Saturday, June 23, 2012

North East India glossary

You’ve visited the Seven Sisters and believe you know them well. Here’s an alpha-zee glossary picked from the splendid salver of sounds, sights, fragrances and tastes of the rousing northeast. Go ahead, test yourself! And those of you still unfamiliar with the terrific terrain, acquaint yourself.

Ahom: It’s the erstwhile name of Assam, the latter being an anglicized version of the original. Kamarupa and Pragjyotisha have been some other names. Chaolung Sukapha (AD 1228 –1268), also known as  Siu-Ka-Pha, a prince from the Shan province in present-day Eastern Myanmar and Northern Thailand, arrived here and founded the kingdom of Ahom, extending its frontiers to most of current northeast India. The Ahoms introduced wet rice cultivation which transformed the region. In the medieval town of Sivasagar is Rang Ghar, considered Asia’s first amphitheatre, and an architectural highlight of the Ahom era. Over a decade ago the state began celebrating December 2 as Sukapha Divas or Assam Day.  
Bhot jolokia: This Naga/Assamese chili sprinted its way to global fame as the world’s hottest chilli (a title it surrendered to Naga Viper pepper last year). While ‘Bhot’ classifies anything originating in the Bhotiya hills (bordering Bhutan), ‘jolokia’ is the Assamese term for chili-pepper. It’s also known as the Naga jolokia and Raja mirch. Urban legend says it can be used to make the world’s first non-toxic hand-grenade!
Chakhao Amubi: Literally translated it means ‘scented-rice black’. This aromatic, blackish grain is characteristic to Manipuri cuisine and when prepared as the typical rice pudding it turns a lovely deep purple.   
Dobu-Thung: This ‘decorated mug’ in bamboo is made by the Chang tribe of Nagaland. The design is painstakingly created by singeing the bamboo.  According to custom, only head-hunters (the real McCoys, not your corporate honchos, them) had the exclusive right to use these; now it’s an item of luxury. Amongst tribe-members, the mugs are usually sold via barter by the artisan and the exchange can be as much as 20 kg rice or more.   
Eri: Assam’s warm, thick yet soft, enduring silk. ‘Eri’ is a derivative of ‘eranda’, the Assamese word for castor, as worms (Samia cynthia ricini) producing this silk feed on the castor plant. Also called endi or errandi silk, it’s considered ‘ahimsa’/’green’ silk, as, for the production of eri the worm is not killed.
Fishing Baskets: Apart from textile weaving, basketry is an evolved craft in the northeast. Usually made in checker, twilled, plaiting, twining and hexagonal patterns, baskets are used for storage, daily purchases and in the fields. Interestingly, each area has a variety of fishing baskets. Paikur used in Mizoram is a bottle-shaped cane basket with a conical spike at the mouth, allowing the fish to enter but not exit. In Nagaland, lithuo, a square fishing tray is preferred. Tripura too uses something similar known as the dula while Assam makes the circular chepa with bamboo.   
Gwa-che: A dance form of the Yobin/Lisu tribe of Arunachal. The tribe, which migrated from China a few centuries ago, annually holds a bizarre event: festival of knife-ladder climbing.
Hozagiri: Tripura’s traditional dance performed by svelte girls of the Reang community. It’s a combination of gentle acrobatic acts and slow, rhythmic hip and waist movements. Quite remarkably the dance is done standing on pitchers.
Idu: Arunachal has 26 recognised tribes spread over approximately 3,650 villages. One of them is the Idus, who are conspicuous for their hair style. Both men and women let hair fall over the forehead and trim it a little above the eyebrows, the appearance being similar to the currently-in-fashion bungs.
Jonbeel of Jagiroad: Jonbeel reportedly is the only fair in the country where sale-purchase is solely through the barter system. A three-day annual event of the Tiwa tribe, it’s held in January at Jagiroad, near Guwahati. The fair dates back to AD 1400, to the kingdom of Tiwa. Customarily, it’s inaugurated by the ‘Tiwa king’ who also collects a nominal ‘tax’ from his subjects. Tribes from neighbouring states also attend. 
Kha Khadduh: An expression used for the youngest daughter in the matrilineal Khasi and Jaintia tribes. She is heir to the property and among her responsibilities is taking care of her parents.  
Lai-Haraoba: A popular Manipuri event, the week-long Lai Haroba or ‘Festival of the Deities’ celebrates legends on the creation of the universe. Held in April-May, it’s a vibrant cultural expression of the state’s religious, dance and music traditions.
Moirang: Is a town 45 km from the Manipur capital Imphal, and the region of the Meitei tribe. Notably, it played a role in India’s freedom movement, with the Indian National Army unfurling its flag, a precursor of the Tricolour, here for the first time on April 14, 1944. The area is naturally pretty, and offers the Loktak Lake, the largest fresh-water lake in the northeast.
Ningthou phee: A particular snake motif woven on the phanek (Manipuri wrap-around) exclusively for royalty. Legend says, when a weaver would begin work on the ningthou phee, a gun salute would be fired in the royal design’s honour.  
Orang Chariali: Known as mini-Kaziranga, it’s the little cousin of the big brother, but shares similar boast as far as its animal kingdom line-up is concerned. The one-horned rhinoceros, Asian elephant, tiger, leopard, barking deer, all roam its grasslands. It’s 31 km from Tezpur in the Darrang district of Assam.
Puan: Mizoram’s sarongs, these are fêted for their intricate weaving done typically on the loin loom. Tucked away Mizoram’s Sahia district,   bordering Myanmar is said to be the prettiest in the region and is renowned for the exquisite weaving of the Mara tribe.
Queen: She’s the sweetest among the three varieties of pineapple abundantly growing in the northeast and justifiably called the ‘Queen’. The other two are Kew and Giant. However, pineapples from the prized Hmarkhawlien region of Assam’s Cachar district are said to be the sweetest in India. The fruit is an economy booster in the northeast and Manipur honours it by hosting the Pineapple Festival. Tynrong in Meghalaya’s East Khasi hills is a centre for pineapple craft, particularly Sohmarih fibre. 
Riha: Part of the traditional ensemble of Assamese women. The mekhela-chadar (sador)-riha tri-set is apparently a hybrid of Tibetan and Indian costumes. The mekhela is similar to the saree albeit worn from waist to ankle, while the chadar and riha are wrapped around the upper-half of the body
Siliguri Corridor:  If you’ve travelled by road or train to the North-East this has been the connect cord to the region. Also called ‘Chicken's Neck’, it’s a strip of land around Siliguri town, in north Bengal, flanked by Nepal and Bangladesh. The Siliguri Corridor was created during the 1947 Partition.   
Thang Ta: An ancient Manipuri martial art, it exhibits the prowess of sword and spear. In times gone by it was known as Huyen Lallong.
Ukhrul black pottery: Recognised locally as Nungbi earthenware, it’s characteristic to the Tangkhul tribe of Ukhrul district in Manipur. Made with a powdered soft rock only available in the area, it’s crafted by hand and not on the potter's wheel. The final product is shiny, naturally black pottery, now widely seen at handcraft fairs. 
Venus: A globally-rare ground orchid found in Arunachal and Sikkim. It belongs to the Paphiopedilum species or the Lady's Slipper orchid variety and falls under Schedule VI of the Wildlife (Protection) Act owing to its endangered status. About 1, 150 species of orchids are found in India, with Arunachal accounting for almost 600 species, making it the country’s Orchid Paradise.
Wangala: It’s the ‘Dance of Hundred Drums’ festival, an important date in the calendar of Meghalaya’s Garo hills. The week-long festival held in November is celebrated in honour of Satyong, the god of fertility, and indicates the end of sowing season and prayers for a bumper harvest.
Xorai: A perforated metal bowl on stand with pagoda-like lid used for ceremonial offerings in Assam. Along with the gamosa (traditional woven white towel with red stylized end-patterns) and tamulpan (supari on betel leaf) the trio is typical to Assamese celebrations. The japi or traditional bamboo sun-shade is the other widely-recognised symbol of the state.
Yulo: A festival of the Nishi tribe of Arunachal. It's held for community wellbeing and includes the sacrifice of mithuns. The Bangani tribe also celebrates the festival and they commence it by offering rice beer to their deities, Doni Yulo and Kamio Yulo. It’s held around March-April.
Zutho: Sprouted rice beer typical to Nagaland. It has a fruity aroma and sour taste. Among other drinks in the region, apong, brewed from millet and rice, is popular in Arunachal.

Published in JetWings 

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