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Mangalsingh Rongphar
Date of Publish: 2015-08-10


Han-up-ahi-kiti: Karbi celebration for a pork delicacy

Mangalsingh Rongphar

Slaughter, slice, season and savour – this is the routine followed across the world for meat products. Few, like the Karbi ethnic community in Assam, go through an elaborate celebration to relish theirs.

A meal without pork, salted, smoked, wet-cured or steamed, is a rarity for the tribes of Northeast India. The Karbis inhabiting Assam’s Karbi Anglong district love phak-ok (pork) too, but would rather wait months for a special delicacy seasoned with bamboo shoots.

The preparation for this delicacy undergoes a ritualistic celebration called Han-up-ahi-kiti, where han-up means bamboo shoot. The preparation, though, is not popular among the Karbis living in Assam’s plains; their counterparts in the hills of Karbi Anglong just cannot do without it during festivals or community events.

A popular Karbi saying goes thus: “Chiti-han-up-ahi-kiti”. It means preparing for the pork delicacy during Chiti, a month in the Karbi calendar that corresponds to the Gregorian September. During Chiti, people of a particular village or area go to a nearby hill to collect bamboo shoots while playing the chengburup (traditional Karbi drum) and singing folk songs in traditional attire. They select a bamboo with offshoots, circle it ritually and offer puja to their gods.

After the puja, a youth of the Ronghang clan cuts the bamboo shoots and hands them over to a young girl of Timung clan. The celebration begins after the girl places the bamboo shoots in a hak or hora (bamboo basket). This is a signal for the other villagers to cut and collect bamboo shoots from different bamboo groves.

But the shoot-harvesting comes with a rider. The bamboos of the hill from where the bamboo shoots are collected for han-up-ahi-kiti cannot be cut for any other purpose for the whole year.

How did this tradition of collecting bamboo shoots begin? According to a Karbi legend, a Ronghang boy and a Timung girl had first gone to collect bamboo shoots from the hills during Jir Kedam, an agricultural custom that boys and girls of traditional youth dormitories observe together.

While returning to the village, they cut the shoots from the bamboo groves en route. It was a sign for other villagers to know that the bamboo shoots were being harvested for han-up-ahi-kiti. This caught on, primarily to keep the tradition alive.

After the harvesting is done, the villagers collect the bamboo shoots at a particular place. The village women then cut the bamboo shoots into small pieces, keep them on banana leaves placed on bamboo mats and pound them with bamboo poles.

It is then the turn of the men folk to cut slabs of pork into small pieces. These are subsequently mixed with the bamboo shoots and allowed to ferment in a large conical bamboo basket for three-four months. In some areas, small pieces of pumpkin and chilli are added to the mixture.

This basket is usually 20-25 ft in height, and its inner side is lined with banana leaves for preserving the han-up-ahi or the bamboo shoot-pork mixture. Villagers climb a bamboo ladder to pour the mixture into it rhythmically with the beats of the chengburup.

The pouring follows a norm; the village headman, known as Rong Asar, starts the process followed by the boy from the Ronghang clan and the girl from the Timung clan.

A long piece of bamboo is placed at the bottom of the conical basket for collection of a viscous fluid that trickles from the mixture of fermented pork and bamboo shoots. This fluid is used to add flavour and taste to dishes made from leafy and other vegetables. Pieces of pork and pumpkin are added for that extra punch.

Karbis just cannot have enough of this delicacy that they feel is worth the wait.

(Mangalsingh Rongphar is a freelance writer and an Extension Officer in the Panchayat and Rural Development Department, Assam)

(A link of a video documentation  'Han-up ahi kiti' by Mangalsingh Rongphar in Video Section)



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