Namphake: Preserver of Tai Phake identity

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Namphake- an archaic village in Dibrugarh district of Upper Assam, about a kilometre and a half from Naharkatia, is home to the Tai Phake community, descendants of the great Tai race of Southeast Asia, writes Barasha Das for Guwahati-based platform The Borderlens.
Archaic because the community chooses to diligently hold on to their original lifestyle and traditions over modern means and amenities. Preserved over 100 years, this undiluted originality of the village gives outsiders a feeling of travelling back in time. This is summed up by a tourist who thinks, “It’s like I have time travelled to the Ahom era.”
It’s intriguing to witness a community of just about 2000 individuals, far away from the original homeland, overcoming all challenges to preserve the Tai customs in their purest form.
Unfortunately, with fast globalization posing more challenges than solutions, a substantial amount of the ancient Tai culture is on the fringes; likely to disappear and be forgotten in the next few decades, reported The Borderlens.
Far away from their other Tai relatives spread across Myanmar and Thailand, the small Tai Phake community of Assam has a population of hardly 2000. Crossing over the Patkai hills around 1775, the Tai Phakes migrated from the Howkong valley of Myanmar to the Northeast of India.
For the next 50 years, they shifted to several places in the Northeast, in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Presently, there are nine Tai Phake villages in the Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts; the largest being Namphake with about 70 households of 600 individuals, which was established alongside the Buridihing river in 1850, reported The Borderlens.
However, this preservation of their Tai customs has not been easy. The community proudly states that their conversion to Buddhism about 1500 years ago has helped them in preserving their original practices- the Tai traditions, culture, language, and even their early religious practices alongside Buddhism.

The Tai Phakes follow the Hinayana sect of Buddhism, similar to those of the other Tai clans of Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Sri Lanka. The Namphake Buddhist Monastery was established in 1850 along with the village, reported The Borderlens.
To the outsiders, the villagers speak fluent Assamese, but amongst themselves, the Tai language forms the main medium of communication. The Tai Phakes have evolved as a bilingual community- fluent in both Tai, and also the Assamese language.
To keep the younger generation hooked to the language, periodic classes on reading and writing in Tai are put together by members of the Tai community, reported The Borderlens.
But it’s not about the language alone. The struggle is not just to sustain our language but also our attire that is woven entirely within the community.
With the number of women who acquired the art of weaving the traditional Tai attire dwindling, the people of Namphake and the other eight Tai villages are entirely dependent on a few weavers who continue to maintain the tradition.
But as demands are rising with limited production, the prices of the Tai costume have soared much higher, further limiting the financially weaker section of the community from procuring these attires, reported The Borderlens.
As the usage of the language is gradually declining, and many Tai words are forgotten, the community has resorted to making modern songs whereby their folklore and several old words are incorporated. About five albums of 6-7 songs have been released so far.
Prior to Buddhism, the Tai Phake believed in an imageless spirit called the Chow Chau Phalong- a guardian spirit. A small shed or temple at one end of the Namphake village is dedicated to it. Even after conversion to Buddhism, their belief in the guardian spirit has continued unhindered, reported The Borderlens.
Namphake is a place where cultures and Buddhism blend to preserve the Tai Phake identity. (ANI)

This report is filed by ANI news service. TheNewsMill holds no responsibility for this content.

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