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Acculturation and Cultural Revivalism of The Mising Tribe of Assam

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Abstract

This study explores the acculturation and cultural revivalism among the Mising tribe of Assam. The processes of migration, sociocultural mobility, and acculturative change are ubiquitous socio-cultural processes occurring worldwide. Across many disciplines of studies, there has been a major focus on the concept and process of acculturation and how that process contributes to intergenerational differences among a particular community. Since acculturation is widely applicable, the concept has been studied and applied across a variety of cultures and populations. Surprisingly not much has been studied on the Mishing community. Acculturation in the community has evolved across many domains at differential rates and in different ways across diverse populations. The study examines the acculturation process among the Mishing community of Assam. It also attempts at understanding the communication variables in the acculturation process. The study argues that there is hardly any discussion on the preservation and revitalization of the rich cultural reservoir and heritage of the tribe. Furthermore, the study argues that documentation is the key to preserving ones culture. While it is important to interrogate the policy initiatives in preservation of culture, it is equally necessary to take appropriate measures in cultural revivalism.

Introduction

The processes of migration, socio-cultural mobility and acculturative changes are ubiquitous processes occurring worldwide. Historically, the process of cultural contact, interaction and intermixing amongst the members of the various cultural groups is not a new phenomenon. In fact, socio-cultural plurality is one the chief characteristics of many societies all over the world. Such interactions and intermixing amongst the various groups that live together in a society, over the years give rise to the process of acculturation, wherein, a person or a group belonging to a particular culture acquire or borrow certain traits from another culture. This often causes changes in the socio-cultural set up of the groups, with patterns of changes that are discernible in one’s customs, religious practices, dietary habits, dressing patterns and modes of communication.

Acculturation is “defined as the changes that take place when two cultures come into continuous first-hand contact” (Costigan & Korzyma, 2011; as cited in Berry, 2003). The concept of acculturation was conceived in the fields of Anthropology and Sociology early in the 20th century (Redfield, Linton & Herskovits, 1936) has been used to explain dynamics involved when people from diverse cultural backgrounds come into continuous contact with one another. The term acculturation was initially coined by anthropologists in the late 1930s. Its definition was later refined by various entities such as the Social Science Research Council in 1954 as well as various other fields such as psychology.

Acculturation among the Mising Tribe

The Misings, belonging to Tibeto-Burman ethnic group and formerly known as the Miris, which constitute the second largest scheduled tribe (Plains) group in Assam, have been playing a significant role in the culture and economy of the greater Assamese society in general and tribal society in particular. This colourful ethnic group living amidst the fellow non-tribal Assamese people for many centuries has been able to maintain its traditional socio-cultural traits un-impaired in spite of the changes that have taken place in the socio-politico-religious life of Assam (Bordoloi et al, 1987).

The Misings are a major ethnic group of Assam, the second largest tribe of the State after the Bodos. In the distant past they used to live in the hilly areas (Abor, Miri and Mishimi hills) in between the Siang and Subansiri district of present day Arunachal Pradesh and then gradually came down to the plains of Assam between the thirteenth and fourteenth century C.E. it is generally assumed that the Misings of Assam bear close resemblance, in respect of language, customs, dress and physical status with the Adi or Abor tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. The process of acculturation, resulting from social interrelation and cultural intermixing has been pervasive amongst the people of the Mising community.

The Misings have their own cultural practices and tradition. As a community they have their distinct dietary habits, dressing pattern, socio-cultural practices. Like any other tribes, the Mising community is also based on clan relationships. The Misings migrated to the Brahmaputra valley between the thirteenth and the fourteenth century A.D. (Pegu, 1998). This had a tremendous effect on their traditional and cultural practices. The dominant culture is thereby considered to have found its way into the minority ethnic group, affecting almost every field such as, social life, cultural development and religious beliefs. All these changes had a great impact upon the linguistic behaviour of the community. A large number of elements probably flowed from the Assamese language to the Mising dialect resulting in the emergence of a bilingual speech among the Misings.

With the signing of the Yandaboo Treaty in 1826, Assam came under the colonial rule of the British. English, considered as the dominant language over all other local languages of the region was made the medium of communication in the administrative set up of the British. Accordingly, as scholars asserts, another cross cultural transmission took place with elements of the dominant British culture flowing into the local cultures. The achievement of independence from the colonial rule in 1947 did not bring immediate changes in the field of language practice.

Integration and assimilation of the Misings have been consistently at work in the making of composite Assamese culture. Throughout these long courses of successive evolution, the Mising community has altogether undergone various changes which are reflected in their socio-cultural behaviour. And in this process they tend to lose a good deal of their original traits. With the easy penetration of many cultural traits of the host culture, the community has undergone changes in their dressing patterns, dietary habits, religious beliefs and practices as well as communication system.

However, a great deal of native cultural, linguistic and religious elements are still pervasive amongst the community, especially in rural areas. The process of acculturation sometimes has an effect on the host/dominant culture as well, with some elements of cultural traits flowing from the minority culture to the dominant culture. ‘Bihu’ one of the important festivals performed by the Assamese population with a religious fervour and which has its origin in the primitive fertility cult and primitive harvesting festival (Barpujari, 2007). Thus inspite of the massive forces of acculturation, the Misings in association with their various socio-cultural organizations are making continuous efforts in preserving the rich cultural heritage of their community.

The massive acculturation of the Misings tribe over a period of eight hundred years has resulted in a shift in social, linguistic and religious practices and in the process, a cultural syncretism between the indigenous traits of the Misings and that of the plains of Assam has taken shape. However, the group has not altogether shunned their original culture also. A great deal of cultural, linguistic and religious elements still actively prevails in the Mising society, particularly, in the rural areas. While it is important to have policy initiatives in preservation of culture, it is equally necessary to examine the impact of globalization on culture.

Why is Cultural Revivalism a Necessity?

In today’ globalized world, socio-cultural intermixing and exchanges amongst the various groups all over the globe have become quite a common phenomenon. Such intercultural contact and association causes both psychological and cultural changes. At the cultural level, collective activities and social institutions become altered, and at the psychological level, changes could be discerned in an individual’s attitude and daily behaviour, sometimes even leading to acculturative stress. In acculturation, the flow of cultural values usually takes place from the dominant group to the minority or less dominant group. However, in some cases, the dominant culture also adopts some features of the minority culture in reciprocity.

Throughout the process of acculturation, individuals and groups engage in cultural contacts, exchanges and intermixing. These socio-cultural associations may produce a potential consensus for conflict amongst the members of the dominant/host group and the members of the acculturating or the lesser dominant groups, as well as the need for negotiation that would result in implications adaptive for both the groups. Since diversity is an accepted feature of the contemporary world, it has become imperative for all the people to find a positive way to accommodate each other in this globalized world.

The Mising community has undergone tremendous acculturation over a long period of time. The community has undergone changes in their dressing patterns, dietary habits, religious beliefs and practices as well as communication system. However, a great deal of their original cultural, linguistic and religious elements are still pervasive amongst the community, especially in rural areas. The Misings continue their first culture and favour the contact culture as well, which suggest socio-cultural-linguistic syncretism working at par amongst the members of the community.

The establishment of the ‘Mising Agom Kebang’ (Mising Language Society) in April 1972 by the educated middle class added a new dimension. Gradually it got its own script and the language began to be taught in Mising dominated areas at the Primary level. Contrary to such efforts, there was an increasing tendency amongst the Misings, particularly the urban dwellers to enroll their children in English medium schools. This has led to a speculation that it might lead to a gradual disappearance of their ethnic language.

Conclusion

There has been a growing apprehension that cultural endangerment is alarmingly increasing among the Mising tribe. It is significant to note that in spite of massive socio-cultural intermixing and changing cultural preferences of the Misings, the community has not altogether shunned their traditional beliefs and practices. It is surprising how little attention is paid to the loss we could have due to extinction of one’s culture. There’s hardly any discussion on the rich cultural reserves and heritage and the adroitness in which this reserve is being depleted. It would be unrealistic to think of the existence or measure the authenticity of culture in any part of the world. As Beyon and Dunkerly argues “no culture anywhere in the world exists in a pure and pristine state: all cultures have changed over time and will continue to change.” Change is inevitable though, but then to what extent?

References

  1. Berry, J.W. (1980). Acculturation as varieties of adaptation. In Acculturation: Theory, models and some new findings, ed. A. Padilla, 9-25, Boulder, CO: Westview.
  2. Barpujari, H.K. (2007). The Comprehensive History of Assam Vol.I, Guwahati: Publication Board of Assam.
  3. Costigan, C. L. & Koryzma, C. M. (2011). Acculturation and adjustment among immigrant Chinese parents: Mediating role of parenting efficacy. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 58, 183-196. doi: 10.1037/a0021696
  4. Doley, Dibya, (2017). Religion and Culture A Study of Mising Tribe, Book Enclave, Jaipur
  5. Doley, D. “History of Origin of the Tanis or Amis.” Mishings: Their History and Culture. Ed. J.J. Kuli. Guwahati: Ayir Publications, 1998. Print.
  6. Doley, Rajeev K. (2013). Can Acculturation Lead to Language Death. IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science, Vol.9, Issue 3:33-36.
  7. Herskovitz, M.J. (1938). Acculturation: The Study of Culture Contact, New York: J.J. Augustin.
  8. Mead, Margaret. (1932). The Changing Culture of an Indian Tribe. New York: Columbia University Press
  9. Mipun, Jatin, (1993). The Mishings (Miris) of Assam Development of A New Lifestyle, Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi.
  10. Mahanta, N. G. (2007). Ethnicity, State and Identity: From Confrontation to Co-existence. In Problems of Ethnicity in the North-East India, ed. B.B. Kumar, Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi, p.130
  11. Pegu, Nomal Chandra. (1998). The Mishings a colourful tribe of the Brahmaputra Valley. In The Mishings: Their History and Culture, ed. Dr. J.J Kuli, Guwahati: Ayir Publications. P.34
  12. Redfield, R., Linton, R., & Herskovits, M. (1936). Memorandum on the study of acculturation. American Anthropologist, 38, 149–152.
  13. Redfield, Robert. (1955). The Social Organization of Tradition. Far Eastern Quarterly, Vol. 15: 13-21.
  14. Sam, David, L. and John W. Berry (2010). Acculturation: When individuals and Groups of Different Cultural Background Meet. Perspectives on Psychological Sciences, Vol. 5, No. 4: 472-481, Sage Publications, Inc. On behalf of Association for Psychological Sciences.
  15. Sarma, Ashok, (2004). Folk Culture of The Misings of Assam –Tradition and Change, Decent Books, New Delhi.
  16. Social Science Research Council. (1954). Acculturation: An exploratory formulation. American Anthropologist,56, 973–1002.
  17. Winthrop, Robert H. (1991). Dictionary of Concepts in Cultural Anthropology, New York: Greenwood.

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