Assamese - the roots : a note by Dr. Ankur Deka

- by Dr. Ankur Deka

Vaishnavite Monestary in Assam Photo - Johan Gerrits
Vaishnavite Monestary in Assam
Photo - Johan Gerrits
Assamese language had to climb different stages to reach its present shape. The nature of Assamese language was different before the arrival of the Christian missionaries when Nathan Brown wrote first Assamese grammar 'Asomia bhakhar byakaran'. Since he followed Bengali grammar which has Sanskrit root, Assamese also had to borrow Sanskrit elements.

Assamese language owe its allegiance to various tribal languages and dialects particularly Boro, Mikir, Karbi, Hajong, Dimasa and above all Tai-Ahom. Many words traditionally we are using are not available in any other mainstream Indian language. I think Assamese is forcly Sanskritized and that is the reason why it is alienated from other neighbouring languages of Assam and northeast.

A tribe is a social group organized largely on the basis of kinship. Some theorists hold that tribes represent a stage in social evolution. Of course, alternative terms like 'ethnic group' are also used. In Indian context particularly the northeast India this term is used largely to denote the human races of Mongoloid and Austric origins who are believed to be the aboriginal ethnic groups. Indian government specified them as tribal groups and most of whom are considered as scheduled tribes.

The tribal groups like Boro, Dimasa, Karbi etc. dwelled in this land much before the arrival of non-tribal groups like Kalita, Kayastha, Brahmin etc.

There is a long history of development of modern Assamese society. But it is to be noted that the word 'Assam' or 'Axom' owe its origine to the word 'Ahom' means peerless. Some people might be having the opinion that the word tribal means the backward of less developed people. And therefore some consider the term bit offensive. But if you see the history of mankind you can witness that the tribes or ethnic groups are the rich basis on what we climb into perfection.

Tribal art forms, music, literature, food, costumes, ornaments, etc. are the original raw materials without which the modern generation will be nowhere. Therefore, this should no longer an offensive word, rather a term to be proud of.

We, the Assamese, can boast of our rich tribal resources. Our Bihu which is based largely on 'pentatonic scale' representing the notes Do Me Fa Le and Te are the basis of most of the tribal folk songs. Even our Ojapali has only 'four notes-tetratonic'. Our variety of rice made 'Pithas' also owe their origin to the tribes.

Ankur Deka
Lastly, I would like to say that we Assamese are a mixed race to a large extent. Therefore, it is difficult to say who is tribe and who is not. It needs a long discussion and a careful research.

Please refer to W.G.Wells' History of South East Asia and Assam History by Gunabhiram Baruah, history of Kamrup and also the Ahom cronicles and other documents connected to northeast India and Southeast Asia.