Assam: Tribal Mising community's struggle for cultural heritage related festival Ali-Aye Ligang

Ali-aye Ligang is celebrated by the community to mark the beginning of the sowing season. But the recent government announcement has exposed divisions within the community.
Girls of Mising community dancing on the occasion of Ali-aye Ligang.
Girls of Mising community dancing on the occasion of Ali-aye Ligang.Photo courtesy- @himantabiswa

New Delhi- In a significant move, the Assam Cabinet recently declared Ali-aye Ligang, the prominent festival of the state’s Mising community, as a local holiday in ten districts where this indigenous group holds substantial influence. Celebrated on the first Wednesday of the Assamese month of Phagun (equivalent to February in the Western calendar), Ali-aye Ligang symbolizes the commencement of the sowing season.

Despite this stride towards cultural acknowledgment, the Mising community, constituting 17.8% of Assam's tribal population with an estimated 6.8 lakh individuals, remains steadfast in their pursuit for a statewide holiday to commemorate Ali-aye Ligang.

Let us tell you that there are a total of 35 districts in the state of Assam. But currently, holidays have been declared on the occasion of Ali-aye Ligang only in 10 districts. Brojen Pegu, Block Coordinator, Rural Volunteer Center (NGO), Majuli, UNICEF Project, who himself comes from the Mising community, tells The Mooknayak, “Our demand is that all the people of Assam on Ali-aye Ligang Holidays should be declared in the districts.”

Brojen Pegu told about Ali-aye Ligang that it is an agriculture-based festival. It is celebrated once a year. People are so busy in daily work that they are not able to celebrate this festival properly. According to the Assamese calendar, the celebration of Ali-Aye Ligang festival starts on the last Wednesday of February.

“Ali means fruit under the soil, like potato. Aye means fruit above the soil. On the day of this festival, we village people come together and sow these seeds. This is the day of first seeding of our crops. We also visit each other’s houses to sow these crops and celebrate this festival,” Brojen Pegu told The Mooknayak.

People celebrating Ali-aye Ligang in a Mising community village.
People celebrating Ali-aye Ligang in a Mising community village.Photo courtesy- Twitter

Brojen Pegu further said that on this day, children, youth, elders and women, everyone celebrates this festival with great enthusiasm. Some people celebrate this festival for a week, or even a month. People enjoy this day with food and drinks at home. People sing and dance accompanied by drums and other musical instruments. Young boys and girls of the houses dance. This sequence continues throughout the day.

The roots of this campaign trace back five decades when the Assam Official Language Act of 1960 recognized Assamese as the official language, sparking concerns among the Misings about preserving their distinct identity and culture. This struggle led to demands, including the introduction of a Mising language curriculum in primary schools.

The 1980s witnessed a resurgence of the campaign, coinciding with the rise of the Assam Movement and the Misings' quest for increased political representation. Anthropologist CJ Sonowal emphasizes that while linguistic affiliation is crucial to Assamese identity, other elements like Vaishnavite Hinduism and cultural expressions such as the Bihu festival have traditionally held sway. However, tribal communities felt excluded from this composite identity, prompting the Mising community to assert its integral role in Assam through the plea for a statewide holiday for Ali-aye Ligang.

The Takam Mising Porin Kebang, formed in 1971, spearheaded the 1980s campaign, advocating not only for the celebration of Ali-aye Ligang but also for the implementation of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, granting tribal areas autonomy.

Choosing Roman script for their language and fixing Ali-aye Ligang's date in the month of Phagun amplified the festival's scale. However, the recent government announcement has exposed a divide within the community. The Mising Socheton Samaj, an informal forum of conscious citizens, has vowed to continue the pursuit for a statewide holiday, while the Takam Mising Porin Kebang accuses them of attempting to divide the community.

The political landscape adds complexity, with the Takam Mising Porin Kebang suggesting that the Mising Socheton Samaj, affiliated with new political parties like the Raijor Dal, poses a threat to its influence. In the midst of this, the community remains united in its overarching goal: the recognition and celebration of Ali-aye Ligang as a statewide holiday in Assam.

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