Tribal Agriculture in the North-Eastern Hill Region
THE DEVELOPMENT of agriculture and stockbreeding in piehistoric times was a logical continuation of the food-gathering practices of early human societies. Men noticed that trees and plants bearing fruits, nuts and grain grew when the latter dropped on the ground. Many centuries passed before men could learn how to grow foodcrops in a planned manner. Slowly cultivation of land became the principal occupation of ancient human societies as they could now produce surplus food and build food stocks, since production of food could take place on an extended basis. Further, hunting activities in the early period of human history gradually gave way to the domestication of animals, as large groups of men rounded up wild beasts and subsequently tamed them.1
The most primitive tools for turning over the earth and removing roots were the digging sticks. As these tools could only reach the upper layers of the soil, production of a surplus could not be achieved with this primitive method. Even as early as the Bronze Age the digging sticks and hoes were replaced by ploughs drawn by oxen or men. But in some isolated parts of the woild these primitive instruments of labour are still used in agricultural production. And it is most interesting to note that the hill tribes inhabiting the bordering region of Assam, now sepa rated into different full-fledged states such as Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Arunachal, still cling to these primitive methods of agricultural production.
The hills of north east India form what mav be called a horseshoe and are inhabited by numerous tribes and sub-tribes who differ in economic, social and cultural organisation. The major tribes of this region are the Mizos, Khasis, Nagas, Mikirs, Kukis, Miris, Daflas, Abors, and Hmars. They speak different dialects or languages and differ widely in their ways of life. Rice is the principal fcodcrop of these tribes. The next in importance is maize, followed by other food-grains. The cultivation of pulses and chillies, fruits such as orange and pil.eapple, vegetables, and sugarcane constitutes the mmii souice of li\cHhocdof these tribes who are basically agricultural.