Tai Ahom Culture And The Modern World Some Thought By— Dr. Stephen Morey, Professor, Lastrob University, Australia


                   
All around the world communities are trying to preserve and revitalize their unique languages, traditions, songs and stories. In an ago of globalization, where we  can all talk to each on facebook and where we can all listen to the same songs, watch the same movies and eat the same foods.there seems to be a loss of diversity and the richness of the human experience.
Actually there is a nothing new about this - the Tai ahom language, spoken as a mother tongue since the time that Chao Lung Siukapha arrived in assam (1228 AD), ceased to be spoken as amother tongue more than 200 years back, long before hindi films and Facebook. But although the language stopped being used every day,and was not thought by mother's to their children, yet the Tai ahom language does remain today.
The two most important locations of the tai ahom language today are (1)the traditional rituals, such as Me Dam Me Phi, and (2)the many Tai Ahom manuscripts which are preserved by the Deodhai in their homes across the Tai ahom area - but particularly in sibsagar district.
These tai ahom manuscripts cover a large range of different subjects:  The histories (Buranji) are reasonable well know, detailing the story of the Ahom Kingdom from Chau Lung Siukapha up to the 19th century. But there are many other types of manuscripts; some, like the poun ko miung, deal with the creation of the world and the foundation of the tai States form which the tai ahom came. These may be literal histories, or foundation myths, or something in between, but they tell a great deal about the basis of the tai ahom culture are political structures.
Perhaps most of the manuscripts, however, deal with ritual: predictions, spirit calling, prayers and information relating to the traditional calendar (Lakni) .These prayers are in some cases still performed as part of the Me Dam Me Phi Ceremony.
AS far as l have been able to understand, the current practice of celebrating Me Dam Me Phi on 31st January as a public ceremony dates back perhaps 40 to 50 years. Me Da Me Phi pays tribute to the various spirits of ancestors and others whose benevolence is required for the good management of society. I have witnessed prayers, described as Me Dam Me Phi, beng performed in traditional tai ahom houses and including similar prayers to those which will be performed across upper assam on 31 January.
The kitchen of a traditional tai ahom house is a most important location for the family. and a place where the ancestors are honoured. I have observed that in the traditional mud houses. Shoes are to be removed three, even when in the rest of the house they can continue to be worn.This is the location where some of those traditional houses prayers are to be said.
Much more study and research is needed on the contents of the tai ahom manuscripts and on the way in which the tai ahom rituals are performed, as well as the language and meaning of the prayers. Most of the tai ahom manuscripts remain untranslated and their meaning is not fully clear. The revival of the ahom cultural needs to be fully grounded in a clear understanding of all the richness that has been preserved in the ahom manuscripts. Over the last 10 years or so, I have been involved in a project to photograph the manuscripts.  Documenting conserving and archiving the tai ahom manuscripts of assam (http://rap.bl.UK/database/overview_project.a4d? projilD=EAP373), as well as work on the tai ahom dictionary (http://sealang.net/ahimsa). This work needs to go on, because their is much more still to be understood about the traditional tai ahom language, culture and ritual.
As i mentioned at the top of this article, we all face the challenges of globalization and modernization. All culture is undergoing change,and one way of meeting that change is the adapt our traditions to the modern world. So it that Me Dam Me Phi has developed into a public event. I have attended many such celebrations where the traditional rituals are performed, the prayers are intoned, some sacrifice and offering is made. In addition, there may be some show - singing of modern songs in Assamese or in tai ahom are maintaining their cultural uniqueness and adapting to the modern world.
I send my very good wishes to the Me Dam Me Phi committee in Teok. The annual Me Dam Me Phi festivals are an important part of the tai ahom identity. Your tai ahom culture is important. Study it, preserve it, practice it and promote it.