Throughout history and across civilizations, ornaments have carried socio-cultural meanings, akin to clothing. Clothing and ornaments have been a part of the identities of different communities including the tribals. However, with the neoliberal era and rapid globalization identities are assimilating into one single homogenous mainstream idea. Adivasi Awaas creator Anuprava Debbarma, writes about the cultural identity of the Reang tribe, displayed through their distinctive ornaments, which are gradually vanishing.
The Reang tribe is the second largest tribal community of Tripura. They are also found in the neighbouring state of Mizoram. The Reangs are mostly known for their famous Hojagiri dance. However, their beautiful heavy ornaments are distinctive and set them apart from the other tribes of the state.
The people of the Reang tribe speak the “Kaubru” language which has a tonal effect of Kuki language though broadly it is a Kok-Borok dialect. Ethnically the Reangs are divided into two major clans – Meska and Molsoi and various other sub-clans. However, the ornaments worn by both the clans and various other sub-clans remain the same. All of them wear heavy pieces of necklaces around their neck and also heavy pieces of earrings with multiple piercings in their ears. They also wear anklets, bracelets and nose rings – all made of silver. Throughout history and across civilizations, ornaments have carried socio-cultural meanings. Hence, we observe diversity among various communities surrounding ornaments. For instance, in a tribal community of Africa, long necks are seen as a symbol of beauty, so members of the tribe, especially women start wearing heavy round ornaments after a specific age and each year they add to it so that their necks elongate.
One might feel that ornaments are used just to enhance one’s beauty. But I beg to differ. Ornaments create a protective covering, for the particular body part around which they are worn. They also symbolise wealth, status and power among the tribes. Different types of ornaments are worn by different classes among the tribes. Apart from these, it also serves as a form of self-expression. Traditionally, in the Bru (Reang) culture, both women and men have been wearing ornaments. Let us begin by looking at what type of ornaments the Reang women wear.
Hair: Reang women use different types of hairpins for their hair buns. The following are some of the hairpins used by the Reang women, of different economic sections.
Sangai Dunang is worn by upper-class Reang women.
Sangai sada is worn by middle-class women.
Sangai can be worn by everyone irrespective of class or economic position.
Ears: Reang women can have multiple piercings on their ears which are adorned with heavy earrings of different types.
Naboah is a type of earring that is worn in the lower part of the ear.
Wareih is the type of earring worn in the upper part of the ear.
Wakhoms are hollow ear plugs usually attached to Naboah.
Neck: Reang women wear various types of ornaments on their necks ranging from chokers to long necklaces.
lkois are necklaces made from small beads.
Kanthi Kanthi is a silver choker.
Chandrohas are layered chains with beautiful intricate patterns. They can be of various designs.
Rangbouhs are necklaces made out of small silver coins.
Rangbouh sanangs are heavy chains made with silver coins.
Hand: The hands of Reang women are also decorated with intricate bracelets, armlets and bangles.
Yaosohs are heavy bracelets worn on the wrist.
Taars are armlets worn around the upper arms. These are made of intricate patterns and designs.
Berberang Yaksos are spiralled and flattened silver bangles.
Legs: The ornaments for legs and feet in the Reang community are not as elaborate as the ornaments worn in other parts. The only ornament used for legs is Bingis, made from silver. It resembles a ring and is worn as an anklet.
Among the Reang tribals, a widow has to take off her jewellery until the funeral ceremony of the deceased husband is held. This is also symbolic of patriarchal undertones, where the ornaments of a woman are associated with the well-being of her husband. However, after
the funeral ceremony of the husband, the woman can wear her ornaments. The ceremony of giving back the ornaments is known as “khumsuhmi”.
The ornaments of Reang men include:
lkai (Necklace made of beads) for the neck.
Mathia (bangles) for hands.
Bata (armlets) for arms.
During the old days, Reang men had long hair, so they made buns using Sangai, a type of hairpin.
Traditionally all the ornaments were made from silver but as time passed the jewellers started using aluminium as well. It was getting difficult for people to afford silver. The silver ornaments were/are mostly worn by rich people. People belonging to the economically lower sections use ornaments made from aluminium.
In recent times, men have almost stopped wearing ornaments. Nonetheless, women still maintain traditional styles of dress and ornaments. There are a number of factors that influence this. One of the most important factors is that men tend to have greater interactions with non-tribal cultures, often going to urban centres for employment, or engaging in trade. In the mainstream culture, men wearing ornaments are looked down upon and are often compared with women. Therefore, Reang men and men from many tribal communities are renouncing ornaments and long hair. This is the unfortunate process of cultural assimilation leading to the erosion of varied distinctive cultures and promoting homogeneity.
While the men of the Reang tribe have nearly given up their traditional way of wearing ornaments, it is the Reang women who have kept their culture and tradition alive. Ornaments reflect cultures, traditions and heritage, of a particular tribe or community. It is an aspect of varied identities. Reang men renouncing ornaments and long hair to fit into the mainstream equals giving up an important part of their identity, getting assimilated into the mainstream, and failing to assert their distinctive identity.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.