Karbi Anglong has always been known for its rich culture and distinct ethnic groups. The Tiwas are one such group who represent the vibrant mix of traditions that make up this district. They mostly live in the hilly areas of Nagaon and Karbi Anglong and primarily depend on agriculture to make a living. Geographical constraints divide them politically in two distant groups: the Tiwa community living in the plains of Kamrup, Nagaon, Morigaon, and in the foot hills of Karbi Anglong (Assam); and the Hill Tiwa community living in the westernmost areas of Karbi Anglong as well as in the northeastern corner of Ri-Bhoi district (Meghalaya). In the hills, they speak a Tibeto-Burmese language of the Bodo-Garo family and are divided into clearly identified clans.
Despite a striking cultural dichotomy, today the Tiwas undoubtedly form one ‘ethnic group’, with both hill and plain dwellers acknowledging a single identity. This comes from their enthusiasm to celebrate cultural festivals together, Wansuwa being one among them.
Wansuwa is a festival which is held in different Hill Tiwa villages and takes different forms in every village. The term Wansuwa is a combination of two words—wan means ‘flour of rice grain’—and suwa implies ‘grinding’. Rice beer and pork are consumed as part of the celebration. Tiwas generally select a Wednesday for the main ritual, a holy day in Tiwa faith.
Mortars are placed in a circle on the ground around Changdoloi, one of the heads of Chamadi, or the Bachelor’s Dormitory, which is also known as Dekachang. In this ritual, elderly people of the village recite holy verses, followed by an animal sacrifice.
Young boys grind rice grain—to the melody of Wansuwa songs and dance. The rhythms of Khram Ludang and Khram Panthai along with the melody of Pangsi follows. The songs sing of the wisdom of Sari-bhai and Guru Lamfa Raja, Satonga Raja and Maldeo Raja, as kings form an integral part of Tiwa society even today. The newly appointed leaders—the Changdoloi, Changmaji, Khuruma, and Khuramul are advised by their predecessors to keep alive the Tiwa rituals, and also dispense everyday tasks earnestly. At the end of the performance, two persons sprinkle a mix of rice powder and water on everyone. It is believed that this liquid form of rice is the holy water of goddess Laxmi.
By Rakesh Soud
The unabridged version of the feature was published in Eclectic Northeast magazine.