The Missing or Mishing tribes are Vaishnavites who are followers of Lord Krishna and comprise of 60% of the population in Majuli. The Missing tribe amount to around five lakhs in total in Assam alone and are considered to be the second largest tribal community in the North eastern states of India. The word Missing is derived from the words ‘Mi’ and ‘anshing’ which means Man and worthiness respectively. Hence, the Missing tribes are known to be men of worthiness.
The Missing tribes are descendants from south-east Asia and have roots traced back to Abo Tani (believed to be the first men on earth) who hail from the Chinese and Mongolian communities. The Missing tribe migrated and started building their colonies in Assam as early as the 16th century.
The Missing tribes have villages all across the Majuli Island. The Missing community is very rich in culture and have different folk dances and instruments which are played during different occasions and festivals. The language spoken amongst the Missing community is also known as Missing and belong to the Indo-Tibetan group of languages. The missing language also has a written dictionary and developed grammar.
They Missing community also practice Doni-Poloism which is the worship of the sun and moon god. It is believed that the original Abotani was a son of the sun and moon god. They are not very religious and do not follow any stringent religious practices. Most rituals are animalistic in nature and although they follow Vaishavaism which is completely opposite in nature. These practices have coexisted in the Missing community.
The literacy rate among the Missing tribe in Assam is around 68% and the occupation practised by most Mishing families in Majuli is either weaving or agriculture. They grow various crops such as rice, vegetables, tobacco, mustard and bamboo. The women learn the art of weaving at a very young age and make use of muga or silk and cotton to yarn the pieces of cloth.
Missing tribes are also well known for their preparation of Gadu which is a famous type of blanket which requires a lot of skill and knowledge to be made. Unfortunately, the art is going extinct in the last few years. The women also contribute to the family income by rearing pigs and other cattle outside their houses.
Most marriages in the Missing community are either conducted in a simple manner where the elders along with the bride and groom get together and bless the couple over a few bowls of rice beer. Another common practise is for the groom to elope with the bride and then gain social acceptance. It is a custom that the grooms’ parents pay a nominal amount to the bride or the bride’s parents. A formal wedding within the Missing tribe is also conducted with simplicity. Widows and widowers are allowed to remarry and polygamy is also allowed as per the customs but is not highly practised.
The traditional Missing houses are generally stilted and have a thatched top with bamboos used for the flooring, ceiling and walls. The Mishing houses in Majuli are built on top of concrete pillars to prevent flooding in the houses during the monsoon.
Ali-aye-leegang and Pohrak are the two festivals celebrated by the Missing tribes depending on their agricultural cycle. Ali-aye-leegang is celebrated on the first Wednesday in February marking the start of the sowing season. It is a five day festival and is celebrated by sowing seeds in their respective fields and praying for good crops for the season and for the over all well being of the household. During this festival, songs and dances are performed with traditional folk instruments by the young men and women in every house courtyard. On the third day of the festival, families host a feast for guests and the fourth day is known as the day of taboos where no wrong deed is practised. A sticky form of rice covered in leaves with cardamom is boiled and offered to the guests during the feasts.
Pohrak is the post harvest festival which is held during the early winter months or in August and September. It’s a three day affair where the tribes invite a large number of guests from neighbouring villages. It’s a common custom to invite Missing women married in outside villages during this festival. Dance and music is also an important part of this festival.
Another practise among the Missing community is that of animal sacrifice where a sow (pig) and some hens are sacrificed to ward of the evil or the wrong doing of someone in the family or in the community. During such occasions, it is common to see young men hitting the walls of the houses with the help of sticks to get rid of any form of ghosts and evil spirits. After this a feast is held far away from the village and anyone passing by the venue willingly or unwillingly have to either wait until the end or pay a fine to leave.
The Missing tribes are fun loving people and always ready to welcome guests. It is a common practise to join hands and greet the guests and offer them a bowl of rice beer. Within Majuli one can go to any of the Missing villages either on foot, cycling or by hiring a private vehicle.