurs of post-Champai age are - Biswanath Rabha Tara, Hima Rabha, Riniki Churchung Pam. Jontri Cherenga, Binoy Rabha Rungdung, Kamiram Rabha, Duryodhan Rabha, Nitai Rabha, Gangadhar Rabha Hadu, Tarak Barchung etc.
Like the contemporary Assamese literature this age i.e. post-Champai age is also termed as modern age.
From the generic point of view, Rabha literature may be discussed under the following categories.
Poetry has been considered the most widely practiced literature in Rabha. Several Rabha poets have composed innumerable poetries since pre-Champai age. Magazines like Badungduppa (1962 ed. Samar Singh Rabha). Jatini Khurang (1973, ed. Prakash Rabha) Champai (1978-82, four editions ed. Listi Rabha Rongkho) and various mouthpieces and souvenirs of various organisation took up the job of publishing the Rabha poetries during pre-Champai and Champai age. Romantic poet Khagen Hato’s Hachuini Khurang (1966) is the first published poetry compilation of pre-Champai age. Of course, modern age has witnessed several collections of poetry that are published. Among these Charumohan Rabha Dabang’s Khusumbrip Par (1998), Hima Rabha Charpak (2000) Riniki Churchung Pam’s Mukachari (2001). Nitai Rabha’s Rochok par (2002) Moni Rabha’s Charpakgni Khurang (1999) are worth mentioning.
Love towards nature, romanticism, patriotism is the main theme of most of the Rabha poetries. Exception is found in the poetries of Nitai Rabha, whose themes deal mostly with quests for God.
The only verse composition regarded as an epic in Rabha is the Rondona-Chondona of Lakhi Phenang published in 1963.
Translation of Assamese poetries into Rabha has been an enriched factor of Rabha poetical literature. Such translated poetries are Omorni Moni Nam by Listi Rabha, Nukhar Rengzo Chingi momo by Prakash Rabha, Pithar by Charu Dabang and Gosa Dhuri Ang by Someswar Rabha.
Upen Ch. Rabha’s (later Dr. Upen Rabha Hakacham) poem in prose i.e. prose-style poetry Handar Nay is worth mentioning contribution in Champai age.
Other recognised poets of Rabha poetic literature are – Binoy Kumar Rabha, Bharat Ch. Rabha, Dhwazen Rabha, Biswanath Rabha Tara, Aneswar Rabha Hakacham, Maheswar Rabha, Bolai Rabha Hadu, Renuka Baksoka, Topeswari Rabha, Kameswar Rabha, Sib Prasad Hadu, Kalidas Rabha, Bhadreswar Rabha, Namani Kanta Barchung, Barendra Rabha, Ramesh Rabha, Nilpadmini Rabha etc.
Lyrically, Rabha literature is very rich. It is the lyrical composition that aroused Rabha mass towards their ethnic identity. Late Prasanna Pam and Sangeet Natak Academy awardee Rajen Pam are the pioneers in this field. Through the efforts of these two pioneers Rabha song was broadcasted by AIR Guwhati for the first time in 1958. Since the pre-Champai period the lyrical writers have been expressing their creations through various magazines and souvenirs. The published lyrical compilation is mostly of post-Champai age. Among the published lyrical compilation, mention may be made of- Rajen Pam’s kara nolor mou sura sur (1999 ed. Mukul Rabha), Prasanna Pam’s Silpi Prasanna Pamor geet (1984, eds. Bhaben Rabha & Prakash Rabha), Ganapati Pam’s Angi khurang angi chai (1989), Listi Rabha Rangkho’s Chay sabra antham (1974) and Hursai Hursai (1981), Suloshan Rabha’s Nangi chika jhoray (2002), Ishi ushi tongkay chay (1991, ed. Listi Rabha Rangkho), Sashimohan Santok’s Chayrunge cheena (1982) and Tokrangi khurang (1987), Phurpan Rabha’s Kristi chingi (1994), Prabin Kumar Rabha’s Chayni thupkay (1995), Parikshit Rabha’s Angi chay-e nang (1988) etc.
Other worth mentioning lyricists of pre-Champai age are Ganapati Pam, Bhaben Rabha, Dharani Pam, Sahin Rabha, Prakash Rabha, Naren Rabha Hakacham, Anil Rabha, Nisto Baksok etc.
Dr. Upen Rabha Hakacham, Dipak Kumar Pam, Subodh Kumar Rabha, Binita Rabha, Himarani Rabha, Binoy Kumar Rabha, Mukul Rabha, Kamiram Rabha, Kailash Rabha etc. have rendered rich contributions to the Rabha lyrical literature in modern age.
The dramatic literature in Rabha began in the first half of the pre-Champai age. Among the dramas written so far, only some have been staged. The composition of legend drama titled Dodanbir by Prasanna Kumar Pam in 1957 is worth mentioning. Contemporary dramatists of this period are Bineswar Kumar Sontok’s Jabedbir (1960) Rajen Pam’s Sirgini Rishi, Ganapati Pam’s Dodan Lupto (1960). The trend of dramatic literature was continued by Anil Hadu, Nista Mohan Rabha, Hareswar Rabha, Uday Rabha, Druba Rabha, Khanin Rabha etc.
Prakash Rabha with his more than ten dramas, which blend with social values, is remembered as a great dramatist. Historical drama of Dr. Upen Rabha Hakacham titled Rongir Parsuram (1998) is also worth mentioning. Another worth mentioning drama is Rangchari (1999), a translation from Assamese into Rabha by Rajen Pam.
Fictional literature in Rabha began with the publication of Jatini Khurang (1973) magazine in which Listi Rabha Rangkho emerged as the first novelist with his creation of Phesek Tyrangkay To. The magazine Champai brought out several short stories with it. Examples of such short stories are Ramesh Ch. Rabha’s Takmanbra Thykhapzo(1978), Duryadhan Rabha’s Tukhur Sabra (1982), and Paresh Rabha’s Nashikaini Khurang (1976, Asomor Janajati).
The Rabha short stories of Champai age reflected social picture, Joys and sorrows of mundane life, superstition and social dogmas.
The Champai age also witnessed science fiction writing from writers like Britison Rabha, Listi Rabha and Upen Chandra Rabha. Post-Champai or modern age witnessed short stories with different treatment of subject matter. Prakash Rabha is such a noteworthy short story writer whose characters are from day-to-day life. The trend of story writing continued because of magazines and souvenirs. Some short stories to note are – Jharna chikasham’s (nick-name) Habayni Songsar (1994, Hashongiri), Ukil Rabha’s Kamian Charpak (1995, Jygam), Raj Mohan Rabha’s Khotolong Tongkay (1987, Rongjumuk), Milan Chandra Rabha’s Marang Mathang (1987, Rongjumuk), Indreswar Rabha’s Pankrong-Kungtrini (1987, Rongjumuk), Maheswar Rabha’s Jymandamini Rongjumuk etc.
Dhiren Rabha’s story Nangi Jorasini Sathar Pakshani with its subject matter of social and domestic life, is a notable creation of modern age. Another exceptional creation, based on psychological treatment, is Jharna ChikaChanis Angise Joray (2000) So far, the books on compilation of short story being published are very few to name. Of these, mention can be made of Biswanath Rabha Tara’s Khapakini Parmala (2002) and Sobharam Rabha’s Gopsani Gangkhoy (1998). Of late, State Resource Centre of Assam, an NGO, has published several Rabha short stories (bilangual) related to social and environmental awareness. Pidan Gange (2002, Prakash Rabha), Rongsiri Champai (2002, Prakash Rabha), Ang Gena Tykkar (2003, Malaya Rabha & Hima Rabha), Manimala (2003, C. Rabha, Hima Rabha, L. Phenang), Minku Amangni Katha (2003, Bhupendra Khanda & Tarok Barchung) are some short stories published by state Resource Centre of Assam.
In the creation of novels, Rabha literature has not reached a satisfactory stage. The novels that are published till date are Listi Rabha Rangkho’s Phesek Tyrangkay (1973, Jatini Khurang) and Gangadhar Rabha’s Nango Choksa Mana (1998). Listi Rabha Rangkho’s Charpakini Jora Chap and Dr. Upen Rabha Hakacham’s Khysantini-Khymandini are still in manuscript form.
Post-Champai period marked the beginning of writing on memory and travel account. Such writings came out occasionally in magazines and souvenirs. Dharoni Pam’s travel account Kristi Tunuke Nukjo Hadam (1995/souvenir of Dodan mela) and Dr. Upen Rabha Hakacham’s Hazarnaba Nemchakhan Chingi Kakarongian song (94/souvenir of Chatabari M.E. School) are such type of writing.
Like novel literature, the Rabha’s couldn’t make a satisfactory progress in biographical literature too. Champai age witnessed biographical writing in small scale in the writings of Naresh Pam, Bhaben Rabha and Samarsingh Rabha. Then, veteran writer Listi Rabha Rangkho wrote (translated) the biography of Dr. Hadgawar in 1994. Another published book in Rabha, based on biography is Jyotiprasad Agarwala, Asomini Rashong Gabur (2003) jointly written by Listi Rabha Rangkho and Dr. U. R. Hakacham.
Criticism on the poetries of Hachuini Khurang (1996) by Listi Rabha is the first instance of criticism in Rabha. Criticism on articles emerged during the modern age. Worth mentioning critics in Rabha are Listi Rabha, Dr. Upen Rabha Hakacham and Charumohan Rabha. Among them Charumohan Rabha has been continuing the trend of criticism in Rabha until now. His criticism on Rabha poetry, published in Rangkarang (2000/B.R. K.R.) magazine is worth mentioning. To sum up criticism has not made any progress in Rabha literature.
Among all the Rabha writers who received awards for their literary contributions three of them, namely Rajen Pam, Rajen Rabha and Dr. Upen Rabha Hakacham are worth mentioning.
Rajen Pam (1928-1999): He is the pioneer of Rabha lyrical literature. Through his influence Rabha lyric gained nationwide popularity. In 1961 he was recognised as a regular artist (singer) of AIR, Guwahati. Kara nolor Mou Sura Sur a lyrical compilation is an invaluable contribution among his numerous lyrical compositions. For his life-long dedication in this field he received Artist’s Pension from the state of Assam in 1990 and after years. In 1989 he was awarded Sangeet Natak Academy national award for tribal (Rabha) music.
Besides these he was, many times, felicitated by regional organisations of his own community and by the greatest Assamese community.
Rajen Rabha is a renowned scholar among the Rabha’s. His research oriented works in the field of Rabha language and culture enriched Rabha literature immensely. In 1986 he received presidential award for teaching. Kamal Narayan Choudhury and Dalim Kumar Medhi awards were given to him for his literary contributions in 1988 and 1998 respectively. He chaired the prestigious vice-presidentship of Asom Sahitya Sabha for one term and was an honorable Executive member of many literary and social organisations. He was the first controller of Rabha Bhasa Parishad i.e. Rabha Language Academy, established in 1981.
A promising litterateur as well as linguist in the field of Assamese, Rabha and other Tibeto-Burman languages. He has played a major role in giving standarisation to Rabha language. His Doctoral research on Rabha language brought about great change in Rabha language and literature. His contribution towards Rabha literature continues till today. The short stories, novels, dramas, lyrics, translation, grammar and dictionary in Rabha have reached a development stage because of his diligent work. A National award, Rastriya Lokobhasa Sanman by Gandhi Hindustani Sahitya Sabha, New Delhi was conferred on him as a Scholar, writer and promoter of tribal languages. He is closely associated with many national and regional organisations viz. Linguistic Society of India, CIIL, Sahitya Akademi, All India Tribal Literary Forum, Asom Sahitya Sabha, Linguistic Society of Assam etc.
As a language of minority tribe Rabha has been receiving helping hand from national as well as state-level agencies. The major agencies to name are Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL), Anoondaram Barua Institute of Language, Art and Culture (ABILAC), State Resource Centre of Assam (SRC). These agencies have been publishing books on Rabha language along with linguistic research.
Momorongi Moina Khurang (1997), a compilation of cradle songs by Prakash Rabha, Binoy Rabha Rungdung, Jontri Cherenga and Dr. Upen Rabha Hakacham and an Assamese novel translation into Rabha Charpakgni Khurang are valuable publications by CIIL.
A research on linguistics by ABILAC has been a great contribution towards Rabha literature. So far, ABILAC has brought out a compilation of Rabha folktales titled Song Hasongini Klirsa, (1999/Dr. Upen Rabha Hakacham). ABILAC is even undertaking projects on Rabha Dictionary, grammar etc.
SRC in recent years have published several collections of Rabha Short Stories. Moreover, the great contribution of SRC is the publication of Rabha primers. Besides these, some vernacular organizations like BRKR, Rabha Bhasa Parishad, etc. also serves as the agencies for literary contributions.
The translation of Bible into Rabha Markni Nima Saikai by the missionaries in 1909 marked the beginning of literary translation. Since then, large number of translations has come out in Rabha. The translations in book form are very few in number, while the translated articles and essays in magazines or newspapers are large in number.
The Assamese poetries translated into Rabha during Champai age (1978-82) are Omorni MOni Nam by Listi Rabha Rongkho, Nukhar Rengzo Chingi Momo by Prakash Rabha, Pithar & Aya by Charumohan Rabha and Gosa Dhuri Ang by Sameswar Rabha.
In the modern age several chapters of the Bible have been translated into Rabha from English namely Sirgini Ram (1984), Orihong (1996), Sewaikai Baraikai (19-3-93), Jisuni Badang Markngi Jepsukai (29-6-93), Jisuni Badang Lukngi Jepsukai (26-7-93) & Sewaikai Baraikai (1996, New edition).
The translations from Assamese into Rabha (besides earlier mentioned poetries) include:
Song Hasongini Khirsa (1999/ABILAC), a collection of Indian folktales by Dr. Upen Rabha Hakacham, Asomini Rasong Gabur Jyotiprasad Agarwala (2003), biography and selected songs of J. Agarwala jointly translated by Listi Rabha Rangkho and Dr. Upen Rabha Hakacham, Rangsari (1999), a drama by Rajen Pam, Charpakgni Rami (1999) a novel by Listi Rabha Rangkho. The translation from Rabha into Assamese is carried out in large scale. Examples of such translations are Pramchina Thekay and Birasani Ghori (2004/Ronghor magazine), short stories by Duryadhan Rabha, Angise Joray (2004/ Ronghor mag) short story by Jharna Chikacham, Eti Duti Phule Kunjo Girimallika (2002), a collection of poetries by Bhupendra Khanda. The short stories published by SRC having Assamese version are—Pidan Gange (2002) and Rongsiri Champai (2002) by Prakash Rabha, Ang Gena Tykar (2003) by Malaya Rabha and Hima Rabha, Manimala (2003) by Charumohan Rabha, Hima Rabha and Lakhi Phenang, Mingku Amangni Katha (2003) by Bhupendra Khanda and Tarok Barchung
In recent years, Dr. Upen Rabha Hakacham is considered great for his translation of Rabha poetry into three languages viz., Hindi, English and Assamese. (Which are presented in various poet’s meet and published in various proceedings, magazines etc.)
At present, books based on Rabha glossaries and terminology which contains Assamese version are also available .
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