a Missing Tribe, a Shrinking Island, a Forgotten State

‘A Missing Tribe on a Shrinking Island in a Forgotten State.’

A Puzzle of A Title. A little like the ‘Smile without the Cat’ in Alice in Wonderland. Isn’t it lovely? Isn’t the Smile almost lovelier without the Cat?

Let’s break the puzzle into its pieces! The Forgotten State; A tribe called Missing and a Shrinking Island. Ai – you see – the smile disappears when the cat appears!

ThE FoRgOtTeN StAtE
ThE MiSsInG TrIbE
ThE ShRiNkInG IsLaNd

Here goes …

ThE FoRgOtTeN StAtE

India’s 18th state hides in the extreme east. It’s a blob on its own with a skinny land link to India. Its neighbours are Bhutan, Chinese Tibet, Myanmar and Bangladesh. And it is a collision zone of tribes from all these places. They call it the North East State of India. We ride through its regions of Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. And we see it is ‘forgot’! By India! By the world!

Government apathy is clear in bad roads and poor infrastructure. Political disquiet expresses in strikes, roadblocks, permits and a heavy defence presence. We read, some want independence from India, others autonomy, of turf wars between clans. There is a 12 hour shutdown of shops, schools, banks and public transport while we are here. Everybody asks; what has government done in 50 years!

ThE MiSsInG TrIbE

The Missing Tribe is one of seventeen tribes in the Assam region. There’s also the Bodo, the Kachari, the Karbi, the Mishimi, the Adivasi, the Rabha …

The Missing tribe treks down from the Himalaya 700 years ago. They search for less hostile land, more fertile land. They follow one of Asia’s four greatest rivers, the Brahmaputra. But the best land is already taken. Our late-comers keep ‘missing’ their land. The British hear the tale and call the difficult-to-remember ‘Miris’ the easy-to-remember ‘Missing’. The new name sticks. Yes, the Missing take up what is left … the muddy riverbanks only high and dry between the monsoons. Here they build homes on stilts. And monsoon flood waters come and go below their bamboo floors. They squeeze the dry season for produce; rice, pulses, maize, vegetables, medicinal plants, tobacco and bamboo. Men make baskets, boxes, hencoops, canoes and fish traps. Women rear chickens, goats, pigs and shepherd cows in and out of watery meadows. They weave on exquisite handlooms. Shawls, garments and blankets fall from silk and cotton.
Today many Missing live on the Island of Majuli!

ThE ShRiNkInG IsLaNd

Majuli Island lies in the massive Brahmaputra River.

And it shrinks as I write and you read. Every monsoon, the Brahmaputra swells and snatches. Every monsoon, Majuli fractures and forfeits. The is-land surrenders more and more, a little faster, every year, for 60 years.

Square kilometres, 830 of 1250, go under. Villages, 35 of 144, wash away. Buddhist monasteries, 29 of 65, sink. Families, 150,000 people, lose everything. Crops! Animals! Homes! LAND-owners become agricultural workers, fish sellers. A Board and a 55 million USD, bogs down in studies, for three decades. At current rates of erosion, the Island will disappear in 17 years! The Missing people know this too well. Surviving villages swell, ‘lucky’ families extend, and left-over land exceeds capacity. Their bridges, embankments, channels battle on …

It must be very, very hard.

Here, look at the bits and pieces, we see and photo, on Majuli Island.

And then – put the puzzle together again – please.

Together the pieces have possibilities. Together, state and tribe and island, stand a chance. Together, they may Care, Rise and Find. Hope flickers. And a Smile appears …

 

00 00

This map shows India’s ‘forgotten’ North-Eastern State and the ‘shrinking’ Majuli Island of the ‘missing’ Tribe.

 

00 P1040761

This is a typical scene in the Assam region of the North Eastern State. It is starting to feel ‘tropical’.

 

And walls are made from weaved palm leaves and roofs from thatched grass.

And walls are made from weaved palm leaves and roofs from thatched grass.

 

This guy (and not maps and GPS) helps us find the ferry crossing of the Brahmaputra River (from the north) to Majuli Island.

This guy (and not maps and GPS) helps us find the ferry crossing of the Brahmaputra River (from the north) to Majuli Island.

 

There! Majuli, a shrinking island, in the distance.

There! Majuli, the shrinking island, in the distance.

 

After a while these folk arrive from Majuli Island.

After a while these folk arrive from Majuli Island.

 

And then later these ladies arrive to ferry with us to Majuli. They will be visiting family.

And then later these ladies arrive to ferry with us to Majuli. They will be visiting family.

 

Bikes on.

Bikes on.

 

01 06 P1040304

This guy with a degree from the ‘University of Life’ helps us with the bikes.

 

...

 

On Majuli Island .... but first this long sandy stretch made so much easier by this dried grass!

On Majuli Island …. but first this long sandy stretch made so much easier by this dried grass!

 

Imagine, not only does the Brahmaputra River flood the island with water every monsoon ...

Imagine, not only does the Brahmaputra River flood the island with water every monsoon …

 

... it ALSO clutches away more and more pieces of island every single year!

… it ALSO clutches away more and more pieces of island every single year!

 

And on Majuli Island all the houses are on stilts.

And on Majuli Island all the houses are on stilts.

 

And nobody is really sure if their piece of island will survive the next monsoon season.

And nobody is really sure if their piece of island will survive the next monsoon season.

 

We are surprised by a second ferry crossing as the Brahmaputra River fragments the island more and more each year ....

We are surprised by a second ferry crossing as the Brahmaputra River fragments the island more and more each year ….

 

Yikes - not an easy embark for our bikes.

Yikes – not an easy embark for our bikes.

 

Or disembark! We are far too busy to take photos of our efforts.

Or disembark! We are far too busy to take photos of our efforts.

 

We watch with envy as these guys and their bikes get on and off effortlessly all the time.

We watch with envy as these guys and their bikes get on and off effortlessly all the time.

 

04 P1040613

The people of the ‘Missing’ Tribe.

 

... with their crops and animals ...

… with their crops and animals …

 

...

 

...

 

06 00  P1040500

But wait – what’s that happening under the house!

 

A young girl weaving away ...

A young girl weaving away …

 

And another!

And another!

 

And another ... on the verandah!

And another … on the veranda!

 

And together!

And together!

 

The ladies of the Missing Tribe are distinguished weavers. Girls learn to weave from a young age.

The ladies of the Missing Tribe are distinguished weavers. Girls learn to weave from a young age.

 

...

 

And here they are working in the fields ... rice, maize, mustard ...

And here they are working in the fields … rice, maize, mustard …

 

...

 

...

 

...

 

And they must be contemplating their uncertain futures ...

And they must be contemplating their uncertain futures …

 

We see men fishing ....

We see men fishing ….

 

... in the most inventive ways ...

… in the most inventive ways …

 

...

 

...

 

...

 

...

 

We too stay on stilts here on Majuli Island ...

We too stay on stilts here on Majuli Island …

 

 ... and eat local food and drink rice beer (loads in the stainless steel milk can).

… and eat local food and drink rice beer (loads in the stainless steel milk can).

 

11 P1040443

This is skewed pork, little fish from the Brahmaputra River wrapped in banana leaves and a ‘passable’ stinky fish paste, chilli and salt.

 

And here for lunch .... chipatti, potatoe pie, vegetable stews .... AND ...

And here for lunch …. chipatti, potatoe pie, vegetable stews …. AND …

 

... the CHILLI keeps surprising my Harry!

… the CHILLI keeps surprising my Harry!

 

The Missing converted to Hinduism (an order that focuses on a single god, Vishnu). There are many bachelor monasteries called Satras.

The Missing converted to Hinduism (an order that focuses on a single god, Vishnu). There are many bachelor monasteries called Satras.

 

Here rice is being dried at a monastery.

Here rice is being dried at a monastery.

 

The Missing also still embrace their animist roots. And the two practices co-exist without conflict.

The Missing also still embrace their animist roots. And the two practices co-exist without conflict.

 

...

 

Here novice monks are practising for the Mahotsav Festival ...

Here novice monks are practising for the Mahotsav Festival …

 

... when they will re-enact tales of Hindu mythology with dance and drama.

… when they will re-enact tales of Hindu mythology with dance and drama.

 

...

 

And these amazing masks will be donned too (We are two weeks too early for the Festival).

And these amazing masks will be donned too (We are two weeks too early for the Festival).

 

On Majuli Island, we see travelling salesmen.

On Majuli Island, we see travelling salesmen.

 

And speak with shop keepers of beautifully woven garments.

And speak with shop keepers of beautifully woven garments.

 

And chat with young school girls.

And chat with young school girls.

 

16 P1040351

And we feel their worry about …’the ground beneath their feet’.

 

 

...

 

We leave Majuli Island. This time towards the south on a larger ferry.

We leave Majuli Island. This time towards the south on a larger ferry.

 

We pay 45 rupees each. If we were elephants we would have paid 907 rupees each!

We pay 45 rupees each. If we were elephants we would have paid 907 rupees each!

 

There! Our AFRICAN ELEPHANTS aboard.

There! Our AFRICAN ELEPHANTS aboard.

 

As we leave we spot another ingenuous fishing trap ... but we pass too quickly to figure it out.

As we leave we spot another ingenuous fishing trap … but we pass too quickly to figure it out.

 

Fare Well dear Majuli Island ...

Fare Well dear Majuli Island …

 

 

...

 

...

 

 

10 Responses to a Missing Tribe, a Shrinking Island, a Forgotten State

  1. Mad Rider

    thanks for transporting me

  2. Philna

    What do they do with the animals when the water comes? Just beautiful the hand crafted homes.

    • Harry

      We think they move them into kraals on the bit of dry land that remains

  3. Siem Haffmans

    Great to follow your stories of incredible India.

  4. Anonymous

    Once again a story about hardships that we can’t even imagine!

  5. Gail Paton/Henning

    Beautiful photos again..amazing adventure..

  6. Jan and Gail

    A very touching real life story. Almost to difficult to digest. As you tell it all I do feel deep sympathy for those living in such circumstances. You pick and highlight the best but your sympathy shines through. On another note the effort to get there bikes and all is fantastic and more than well done! I don’t think I would have joined you for supper maybe lunch!! Mamma Gail

  7. John Lanham

    I so enjoy your travels. Thank you.

  8. Anonymous

    Eish – makes you realise just how lucky we really are. Its a fascinating place. Thanks once again for sharing

  9. Jim and Muriel

    From a disappearing island to wonderful weaving down beside the stilts these people are amazing with their resourcefulness and hard work. They all look so happy despite their tough situation ! Take care !

Leave a Reply

PLEASE COMPLETE THIS SIMPLE SUM TO HELP US PREVENT SPAMMERS *