Revitalization of Endangered Language and Culture of the Ahoms: The Background, Problems and Prospects ණ...Chao Medini Mohan Gogoi, Cheraidoi

                    The Tai Ahoms are one of the westernmost Tai ethnic groups whose language belongs to the Southwest group of the Tai branch of the Tai-Kadai language family. According to the written evidence found in the historical chronicles,the Tai Ahoms,under the leadership of the king Chao Lung Duo Kwa Faa, entered into Muong Dun Sun Khan from the great Tai Kingdom Muong Mao in 1228 AD and made the glorious history of reigning continuously for almost six hundred years.
                      The Ahoms have a very rich treasure of their literary, linguistic, religious,and cultural heritage,in spite of having this enormous heritage,due to unavailable breakdown of political scenario, cultural and religious switching gradually led it's heritage towards the verge of extinction.
               At present very few people are remaining who know their classical Tai Ahom language to some extent,and know their original cultural and religious principles perfectly.In the other words,all aspects of the Tai Ahom language, cultural and religion are critically endangered at present.
               ln this paper,an endeavor would be made to examine the background reasons of Tai Ahoms linguistic and cultural decay,and the efforts of the Ahom people to revitalize their language and culture,and their problems and prospects.

               Background :  The term Tai denotes a race of Tai-Kadai speaking people (consisting of more than 93 enthic groups) of Mongoloid origin who live in the large tracts of China and Southwest Asia.The maximum area in which the Tai-Kadai languages are spoken stretches from southern China (chiefly Guanxi,Guizhou,and Yunnan)to Thailand,Laos,and the northern part of Malay Peninsula,and to the northern sections of Myanmar and Upper Assam in India1.One of them is the Tai Ahoms, whose language belongs to the Southwest group of the Tai Ahom is in Muong Dun Sun Khanm,the present day Assam,situafed in the north-eastern part of India.
                      According to historical records,the Tai-Ahoms came from Muong Mao (Yunnan Province in the present-day China) in the year 1211 and reached Assam in 1228 AD2. The Tai Ahoms have their glorious history of reigning continuously for almost 600 years before the final subjugation of their country in the Indian subcontinent.
                         Many present day scholars and historians opine differently regarding the etymology of the name Assam.But, looking into the primary and genuine written resources, many modern researchers, including this researcher,fell that this land was
not know as Assam before the arrival of the Tai speaking Ahom language,we will find the use of the literal meaning Muong Pa Kan Ban Tuk Nuk Non Nam instead of the word Assam3. In the history it is written that king Suo Kaa Faa descended from Muong Mao with his 9000 followers 14 or 15 years before entering into the Brahmaputra valley in 1228 AD. In the long period of 600 years reigns,the culture of the Ahom people was intermingled with the cultures of the indigenous Tibeto - Buman Moran, Borahi etc.people,and later in the pre and post - British period it was overpowered by the cultural and religious principles of the Hindu Aryans.
             Though they had their own distinct literary, linguistic, cultural,and religious heritage which was prevalent during the reign of the Ahom kings were gradually replaced by the Assamese language and cultural,and excluding the three priestly clans,most of the Ahom people were converted to Hinduism.'The language today is used chiefly for liturgical purpose.It retains cultural significance and is used for religious chants and to read literature'4. Though,there are different socio - cultural and political factors responsible for this change, yet it seems that the Arabization of the Ahoms was one of the major reason behind their inclination or proclivity towards the Assamese language and cultural.
              a living society,the process of linguistic and cultural shifting occurs very slowly so that people can rarely recognize it. lt happened in the case of the Ahoms.In the process of socio-cultural assimilation,the Ahoms enriched their competenc in Assamese language and most of them accepted Assamese culture,and were converted to Hinduism.But,in turn, unknowingly they had to sacrifice almost all the aspects of their own enormous ethnic heritage.
                   Though most of the Ahoms gradual negligence on their own enthic language and cultural for a long period resulted in the loss of the spoken form of their tonal language,and led their cultural heritage to an endangered state,yet there were few people who dedicated themselves for the revitalization of their long abandoned language and cultural.At present also there are so such people,but the numbers are relatively few.
                    Historical evidence reveals that the Ahom king Gaurinath Shingah, having seen the gradual decreasing linguistic competenc of his people,sent a team of Ahom pundits to Muong Mao to develop their linguistic skills and cultural-historical knowledge with an aim of developing their literary and cultural heritage afterwards.The compilation of Lik Om Ruu Lung, popularly known as Bor Amra - written by Tengai Mohung - and Lik Om Ruu Lot li popularly known as Loti Amra - written by Ramakanta Boruah -,and the Buddha Jataka stories Ne Mi Mang Phura, Alika Phura etc.can be considered as a result of this endeavour.
                 Then,the later period was not favourable for the literary development.The Muwamoriya revolt,the war with Burmese,and then British rule continuously created havoc and altered the environment forever.However ,the Mo-Lungs of the priestly clan of the Ahoms did not stop their endeavour for revitalizing their own language and cultural.In this period, many Ahom manuscript were re - copied by the Mo Lungs with the aim of preservation of their literary heritage to the future generations.Out of them,the most noteworthy mo lung was Mo Kham Phu Ke, who wrote a historical manuscript, entitled,Ku Muong Ku Wan, which reflects the socio-political events of that period.Another noteworthy mo lung was Ratan Bahtoliya Phukon,who has started a Tai school and wrote several manuscripts in Ahom language,out of the which the manuscript "Lik Son Kham"5 is worth for mentioning in this context.
              The importance and essentially of dictionary and grammar in language revitalization cannot be denied.In the last decade of the 19th century and in the early part of 20th century, under the guidance of the American Baptist Missionaries an attempt had been done for revitalization of Ahom language.The fruit of this endeavour resulted in ahom-english-assamese dictionary in 1920,and the English translation of Ahom Buronji in 1930.
                    Simultaneously,"On July 18,in 1894 AD, Charles Lyall,the 'time has come for q sustained and systematic endeavour to arrest the process of destruction of such historical manuscript are still survived in the province".His views were endorsed by Edward Gait,the then census commissioner of India,who was at that time compiling materials for his work,which prompted him to submit a "Report of the process of historical research"in Assam, which was was published in 1897.
                 Both gait and Lyall felt the necessary of establishing a separate department for pure historical studies in the province of Assam, which had no university.John Richard Cunningham,the director of public instruction of Assam submitted a formal proposal, which was accepted by the governor of Assam.Thus the Department of Historical and Antiquarian studies (DHAS) was established in 1928 in Assam6. 'Though this institute was made for studying pure history,yet it produced two important books (Ahom Primer by Ghanakanta Boruah in 1935 and Ahom lexicons by B Boruah and N.N Deodhai Phukan in 1994) which,to some extent,played and important role in the linguistic revitalization of the ahoms, although these two have lots of shortcomings.
              ln the post British period when Assam was included as a part of Indian subcontinent,the central Tai principal-cum-Tai language teacher of this academy was Sai Long Let Gohain.Our respected Mo Lung Jonathan Chain Phukon,Mo Lung Puspa Mohan,Mo Lung Shiva Mohan etc.were the students of the first batch of that academy.7 After teaching Tai language for one year.Sai Khong Let Gohain could not continue his job for financial reason and returned to his native village.Then,Mo Lung Shiba Mohan and Mo Lung Jonathan Phukan took the charge of the principal and vice-principal respectively.Mo Lung Jonaram Philanthropy is the one of most respected Mo Lungs who dedicated his life for the development of Tai Ahom language.Culture and religion.He wrote many books , articles on ahom language for revitalizing our long abandoned heritage.
                  In 1973, a Tai language wing was established under the Department of Assamese in Dibrugarh University.From 1974 to 1991 the University offered one year Tai language Diploma course to the students.And from 1992 it was upgraded to an integrated two year Tai language diploma course.The whole wing has been run by appointing two research assistant from Tai speaking group on contractual basic. In 2010, a Three month certificate course on spoken Tai languages was introduced and in the same year,the tai language wing was upgraded to the centre for students in Language.From the time of introduction of tai language in 1974,the Dibrugarh University has been producing it's tai language diploma in almost every year.
Another two noteworthy Tai language teaching institutes are the institute of Tai studies & Research (ITSAR) established in 2001,Moranhat,and the Purnakanta Buragohain institute of Tai and Southwest Asian languages, established 2011, situated in Bhetapara in Guwahati.ITSAR is an affiliate autonomous institute under Dibrugarh university and offers a one year Tai language diploma course and a three month certificate course in spoken Tai affiliated to D.U, Where the P.K Buragohain institute is a totally autonomous institute and offers a foundation course in Tai language of nine months duration of their own.Moreover,the institute of Tai studies & Research is a purely academic institute dedicated to promoting knowledge about various Tai people in the world.
                Other then these institutionalised endeavors,the individual contributions of the Ahom scholars and mo lung are also noteworthy.Some of the Ahom scholars and pundits who has their noteworthy contributions towards the linguistics and cultural revitalization process of Tai Whom are - Late Tengai Mohan,Late Sikiri Logan,Late Ramakanta Molai Ghoriya Boruah,Late Lepeshwar Hatiboruah,Late Pancharam Philanthropy,Late Gudam Phukan,Late Ratan Bahtoliya Phukan,Late Ramakanta Boruah,Late Gandheshwar Deodhai,Late Mo Lung Nanda Nath Deodhai Phukan,Late Mailing Dambaru Deodhai Phukon, Late Mo Lung Tileshwar Mohan,Mo Lung Bimai Borpatra Gohain,Mo Lung Baparam Hatiboruah,Mo Lung Harbeshwar Hatiboruah,Ghana Kanta Boruah,Dr.J.N.Phukon,Ye Hom Buragohain , Dr.Nomal Gogoi,Dr.Puspa Gogoi,Dr.B.K.Boruah, Dr.Girin Phukon,Chao Nagen Hazarika, Mo Lung Rajen Boruah,Mo Lung Cabin Buragohain,Mo Lung Nagen Borgohain, Mo Lung Purandar Konwar, Dibya Chetia, Phanldhar Phukon, Jnyana Nanda Changbun Phukon, Nang Tilu Hatiboruah, Nang Hemalata Borghain , Nang Debajyoti Phukon, Babul Phukon, Medini Madhav Mohan, Late Gopal Borgohain, Mo Lung Bishwa Changbun Phukon, Late Binanda Mohan, Late Nakul Mohan, Bhadreshwar Deodhai Phukon, Laxman Boruah, Karuna Changbun Boruah, Dina Changbun Boruah, Moni Deodhai Boruah, Bani Deodhai Boruah, Nripen Mohan,Dipen Hatiboruah,Kamal Chandra Mohan, Pabitra Mohan Phukon, Horen Mohan Phukon, Dhamen Phukon, Chao Naben Mohan, Anupom Gogoi,Manchu Charmua,Phani Gogoi,Sidhi Charingia, Manik Charingia,Jayguru Ligira, Nandeshwar Phukon,Dulen Phukon,Medini Mohan Gogoi,Rana Mohan, and few more. The contributions of Mahendra Shyam Fa Lung,Sai Khong Let Gohain,Ai Miya Khang Gohain, Nabin Shyam Falung, Rajat Namsom, Ngi Pe Thon Gohain,Am Son Gohain,Ganesh Lozon,etc.from the Tai-speaking groups of Northeast India,and foreign schoolars Dr.B.J Terwil,Dr.Stephen Money etc.are also worth for mentioning in this context.
              Besides these, however, Ahom unions such as all Assam Ahom Sabha,ATASU,TAIPA etc.are currently working in the political ground, whereas Mohan Deodhai Bailing Sanmilon, Tai Ahom development council, Ban Ok Lik Muong Tai etc.are giving a platform for nourishing and developing Tai Ahoms' linguistic and culture heritage.
                 With the advent of information technology, it becomes possible to change the traditional teaching-learing environment.By using the platform of Facebook, created by Mark Zuckrberg,some young Ahom scholars and learners are trying to spread the boundary of learning Tai Ahom Language and Culture.Out of which the most noteworthy and activate group for language teaching is Ahom scholar Medini Mohan Gogoi's group Tai Ahom words (Dectionary).Other Facebook groups which trying to spread the information of Ahom language and culture are universal Tai Ahom association,Tai Ahom Ami, Tai Ahom Jagaran Mancha,We the Mighty Ahoms, etc.But,the administrators of these groups are young learners, hence,new learners,who has little or no knowledge on Tai language and culture are advised to accept the available data with caution to minimize the error in learning.However,two active societies,STAR and Doi Paat Kai were born through Facebook who are currently contributing a lot for the revitalization of Ahom language and culture.
           Problems: The revitalization process of long abandoned Ahom language and culture by the ahoms is in fact an emotional decision.Starting from the middle period of ahom reigns, excluding the three priestly clans, most of the Ahoms were gradually converted to Hinduism,become multilingual but they lost competence in their own mother tongue, adopted Aryan culture,and from their mind and heart they become totally Hindu.They started seeking recognition as Kshatriyas amongst the Hindus.But, contray to their expectation,when they did not get such recognition (because, normally the converted people get the lowest rank in every religious hierarchy.), they tried to revitalize their long abandoned heritage.In this process, they started working too fast to recognize the possible errors.8 lt is a human characteristics that no people can recognize his own mistake as soon as he committed it .Hence, it is essential for every work to be peer reviewed.
                 Let us now see how the foreign scholars express their opinion regarding the errors made by the Ahom. Dr.B.J Terwiel,a professor of Thai and Lao language in Hamburg university, rightly pointed out this fact―
"During the last one hundred and fifty years our knowledge of the contents of documents in the Ahom language has not advance much.Recently,it has been argued that this lack of progress is not primarily caused by a lack research tools, such as such as sources describing Ahom script,the structure of the language or dictionaries,but almost paradoxical,by publications on this topic which may have hundred the satisfactory decipherment of Ahom.During the late 1890s it was decided to include a treatment of Ahom in one of the monumental Linguistics survey of India and, according, certain samples of the language were solicited.The person who was asked to supply this basic material,a G.C. Boruah,knew the Ahom script quiet well,but apparently he was still unable to understand any of the many Ahom documents around him.Instead of admitting that he was not capable of handling the allotted task,he deliberately concocted some samples of his own accord, apparently assisted in his task by the incentive use of some word lists,the grammar of the Assamese languages and a lively imagination.The principles of the Ahom language,as published in the linguistics survey,in the Zeitschrift dear Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft and in the introduction to the Ahom-Assamese-English dictionary,are largely based upon an analysis of these fanciful,if not outright decetiful, samples."9
                   "In 1930 there appeared in book-form the translation of a major Ahom text entitled Ahom Buronji.The translator was the same Golap Chandra Boruah who,some thirty years earlier,had been unable to furnish the translation of a genuine Ahom text .... since only Ahom pundits could read Ahom script and because they were generally unable to decipher English,it was not until more than fifty years later that a beginning was made on a critical appraisal of whom buronji (by professor Prasert Na Niagara)....There can be no doubt that Praset's translation is close to what the ahom document intended and and that Barua's effort hardly warrants begin called a translation."10
     Prof. Terwiel again wrote -"The unwary who wishes to make a tentative word by word translation of an Ahom text will find that available dictionaries will not be helpful.The first Ahom Assamese English dictionary appeared in 1920.lts compiler was non other than Golap Chandra Boruah,whose proficiency in ahom was at best questionable."11 here,Prof.Tenwiel brilliantly expresses how the misinformation was being projected by hands of an aspiring but incompletent job seeker.
    #From the description of Prof. Terwiel on G.C Boring we can find out the problem of studying or translating Ahom document properly lives in the unavailability of up to date and well researched dictionary and grammar,luck of language teaching material for the beginner, intermediate,and advance level students.
         ln the 14th year Dr. Lila Gogoi Memorial lecture,Dr. Bhimkanta Boruah, Professor Emeritus,Dibrugarh university.said about the Tai entnic groups of North East India in his lecture that he has seen in his entire academic life that the Tai people who can speak Tai language cannot read Tai script,and those who can read It script cannot speak Tai language."This is in fact a major problem indicated by professor Boruah.
             Another problem was rightly mentioned by Prof. B.J. Terwlel years before.That is the creation of pseudo Ahom structures. When he first came to Assam for his research purpose on Ahoms,he was supposed to see the use of Assamese grammatical structures in the Ahom sentences uttered by the Ahom revivalists.
             "The fact that when, during the subsequent interview,the priest mentioned some of the ingredients,he arranged the Ahom words in Assamese fashion,for example,'there ducks'eggs' were designated as 'sam khai pit', whereas any Ahom speaker or person familiar with Ahom ritual texts would have said khai pit sam bai,or khai pit sam luk."12
           "A few examples should suffice to show that the religious chants used in Chaklong are no more than a series of Ahom sounding words strung together by people who have no idea about Tai Grammar and who has simply used dictionaries in an attempt at word for word translation. On p.81 of Gogoi's description (1976) we came across the sentence khung lu mao cao kao di khap ao jao, which is translated as"l respectfully accept your order",The most probable dictionary equivalents of these words are: khrueang lu 'offering; ma chao 'priest; kao 'l; di di 'very good;sia 'a suffix; hap 'to accept; ao to take; and jao 'frinished; These words can all be found in Ahom Lexicons (Boruah and Pukaon 1964). To any Tai speakr, however,it is gibberish."13
      #In general all Tai language are tonai.Having been a member of the Tai Kadai language family,Ahom also highlights itself that it was once a tonal language at least before the loss of its spoken form.Now, nobody knows what the tones of classical Ahom language were.In this situation,how can a teacher teach the tones of ahom to the beginners!
          #Non-employability is one of the major problems for the Tai ahom learns.After spending two or years in the name of studying,the students have to remain jobless.Hiteshwar Saikia,the ex-prime minister of Assam,had created 300 posts of Tai language teachers for primary schools.Out of these 300 posts 200 teachers were appointed but the remaining 100 posts are not yet opened for same unknown reasons. In this situation, students who learn the beginners 'level course do not want go for the next level.
         #Lack of well equipped and well trained teacher is also can be considered as another major problem.
         #Lack of well translated and high quality material is also another problem for up gradation of course content/syllabus or staring a new course.
         #Lack of well trained person for reaching Ahom culture.

 Prospects :
              Though the spoken from ahom language has been lost, culture is endangered,yet there are many scope and prospects for studying ahom language and culture.
              ln the first place, Ahom language was remained completely isolated from other Tai groups for several hundred years.Hence,it cannot be denied that the language displays certain archaic features,and the knowledge of ahom language can help a research to understand the words of other Tai languages whose meaning has been changed in due course of time. For example, Baan means house in standard Thai,whereas Baan means village in Ahom.It shows the old and original meaning of the word Baan remains in Ahom.
                   Secondly, Ahom is free Khmer,and pail loan words unlike the Thai language.The study of Ahom language can help to identify the proto type of Ahom language.
               Thirdly,the study of Ahom language may help in the reconstruction of 'Proto-Tai' language to some extent.
                Fourthly,Ahoms were ancestor worshipper,and the followers of animistic beliefs.A comparative study of Ahom culture followers of animistic beliefs.A comparative study of ahom culture Will be value for a deeper understanding if Tai culture in general.A comparative research on ahom cultural may revel some old tradition, custom and belief of Tai people.
            Fifthly, According to Prof.Bhimkanta Boruah,the Tai language, including Ahom,can be the link language for Southwest Asia for business purpose.Just we have to develop it to that extent.
               Sixthly,the spreading of the use of the Ahom language can economically benefit a person who knows to some extent and knows to type Ahom fonts in computer. Through this knowledge he can either work as a Ahom proof reader or a DTP operator. Though, by doing so, in the present scenario, one cannot earn his living, but he may think it as a part time earning.
                 Seventhly,if anybody learns ahom culture,and can teach ahom music/ahom dance.He may also earn some amount of money by working as a music/dance teacher.But,to be a complete professional,he must have to improve is skills and knowledge.
               Eightly,after learning ahom language and ahom culture properly, one can also develop Tai music videos,mp3,etc,and published books, charts etc., or can make sculptures for this economic benefit.
             Conclusion : From the above study,it can be realised that Ahom language and culture is worth for studying in the higher academic level.The study and research on Ahom language and culture can open a door for the comparative and contrastive research with the other Tai language and cultures of Southwest Asia.Or it can be also used for economic benefit by those who do not go for academic purpose.
               Though there are many problems,yet there are a lot of prospects.If the Ahom people really want to revitalize their own ethnic language and culture properly and perfectly,then they must overcome all the problems.And the research is also hopeful that,by doing so,the Ahoms will definitely create a new history in near future.
           In fact, problems are not seen as problems by the opportunists.They every problem into opportunity.

  Footnotes :
       1.See Wichasin,2012,P98
       2.See Boruah,1930,P44-47
       3.See Boruah,1330.P.44
       4.See Konwar,Anita
       5.a copy of Lik Son Kham Tai Ahom is preserved in the manuscript section of the library of the institute of Tai studies & Research.
         6.The Telegraph, Saturday,May 15,2004. http:;/
         7.Interview with Mo Lung Jonaram Changbun Phukon on 14.04.2012
          8."The chief problem appears to be that the leaders of the Ahom revivalist movement have to had the opportunity to see the results of our work with old Ahom documents.They have impatiently forged ahead and moved along the first steps of the path to create a form of neo-Ahom language that bears little or no resemblance to Ahom as it was once spoken."P.60,Ahom Ritual: A brand new ancient tradition,B.J. Terwiel,in Indian journal of tai studies,volume.V.2005.
          9. P.1. Introduction, Terwiel,1992
          12.P,15, Terwiel,2002