Teaser: Mishings are indigenous community in Assam, Jafa Journeys provided the audience a glimpse to experience this fascinating culture where the highlight was on their array of Traditional Knowledge Skills – Weaving Cuisine, Boat Building. Those skills which as a heritage identity has preserved both the environment and communities for millenniums.
There is always the debate on how much to preserve original cultures. All human communities want to get better facilities, education and job opportunity. But the question is about the quotient of happiness. Taking this debate further, one of the features factored in the Jafa Journeys in Assam was the visit to the Mishing village in the River island of Majuli. As a visitor, one needs to quietly observe and relish. It is impossible to present an entire heritage in a couple of hours. Hence, as I presenter I took the themes of cuisine and weaving.
The Mishings or Miris are one of the largest indigenous groups in Assam who belong to the Mongoloid race. Originally they lived in hills, and migrated from further east to the plains of Assam which they found more fertile. The Mishings settled along the Brahmaputra River and adapted to settled agrarian life. For example, considering that they are faced with long months of rain and flooding, their homes called Chang Ghar are built on stilts using timber, bamboo and thatch and they are expert makers of boats. They are organized in two major clans – Pegoo and Doley. The Mishings have an esteemed self-perception of themselves hence their name means Mi (human being) Yashing (Bright). Today several Mishings have been converted to either Hinduism or Christianity. However, according to their own tribal beliefs they remain animists and as such Donyi or the Sun is perceived as their father and Polo or the Moon as their mother.
Weaving occupies an important place for the women in the community. Almost all traditional homes have looms, and as part of their identities as animists, the women weave in very bright cheerful colors, symbols of nature as well as motifs of their own myths.
The food inevitably becomes an important symbol of a community identity.The participants on the academic tour of Jafa Journeys were served traditional Mishing food which was largely boiled, or had minimal oil, measured spices, exotic flavors and served in bamboo hollowed stems. Since a part of their life has to take in the reality of the flooding and the heavy rains, the Mishing culinary heritage incorporates a large scheme of preserving foods. Hence dried food is common both vegetables and meat. In a small ‘resort’ we were served by the local community, exotic ferns, and vegetables made of banana flowers, delicate really small potatoes, alluring dishes of dried fish or namshing. Indeed sumptuous, delicate and the environment of green all around totally rejuvenating.