Namphake is a small village in the Indian state of Assam in the northeast. About 60 km from Dibrugarh town, the village is located on the banks of Burhi Dihing River. It looks like any other village in Assam, but a section of the village residents, direct descendants of the great Tai race, make it unique.
According to the Guwahati-based platform The Borderlens, the people belonging to the Tai race are believed to have migrated from the Shan Kingdom Mong Mao (Muang Mao), of Myanmar in the 18th century.
The Tai Phake community has resolved to preserve its identity and, most importantly, the language of their origin. In front of outsiders, they speak fluent Assamese, while amongst themselves, they communicate in the Tai language. Thus, the Tai Phakes have evolved as a bilingual community -- fluent in both Tai and Assamese languages.
The Tai Phakes follow the Hinayana sect of Buddhism, similar to those of the other Tai clans of Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Sri Lanka. The Namphake Buddhist Monastery was established in 1850 along with the village, reported The Borderlens.
The Tai community in this Assam village have their ancestors in Myanmar and Thailand and their relatives are spread across both the countries.
“They crossed the Patkai hills in around 1775 and migrated from the Howkong valley of Myanmar to the Northeastern part of India. They kept on moving for the next 50 years and finally settled in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh,” wrote Barasha Das on The Borderlens.
The Tai clans are spread in countries like Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Sri Lanka. The Tai Phakes of Namphake village follow the Hinayana sect of Buddhism, which is practised among the Tai clans in like Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Sri Lanka.
Commenting on challenges being faced by the community, a senior member of the community said, “Gradually, we are losing our heritage and culture to local culture. Even though we are trying hard to preserve Tai language, we have lost many words.”
“As the usage of the language is gradually declining, and many Tai words are forgotten, the community has resorted to making modern songs whereby their folklore and several old words are incorporated. About five albums of 6-7 songs have been released so far.”
The Tais have a strong culture of weaving their own dresses. They are facing competition from modern garment companies, still trying to preserve the tradition.
“The struggle is not just to sustain our language but also our attire that is woven entirely within the community. With the number of women who acquired the art of weaving the traditional Tai attire dwindling, the people of Namphake and the other eight Tai villages are entirely dependent on a few weavers who continue to maintain the tradition,” news agency ANI quoted some villagers as saying to The Borderlens.
The village has become a centre of attraction among tourists, who are happy to see ancient culture preserved in a remote village in India.