Anuprava Debbarma writes about one of the tribes from the state of Tripura. She covers everything from their day-to-day dialect to what they wear, giving us a vivid picture of who and what the men and women of the Reang tribe are.
The Reangs (Bru) are one of the most prominent tribal groups, and the second most populous one, from the state of Tripura. They are widely famous in and outside Tripura for their famous Hojagiri dance. But we should also know the fact about them is that they are the only Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTGs) residing in the state of Tripura. PVTGs are tribal groups that are even more vulnerable among the tribal groups. The PVTGs are mostly homogenous groups with a small population, living in isolated regions and absence of written language.
Apart from Tripura, they are also found in the neighbouring state of Mizoram and a few in Assam. According to legends, the Reangs migrated from the Shan state of Upper Burma to the Chittagong Hill tracts and finally settled in Tripura and Mizoram. According to the scholars the migration would have taken place before the 15th century AD as records suggest that during the period of ruler Dhanya Manikya (1462-1555) of Tripura, there were two Reang commanders in his army. Thus, the migration was likely to occur before this period only.
The language they speak
The Reangs belong to the Indo-Mongoloid racial stock similar to most of the tribes of Northeast India. They speak the ‘Kau-bru’ language which is somewhat similar to the Kokborok language of the Tripuris. The language belongs to the Tibeto-Burmese linguistic family. Although all the Reangs speak the same language, they are broadly divided into two groups - Meska and Molsoi. They are further divided into various sub-groups. Meskas have seven of them while the Molsois have six.
The tribals in India are known to have their own type of social organisation and administration, similarly, the Reangs have their own distinctive style of social organisation. The various groups and sub-groups of the tribes have 26 chiefs called Kotor Dopha (Kotor means big and Dopha means clan or group). These chiefs are again divided into two categories and are called Rai and Kaskau. Rai is a term used for a chieftain whereas Kaskau refers to a Chief Minister. Both of them have their own independent councils consisting of various other subordinate officers. The Rai occupies the highest position in the administrative hierarchy at the village level. All the disputes and issues in the village are solved under the supervision of these chiefs.
The Reangs have their own distinctive traditional tribal attires and ornaments. Women wear a handwoven long piece of cloth around the lower body called Rnai (Rignai in Kokborok) and another small piece of clothing to cover the bust area which is also handwoven called ‘Rsa’ (Risha in Kokborok). Other than that women are adorned with huge and heavy pieces of ornaments which consist of chokers, necklaces made of silver coins, beads, and layered heavy chains. The necklaces made of silver coins are called Rangbouh and layered chains are called Chandroha. Apart from these they also wear various types of earrings called Naboah, Waireh & Wakhoms. They also wear various types of bracelets, armlets and anklets. Men of the community wear thin white loincloths as dhoti and white cotton upper-garment. Their heads are usually covered with a piece of cloth called Kamsoih.
Faiths they live by and the customs and livelihood they follow -
At present, most of the Reangs in Tripura follow Hinduism but according to scholars, it was only in the early 19th century that they came under the direct influence of Hinduism. That is why their version of Hinduism like that of many other tribal groups in the state is heavily influenced by animistic beliefs and they also have their own sets of rites and rituals and worship various gods and goddesses. Some of the prominent deities are Buraha who is considered to be the Hindu God Shiva, Benaiga (God of Bamboo), Jampira (God of the forest) etc. They also believe in spirits and the existence of the soul. They cremate their dead but however, on the accidental death of a one-year-old or even younger, their bodies are buried.
The Reangs are traditionally endogamous groups. Which means they marry within their own community but outside their clan. However, recently with the advent of modernisation and contact with other tribal groups, there is a prevalence of exogamy which is considered quite normal now. They have two types of marriages - Halok Chaya and Halaksam. The former is the forbidden relation whereas the latter is marriage within the community.
They traditionally live in small bamboo huts called Kaireing and practise Jhum cultivation (called Huk). Like the other tribal groups they also gather fruits and vegetables from the forests. However, nowadays few of them like the other tribes they’ve migrated to the cities but the majority of them still live the lives they used to. They still live in their villages which are far away from the cities and are not easily accessible. Most of the villages even lack basic amenities such as electricity and tapped drinking water or access to fresh drinking water.
The categorisation of the Reang tribe as PVTGs has certainly helped them in getting recognition as a separate tribal group needing special attention and support to improve their living conditions. This also made it easy for them to be eligible for schemes and programmes by the government that are exclusively meant for them. But the sad part is that the majority of the population isn’t aware of such schemes and programmes and thus are sometimes unable to access them. In such conditions creating awareness through community workshops or through awareness programmes with the help of NGOs or local bodies in association with the village heads can solve the problem to some extent.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.