The Rabhas (or Ravas) are an ethnic group belonging to the Kachari race that originate from the Dooars. Today, they are present in the states of Assam, Meghalaya and West Bengal. In Meghalaya, the Rabhas live mainly alongside the Garos in the districts of Garo Hills. In Assam, they are dominant in the districts of Goalpara and Kamrup. In West Bengal, they are concentrated in Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts.
The Rabha language belong to the Koch subgroup of the Bodo-Koch division of the Sino-Tibetan language family.
Rev. Sidney Endle in his book The Kacharis listed seven of their recognized sub-tribes: Rangdani/Rongdani, Maitariya/Maitori, Pati, Koch (Pani Koch), Bitliya/Bitlia, Dahuriya/Dahori and Sangha/Hana. However, Totla and Chunga groups also form part of the Rabha community. The Rangdani/Rongdani dialect is the most dominant, and it was in this dialect that one of their earliest literary work Markni Nima Saikai, a translation of the Holy Gospel of St. Mark, was written in 1909. Rangdani Rabhas are mainly concentrated in southern areas of Goalpara district like Lakhipur, Balijana, Matia, Dudhnoi, Rangjuli and Dhupdhara and in the adjoining areas of North Garo Hills like Resu, Mendi, Harinkata, Manikanj and Thapa. The Rabhas from Tikrikila in Garo Hills are Maitori Rabhas. Dahori Rabhas are found in Jogigopha and Pancharatna areas.
Rabha girls learn traditional weaving from a very young age; it is part of their culture. Two of the popular folk-dances amongst the Rabhas are the Hamjar dance, which is about paddy cultivation, and the Farkanti dance, which is performed to cheer up the family of the recently deceased.
RABHA TRADITIONAL WEAR
Khopon. A turban worn by men.
Buksil. Also known as boksali, it is a traditional hand-woven cotton shirt.
Pasra. A wrapper for the body worn on one side of the shoulder. Traditionally, it is woven out of Eri (also known as Endi) and worn during the winter.
Fali/Sengkanen. A cloth which is tied round the waist or the head. It is also written as phali.
Pajal/Gamsa. A pajal is worn in the waist and reaches from the loins to the knees, but is usually shorter than the dhoti.
Khodabong. It is a woven piece of cloth for covering the head.
Pajar. A colourfully woven shoulder scarf, which often hangs from the left shoulder.
Kambung. A wrapper cloth for the cleavage area, it covers from chest upto the waist.
Rifan/Riphan. A richly decorated piece of cloth with colourful designs, a rifan is tied round the cleavage area and usually reaches upto the toe. A kambung covers the upper part of a rifan.
The Rabhas also knit motifs in the shapes of flowers, birds, animal footprints, etc., collectively known as Mokdamma Pul. Some of the comonly used motifs are: Hachu Mohor (Hillock), Dingkhia Mohor (Fiddlehead fern), Machi-par (Deer), Goray (Horse), Parao Mukum (Pigeon's eye), Chika-dara (Water wave), Kaudi Basar (Diamond shape).
Nambri/Numri. An ornament for the ear.
Hansa/Hancha. A heavy round necklace made of silver.
Siki Mala. Also known as sukiya, it is another large necklace made of old coins.
Kata Baju/Kanta Baju. An armlet made of silver.
San Fofla. A silver bangle.
Rubak. A multi-tiered waistband.
[Nota Bene: This is not a complete list of all the traditional ornaments used by the Rabhas. There will be a separate page dedicated to them later.]