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Ethnique12-Cultural Tourism Festival at Jorhat focuses on Mising Tribe

By Frs. Tarcisius & KA Thomas
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Dimapur, Jan. 16. The festival that kicked off at 5.00 pm on January 06, 2012, at Life Plus, Jorhat, was unique in every way. It was termed Ethnique12, a cultural tourism festival,  focusing on the life and culture of the Mising tribal community. This was the first edition of Jorhat's Own Annual Tourism festival, inaugurated by the Superintendent of Police, Dr. Sanjukta Parasor, IPS, of Jorhat.  
An important part of the opening session was the inauguration of Abhishek Memorial Media Education Centre, donated by Mr. Nobin Bora, sub divisional officer, Agriculture, in memory of his beloved son, Abhishek.  The boy died three years ago, on the day of his HSLC results.
The 2.5 acre Life Plus campus came alive simultaneously with dances in four locations, Assamese music and classical presentations on other stages, folktale enactments, street plays, and life scene depictions on different platforms. A variety of original photographs shot by Fr. Thomas, the director of the Institution for Culture And Rural Development (I-CARD), the host of the celebration, brought to life scenes from the remotest corners of the Mising tribe.  In another hall, there was continuous screening of video films  in English, Assamese and Mising, like ''Tribal Life in Majuli'',  ''Matmora'', produced by the renowned Hem Chandra Doley of Guwahati.
Dances included Selloya (the first dance of Misings as they came down from the hills), Mibu Dagnam  (divination dance by Mising Shaman) and Gumrag (spring festival dance depicting agriculture and other life scenes). The colourful shows captivated the audience at every stage.  Ali A:ye L�gang, the spring festival ritual,  was enacted in full length  again and again as the audience walked leisurely around the campus.  Suntara Mili and Sabitri Doley took the role of the Mising elderly woman who moved around singing from one presentation to another of rural scenes like tying a baby at the back of the mother, preparing for weaving, threshing of paddy, pounding of rice, sieving, boiling the fodder for the pigs etc.  Deepali, Debojani and Mohan went catching fish with sieves in Mising style  even as they shivered in the cold water.
The greatest attractions that kept the tourists spellbound were the folktale and street play enactments. Young actors taking the role of the monkey and the fox recounted traditional tales, using the trees as props. Comedy actors like Lobo Doley and  Jogyeswar Taye acted out social street plays in Assamese for the visitors.
The low-lighted , peaceful environment, with no plastic and no sound system , soothed nerves of the busy city dwellers. The whole exercise was meant to be a fair trade experiment, bringing home new values to this region. The visitors could not resist the titillating ethnic food items like kunnam apin, Porog Ja:l, chicken in rice powder, Bodo rice cakes,  P�kting Oying, Banam Adin etc,  served from Mising huts. Each item was unique to the occasion. 10 such huts on stilts lined the spaces between the almond grove of Life Plus campus.  For the full meals, ten dining platform houses were provided in Jeevanbhog, under teak trees.  In the cold winter, touching 6 degree Celsius, each food hut had a fireplace, typical to Mising homes.  The specially created huts could be used either as chair and table or as platforms for dining.
Tourists could walk around the campus, grab a plate, taste the food of one's choice, and sit at dance theatres, enjoying the performances, or move around over a bamboo bridge or in the almond grove, capturing memorable pictures.
Ethnique12 was an innovative ad-venture, created by Fr. Thomas, director of I-CARD, to highlight the capacities of 190 school dropouts whom he has trained over the past 10 years to become leaders of the Mising villages. They were the actors, singers, dancers, performers, volunteers, cooks and waiters at this never-seen-before festival, focusing only on one tribe, the Misings.  It was therefore a social cause, to attract investment socially and financially, into capacity building of these marginalized youth.  I-CARD has found in this basket called Ethnique, the possibility of placing all that Father Thomas has been experimenting with for this tribe, all that the tribe values, all its rich heritages, all that needs to be done to make a tribe radiant, such as internal transformation and external image building, all that the ethnic  Life Plus campus, has been made for,  came into play during this ethnique12.  Over 160 young people participated in the event.  For the first time tourism was viewed not as a business but as a social venture. Fr. Thomas is an Ashoka Fellow, elected by Ashoka Innovators for the Public, in 2002.
Ethnique12 will be celebrated during the first weekend every year. The chief theme is going to be the same, as I-CARD is experimenting its theories tribal empowerment in the Mising tribe. However, each year the organizers will invite a different tribe for cultural interaction. DTDC Courier, Jorhat branch, has committed itself to organize a school quiz about Assam. The Government Boys Higher Secondary and Multipurpose School students bagged the first prize at this year's quiz.
The general public has come forward enthusiastically to support this unique concept. The District Rural Development Organization put up stalls where local women could present their cultural wares. Over and above making the event self sustaining, Fr. Thomas would like Ethnique to be a fund raiser for his many interventions on behalf of the Mising tribe. The festival has brought together Misings  from towns and villages.  The young dropouts-turned-leaders were emotional when leaving the campus after the event. As miss Gayatri  summarized, ''we have done many things in villages, but we have never done it so professionally. Now we think before we do something, whether we are world-class. Now Misings and Non-Misings will begin to admire I-CARD.''
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