Traditional Khamti Society

The Tai Khamtis of Assam and 
Arunachal Pradesh

Traditional Khamti Society

     The Khamtis, a branch of the great Shan Tai race, are the followers of Buddhism alongwith the 'Singhos of Arunachal Pradesh. The Theravada sect of Buddhism has it's roots in Burma. The Buddhist monks of Burma have regular inroads and visit to Arunachal Pradesh upto 1947 (Gogoi 1986:2004) Even today, the Khamtis living in Arunachal Pradesh and in Assam maintain regular links with the religious functionaries of Burma. "SANGKEN" a major fistival of the Khamtis is observed during mid April every year simultaneously with the Assamese Bihu festival. The presence of monks and Buddhist priests from Burma is customarily regarded as great occasion in it and take priests take part in those festivals. Special ritualistic functions are also arranged on the occasion of the visit of the priests. During the stay of the monks or Bhikkhus, people from all corners of the villages gather at the Temple 'Maindir' (Vihar) and worship the Bhikkhus. The Bhikkhus stay for a long period and visit the Viharas located at different places. The entire period of stay of the Bhikkhu greatly regarded as holy period and the Khamtis observe varieties of rituals and festivals on the occasion of their visit. During "SANGKEN", (a festival observed to welcome the new year of the Khamtis) the villagers adopt various ritualistic procedures. The idols of Lord Buddha and the Mandirs are kept clean and decorated, and the idols are placed in particular directions as advised by the Bhikkhus. SANGKEN festival normally continues for 3-4 day and during this period the villagers keep themselves away from all sorts of bad habits and practices and they solely devote to work for the welfare of the community. The celebration of SANGKEN festival is fact, many be said as the beginning of the new year for the Khamtis. The calendar year of the life of the Khamti people also starts from the day the SANGKEN is observed.

     Khamtis are mainly agriculturists. They cultivate rice, potato, ginger, arums, vigetables, mustard, chilli, pumplins etc. They rear cows, beffaloes, pigs, ducks, goats, hens etc. They usually construct their granarris at a distance from their residence or nearby the paddy fields. The reason is that the granaries are to be saved from damages if fire breaks out their residence. 

     The Khamtis observe various rituals and festivals which are related to their agricultural life. They begin their annual cultivation through rituals. Such rituals are performed just in front of the residence. Symbolic idols are placed with paddy seeds and worshipped and offer prayers in presence of a few elder paddy seeds and worshipped and offer payers in presence of a few elder people of the locality. Rituals are performed around the seeds and then the invited guests are offered with tea and other home made items of eatables. Some of the agriculture-related festivals among the Khamtis are Sang-Pha Apuk (festival of worship for rain), Phi-Paw Mann (Worship for the protecting of cultivation as well as the village) etc. Several other communities of Arunachal Pradesh also adopt such practices. Besides cultivation, poultry and piggery farming are also much pipular among the Khamtis.

      The traditional Khamti villages are small in size and the houses are scattered. Thus, the families have large amount of land at their possion. The location of the houses from one to another is hardly visible. The compound usually remains covered with thicks grasses, trees and bushes, and sometimes upto the wooden ladder connected to the firs room of the residence where the guests are received. The traditional Khamti house has it's own specific design and structures. The house is well-built and quite strong in structure with woods, bamboos, thatches and leafs of "TAKAO TRES". (a kind of tree with wide and flat leafs used for making roofs of houses). Such leaves are used by many people living in the plains areas also and they are found in the jungles. The planting of this kind of trees (TAKAO) is also a sort of cultivations, since these are essential materials to construct houses. The structure of the house is raised on strong wooden pillers, quite high where the ground floor is used for various purposes like - place for handlooms, car or scotter parks, sheds for pigs, ducks etc, and even for places for children's play. Guests are usually entertained at the first floor in a wide and spacious room made of bamboos and strong woods and decorated with all possible sorts of furniture. The houses are usually big in structures, with internal provisions of rooms and partitions. Guests are received at the first room.

     The Khamtis can fluently speak Assamese language. The physical appearances of the Khamtis is almost similar to that of Assamese people specially the Ahoms of Assam. The day - to - day household materials used for the purpose of cooking, preserving food items, decoration and for domestication of birds and animals have similarities with those of Assamese material cultures. The very design and structure of the house sometimes reflects the differences of economic status of people. This is so apparent that the houses are well constructed with big compound and spacious sheds for cows and pigs. The well-to-do Khamti families of Lohit district are traditionally rich, have wide courtyard, parking places, cars, well- decorated drawing rooms, servants besides abundant agricultural and forest lands. Most of such houses are constructed with bricks and woods.

     In agriculture, the Khamtis are well advanced like the Assamese neighbors. In Chokham area of Lohit district they cultivate wet rice, grow paddy, mustard, potatoes, gingers, arums, vegetable etc. The cultivable lands are lovated at far away, sometimes 1 to 3 kilometres away from their residences. They construct the granneris near the paddy fields or sometimes at a visible distance from their residences. The reason behind this is to keep these houses at safer places from any events like fire etc. Economically, the Khamtis  are self-sufficient i.e. they produce for their consumption only. This can be established from the fact that, large plots of land are found lying unused either at the house compound or in the roadside locality.

     Lands are reddist brown or blackish in colour and are very fertile. Rainfall is plenty and the climate of the foothills of Arunachal Pradesh, specially in the Lohit district is suitable for any sort of cultivation. This natural or climatic conditions are not exhaustively utilized by the Khamtis in the sphere of agricultural production "Why the people donot grow large variety of agricultural products inspire of abundant fertile lands being at their possession?" The most common reply was "whatever variety they produce are sufficient for their family's consumption for the year". This dictates two important things - their products are of limited variety and are sufficient for consumption, and secondly, they are not much eager to produce more than their requirement and to earn extra money. But one fact was not altogether denied. Quite a good number of Khamti educated youths are engaged in business activities or enterprises either in the local urban centers or in outside the district. This seem to be an inducing factor to motivate the youths to go for extra-earning to the family. It is also observed that in many families, houses of bricks, iron and cement with modern design and architecture are constructed adjacent to their traditional house. Thus, the old generation do not resist such ideas of the young ones. Several aged people expressed that the forest-based resources which were largely available for construction of houses are gradually diminishing owning to the gradual decline of forest at their locality and secondly, with short span of time losing its lasting capacity. Some reported that they would spend about forty to fifty thousand rupees if they go for constructing the same type of traditional houses with thatches, woods and bamboos. Thirdly many have expressed that their children (mostly the educated) are gradually opting for pucca houses made for bricks, iron and cement, considered to be durable, safe and protected.