When Sahitya Akademi's North East Centre for Oral Literature (NECOL) started working from Agartala, we did not have any precise idea of how to collect the oral literatures of this region and get them translated into English. We tried a variety of methods in the beginning for collecting the folk tales. From the activities of the Centre at different regions and of the Eastern Regional Office, we formed the idea that if we could find intellectuals among the people of the non-scheduled oral languages whose literatures we want to collect, who are not only skilled in their mother-tongues as well as English but also in the scheduled languages used by the majority of the inhabitants of those regions, the job of collections would become quite easy with their help. Sri Tabu Ram Taid, who lives in Guwahati is one of such persons. A distinguished and well-known intellectual of this region, Sri Taid is a Missing by birth and his mother-tongue is Missing. He can use Assamese and English with the same ease and proficiency just like his mother tongue. This quality of multilingual skill probably holds good in the case of many intellectuals among the people of oral literatures of this North East Region. In addition to their mother-tongues, they acquire English and regional languages, predominant in their area. This skill and deep love for mother-tongue came into play when Sri Tabu Ram Taid translated and compiled the Missing folk tales directly into English which has been a great advantage for our Centre. In spite of his advanced age and failling health, Sri Taid has done his job with utmost sincerity and great labour. For those who want to protect their oral languages from getting lost forever and make it reach the wider world, this work of Sri Taid is worth emulation. I hope this collection of oral literature by Sri Taid will be appreciated by literature-lovers and all interested persons.
I. THE MISSING PEOPLE Missing, as an ethnic group, were known to non-Missing earlier as 'Miri'. In the distant past, they, along with other cognate groups of a larger branch of Mongoloid people, who are now beginning to be referred to, collectively, as 'the Tani people', migrated from the Tibetan plateau and entered in batches into the central belt of the land, now called Arunachal Pradesh, a State in India in the eastern Himalayan region to the north of Assam. The other groups of the branch, who are all presently inhabitants of Arunachal Pradesh, are the Adi (with the subgroups Pa-dam, Pa-si, Minyong, Panggi, Bori, Simong, Karko, A-sing, together with the Tangam, Milang and Komkar), the Galo (with the major subgroups Galo, Ramo, Pailibo, Bokar), the Nyishi (with the two major subgroups Nyishi and Bangni), the Apatani, the Tagin and the Hill Miri. Instead of the earlier name 'North Assam', 'Mirish' and 'Mishingish', some linguists are beginning to use the name 'Tani' for the languages, spoken by these people, including the Missing. Some habitations of the Tani people are reported to be located on the other side of the international boundary.'
Linguistic and cultural evidences suggest that when the Adis and the Missing reached the Siang valley of present-day Arunachal Pradesh, they formed a relatively homogeneous ethnic bloc amongst the Tani people. They shared the valley probably for centuries, until the Missing moved further on in the process of their migration and reached the Brahmaputra valley of Assam. Although a small section of Missing stayed back in their hilly abodes, where they still live, the overwhelming majority of them migrated to the plains of Assam. The legend of the 'Descent of the Missing from Ki-Iing Kangge (Heaven)', given at the very beginning of the tales in this compilation, has kept alive the story of migration of the Missingpeople from their Hirnalayan home to their present-day habitations in the plains. Although there are no written records, explaining the reasons for the migration of the Missing from the Siang valley to the Brahmaputra valley, it is likely that they reached the Brahmaputra valley in their quest for larger areas of fertile land for cultivation, as migrant agrarian societies usually did in the past. At least one tale in this collection, viz. 'The Story of Tu-sfg Matsfg' (SI. No. 10), seems to suggest that, while the Missing lived in a certain area, they also kept scouting around simultaneously for better places to live in. However, a few tales, viz. SI. Nos. 3, 4, 5, and 6, clearly suggest that feuds with their Adi neighbours proved to be the immediate cause of the migration of some sections of Missing to the plains-the migrating groups thus opting for a more peaceful life in the plains. It may be stated here that the Missing have, generally, been known to be a peace-loving tribe.
In the absence of historical records, the date of migration of the Missing to the Brahmaputra valley remains an uncertainty, but some groups of Missing might have already been living in the valley or in the areas bordering the erstwhile Lakhimpur district (now divided into four districts, viz. Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Dibrugarh and Tinsukhia) of Assam during, or before, the times of Shrimanta Sankardeva (1449-1568 A.D.), the great medieval saint-poet of Assam, as the name 'Miri' occurs in writing for the first time in his devotional poetry. Oral traditions of the Vaishnavite institutions (called Sattra) of Assam also speak of one of Sankardeva's direct disciples being a Miri, named Paramanada. The history of Assam has records of armed conflicts between the Miris and the ruling Ahoms in 1615, 1655, and in 1685. These conflicts indicate that the Missing were already living either within, or in bordering areas of the Ahom kingdom in the seventeenth century and that they had attacked, or rebelled against the rulers of the valley from time to time. In his Miri Jatir Buranji, Sonaram Pa-nyang Kotoky (see Note 1 of the 'Notes', appended to the text) states that the Missing probably started inhabiting the plains only at the time of the Burmese invasions (second decade of the nineteenth century). This is likely to be true of certain sections of Missing, as the Missing didn't leave their abodes in the hills en masse. In fact, habitations (thirty-six villages, as has been gathered) of Missing still exist in Arunachal Pradesh.
Presently the Missing in Assam are distributed in its eight eastern districts, viz. Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat and Sonitpur, with some concentration of population in the districts of Dhemaji and Lakhimpur and in the Majuli subdivision of the Jorhat district. They are the second largest ethnic group amongst Scheduled Tribes in Assam, the most numerous Scheduled Tribe in the State being the Bodos. The strength of their population was 5,87,310 in Assam (Census of India, 200 I) and 33,343 in Arunachal (taking all the 33,343 speakers of the Missing language, as reported by the same Census, to be Missing). The total population of the Missing in the two States in 200 I stood thus at 6,20,653, which might have grown to around 7,00,000 in 2011. The Census of India, 2001, also reported the literacy of the Missing in Assam to be 60.1 per cent (Male-70.4 per cent and Female-48.3 per cent), which is lower than the rate of 62.5 per cent (Male-n.3 per cent of Female-52.4 per cent) for the Scheduled Tribes of the State as a whole.
The Missing are an agrarian tribe. In the plains of Assam, they initially chose to dwell in riverine areas only. Although most of them still have habitations in riverine areas, section'; of their population have been forced by erosions of their villages and agricultural lands to seek safer places, away from rivers, to live in. Recurrent floods and erosions of habitations and agricultural lands have had a highly unfavourable impact on their economy. Most of them continue to live lives of great poverty.
In the Brahmaputra valley, the Missing have undergone a process of acculturation, the life and customs of their Assamese speaking Hindu neighbours influencing their life and customs significantly. It does not, however, mean that they have given up their traditional culture totally. This phenomenon has hybridized both their material and non-material culture.
In housing they have still preserved their traditional platform dwellings, with thatched roofs and platforms of split pieces of bamboo, being used as floors of the house. Because of the increasing scarcity of thatching grass and for durability reasons, some of them have begun to use corrugated iron sheets for roofing, if they can afford the cost of such sheets. Missing, who are a little better off, also use wooden planks, instead of pieces of split bamboo, for their stilted platforms. The inside of a strictly traditional house is a hall without any partition, a few fireplaces, set along the middle of the platform, serving as separators for sleeping spaces. The house of a large joint family would be a very long I-patterned structure. Houses of other patterns also form part of a rural housing scenario today.
When the Missing were living in the hills, jhum or shifting cultivation, sowing seeds of crops in the spring season after clearing the area(s) to be cultivated, was likely to have been the principal way, if not the only one, in which they grew their crops. Growing crops by transplantation of seedlings during the rainy season was probably yet to be adopted in those days. After their migration to the valley, they retained their old way of shifting cultivation as long as there was no dearth of arable land. However, with increase in the strength of their population, coupled with the shrinking of arable land, they have gradually been forced to switch to settled cultivation. Now they also grow crops by transplantation of seedlings of crops during the rainy season regularly, their chief farming implement of yore, viz. the hoe, yielding place to the ox-driven plough. As is the case with their neighbours, rice is their staple, and so they mainly grow paddy crops. They also grow pulses and mustard for domestic consumption as well as for earnings in cash. They grow vegetables in winter usually for domestic consumption. There was a time, when they grew their own cotton and did the spinning themselves for the thread, required for weaving cloths for their own use. Though not as a regular agricultural produce, they used to grow sugarcane too. But the ever shrinking availability of land for such uses as well as the emergence of modern markets has forced them to give up such farming activities.
In their textile culture (a preserve of the Missing women), they have retained their loin loom, the only tool for weaving in their past days in the hills, but they use it now only for weaving their gadu, called mirijim in Assamese, a rather heavy blanket-soft and fluffy on one side and plain on the other. For weaving all other kinds of cloths, they adopted the faster and more user-friendly loom of their neighbours in the valley, together with all its accessories. Missing weavers today are well known for their textile products, particularly women's wears, marked b) aesthetic exquisiteness. .
But for the addition of an item or two in diverse• aspects of their day-to-day life, many elements of their material culture, such as their boat-shaped mortar and the heavy, wooden pounding sticks, cane, rush or bamboo baskets and carry bags, bamboo containers, fish traps, hencoops, pigsties, etc. have been retained.
The Missing are essentially a non-vegetarian community, and although they now grow different vegetables like their neighbours in the valley, their delicacies are still fish, chicken, pork and wild greens. They brew their own wine from rice for use as a regular or occasional drink or for use during celebrations of their festivals. Missing also use rice wine as an offering to their deities and other supernatural beings in their traditional animistic rites.
It is, however, in different aspects of their -ion-material culture that the impact of acculturation taking place amongst them in the valley can be seen clearly, as the following examples will show.
In the matter of religious faith, Missing have not fully broken with their animistic past. They still perform religious rites, especially in the villages, to propitiate both guardian spirits and malevolent ones, avert deaths, epidemic and other serious diseases, natural disasters, crop failures, misfortunes, mishaps, etc. Ancestor worship too forms a part of their religious practices.
Missing believe in a soul-like, life-supporting spirit, called yalo by them, that keeps one's body constant company. If an individual falls seriously ill or gets a terrible shock, his yalo strays away from the body and needs to be brought back by a mibu, the shaman, or nowadays by a priest, presiding at an animistic ceremony, called yalo gognam ('calling a yalo '). If this effort fails, the yalo is not reunited with its body, which means the death of the individual concerned.
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