Marriage System among the Dimasa

Introduction: A society is a system of interlocking groups more or less of institutionalized pattern. Marriage, family, religion, economy and polity are the five basic institutions in the system of interlocking the groups. The institutionalized form of sex relationship is called marriage. Marriage and family are two aspects of the same social reality, viz, the bio-psychical-cum-social drives of man. Marriage ensures a biological satisfaction (that of sex) and psychological satisfaction (that of having children) on the individual perpective. Again, on the collective perspective it ensures a survival of the species (or of the group) and a survival of its culture. Every society regulates marriage in its own way. There are always norms in every society of its own concerning what persons, under what conditions and in what manner, may establish a marriage relationship, what they are expected to do once they are married and under what conditions they may dissolve relationship. The total pattern of these norms for a particular society is the institution of marriage.

Now, without going into textual references about the institution of marriage, this article attempts to give a brief account of the Dimasa and a general account of the institution of marriage in the Dimasa society.

The Dimasa- A brief note:

There are a lot of controversies regarding the origin of the word Dimasa. It is better interpreted as Dimani b’sa dima b’sa dimasa, ‘sons of a great river’. But the identification of this river is again a controversy. According to some sections of people, the great river is the mighty Brahmaputra, while others refer to the Dhansiri on whose bank the Dimasa civilization developed. Moreover, to the Ahoms, the Dimasa was known as Timisa and they called the river Brahmaputra ‘Tilao’. The river Dhansiri is referred to as ‘Dima’ by the people of the surrounding areas. So, without going into the details of the controversies about the meaning of the word ‘Dimasa’, it is maintained here that the meaning of the word is ‘sons of a great river’.

The Dimasa today live mostly in the districts of North Cachar Hills, Karbi Anglong, Nagaland, Cachar of Assam and Dhansiri region of Nagaland. A small section of Dimasa is found in Meghalaya also. In 1991, the total population of Dimasa, including those of Nagaland and Meghalaya, was 91,568 (Dimasa-Kachari 65009, Barmans 13378, Hojai-Kachari 4566, Nagaland 8244, Megha1aya 371) as reported in India, An Illustrated Atlas of Tribal World, published by Anthrological Survey of India.

The Dimasa usually represents those from North Cachar Hills in all spheres, particularly of social life, as the district is considered the homeland of the Dimasa. Perhaps for this reason the

Dimasa are found to have migrated from other areas, particularly from Cachar, Karbi Anglong and Nagaon, to North Cachar Hills. They are broadly classified into five groups according to the names of areas of their habitation. They are Dijuasa - Dhansiri valley (Karbi Anglong district of Assam and Nagaland), Dembrasa—Kolong Kapili valley (Nagaon and Karbi Anglong district of Assam), Hasaosa—North Cachar Hills, Hawarsa—(Barak Valley), and Semsas of Semkhor in North Cachar Hills district of Assam. In the variation in the place of habitation, there is a little variation in language, culture, social custom and traditions among the above-mentioned classification of the Dimasa.

At present, the majority of the Dimasas (49.617) are found in the North Cachar Hills. They practise shifting (jhumming) cultivation, while some of them have now resorted to settled cultivation in the little plains available in the hills district like the Mahur valley at Maibang. Whether they practise jhumming or settled cultivation, their villages are permanent with their traditional village organization.

Now, leaving aside this general description of the tribe, it is attempted here to portray the marriage system in Dimasa society:

Marriage system in the Dimasa society:

The marriage system in the Dimasa society is a unique system and full of attractive customs and traditions. It is performed through a series of procedures. In marriage the clan is the most important factor in the Dimasa society. Before going in detail into the marriage system among the Dimasa, a brief note on the clan system among the Dimasas is necessary.

A note on the clan system:

The Dimasa follows the patriarchal system of family structure. But both patrilineal and matrilineal systems co-exist. Hence it is a bi-lineal type of society- a unique feature that is not found in any tribes in the Northeast India. Every man and woman in the Dimasa tribe bears allegiance to two clans. A boy and a girl inherit the respective patriclan and matriclan of their father and mother. Again a father and a son belong to the same patriclan but they belong to two different matriclans as the father inherits his secondary affiliation from his maternal grandmother, while the son inherits from his own maternal grand-mother. But woman’s patriclan changes when she is married. After marriage she is given the husband’s patriclan through a ceremony called Khelrabriba or Madaikhilimba; but her primary affiliation of matriclan remains unchanged. There are forty male and forty-two female clans in Dimasa society .The male clans are called sengphong and the female clans are called julu or jadi. It is said that the sengphong and the julus were created by the King Krishna Chandra Narayan around AD 1800. The king created seven senphongs and seven julus. In course of time the number increased to forty and forty-two respectively. As the Dimasa has double clan system, a boy cannot marry a girl from his patriclan and matriclan. However, one remarkable thing is that the father of a son prefers a girl of his own secondary affiliation as his son’s bride.

Marriage proposal and acceptance:

Marriage by negotiation is the prevailing practice among the Dimasa. Generally the boy’s side initiates the procedure of selection and proposal of the bride. In Dimasa society there is no system of child marriage. A girl is usually married between fifteen to twenty years of ages. But in urban areas and among the educated youth, nowadays, the age factor is not a matter and it extends up to twenty five to thirty years of age. But in general the elders in the family and kins think it fit to get their offspring married when they attain their youth. Generally the months of November, January, February and March are preferred for marriage ceremony, specially February.

The parents and guardians of the boys look for a girl of physical beauty, of equal social status, of matching age, and inform the family of the girl if they find her suitable. The parents of the girl receive them with the arrangements of board and lodging at home. But the parents of the girl request the boy’s party for time to decide on the matter because it is the custom of the Dimasa to discuss the marriage proposal with relatives and kins. Even the consent of both the boy and the girl are also taken into account. After arriving at a decision, the same is intimated, and even if they reject the proposal for whatever reason, it is intimated with great honesty. In the discussion of the marriage proposal, some idiomatic phrases and proverbs in a lighter vein are bandied freely between both sides.

After the positive settlement of the marriage proposal, the groom’s party sends sandiba semba or semjudigarba to the bride’s party. This custom is the recognition of the marriage proposal. In it a packet of salt wrapped up in plantain leaves and bound with seven threads is sent the to the bride’s home. If it is accepted, Lauthai Langba, the second step of marriage proposal is undertaken after a few days. In this custom, homemade rice beer ‘Judi’ is presented in small bottle gourds, called Laouthai to the elder relatives of the bride. Both parties enjoy a feast and decide on the next step called Laothai Langagini, where they fix a date for marriage taking the conveniences of both the parties into consideration. However, nowadays the date is fixed on the day of Laothai Langba and Laothai Langagini does not follow.

Kalti– The ‘bride price’ :

As soon as the marriage is settled, every Dimasa girl is entitled to kalti - the ‘bride price’ in the form of rupees. Here rupees must always be in coins and not in paper notes. It is their traditional custom which saves the clan system because, if Kalti is not given or not accepted by the bride’s party, it implies non-inclusion in the forty sengphongs and forty-two julus. Therefore acceptance of Kalti is justified as a right. The Kalti is not fixed; it is decided through negotiations of both the parties, depending on the economic conditions of the bridegroom’s party. However, one important thing about Kalti is that it must be, at least, a little more than that of that given by the preceding boy or girl in both families, if there be any marriage of senior boy/boys or girl/girls in both the families.

The ceremony:

The Dimasa believe that the marriage should be solemnized as soon as possible from the day of Laothai Langba and, if possible, within a month. The ceremony takes place in the house of the bride on the date already fixed. On the eve of marriage, a party consisting of elderly persons from the bridegroom’s side is sent to the bride’s house to enquire if everything is all right. This custom is called Gilimgasanaiba. If any inconvenience occurs like serious illness of a member of the bride’s family or relative, the date of ceremony is postponed and another date has to be fixed. If everything is all right, the bridegroom’s party proceeds to the bride’s house the next day.

The bridegroom’s party consists of his family members and other close relatives and village elders. The bridegroom, dressed in new clothes, is taken to the bride’s house. The ceremony assumes the quality of a festival in the village. All the men and women, irrespective of young or old, wear beautiful cloths and ornaments. In the courtyard of the bride’s house, all the elderly persons of both the parties are seated according to their seniority. The sitting arrangement shows how close the elderly persons are to the bridegroom or the bride. The respected guests of the bridegroom are seated to the right, while to the left are seated those of the bride’s. As soon as the persons of both the parties are seated, the bridegroom is taken to the courtyard by four boys. The groom bows down to his parents, bride’s parents and the elder relatives, the old persons of both the parties, one by one, according to closeness of relation. The two boys coming with the groom then proceed with a bamboo mat for the bridegroom to kneel down in front of the elders, and

two other boys hold up a cloth called rimsao behind the groom so that others donot see his feet. The old persons bless the bridegroom with some long sermons in verse form.

After the blessing is over, the bridegroom sits on the mat specially arranged for him and the parents of both the bride and the bridegroom sit beside him. The village headman advises the groom. The bride, decorated with dresses and ornaments, is taken out and yaopaba (giving away the bride) is performed. The parents of the bride request the parents of the bridegroom to embrace their daughter with love through some beautiful verse. After this, the marriage ceremony is over and the couple is taken home.

The guests are refreshed with a feast of fish, meat and judi etc. The feast is provided by the bride’s party. The newly married couple is also fed. With this refreshment the bridegroom’s party returns home, leaving the bridegroom at the bride’s house. Cohabitation is not permitted on the date of the ceremony. The bridegroom stays at the bride’s home for three nights and goes to his home with the bride. This custom is called Firathangba. After this, the married couple starts a new family life of their own or stays at the bride’s house for a year following the custom called Minhabra. However, the custom of minhabra is not nowadays followed for one year. Only for maintaining formality of the custom, they may stay there for three days or so.

Worships associated with marriage :

On the day of the marriage ceremony, Brai-Sibrai is worshipped for blessing the bride and the bridegroom. This worshipping of Brai-Sibrai is called Mayaofagarba. The hojai (the priest) does this by sacrificing a duck / cock in the courtyard of the bride. This is done with a view to praying to the deities to keep away the evil spirits. The fried flesh of the sacrificial duck or cock is offered to the guests with judi.

Again, before taking ceremonial feast, the male and the female each separately worship Midogarba for non-occurrence of any disease to anybody else. In this, Judi and meat are offered to the god Sibrai.

Married life of the Dimasa :

In the Dimasa society, women of different matriclans neither live in the same house nor use the clothes, ornaments and cosmetics in common. Therefore, a married woman lives separately with her husband in a newly constructed house either near her house or near her in-law’s house. There is no system of dowry in the Dimasa society. However, the mother of the bride gives her clothes and other household materials generally used by women when they live in separate establishment. Hence Dimasa family is a neolocal type of family.

The relationship between the husband and the wife is very close. There is mutual understanding before doing anything. But it should be mentioned that the husband makes the final decision. Women are engaged in pounding paddy, cooking, weaving, fetching fire wood, sowing seeds, harvesting crops, preparing judi etc and other household works. The mothers have to rear their children also. Men work in shifting cultivations, construct houses, and look after buffaloes etc.

Some important aspects related to marriage :

Polygamy is rare in Dimasa society. It is so perhaps for the reason that two women belonging to two separate matriclan cannot share the things of day-to-day use, not to speak of the same bed.

Remarriage is permitted in Dimasa society. If either of the spouses dies early, he/she can remarry. If one wishes to remarry the widow of the deceased elder brother, the same is permitted (levirate). But remarriage of the widow of the younger brother by the elder brother is not  permitted. In the same way, the younger sister-in-law can be married (sororate) but not the elder ones.

Divorce among the Dimasas is permitted, but it is rare. Divorce can be obtained when the aggrieved person appeals to the Khunang (the village headman). The khunang discusses the matter with the village elders and tries to work out a compromise. If it is unavoidable, then divorce is permitted. In this case, the guilty has to pay some amount of money as fine. Again, if the divorce takes place by mutual consent, the question of fine is mutually settled. The divorcee can remarry in conformity with social customs. If divorce is granted, the male child and the female child are allowed to be taken by the father and the mother respectively.

Dimasa society permits marriage between a boy and a girl belonging to different patri-clan and matri-clan only. A social convention arising out of this rule is Hain Daopri, by means of which cross cousin marriage can be allowed. This is possible because of the fact that the sengphong of the boy is different from the girl. And the julu of the boy is also not the same julu as that of the girl’s. But such incidence is rare. The Dimasas follow the rules of clan exogamy too rigidly, the violation of which leads to excommunication. The Dimasas also do not allow any boy or girl to marry a non-Dimasa. If it happens, the boy / girl has no place in Dimasa society. However, by a custom called Tharba, a new julu is created for a non-Dimasa girl if she is married by a Dimasa boy, to include her in the Dimasa society. But such type of marriage is also very rare. There is no such custom for a non-Dimasa boy at all.

Although arranged marriage through negotiation is the prevailing practice, on many occasions the boys as well as the girls prefer to take care of their own affairs. So marriage through mutual consent and elopement are on the increase. And marriage by ‘capture’ is also not totally absent. However, in both the cases marriage has to be regularized with some formalities. Otherwise the couple will not have any place in the society.

Conclusion :

To conclude, the traditional marriage system of the Dimasas is still prevalent in the society with slight differences from the previous state. While the clan exogamy and tribe endogamy is still strictly followed, today’s educated Dimasa prefer to choose their life partners by themselves. They are no longer strictly following the custom of Mlnhabra. Again, the Dimasa living in Barak valley are much influenced by the Brahminical system of marriage of the Hindus. The incidents of mutual love and affection between young boys and girls result in the increase of cases of elopement, particularly in the urban areas. Change is natural; hence it occurs in the system of marriage among the Dimasa as it occurs among other communities. But the changes are to be carefully monitored for keeping intact the rich cultural heritage of the Dimasa society as a whole.