The Lalungs

But for those living in the heartland it is a forbidden land, a land of no return. The Northeast is an ethno- cultural frontier encompassing much of India’s rich but lesser known Mongoloid heritage, a transition zone of linguistic, racial and religious streams.

Steeped in ancient customs and fighting a battle against extinction is a tribe called the Lalungs. Spread over the districts of Morigaon, Nagaon, Kamrup and the hills of South Karbi Anglong and Ri Bhoi in Meghalaya the Laloong tribe of Assam and Meghalaya is a vital link between the Kacharis of the plains and the Karbi and Khasi population of the hills.

According to legend it is believed that during a feud between the very first kings of the Lalungs known as Khola Roja and a Jaintia king, the Jaintia king challenged Khola Roja to straighten a horn of a bull. At this Khola heated the horn in hot oil and bent it. He in turn sent the Jaintia king a similar bent Green Gourd Paani Lao to be straightened. At the failure of which the Jaintia king had to part from a chunk of his territory namely, Karbi Anglong in South, Kopili in North, and Dohali village in the West and Basundhari till Beltola in the East. It may be mentioned that the main population of the Lalungs is concentrated in Jamunamukh, Roha and Morigaon district of Assam while a smaller group is spread in and around Baligaon in Dhemaji and Titabor in Jorhat.

Thoug subjugated by the Ahoms at one time, the Lalungs have been successful in retaining their culture to a certain extent despite being steeped in indigence and anonimity.

Commonly known as Tiwas the Lalungs’ monarchial lineage stretches to eleven generations of kings---Khaala Roja, Rupsing, Penta, Bhekola, Bhoda, Nokholsingh, Sukura, Nandeswar, Bhema, Rai singh and presently Sumangal Dev Roja. Working in the water supply department under the muster roll scheme, King Sumangal Dev leads a double life. Though shorn off all his kingly possessions and leading an austere life this self styled king of 35 years has many duties to perform. His stature does not allow him to plough his land but his subjects provide him with the necessary produce.

“Now I am a king in name only for gone are those days when a king had a train of helpers and courtiers. But we have maintained our traditions and will do so as far as we can” stated the present king of the Lalungs.
He is the chief head of his subjects who come to him seeking advice and solace in times of troubles which may range from feuds to property disputes and minor sexual offences. And if the problems persists they do not refrain from appealing in the court of law.

These Lalung communities are spread over various villages and remain in regular contact between their counterparts in the hills and the plains through trading centres at Nelli, Dharamtul, Jamunamukh, Gobha and Khola. According to historian Grioeson the Kachari(Boros and Dimasa), the Mech, Koch, Rabha, Garo, Chutiya, Tippera, Hozai , Lalung and other allied tribes of the Northeastern region belong to the Tibeto-Burman branch of the Sino-Tibetan speech family. They constitute an important section of the plains population of Assam.

Their are various legends both mythological and historical regarding the origin and migration of the Lalungs. Lalung being a Karbi word it literally can be divided into two words where Lang means water and Lung means to sink in it. The words compunded together became Lalung. According to a legend the Lalungs fell into river Kolong in Nagaon district while they were trying to cross the river during the invasion of Assam by the Myanmarese. The Karbis rescued them and since then the Karbis called them Lang-lung which in the course of time became Lalung. According to another legend the Lalungs left their original homeland to settle on the banks of river Nailalung, a tributory of Daiyang river, which is in the Karbi Anglong district during the reign of the Kamata kings. And therefore the Lalungs derived their name from the river Nailalung. But still another legend says that king Bali a devotee of lord Vishnu was the original ruler of the Lalungs . Once he proclaimed that all his subjects should follow the same religion. At this a part of the population refused to accept this order and rose in rebellion. The king punished the rebels and compelled them to bear a red (lal) imprint on their forehead and then banished them, subsequently due to the red mark on their foreheads these people came to be known as Lalungs. However in their own language the lalung call themselves Tiwa. Here Ti means water and Wa means superior.

According to the annals of history the Lalungs were originally the soldiers of king Jongal Blahu, son of king Arimata or Vaidyadua. During this period the Lalungs were living on both sides of the banks of river Brahmaputra in harmony with the Dimasas. But a dispute with the Boros forced them to abandon this habitat and migrate to the hills of Karbi Anglong and the Khasi Jaintia hills. Their major setlement was in a place called khyrim. Incidentally the Jaintias had a custom of offering human sacrifices to please the goddess Kali. Fearing a danger to their lives the Lalungs once again shifted homes despite obstructions from the Jaintia king. But in the later part of the 16th century the Lalungs fell under the control of the Jaintia rulers. In the year 1958 Jaintia prince Pramata Rai ervolted against his grandfather Jasamantha Rai and approached the Lalungs for help. The denial of the Lalungs irked the Jaintia princ and therefore he destroyed four of the Lalung villages. At this hour of need the Ahom king gave refuge and protection to the Lalungs by settling Lalung king Gobha and his subjects in Khagorijan of Nagaon. The Jaintia king’s suzerainty over the Lalungs remained till 1707. But during the Ahom kings war with the Jaintias the Lalungs helped the Ahoms and their bond strengthened. After that the Ahom kings treated the Lalung chiefs as governors. And this enabled them to collect revenue and administer justice in their respective areas.

The Lalungs have a very unique but traditional system of social control where the organisation has a three tier structure. First is the council of elders called the bura khel. Then there is the village headman called the doloi and finally the council of young or the deka khel. The Bura khel consiste of eight members and us considered the highest judicial authority of the village. These councils solve disputes and other problems concerning the vilagers.

If one visits Silsaang near Nellie one can still see the remains of the bygone empire of the Lalungs and set ones eyes upon the Deka Khel and the Bura khel. The king states, “The state government has offered aid to many other communities to preserve their monuments but no such help is forthcoming to the Lalungs and we do not want to beg them”

There are eight stone structures where the kings used to council with his ministers. “We still sit there and hold council when the need arises” says present king Sumangal. During festivals and other occasions the king is taken to Silsaang in all his finery and offered respect by the villagers. This is the only occasion when the king wears the traditional dress which consists of a Jugla(sleeveless vest), Nara(loin cloth around the waist), and a Phagu (Turban).

Agriculture is the main occupation of this simple and peace loving commuinity. They also weave their own clothes and bamboo products. Though the present generation has welcomed the light of education but their hearts and minds are still steeped in tradition and they are trying hard to preserve their precious heritage.

- Rituparna Goswami Pandey

Some related links on Lalungs: