The folk tales in this anthology are in vogue in the wide expanse of the Rabha inhabited areas of Assam. They are more or less similar to the folk tales prevalent among other tribes and ethnic groups of the North Eastern region of India in that they have also some main genres such as supernatural or romantic tales, animals’ tales, humorous tales, tales of folk history, religious tales, tricksters’ tales, etiological or explanatory tales, traditional tales, etc. Rabha folk tales, like their counterparts in other north—eastern languages, are, in fact, epitomes of simple and rustic ways of rural life in which there are abundant expressions of weal and woe, excitement, religious belief, superstition and even magic and sorcery. Coming down from generation after generation, Rabha folk tales are vibrant with wonderful ideas and imagination.
Joykanta Sharma, formerly deputy editor of Assam’s premier daily Dainik Asam, has sixteen books to his credit including Modern Bodo Short Stories published by the Sahitya Akademi, Of Assam Letters and the Assamese rendering of Pakhi Un Jowat (translation of Sahitya Akademi Award-winning Manipuri short-story anthology Chekla Paikhrobda). His edited book Chintabid Sahityik Sambadik Kedar Nath Goswami won the AAPCU Award in 2006.
The Rabhas, a Mongoloid race, are one of the important aboriginal tribes of India’s North-Eastern region, apart from the Bodos, Garos, Hajongs, Tiwas, Misings, Dimasas, Dewries, Karbis, Mizos, Nagas, Kukis, Khasis and the Noctes. Although the people of this tribe live mainly in the western part of Assam (some of them reside in Baradk Valley and West Garo Hills) and use Assamese as their medium of instruction, they speak the Rabha language (may be called a dialect) in their domestic conversations (Assamese is still their main language, even though some Rabha people do not understand their own dialect). They have, however, their own customs, rites and cultural identities, The British author Baines has classified them under the Assam Hill tribes and observed that the Rabhas had originally occupied the northern part of the Garo Hills from where they came down in course of time.
As the legend goes, the worship of the most revered goddess of the Rabhas “Baykho” was first introduced in the village Athiabari, situated on the southern end of Goalpara district. In order to get the puja solemnised, different people were vested with different duties on that occasion. As per the works vested, seven sub-communities such as Rongdani, Maitari, Kocha, Pati, Dahuri, Totla and Hana sprang up in the Rabha society in course of time. Among these sub-communities, the population of the Rongdanis, Maitaris and Patis is comparatively higher than that of other sub-communities. The District Gazetteer says, “Rabhas are divided into the following seven sections: Rongdania, Pati, Maitaria, Kocha, Bitolia, Dahuria and Sohnga. The Rongdanis claims to be in a position of superiority, but intermarriage is allowed with the Patis and Maitarias. Intermarriage between the first three sections and the lower sub-divisions of the caste is permissible, but only on payment of a fine of about Rs. 100.” At present, however, there are not many inhibitions.
Although the Rabhas are basically Hindus, they worship their gods and goddesses, in most cases, by sacrifices of beasts and birds. Almost on every occasion of day-to-day life such as initiation of sowing, entrance to a new house, birth and death or travelling etc they worship their traditional gods and goddesses with devotion. Hasong Puja (puja to the god of agriculture), Khaksi Puja, Baykho festival (spring festival), Grimbuda (autumn festival), Rantak Puja (puja to goddess Laksmi), Maroi or Bishahari Puja, Tukura Deo Puja, Lakhar (shepherd) Puja, Pawra Deo Puja, Hanaghora Puja, Langmara Puja, Kali Puja, Kechailkhaiti Puja, Bira Puja, Likas Puja, Budaba Puja, Manasa Puja, Khelaram Puja, Daini (nymph) Puja and Yakhini Puja are important festivals of the Rabhas. Those apart, the roles of many gods and goddesses are also involved, in one way or the other, with the colorful lives of Rabhas. A trunk of a tree, and earthen pot, a stone, or an image made of paddy straw is taken as an idol whom the Rabhas worship in the Rabha language as per the precepts of the Rongdanis and Maitaris. Among the Pati, Dahuri and Totla societies ‘mantras’ are said in Lemakatha (a mixed form of Assamese and Rabha languages).
Rabhas are rich in various traits of culture and oral literature such as folk songs, folk riddles and folk tales. In folk literature, mantras (a hymn, words implying the names or attributes of a particular deity; an incantation, etc.) occupy a significant position. Folk songs are inseparable organs of the three main national festivals- i.e. Grimbuda, Domansi and Baykho which are observed in various seasons of the year, House festivals such as marriages and other religious functions are also observed through various kinds of folk songs. There are love and seasonal songs too.
Rabha folk tales which are in vogue from generation to generation are invaluable assets of Rabha culture. As in other tribes and races, Rabha folk tales too have some main sub-genres such as supernatural or romantic tales, animal tales, jokes or humorous tales, tales of folk history; religious tales, trickster tales. explanatory tales and traditional tales.
Although these tales are widely prevalent among the villagers, particularly the older ones, it is only recently that they have started to get their written forms through the relentless efforts of the Rabha literary stalwarts such as Rajen Rabha. In fact, his Assamese book Rabhar Sadhu Katha is the first compilation of Rabha folk tales which he collected by wandering throughout the wide expanse of Rabha-infested areas in the hills and plains. I am truly indebted to him and it would not be an exaggeration if I say that my English compilation is more or less a transliteration of his Assamese compilation.
My gratitude also extends to scholars like Dr. Upendra Rabha Hakasam, Reader of the Gaithati University, Dr. Malina Devi Rabha, Principal, Bikali College, Dudhnoi and Dr. M. Gopal Sinha, Senior Lecturer of the Bikali College for their immense help.
I shall always remain indebted to the Sahitya Akademi for its kind willingness to publish the book.
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