The Tiwas are one of the 17 ethnic groups belonging to the great Kachari race. The Tai-Ahom Chronicles (Buranjis) and also the writings of the British Raj recorded them as Lalungs. William Wilson Hunter in his 1879 work, A Statistical Account of Assam, Volume 1, mentioned them as inhabiting the then district of Nowgong (Nagaon). Currently, a majority of them live in Nagaon, Morigaon, Kamrup (rural), Karbi Anglong and Dhemaji districts of Assam. They are also found in pockets in Ri-Bhoi district of Meghalaya. The Tiwa language belong to the Bodo-Garo (Baric) division of the Sino-Tibetan language family.
The songs and oral traditions of the Tiwas reveal that they were once inhabitants of the Hillali Kingdom (their first kingdom), which includes the whole of old Nagaon district and the eastern part of Darrang district.
The Tiwas practice ambilineal descent, but it varies with topography. Those Tiwas that reside in the plains generally follow patrilineal decent, while those living in the hills adopt matrilineality. Twelve exogamous clans (known as khel/kul or wali) exists among them. They are: Macharang/Mosorong, Madur, Maloi, Dafor/Daphor, Hukai/Sukai, Amfli/Amphli, Lara/Larah, Chalang, Amchong/Amsong, Kakhor, Darnong, Loram. Again there are sub-clans within a clan. For example, Machereng and Magor are sub-clans of the Macharang clan and Fangsong, Pumbe (Puma) are sub-clans of the Maloi clan. But those practicing patrilineality in the plains rarely use their native clan names and have adopted surnames like Deoraja, Bordoloi, Konwar, Senapati, Dewri/Deuri, etc belonging to other ethnicities.
One of the biggest and the most popular festivals of the Tiwas is the Jonbeel Mela, a festival of bartering agricultural products, which dates back to at least the 15th century. It is held every year at Dayang Belguri in Morigaon district in the month of Magh. It is a three-day festival which starts from Thursday and winds up on Saturday. During the festival, the King of the Tiwas ("Gobha Raja") along with his ministers collect taxes from his subjects. The beauty of this festival lies in its theme of harmony and brotherhood amongst the various communities of North-East India.
TIWA TRADITIONAL WEAR
Paguri/Phaguri. A woven piece of cloth worn by wrapping several rounds round the head.
Thagla. A traditional jacket, usually in black.
Thenash. A slender piece of cloth worn criss-crossed across the body, like an "X".
Phaga. A neck-wrap.
Nara. A small piece of cloth worn round the waist like a belt. It is also known as tangali/tongali.
Dresses of the Hill Tiwas
Phaskai. A wrapper for the upper/cleavage part of the body, traditionally woven in white or yellow.
Nara. A small piece of cloth worn round the waist. It is also known as tangali/tongali.
Kasong/Kashong. A single-piece lower garment reaching upto the calves. It is usually maroon or deep blue in colour.
Dresses of the Plain Tiwas
Riha. A breast garment, woven locally.
Mekhela A piece of cloth drapped round the waist, reaching to the ankles.
Tukhuralengjai. A hackle, traditionally made out of the tails of a bhimraj (greater racket-tailed drongo). This is interestingly similar to the do·me of the Garos.
Women's Ornaments (Hills)
Khaidong/Khaitong. An earring, usually made of silver.
Shab-lo. A silver garland made of several strings. In Tiwa language, shab means "belt" and lo means "garland". It has a locket, known as khuntuni.
Sikini-lo. A necklace made of red beads interspersed with 4-anna silver coins. The red beads are known as lo koja (koja means "red"). The Dimasas also wear a similar one known as rangbarsha.
Thoga-lo. A necklace made of one-rupee coins.
Women's Ornaments (Plains)
Bena. A crescent-shaped pendant.
Dholbiri. Also called dhulbiri, it is a locket which is shaped like a dhol ("drum").
Galpata/Golpota. A necklace made up of square-shaped units.
[Nota Bene: This is not a complete list of all the traditional ornaments used by the Tiwas. There will be a separate page dedicated to them later.]