Saturday, April 13, 2024

The People


Death Rituals

The burying of the dead appears to have been a common custom amongst all the non-Aryan people of Assam. Hindu influences have induced some of them to take to burning.

Tribes like the Akas, the Adis, the Dafla's and most of the Nagas bury the dead. The Ahoms before they embraced Hinduism used to bury their dead. The Mikirs and Deuris also burn their dead. But among the Bodos all the three customs are prevalent. Some of them burn their dead; some bury them, a third section simply takes the dead to the burial ground and leaves them there. The Dafla's, after burial, take up arms and shoot arrows in all direction to drive the evil spirits away. The Dowaniyas will burn the dead if he is over 20 and bury him if he is under 20; the Fakials will burn the deceased if he is above 15 and bury him if he is under 15.

Death considered unnatural is not given the usual treatment, the Adis will not offer food at the grave of pregnant woman or a man killed in an accident; the Deuris will not  burn a man who has died of an epidemic but first bury him and then exhume the skeleton. The Khasis and the Rabhas follow both the custom of burying and burning. The Ao Nagas erect a high machan and place the dead body on it and expose it to be eaten by crows and vultures or to rot away; formerly they used to burn a fire below to render the body dry and help it wither away.

Most of the tribes believe in world or life after death  where the spirit of the dead goes. Some of them also believe in the rebirth of the spirit in another form. If a Lalung baby cries too much, they suppose that some dead member of the family must have been reborn. When a Mikir baby is named after its grandfather, it is supposed that the dead old man is reborn as his grandson. The most wonderful speculation about rebirth is that of  the Daflas and the Bodos. To the Daflas the colourful butterflies are the spirits of the dead. when an unmarried Bodo young man dies, a banana tree is planted near his grave so that his life after death becomes more fruitful than has been the case hitherto. When a Bodo woman dies, a pipal  branch is planted  near her grave in the hope that in her rebirth she will be blessed with a luxuriant growth of hair. Before burial or cremation, water is poured and red threads placed between the lips of the dead, that will make in rebirth, the lips thin and red, a sign of beauty.