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Jayanta Kumar Sarma
Date of Publish: 2016-02-04

A recipe for tourism

A first of a kind Judima Festival in Haflong to promote wine tourism

On January 23 and 24, Assam’s Dima Hasau district saw a one-of-a-kind private initiative which, if it could heighten the tempo in the coming times, might significantly help augment tourism in the area.

The Youth Association for Development and Empowerment (YADEM) along with Dibarai Mahila Samity (DMS) hosted a two-day event titled Judima Festival, the first ever wine tourism initiative in Assam, near Haflong, the district headquarters.

Judima is the traditional rice wine of the Dimasas, the largest community of the district.  As per the organisers, the objective behind the two-day fest was to showcase the Dimasa culture to tourists visiting the district and make them aware of the traditional knowledge system of the area.  To deliberate on the issues of commercial possibilities of Judima, they held a workshop-cum-panel discussion where resource persons from Assam Agriculture University, NILU, Delhi, Aruhan Food Product, CSDC, SSEAEP and Haflong College gathered to brainstorm on ways to achieve the goal. (plate-8). Interestingly, almost all the panellists stressed on Geographical Indicator (GI) registration for Judima, much like the Feni -- the traditional wine of Goa, for protection of the community’s traditional knowledge along with thinking up ways to promote community-based entrepreneurial ventures around the rice wine.

Presently, there are regulations on sale of country liquor outside the locality producing it. Judima is considered a country liquor. The panellists felt if the brew was produced as part of a wine tourism initiative, it would be able to overcome such difficulties and could also provide an alternative to the locals to fetch better economic returns from it. Herein, they referred to successful wine tourism ventures in States like Maharastra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.

The traditional rice wine of the Dimasas -- living in the Dima Hasao district and also in the Barak Valley of the State besides in parts of Nagaland -- is used in celebrations and ritualistic practices of the community. As per a popular story on Judima brewing, a Dimasa man wrapped his rice in a banana leaf and headed to the fields to work one day. He hung the packet on a tree trunk and went about his usual business. At noon when he returned to have his lunch, he noticed a liquid coming out of the packet in droplets. He tasted the liquid and liked it. He figured that the tree on which he had hung the packet of rice had the quality to turn the cooked rice into a delicious brew. The tree, called Thembra in Dimasa, was a kind of wattle. Its scientific name is Acacia Pennata.    

Over the period of time, the tree became a common ingredient for preparation of starter cakes called Umhu or Humao in Dimasa language. To add variety to the taste and flavour, some Dimasas also began mixing into the boiled rice powdered leaves of Piper beetle, Buddleja Asiatica (both leaves and twigs) and Hedyotis Scandens (both leaves and twigs).

The Thembra tree, which belongs to the Mimosaceae family, is a large woody prickly climber with bipinnate leaves. It has pale white flowers arranged in terminal leafy panicles. The tree is reported to have some medicinal values. For example, the juice of its leaves mixed with milk is given to an infant with indigestion. The leaf is sometimes chewed with sugar and cumin seeds to stop bleeding of the gum. Also, the juice of the bark is considered an antidote to snake poison.

The bark of the tree is used as a substrate for preparing the rice starter cakes (Humao) which is then mixed with fermented cooked rice. Usually, the boiled glutinous variety of rice is mixed with the Humao and kept for 5-7 days to ferment. (plate-9). A study on the physiochemical parameters of the bark of the Acacia Pennata tree reveals that it has 15 per cent alcohol soluble extractive, 10 per cent methanol soluble extractive and pH value of 7.33 (As per the Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry, Vol. 2 No. 2 2013,pp.134-140). The bark also gives octacosanol, beta-amyrin, uvaol, beta-stosterol and its glucoside and erthrodiol. As per another study, the fermentation of the rice mixed with plants leaves/barks contain an array of phyto-chemicals, broadly described as phytoestrogens, terpenoids, carotenoids, limonoids, phytosterols, glucosinolates, polyphenols, flavonoids, isoflavonoids and anthocyanidins. These may provide health benefits including prevention and/or treatment of diseases and physiological disorders (International Food Research Journal 21(2), 2014: pp. 463-470). These phytochemicals, either alone and/or in combination, have tremendous therapeutic potential for various ailments (As per Journal of Chinese Medicine Research and Development 1, 2012: 70-78).

The brewing is mostly carried out by the women folk of the community, who prepare the rice cakes followed by the brewing. Judima has another important link to Dimasa women because of the main raw material used in it -- the rice. Majority of rice varieties, as per Dimasa culture, are named after the female clans (“Dimasas have 40 male clans called Semphong and 42 female clans called Julu or Jaddi). The cultural system considers the female as the curator of rice.

Not just in the North East, brewing of rice wine is a common practice across eastern and south-eastern Asia. An important characteristic of Asian rice wine is the use of a starter cake which supplies the necessary fungi and bacteria for the brew. The brewing is based on traditional knowledge which has been codified into words or transferred from one generation to another through ages, thereby suggesting a sense of common or communal ownership of it amongst different communities (Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge 3(4),2014: pp.374-382). However, only the Dimasas use the bark of a tree to prepare the starter cakes. This gives a unique feature to Judima. After mixing the starter cake with the boiled rice, it requires 5-7 days to complete the fermentation process when a slightly yellowish juice begins to come out of the fermented mass.  This can further be diluted with water and filtered for consumption. The ideal decanted product of Judima is creamy white liquor with pH 4.2 at 22oC. Over the period of time, colour and taste of the liquor also change.

From the perspective of intellectual property regime, the unique brewing method of the Dimasas need to be recorded in the People’s Biodiversity Register (PBR) of the respective area by the Biodiversity Management Committee (BMC), as per the provision of the National Biodiversity Act, 2002, and the Biological Diversity Rules, 2002. Moreover, the concerned authorities should apply for Judima the GI registration under Rule 41(1) of Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Rules, 2002.

The growing transport connectivity through broad gauge railway and improved highways will greatly help the district, particularly Haflong, to expand its potential in tourism and trade and commerce. It is in close proximity to the Barak Valley, and also has easy access to States like Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, Mizoram and to the international border with Bangladesh. Not just Judima, the traditional knowledge-based practices of the Dimasas and other communities of the district will get ample potential to turn the area into an eco-cultural destination for tourists (plate-10-21). It can be further augmented by adding the component of wine tourism. The Dima Hasao Autonomous District Council, which administers the district, can take the lead by preparing an action plan keeping community-based initiatives in mind.

 Jayanta Kumar Sarma

(Jayanta Kumar Sarma is a freelance consultant in the area of Environment and Development and  he has been working with NGO, Educational Institutions, private entrepreneurial farm and government agencies of North-east region. He did his Post graduation in Geography from Gauhati University and Post Master in Natural Resource Management from IIFM.)







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