The major tribal groups of Tripura are Tripuris, Reangs, Jamatias, Noatias, Halam, Kukis, Chakmas, Mogs and other small tribes. Further all these tribes have different sub tribes which are actually the subjects of interest of social scientist, Anthropologists and people in general. The sub-tribe like Charai of Halam community is the thrust areas being presented here.
Charais speak a language of Kuki-Chin origin which belong to Tibeto-Burman group of languages, and similar with the language spoken by Halam, Kaipeng and Molsom tribes. Charais are also recognized as one of the tribal group under Barki-Halam tribal community.
Ethnically Charais are obviously a group of people under Kuki-Chin racial stock. It is believed that they have migrated from SINLUNG of China with other tribal groups as one of the Indo-Mongoloid tribes. In the process of migration they have crossed Tibet and Burma and ultimately settled in Manipur, Mizoram, lower Assam, Tripura and Bangladesh in different weaves.
Chorais are concentrated in Jamthungbari, Damcharra, Choraibari, Ambasa, Western bank of Longai River & valley in Tripura, Gopinath Pur, Manikband, Rang Pur etc. places of Karimganj District of Assam, Churachandpur of Manipur, Lusai Charra of Mizoram and some pockets of Sylhet District of present Bangladesh.
Charai have a similar social structure like other tribes of Tripura. Father is the authoritian head in Charai family. Oldest female member of the family looks after all family matters including children affairs. Father act as a head of the family and work hard for Jhum cultivation, maintaining inter personal relationship with the villagers and link with community chief. Young boys and girls of the family assist their father and mother for production of food stuff. All the rites and rituals are arranged jointly by father and mother. Young boys and girls of the village involved themselves in Jhum based life as well as hunting, fishing, making of dwelling hut and keeping social bondage.
Day starts in the Charai family from early morning. Right from the oldest member of the family, youngest boy and girl have specific works need to be completed. Mother in the family engaged her self to cook food for the whole family members, packing of meals in banana leaf to eat in the Jhum field. Other woman in the family engaged for cleaning of house premises, feeding poultry birds and cattle. When father mother went for Jhum, the age old grandfather and mother engaged themselves for other domestic works and to looks after the children. They also enjoy tobacco and make different kinds of Basketry. Old grandmothers generally make country liquor and Langi to be used in different pujas and also for consumption by them. Chorais women also move for collecting water and cleaning of utensils in the nearly charra or river.
Children enjoy their childhood in different ways like bathing and water play in the charras, playing marbles, climbing trees.
Children also collect different edible plants, leafs, vegetables and bamboo shoot from the nearby forest and riverside. Women have scheduled work to pound paddy for family consumption. Women of nearest one or neighbours do not mind to help for pounding paddy, rather find pleasure in chewing betel leaf and nut and gossip together. After the death of father, brother takes up the responsibilities for arrangement of marriage of their younger sisters. Inter family links among the Charais is very strong and visible during any social function relates to rites and rituals of marriage, death including other function.
Women in the family work together, to make cloths for their own use. They work together right from separating seeds from the cotton to make cotton thread. Charai women produce PUONVEL and PUONHAIC for use of female and male in their traditional lo-in-loom. They also make POUNSEL a piece of red cloth exclusively uses in the marriage ceremony.
Charai girls are fond of ornaments made of silver and garland made of coloured seeds collected from the forest. Rathei is one kind of necklace wear by women folk. Kuordoi is ear-ring. Besides they wear Kuordoi, Toya, Bala, Kekol, Tangka Rathei which is made of coin, Kuorbet, Kutsobi, Maduli etc. The young girls, when wear their traditional garments and all ornaments really looks beautiful. They generally use these ornaments during any festival or ceremony. Age old women are also fond of wearing these ornaments which is the beauty of Charai culture.
Jhum is a primitive method of cultivation to produce sustainable food grain generally practiced in the hilly areas. Charais also practice Jhum as a major part of their food gathering activities. In fact their primary need of food stuffs is received from forest and Jhum field. Charais collectively move to nearest jungle areas with a view to select land for Jhuming. Both young boys and girls work hard in the Jhum. They clean jungle and distribute land equally or as per ratio of family members. After cutting of jungle within first part of February, they make fire on dried bushes, bamboos and trees. They prepare and eat food in Jhum. Again they move to respective Jhum for sawing seeds during first part of April. Harvesting of paddy crop is generally started from second week of October. Jhum dance is an important dance form performs by Charai. They enjoy the day with great pleasure performing several form of dances. Lambu-chil is a group dance, wherein both male and female participates. In this dance some sequences of screening and collection of paddy from paddy straw are shown by the participants. The song related with this dance is really melodious.
Beside, Charais have sustainable food gathering practices through group hunting of wild animals and birds which sometimes fulfill their demand of meat. If find any scope they still hunt animals like Saipui i.e. Elephant, Sarwol i.e. Wild pig, Siel i.e. Mithun, Deer, Bear etc. In fact group hunting is very playful game before them. They also catch fishes in logged water of charra or river. Charais collectively barricade some water area and catch fish at joint effort after which they equally distribute those among themselves. They also collect snails from the river as a tasty food.
Important ethnographic features of Chorais
Economic life of Choirais does not differ from other tribes of Tripura. Beside jhum based life, Chorais rare poultry birds, cattle pigs, goats. These domestic birds and animals provide them meet according to their necessity and also let to sacrifice at time of family rituals. Chorai women further collect forest produces and fire wood for the family.
During new rice ceremony which is also known as harvest festival, the Charai women and men make dance to show their art and skill of dance before mass gathering of villagers. A community feast is also arranged on that day. The rhythm of the dance has a special attraction as well as beating sound of the Drum, Dangdul and Flute along with string instruments. They remain cheerful in dancing and singing song to celebrate the day.
Charais are fond of games and sports, which is called by them as ANDAI. Both young girls and boys participates in different games like i) SAREL-IN-NAM ii) KEK IN OAI iii) SUMKUAL iv) TUITUM IN VONG v) KONG IN KEINOK. SAREL is a piece of round shaped wooden stick by which two boys from opposite side tries to push back each other known as SAREL-IN-NAM. In general all games played by the Charai young boys and girls have a reflections of their physical strength which are also unique form of exercise. Viewers encourage them by clapping and spontaneous sound of pleasure.
When harvesting and its related festivals are over, Charais arranges marriage of their young boys & girls. Among Charais marriage within their community is highly preferred. As per customary practices by Charais, choice of a mate is exclusively depends on the girl. A boy may select a girl which means KHOLAICHEI. Another method of marriage is LUINKHUI. Out of these two options, the boy and girl are able to understand each other. If the boy and the girl agree for the marriage, the father of the boy and other relatives visit in the house of the girl with the proposal of marriage. They also take ZUKOLA which means rice bear with them. This is a marriage of mutual understanding among the girl and the boy including their father, mother and relatives. Both the parties then seat together and take decisions over marriage schedule and period of service i.e. Maksa to be given by the boy in his would be father-in-laws house and bride price. After successful completion of the compulsory period of services in the father-in-laws house, final marriage is celebrated, known as "Ruoizu".
Marriage celebration is one of the most important social function of the Charai community. All relatives, neighbours, community leaders and relatives of the groom are invited in the house of the bride wherein the actual ceremony is held. It is interesting that with the couple, there are attendants with one each of bride and bridegroom. They sit together with the couple in the ceremony stage. A piece of red cloth is placed as per marriage rites over the heads of the couple. All elderly persons remain present in the ceremony to bless them. This function is called Tuiabuok and Ruaipek. After the marriage function, bride-groom party used to come to take the bride towards bride-groom's house. All relatives give the couple a see-off and bless them for future happy life. All assembled person make dance and sing together on the way to the bride-groom's house. Similar function is also held in the father-in-laws house of the bride.
Birth of baby brings extreme happiness in the Charai family. When a young wife of a newly married man is noticed pregnant, this news brings pleasure to everybody and obviously to grandmother, who actually looks after the pregnant mother. Different rites are observed in the family till 9 months of pregnancy period. When the pregnant woman feels labour-pain, a separate room is arranged by head of the family for delivery of the baby. Auchai is asked to offer a special puja with a view to safe delivery of the baby and good health of mother.
After delivery, mother takes care of her child. Grandmother out of affection sings sweet and melodious folk songs keeping the baby in swing. Children's life in the village passes in pleasure at owns their style of play.
Charais have their own social council which looks after all the socio-economic and religious problems in the villages. The chief of the council is known as Kalim and his assistant is called as Kabur. All together there are 9 members in the council. Except Kalim all members of the council are selected by the villagers.
After the selection of the council members, Charais arrange a community festival which is called as TARMARIE. In this festival all the council members are honored. Special attraction of felicitation is with the chief of the council that maens KALIM. He is carried by youths of the village in a bamboo made colourful platform, which is known as TOLAI. All the community members assembled in this festival. Male female and youngsters make dance and young girls participate in RUOINTOKLAM which means bamboo dance traditionally followed by them to make this festival remarkable. A grand feast for community members is also arranged.
This council solves all sorts of disputes in the community members which include crime against women, children, land issue, theft cases etc. The KALIM have power to impose any sort of punishment including financial penalty. Now-a-days the jurisdiction of Kalim has become limited and for different issues Charais goes to the civil court with approval of the Kalim.
Charais are traditionally Hindus and observer of animalistic rites and rituals. They have their own concept of god and goddess. Therefore, to get recovery from various misfortunes, they arrange pujas and sacrifice birds and animals before the deities. They have belief that if they ignore these deities, they may cause sickness, diseases of various natures, un-natural death, less of crop, poverty, house hold problems etc. Thus Charais ask priest known as Auchai to make pujas. Auchai also treat ailing person before the deities for early recovery. Auchai make puja of River God i.e. Ganga Puja and sacrifice cock on the stream of the river. This is done for the peace and prosperity of the community members as well as to guard the village form evil spirits. Charais have 12 god & goddess, worshiped by them and those are akin to god & goddess of Hindus. Now-a-days some of them embraced Christianity and they observed rite and rituals as per Christian way of thought. Even then Christian members of the community still follow their traditional culture with great pleasure and devotion.
Death is part of human life. Charais believe that MITHIKHUO is a place where all the departed soul live after death. When someone dies in the family, all the relatives and neighbours visit in that house after hearing the sad sound of metal drum to give condolence to nearest family members and good bye to their beloved person. Auchai is asked to visit the house and perform rites relate to funeral ceremony. A Tolai is made out of bamboos in which the dead body is to be carried. All the villagers and relatives then start a procession with the dead body towards burning ghut, beating the metallic drum. Women also participate in the funeral procession singing traditional folk songs to show respect to the deceased person and his soul.
After attending burning ghat a stage is prepared in the river side to cremate the body observing all traditional rites. Like other tribes in Tripura, Charais also observes Shradha Ceremony for wellbeing of the deceased soul. A grand feast for the relatives and neighbour is also arranged by the nearest kin on this occasion.
Chorais in the process of social transition are not so much lagging behind. They have now acquitted with the method of plain land cultivation and market based economy. Even then Chorais still depend on their traditional ways of life which include seeing to weed and to harvest. Thus hard work inside dense forest and pass the life with in natural environment is most preferred by the Chorais.