A small ethnic group residing in Assam,radiant with its own culture and tradition.The Tai Phakes dwelling mainly in Dibrugarh and Tinsukia of Upper Assam have migrated to this North Eastern part of India from the Howkong Valley of Myanmar in 1775.
Though it has passed more than 230 years after their migration,Tai Phakes are keeping their customs and tradition intact,continuing their indegenious good habits,colourful dresses,folk songs and dances;above all they are still adhered to their each and every social practices as well as festivals whole heartedly.
Impact of Globalization on Language, Literature and Culture of the Tai Phakes
The Tai Phakes is a lesser known community of Assam with its microscopic existence of less than 2,000 souls who mostly dwell in villages. Tai Phakes migrated from How Kong Valley of Northern Burma (Myanmar) crossing the Patkai Hill Range through Pang Shau Pass in A.D. 1775 and embraced Brahaputra Valley as their home. Residing mostly on the banks of Buridehing River and its myriad tributaries, Tai Phakes continue a harmonious existence with various other ethnic tribes of the area in Nam Phake and Tipam Phake villages of Dibrugarh District and Bor Phake, Mounglang, Mam Mo, Long Phake, Nonglai, Ning Gam and Phaneng Phake villages of Tinsukia District in Assam. A few numbers are scattered in Arunachal Pradesh. They essentially follow Buddhism and pre-Buddhist animistic beliefs, dedicating shrines to spirits or phi in their day-to-day life.
Tai Phakes speak in Tai language, a distinctive dialect of the Tibeto-Chinese language family. The sounds are distinctively tonal and monosyllabic, hence spoken with a melodious intonation. Linguists have corroborated that the language contains six tones in addition to close and open tones, without any tonal mark in their script. The Tai Phake script which is widely used among them is consisting 17 characters in its alphabet.
Tai Phake literature is ancient. It includes splendid traditional and cultural accounts, especially in poetry. The rich, spoken and written literature of Tai Phakes reflect their affectionate, lively character, love of freedom and cheerful life.
There are hundreds of volumes of manuscripts, ancient and modern, regrettably preserved unscientifically in monasteries and homes. These manuscripts are a rich compendium of abundant themes such as history, religion, fables, narratives, folktales, tripitakas, proverbs, riddles, dream interpretations, charm and magic, the Jataka Tales, principles of Buddhism, codes for monks, jurisprudence and customary laws, astrology, herbal medicine, even instructions on construction of traditional Tai Phake houses and so forth.
The wealth of written literary records also include traditional lore, mythical and religious scripture such as pun son laan (grandfather’s wisdom and teachings handed down to grandchild), lama mang (the Ramayana), dharma puktram (the Mahabharata), phung jain (Describe on Universal) Woo Paim Cham loo, Fyakongma (traditional love stories), loka samuk thi (death-related manuscript), guide on performance of khon (spiritual curing rituals) etc.
Globalization has shown impact on almost every aspect of Tai Phake and other ethnic societies. These ethnic communities possess definite and distinctive identities, retaining socio-cultural and religious traits, food habits, art forms, folklores and folk culture, marital systems, hierarchy, ritual forms, dwelling structures, dialects, language and literature. Yet, there is an observable likeness in several elements as a direct result of the effects of globalization. A few instances of which are:
i) Impact of globalization on architecture of traditional dwellings:
In terms of style of traditional Tai Phake dwellings, the basic design is typically based on Southeast Asian architectural forms, which are basically homes built on stilts made of considerable quantity of bamboo, wood and tokow leaves (a variety of palm). This was universal in a Tai Phake village about twenty years ago. However, presently Tai Phakes prefer to build modern brick and concrete stilt houses chiefly due to dearth of natural building materials in consequence of deforestation or longing to live in a modern home with matching appliances and comfort. The latter choice is presumed to be a result of exposure to attractive commercials and ready availability of modern, international brands of gadgets and other items of comfort and ease.
ii) Effects of globalization on Tai Phake Language and literature:
As discussed above Tai, spoken by Tai Phakes is a language with its own distinctive script and alphabet containing 17 characters, with thousands of manuscripts preserved in monasteries and homes of people. Although, the newer generation of Tai Phakes is unable to read Tai language books and literature preserved in their villages. They are now in constant preoccupation with modern academic courses in pursuing higher studies to achieve attractive professional careers offered in today’s world. Hence, their aim to achieve a comfortable living through competitive academic courses is the major reason to neglect the Tai script rather than showing disregard towards it, which is an alarming consequence of globalization.
iii) Influence of globalization on arts, song and dance forms:
Tai Phakes sing their melodious traditional songs with words praising nature and its beauty.These are called mo kham soi yoi, khe khyang (narrative song), mo kham sa oui, kham yon kong, mo kham lau luk on(or lullaby), ae no, kham pu son lan to mention a few. The Kham pu son lan is in written form and preserved in their society, whereas folk songs are performed orally by folk artistes. Now, contents, themes and melodies of Tai Phake songs are being influenced by easy exposure and access to modern songs, Indian and Western alike.
In a similar way, performance of customary dance forms is only to be observed during festivities and other social occasions. At the present, fewer young Tai Phake girls and boys are seen to undergo training in traditional dance forms as a result of their preoccupation with studies and influence of modern dance forms.
iv) Impact of Globalization on traditional clothes and attire:
Tai Phake villages are the weaving centers of traditional handloom textiles. Almost all the womenfolk are expert weavers and dyers. Nearly all homes are equipped with one or more unique traditional handlooms on which women produce remarkable cloth materials with distinctive characteristics using age-old techniques. The colorful textiles are woven with intricate traditional motifs and designs that are unique to Tai Phakes.
Dyes were traditionally produced at home from natural sources like vegetables and vegetation. Whereas, nowadays commercially available colored yarn and readymade dyes are easily bought from local stores.
In Tai Phake tradition women are averse to wear scant clothing. They are accustomed to wear full length colorful dresses, which are typically different from those of other tribes. Influence of globalization has gradually converged on the younger generation since the last two decades inspiring them to dress in modern clothing. Being busy with academics or living in cities pursuing professional careers, they prefer to wear casual-wear or any modern clothing – a universal trend in urban localities. Discarding traditional clothing is not entirely conclusive. Young girls and boys are seen in traditional attire during festivals, religious occasions or other social events at their villages.
Increasingly young girls, especially those living away from home, inevitably find it impractical to learn the art of weaving thereby decreasing the number of future wears. Consequently, production of the handloom is on a constant decline.
v) Impact of globalization on production and usage of traditional herbal medicine:
In almost all tribes, herbal medicines are prepared at home since ancient times. In Tai Phake tradition, herbal medicines have a special status in their social life. Instructions on preparation of herbal medicines are found in ancient manuscripts which are preserved in monasteries and homes of people. Tai Phakes have always relied on traditionally prepared herbal medicine for cure of many ailments. Ingredients of the medicines are also used in their daily diet of food. Now, modern allopathic medicines are preferred by the Tai Phake people for practical reasons, and as such, preparation of herbal medicines is on a constant decline.
Local deforestation and clearing of vegetation to make way for production of cash crops has greatly diminished the availability of medicinal herbs, fruits and leaves. In addition, liberal usage of pesticides and anti weeding chemicals has severely affected growth of these rare and exotic herbs.
vi) Impact on food habits:
As in most tribal practices, Tai Phakes eat simple but nutritious and delicious food, chiefly boiled, steamed or roasted which is cooked with a variety of locally grown vegetables, poultry, pork and fresh fish from the river. Cooking oils are rarely used in their diet. As mentioned above, even medicinal herbs are added as ingredients to enhance value to normal diet.
However, introduction of global brands of packaged, preserved or ready-to-eat and fast food, supported by attractive advertising has made an impact by luring youngsters away from traditional foods. Easily available packets of potato chips, instant noodles and other junk food, has attracted not only youngsters, but adults are seen to buy them in order to ease themselves from cooking traditional meals.
vii) Influence on social behavior:
Tai Phakes are a mild and gentle community, influenced by the Buddha’s teachings and adhering to His edicts in true spirit. It is hitherto unknown of any incidence of felony, wrongdoings, sacrilege or disrespectful behavior by any member of the community since they settled in their villages.
Tai Phakes are not materialistic by nature. But to some extent, globalization has created a somewhat profit-oriented atmosphere, thanks to their villages, Nam Phake village in particular, being internationally acclaimed as tourist villages for their unique, distinctive ways of life and the presence of Buddhist monasteries in the midst of demographically alien surroundings.
Tourists from India and abroad especially from Southeast Asian countries and Japan, have been visiting these villages as village tourism destination since the last three decades. As most of the visitors are over-night guests, they are accommodated and provided traditional food in the homes of villagers. Guided tour of the village and cultural evenings are also organized. In return, the host family charges a nominal fee from their guests.
Tai Phakes have always been gentle and hard-working, agriculture being their chief source of sustenance. The practice of monitory profit-making was never a traditional trend, commercialism arising out of the tourism trade has somewhat influenced the Tai Phakes to travel the path of business in coping with today’s world.
Being a branch of the Great Tai Race, the Tai Phakes of Assam in India are proud to identify themselves as ‘Tai Phake’. Having a microscopic population, they take pride in being able to retain their culture, language, customs and rituals, traditional attire, domestic and social traits, the arts, music and dance forms etc.
It is the foremost duty of the elders of Tai Phake villages to encourage and inspire the younger generation with their wisdom to make them aware of the values of the community tin order to carry forward the heritage of Tai Phakes with pride.
Globalization has opened numerous avenues, by way of which an individual, community or a nation could be influenced, by choice or chance, to alter from its natural trends towards better or for worse. But it can never pose as a challenge to preservation of Tai Phake identity at present or in the future.
1. Phukan, Supriti. The Phakes, Students’ Stores, Guwahati (2005)
2. Moran, Dr Biju, Tai Phake Axomiya Sabdakosh, Hipa-Jivan Havyatar, Dibrugarh (2009)
3. Gohain, Paim Thee, Tai Phake-Samaj aru Sanskriti, Assam Institute Research for Tribal and Schedule Caste, Guwahati (2009)
4. Moran, Dr Biju, Tai Phake Bhakha aru Sanskriti, Golapi Prakashan, Dibruarh, (2009)
5. Weingken, Ai Cheng Hun, Taiphake Artist Aid Trust, Namphake (2009)
6. Gohain, Paim Thee (Editor), Ayong Phake, Taiphake Artist Aid Trust, Namphake (2010)
Tai Buddhist Community in North-East India Globalization threat to their identity
Introduction: At present time there are six Tai communities in the north-east region, namely – Tai Ahoms, Tai Khamti, Tai Khamyang, Tai Phake, Tai Turungs and Tai Aiton. Tai Ahoms were the first to enter Assam at the beginning of the 13th century, while the rest of the Tai communities made their entrance during the 18th century by crossing the Patkai hill because of the rising power of the Maans in the middle and northern part of Myanmar. At present, the Tai Ahoms inhabit in most parts of Assam; the Tai Khamtis inhabit in the districts of Lakhimpur and Lohit of Arunachal Pradesh ; the Tai Khamyangs inhabit in the districts of Sibsagar, Jorhat, Golaghat and Lohit ; the Tai Turungs inhabit in the districts of Karbi Anglong , Golaghat, Jorhat ; the Tai Phakes inhabit in the districts of Dibrugarh, Tinsukia and Tai Aitons inhabit in the districts of Karbi Anglong and Golaghat.
Except the Ahoms, the rest of the Tai communities of the north-east region are Buddhist and therefore, one can find cultural similarity among them. The five communities use the same written language and the same books. So, their written have 100 percent similarity and 90 percent similarity can be seen in their spoken language. Their religious festivals are held at the same time in a same manner. Besides, similarity can be seen in their residence, social customs, domestic tools, food habits, style of cooking, cloths etc. For such reasons, the five Buddhist Tai communities can be discussed impact of globalization with both positive and negative influences upon them.
The problems of globalization and self-identity –
Low population : A chief cause of the problem of self-identity among the five Buddhist communities is the low population. So, a major problem arises among them under the influence of globalization. The population of the Tai Khamti, the Tai Khamyang and Tai Turung is about 15000, 5000 and 4000 respectfully, while that of the Tai Phakes and the Tai Aitons is less than 2000. Their villages are scattered among different regions and therefore, other societies influences their life-style. Whenever they come out of their indigenous rural atmospheres, they have to accept the wider culture as they have to live under the presser of other dominant societies, and then globalization make the final impact on these minor communities. That why, low population often becomes a problem for them.
Language ( written and spoken ) : The Tai communities have been using the same script. So, they have the same writing method and literature. But for several reasons, they are facing problems in the practice of spoken and written languages. The Turungs now communicate their ideas through the Shingpho language in their day-to-day life as they have been living among the different tribes for hundreds of years. The use of spoken language is in the process of extinction among the Tai Khamyangs. The Tai language is also disappearing among them except in one or two villages. The new generation is facing the problem of self-identity as it is busy with modern education and losing touch with the Tai language. The language is alive in the spoken form among the societies of Tai Phake, Tai Khamti and Tai Aitons, but the main is in its written form. In case of spoken language also influences can be seen from other languages as mainly English and Assamese languages as the new generation is losing touch with it and as the people very often have to stay away from their villages. In this way, the Buddhist Tais are confronting problems related to traditional language with its written and spoken form.
The extinction of the skill of indigenous and natural dyeing of thread : An Important element of self-identification among the Tais is the traditional way of dyeing thread, which was in vogue among the five communities in the past. They used to weave clothes by producing colour from various roots, barks, fruits and leaves of different plants. But this tradition is on the process of extinction due to the disappearance of trees and impact of globalization. Globalization brings the artificial chemical dye of various colours which is now available in nearest market. The natural method is used only in a few colour and consequently they are losing an important element of their self-identity. A change can also be visible in their use of colour in their dresses.
Problem arising out of emigration : The Tais used to live in unity and co-operation at villages in the past. But under the influence of globalization, emigration is taking place among them. Many families have settled up outside their villages in search of modern education and job. They have been establishing themselves in different parts of Assam as well as India. This process of emigration has a negative effect in their language, culture, customs etc., which cause fatal damage in their traditional way of life.
Dresses : Globalization brings a noticeable change in traditional dress code among these Tai groups. The new generation is getting bored with their traditional outfits. Availability and modern style of dresses of different cultures allure this generation.
Food habits : Like dresses, changes occurred in their traditional food habits also. Traditional food habit is a most distinct characteristics of tribal identity.
Traditional utensils: Tribal utensils, mainly the tools used in their day-to-day life are changing their shape, size and material used in making tools . Usually for making tools these people use (kah, pital, bell metal, brass) bamboo, wood, cane, etc which is available nearby forests and these are made by themselves. These indigenous utensils are rapidly replacing by plastic metallic ones made by and transported by the corporate industries.
Besides the negative impact of globalization there are so many positive impact which we can observe among these groups.
They came to contact with modern science and technology, markets, education, culture, society etc., which open a window to a unknown world. They can exchange their views, ideas and also refined their mind in a wider context.
Conclusion: Whether the globalization has negative or positive impact on all tribal groups, under discussion, are on their way to a distinct socio-cultural change. Positive impact of Globalization makes these people more confident and self conscious about their identity. They are trying to intact their identity as well as match with global changing trends.
1. Phukan, Supriti. The Phakes, Students’ Stores, Guwahati (2005)
2. Sarma Thakur, G.C, The Plains Tribes of Lakhimpur, Dibrugarh, Sivasagar and Nagaon, Assam Institute Research for Tribal and Schedule Caste, Guwahati (1972)
3. Moran, Dr Biju, Tai Phake Axomiya Sabdakosh, Hipa-Jivan Havyatar, Dibrugarh (2009)
4. Gohain, Paim Thee, Tai Phake-Samaj aru Sanskriti, Assam Institute Research for Tribal and Schedule Caste, Guwahati (2009)
5. Moran, Dr Biju, Tai Phake Bhakha aru Sanskriti, Golapi Prakashan, Dibruarh, (2009)