(Last Updated on : 05/10/2009)
Rabha tribal community is one of the Scheduled tribes of the Indian Territory. Apart from Assam, these Rabha tribes also are found in other state of India like West Bengal etc. In the state of Assam itself, the concentration of these Rabha tribes are namely Goalpara and Kamrup districts. In West Bengal the tribal group is scattered in and around Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri district. The whole locale of the Eastern and Western Dooars, can be considered to be the hub of the Rabha tribal community. A major part of the Rabha tribes are centred around in several parts of Dooars region. However, there are some who more often proclaim themselves as Kocha tribes. This tribal community is ramified in two major groups viz. Maitoria and Rangdaniya group.
The Rabha tribe has excelled in the cultural heritage, as has been displayed in its various aspects. Apart from practicing animistic rituals, the Rabha people follow a distinct belief which is an amalgamation of the Hindu and animistic rituals and customs. Differences are found among the ritual practices of the village and forest Rabha groups. These include festivals, clothes etc.
Most people of the Rabha tribal community speak the beautiful language of the same name. Apart from these the people of the community residing in and around West Bengal and Assam are well conversant in Assamese and Bengali languages. Another interesting aspect is that since these Rabha tribes have a belonging to the famous Indo-Mongoloid tribal group, these Rabha tribes also bear similarities with all the other members of Bodo tribes like Kachari, Mech , Hajong Garo, Koch, and also some others.
As far as the occupations are concerned, over the years, this Rabha tribal community has taken up diverse occupations. The Rabha people earn their livelihood by agriculture, and weaving. Basically the Rabha women are engaged in weaving since the early ages. In the ancient period when these Rabha tribes used to dwell in the forests, maximum of them practice shifting cultivation. Instances are cited where these Rabha tribes have been seen to plough in the land they continued to cultivate the land with Gogo or bill-hook. However in the later period, these Rabha tribes chose 'settled' farming and began doing farming with plough.
Today their economy is also agrarian based. However, in the recent times there are quite a few of Rabha tribal community who take gathering and also weaving as their main occupations. Apart from these, the Rabha people are also engaged in government jobs and other occupations.
Opinions are numerous about the relation of these Rabha tribes with other tribes of Indian subcontinent. As per scholars, all the socio-religious elements and all the aspects of the day to day living the Rabha tribes have 'similarities' with that of the 'Pani-Koch'. Again it has also been claimed that the Rabha and the Hajong tribal communities are the sub groups of Kachari race and also has got connection with Garo tribe. Moreover, another eminent scholar has stated that the Rabha tribal community has a belonging to the Great Bodo or Mech family. He also thought that Pani-Koch and the Rabha tribes have the similar lineage, which also establishes their connection with the Garo tribal community. In the nineteenth century also in the year 1909, A. Playfair also has cited some lingual and ethnical similarities between the Rabha tribes and the Garo tribes. He went to the extent of saying that since there has been some kind of similarity between the A' Tong language and the Rangdania , better known as Rabha dialects, naturally establishes the fact that at certain point of time these two tribal communities dwelled in close proximity. It needs no mentioning that maximum of these Rabha tribes speak in the language of the same name.
Fairs and festivals are part and parcel of the exuberant culture of the Rabha tribal community. These Rabha tribes celebrate all the main festivals of the Indian Territory. These include Janmashtami, Durga Puja, Diwali, Id, Muharram, Me-Dam-Me-Phi, the birth and death anniversaries of the Vaishnavite saints Shrimanta Sankardev and Shri Madhabdev. Apart from these, the Rabha people celebrate the Farkhanthi Festival and the Baikhu Festival. The people of Rabha community celebrate the festive occasions with dace, music and songs with great merriment. These people have a distinct form of dance namely 'Nakchung Reni' which they perform when they celebrate the fishing.
Baikho Dance of Rabha Tribe, Assam Kongali or Kati Bihu (May), Bihu-Bhogali or Magh Bihu (January), Rongali or Bohag Bihu (April). Apart from these, there are some of the local festivals, which these Rabha tribes fete, in great festivity. During the spring season, all the Rabha tribal community fetes the Baikho festival in commemoration of the worship of the goddess of wealth, locally known as Baikho. What is to be noted that the famous personality Bishnuprasad Rabha also belongs to the Rabha tribal community.
The main deity of the Rabha people is the Rishi aka Mahakal. Moreover, some other deities who are worshipped by the people of Rabha group are Basek, Rungtuk who are the household deities. Though the Rabha people do not follow any particular Hindu method of worship, the practice of sacrificing in front of the God and Goddesses are prevalent among them as they consider the blood of the sacrifice as an important part to propitiate the God. The Rabha people are the followers of Christianity and Hinduism.
Like each tribal group, Rabha tribal community has a distinctness that makes them separate from others. Their way of leading life, their costumes, their festivals, their religions may have some similarities with some other tribal groups but their own heritage is amalgamated in such a way that their distinctness appears more than anything in the world of human beings.