Marriage, in very simple terms can be defined as social union or a contract between two individuals. There are various typologies of marriage, but my focus here shall not be on those but rather on a very interesting system of marriage which is prevalent among the Mising tribes of Assam (India).
India is mostly known for its concept of arranged marriage where some other persons, other than the couple to be wedded, mostly parents or relatives decide for the bride or the groom. But the Misings have very silently held on to a very old tradition. The Misings are the second largest tribe of Assam and are referred to as ‘Miri’ in the constitution of India to which the modern day Misings takes offence. The Misings live on the river banks and reside in districts of Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Sonitpur, Tezpur, Dibrugarh, Golaghat, Jorhat and Tinsukia of Assam. Agriculture and fishing are the major occupations of the Misings. Most of the population lives in abject poverty and the Mising villages are ravaged by floods every year. They live in ‘Chang Ghar’, a house which is built on stilted bamboo poles and are raised from the ground. It is believed that this housing style was developed by the Misings as a defense- mechanism for the floods.
The Misings are divided into two clans. Marriage within the clan is forbidden among the Misings. Flirting and suggestive measures between two people within the clan is strictly forbidden and is seen as a big offence but marriages between cross-cousins are allowed. Though there are different types of marriage among the Misings too, the focus here shall be on one system- ‘Marriage by Eloping’. Marriage by eloping is completely legal and has the sanctification of the community. In fact it is the most prevalent system of marriage in the community. Where else can you imagine that…..?????
The Misings are comparatively a liberal community in Assam, when it comes to courtships. Thus, after a relationship when the boy and girl decides to get married, most of the times it’s ‘Eloping’ which they choose. On a fixed date, the boy awaits for the girl at a definite place which is negotiated earlier on. Most of the times, the girl leaves the house on the pretext of going to visit a friend, or just going to some neighbour’s house. (My sister said she was going to the market and never came back…!). Most of the times, this is done with the help of some friends. The friends of the girl make sure that ‘the bride’ reaches the pre-decided spot safely and from there on the task is left to the groom and his friends. The bride also carries a big sack of clothes which she has herself woven for her use at her in-laws. Sometimes, the eloping couple is also chased by the family members of the bride who of course makes it more interesting and adventurous. These days the couples take the car or an auto rickshaw but in the olden days they use to run barefoot. And most of the times they use to take the jungle route to escape the eyes of the followers (Chasers).
As soon the news is received in the family, the elderly member of the groom‘s family (Usually the maternal uncle) goes and informs the bride‘s parents. They inform the bride’s family that their daughter has been brought by their relative and request them to accept the Tupula (consists of betel leaves and nut and some cash as a token). The acceptance of the Tupula by the father of the bride means approval of the marriage. After the acceptance of the bride’s family a brief ceremony is held in the groom’s family. The youth of the village gather together and make merry, sing songs and dances to the beat of the drums and to the tunes of the folk songs. Amidst this merriment the bride is welcomed to the family and as soon she sets her first step of the Chang ghar, she is socially accepted as the legally wedded wife of the groom. The couple also bow before the youth and the elderly who gathers at the ceremony to receive blessings from the community.
A simple and brief system without any big rituals but with lot of romanticism and adventure, this system of marriage has survived years and years without any major changes. The above mention system has little complications and is very beautiful. I belong to the same tribe and find this system of marriage very romantic and adventurous and strongly carry the urge to elope with my girlfriend. I hope my girlfriend agrees to the same.