A Glimpse of the Dimasa Culture

Article by Ringsmaidi Nunisa

Assam in the Northeastern corner of India is the meeting ground of different ethnic  communities like the Boro Kachari, Garo, Deori, Dimasa, Karbi , Kuki, Mising etc, with their own diverse cultures. The biologically composite people of Assam have a composite culture and they have exchanged cultural elements among themselves since long past. The Dimasas are one of the major tribe and a culturally rich community of Assam. At  present  the major population of the community has been residing in the hill district of Dima Hasao (erstwhile North Cachar Hills) and  in  scattered numbers in the districts  of Karbi Anglong , Nagaon and also in the Barak valley area .  Outside Assam the Dimasas are  also settled in Nagaland. The language  spoken by the Dimasa belong to the Tibeto- Burman linguistic group.  The  word “Dimasa” stands for “the son of big river”. To interpret the same in Dimasa language, “Di” means water or “river”,“ma” means big and “sa” means son . Historically, as the Dimasa  kingdom flourished on the banks of different rivers, the people have preferred to introduce themselves as the son of a big river. Archaeological remains at Dimapur (Nagaland),Maibang (Dima Hasao district) and Khaspur (Cachar district) speak about their kingdom in these places at different phases of history .1

The Dimasa society is tradition bound and guided by customs. A very outstanding feature of the Dimasa culture and an important aspect of their social relation is the existence of male and female clan. The male clan is called Sengphong and the female clan is known as Jadi or Julu .Hence a Dimasa bears allegiance to both male and female clan. There are forty  male clan and forty-two female clan.  Whether in marriage, religious practices, or in rituals connected with the death, the clans have a significant role to play. Hence the clan plays an important part while fixing the marriage of a boy or a girl. If they belong to the same male or female clan, they are not allowed to be married.  Affiliation to one’s own respective clan is quite strong among the Dimasa. That clan ties are important among the Dimasa can be understood from instances when the entire members of the clan take offence if any member of the clan is offended by someone from outside their clan.2

Festivals being an integral part of a culture  provides a plethora of opportunities to the people as a mean of gathering, infusing cultural spirit and enhancement of social relations. For the Dimasas one such festival is the Busu Dima  which primarily plays an important role in every Dimasa household. Busu festival is observed in relation to the harvesting period of their  jhum cultivation. It is the time for merry making and relaxation after months of hard work. The Dimasas overcome the trivialities of everyday life by rejoicing in the festival. Hence as an agrarian people, after a year’s hard toil they look forward to busu and welcome it as an auspicious day.3 Busu Dima may be celebrated in different ways depending on the elaborateness of the preparation and the number of days to be devoted. It also differs from village to village, where some of them celebrate for three days but some of them may even extend up to seven days. The grand Busu festival may be celebrated in three ways .When Busu is celebrated for three days it is called Busu Jidap, if it  is observed for five days then is called Surem and when it is celebrated for seven days then it is called Hangseu Busu .4

Busu Dima Dance

The celebration of the Busu festival follows with singing and dancing  to the accompaniment of  traditional musical instruments called the  khram(drum) and the moori (blowing instrument). In any performance of the Dimasa dances, these two musical instruments are absolutely indispensable and inseparable. The main dance form that is performed is known as Baidima which exhibits the deep involvement of traditional customs, rites, rituals and the jubilation of the people.5 Their dances  continue until the wee hours of the morning. During this festival, the Dimasa women are seen in their colourful traditional attire which they weave themselves.

A man playing the khram (drum)

The Dimasa women are expert weavers and they weave cloths with artistic and intricate designs. The women folk cover themselves in three pieces of cloth which are- Rigu , used for  covering the lower part of the body, Rijamphain to wrap the middle part of the  body covering up to the breast and Rikhausa used for covering the upper part of the body, which is like a chaddar. The common traditional attire for men is a piece of cloth more like a Gamocha usually worn in a dhoti style that falls just above the knees.6

Religion as a social institution includes different beliefs and practices. Likewise the Dimasas too have their own concept of Gods and goddesses, like gods of a specific area , clan gods and  many others. They follow their own religious beliefs and practices and believe that the gods of a particular area with unstructured shrines control the lives of the people.7 The Dimasas also believe in the existence of various deities and spirits that are made responsible for the cause of diseases, sickness and hence the people think that they have to be appeased from time to time for the well being of the people as well as the whole community.8

References:

  1. B. N. Bordoloi, The Dimasa Kacharis of Assam, Tribal Research Institute, Assam, 1984,p.6
  2. Ibid, p.50
  3. R. Lalsim,  The Tribes of N. C. Hills Assam. North Cachar Hills Autonomous  Council Publication Series, 2005, p.30
  4. Ibid, pp.28-30
  5. P. C. Sarma, The Dimasa : Child of the Big River, Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture,Guwahati,2003,p.14
  6. Ibid, p.28
  7. Dipali  Danda,  Among the Dimasas of Assam, Sterling Publishers, New Delhi ,1978, pp.45-47
  8. Ibid,p.128-129

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