FOLK MATERIALS OF THE BODOS: A BRIEF OVERVIEW

Detsung Swargiary


“Under physical folk life or material culture is studied the techniques, skills of the folk in building their homes, making clothes, preparing food, tools and implements etc.” – Dr. Anil Boro

1. Introduction
The Bodos (also known as Boro-Kacharis) constitute one of the most numerous and prominent tribal communities of the region (Datta, et al., 1994). They are regarded as an aboriginal inhabitant of Assam, recording more than 15 lakh population as per the census report 2011. They, besides the northern districts of Brahmaputra valley, are spread over in Karbi Anglong, Dhemaji Lakhimpur, Sivasagar, Dibrugarh etc. The Bodo population are also found even in Meghalaya, Arunachal, West- Bengal, Nepal and Bangladesh. They are having a rich cultural identity. The term ‘Bodo’ is also pronounced as ‘Boro’. In Bodo language, the letter ‘d’ or ‘t’ is in somewhat also pronounced ‘r’ (Brahma, 1994). 

A numerous materials are required in the daily life of the human being. They have been preparing or using this materials adjusting with the time of period and availability of resources as per their environment. Material culture is also called as ‘Physical Culture’ in folklore. The Bodos have traditionally been applying various folk materials in their social daily life. Their folk materials, the elements of material culture can be categorized as Agricultural materials, Kitchen Materials, Fishing Traps, Housing/architectural equipments and domestic Articles.

2. Agricultural materials
Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for the Bodo people living in the rural areas. Most of them directly or indirectly are engaged in agricultural activities. Their processes of cultivation are mainly based on the primitive instruments. They apply different kind of handmade bamboo and wooden materials. These materials, used for agricultural purpose by the Bodo people, are also the elements of their folk culture in particular and Assam in general.

Nangwl (plough), Jungal (yoke), Mwi(horrow) are used as ploughing instruments are mainly prepared from the woods and bamboos in a traditional way. During the time of ploughing, the mouths of the bulls are wrapped by the mask called Mukhra. Hulabari, a bamboo stick is used to carry the harvested crops. While the crops are harvested by the instrument called  Khasi. Hukhen, prepared from bamboo and Roina(grain spreader) are the important tools in the time of thrashing. The farmers of the village folk always keep these instruments ready so that they can use whenever necessary. They domestically prepare the instruments. Khophri (Japi) is also an important material for the farmers to protect rain and sunlight in the agricultural field.

Dala (winnowing material), Sandri (seive), Sandenga (big seive) are also regarded as agricultural materials even these are applied for domestic purposes too. These materials are mainly applied or prepared to apply for the winnowing purpose of the agricultural products or crops. 


3.Kitchen Materials
Kitchen is an important part in the day to day social life of the Bodos. It is believed as a sacred place in their society. Hence, each and every person is not allowed to enter inside the kitchen room. It is constructed in the easternmost part of the north side. So to say, Ishing, the kitchen is a part of the Nomano or the soul house of the Bodo community. Kitchen is used to prepare or cook the daily foods. The materials that are used for the kitchen purpose are the kitchen materials. They use different kinds of wooden, bamboo, earthen, brass, bell, silver metals as utensils. The cookers and the plates are of the utensils made of the brass, bell and silver metals which include Sarai (iron pan), khantha (rice vessel), Khwisli (laddle), thwrsi (plate), Khurwi (bowl), Lotha (small water pot), Gambla/Dabwr (tub), Khirkha (utensil used to wash rice). They use Dwihu (pitcher) to keep water while Dabkha (pitcher in big size) is used to store local rice beer. Sagong is a stirring rod made of bamboo. Hatha is a tool made of wood which is used to distribute the cooked rice mainly in the marriage ceremony and sraddha. Bathi (earthen lamp), hasib (broom), Sikha (cutting instrument/knife), Khadou (a stick made of bamboo) are also applied. Mizikha, a handmade utensil of bamboo is used to wash vegetables. Thobsi is a mortar of wood or iron in which things are pounded with pestle.


Firewood is the above all source of their fuel in the kitchen. But, in due course of time, the modern Bodo people are learning to apply different stainless steel, plastic utensils. They are also using LPGs instead of firewood.

4.Fishing Traps
The Bodos of the village folk are expert in rowing and fishing through the means of applying different kinds of methods and techniques. The fishing implements used are of a very simple character, and are commonly prepared from materials found in almost every village (Endle, reprint 1997). The fishing traps used by them are mostly bamboo products. Jekhai, Sen, Khokha, khakhi, khobai, pholo etc. are the folk fishing traps of the Bodo people.

Jekhai, a triangular conial shape, is a trap specially used by the women folk in the fishing operations in rivers or shallow pools.

Sen (Chepa), prepared from the bamboo strips, is also an important fishing instrument used by the Bodo people. The Bodo people of village folk are expert in preparing various size of Sen. It is put in the flowing water and the fish are entered into through the wholes but cannot come out.

Khokha, the fishing trap is prepared with a long bamboo. It is mainly used to catch fish in a huge flowing waters of different canals.

Khakhi, in shape, is like the khokha, but the size is small and made of bamboo strips. This kind of strip is used to catch the small fish putting in the paddy fields.

Pholo, made of bamboo is a trap used in the group fishing operations.
Khobai, is an important trap in the fishing operation. It is mainly used to take the caught fish during the fishing operation.


5.Architectural Equipments
On the folk architecture that it is concerned with all traditional aspects of building; the shapes, sizes, and layouts of buildings of all kinds, such as dwellings, barns, sheds, and craft shops; the materials used and tools and techniques of building; the sites chosen and the placement of various buildings on the site (Roberts, 1982 and Dorson,1982).

The tribal people, in general and the Bodo people in particular select the places to settle where they can easily fulfill the basic needs. They always prefer the fertility land having the irrigational facility. Hence, they have the habit of shifting from one place to another I due course of time. The Bodo people are social and peace loving. They live with different regulations and customs maintaining in their society. Within the boundaries of the house, trees like arecanut, coconut, mango, jackfruit, banana and bamboo are found. The Bodo people have different faiths and beliefs to construct the houses. The main house called as Nomano is built towards the north site of the courtyard. The granary i.e. Bakhri is constructed to the east side. Its platform is prepared by bamboo or timber which also suit to protect corn from floods and dampness. Goli, the cowshed is built towards the southern side. The cowsheds are kept open so that the sunlight can reach in every not and corner. It is cleaned in every morning. Sometime, smoking system in the cowshed is made arrangement during the evening time to protect the cows from mosquitoes. Guest rooms are constructed towards the western side of the courtyard. The Nomano is the main house in the Bodo society. It consists of three rooms. The eastern most room is the kitchen which is called Ishing, the middle room is Okhong which is used for the dinning purpose and the western most room is called Khopra which is the bedroom for the head couple of the family. Most of the Bodo people are agricultural cultivator. As they are the inhabitants of the rural village folk, their houses are also built in traditional manner.


5.Domestic Materials         
The Bodo peoples live in village society. They prefer to apply different materials for their domestic purposes. The domestic materials that they use are according to their needs and availability of resources or raw materials. There are a lot of folk materials that the Bodo people of the village folk use for the different domestic purposes.
The Bathou temple built in the north-east corner at the courtyard can be regarded as their domestic folk material since it is a material of their religious belief. The Bodo women are expert in weaving activities. Ishan(loom) is an important material for the weaving activity. Khuntha (Post wood), Salbari (Post bar), Gandwi (Warp roller), Rasw (Reed) etc. are the elements for the loom activities. Along with these,  Makhu (shuttle), Nasoni (Pully), Owa Hasung (pipe for winding), Gorkha (pedal) , Musura (Bobbins), Jenther (Spinning wheel), Thakhri (spindle), Gonsa-gonsri etc. are also various materials used in the loom activities by the Bodo women. These instruments are above all made of bamboo and wood.

Bhar-pasi, Bangka, Thelagari, Ruwa (axe) are also some important materials used by Bodo people of village folk.

The dresses are also regarded as their domestic materials. The male folk of the Bodo society wears ‘Gamsa’ and the female folk wears ‘Dokhona’ and wrapped with ‘Phali’ on the top. ‘Aronai’ is an important traditional muffler with beautiful and unique design prevailing in the Bodo society. The Bodo women wear different ornaments like Ashan Sangkha, Nakhaphul, Khera and many more. The Bodos are rich in their performing Art. They use different kinds of folk instruments (can be said as musical instruments) like Kham (a kind of drum), Siphung (flute), Serza (a stringed instrument), Thorkha (an instrument madeof bamboo). These are used to perform their beautiful folk dances, songs and dramas etc. It may be mentioned that now a days they use different kinds of musical instruments in addition to the above stated instruments. The Bodos are rich in their food culture. Rice is their staple food. In addition to it, they substitute different kinds of food items like Onla, Mewai, Napham, Oma bedor, Samu, Khangkhrai and many more.


Here, the dresses, ornaments, musical instruments, food items are also included in the list of folk materials of the Bodos since these are also the elements of the material culture. The Bodos are rich in their unique type of folk material culture. Its preservation and familiarization is an urgent need. Each and every scholars, cultural bearers and mass people   must have to apply in their day to day life. But, it is the matter of unfortunate that due to the impact of modernization and cultural assimilation the modern Bodo society prefers to accept the machineries and machinery products giving up the folk ones. The modern society no doubt can’t stay away from the impact of modernization but it will be better to cope up with the time preserving the tradition or ethnicity.

6.Conclusion
It is to be mentioned that the folk materials used by the Bodos are not exclusive to them. These items are also used by many other communities in Assam who live in similar geo-climatic conditions as the Bodos. The discussion has been made in the context of the Bodos as they have their culture distinct from other Assamese communities. The Bodos have a distinct culture in their own kind. Hence, the folk materials have distinct place in consistent with their cultural norms. The treasures of Folk Material of the Bodos are rich as they inhabit in the rural villages. But, in due course of time, the development of technologies has started to occupy the places of folk materials. The modern Bodo people are also going to cope up with the present modern situation. Hence, there is an urgent need to preserve these folk materials in a great interest. There is also a need of further fruitful research on the material cultures. The scholars or researchers may come forward to bring out in depth research on the indigenous technologies or knowledge associated with the folk material culture.

References          
  • Dr. Anil Boro. Folk Literature of the Bodos. Guwahati: N.L. Publications, 2014, p.19.
  • B.N. Datta, N.C. Sarma & P.C. Das (1994). “Folksongs and Allied Material: in Languages other than Assamese” in B.N. Datta, N.C. Sarma & P.C. Das (ed.) A Handbook of Folklore Material of North-East India, 1st ed.. Guwahati:  Anundoram Borooah Institute of Language, Art & Culture, Assam, p.79.
  • K.K. Brahma (1994). “Gwnang Raokhanthi” in Dr. P. Machahary (ed.) Socio-Political Life of the Boros in Karbi Anglong District of Assam, Karbi Anglong: Tarendra Brahma, 2004, p.53.
  • Rev. S. Endle. The Kacharis. Delhi: Low Price Publications, 1997, p.16.
  • W.E. Roberts. “Folk Architecture” in R. M. Dorson (ed.) Folklore and Folklife- An Introduction. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1982, p.281.   
About the author: The author, Detsung Swargiary is presently a PhD Research Scholar (UGC-JRF) in the Department of Folklore Research, Gauhati University, Assam, India. A good number of research articles have been published in various journals. He has presented many research papers in national and international seminars and attended ICSSR sponsored 10 days research methodology workshops. He is also interested in creative writings like poem, short stories and various write up since the school age. He has published one book on poems to his credit. A Sahitya Akademi Award winning short story book in Manipuri language has already been translated into Bodo language along with other four translators, which is to be published by the Sahitya Akademi, Kolkata regional office. His short stories has been broadcasted through All India Radio, Guwahati. He also participated and read out poems in All India Young Writers’ Fetival, 2016 held in Tripura, organized by the Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi.  He was also the Chief Editor of ‘THE YOUTH’ (in Barama College) and ‘THE HORIZON’ (Annual Magazine of the then Gauhati University Kokrajhar Campus, now Bodoland University) during the period of college and university student.

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