A Guide to Ancient Market in Assam Where Barter Still Thrives read full article at worldnews365.me

Driving to Morigaon at pre-dawn was always a tough call for me. However, the lure of the Jonbeel Mela was such that I couldn’t hold myself back. The low visibility due to the early January dense fog on the National Highway 37 delayed me by an hour. By then, the football field size-fair was filled with people from the hills and the plains. There were people in their tribal attire on both sides of the entry road trading their commodities.

For me, it was an opportunity to break away from the shackles of routine city life and lose myself in the rarest market in the world. A place where I could forget my wallet, my debit or credit cards… basically all my worries.

People come to the fair with a good amount of homemade ‘teel pitha’ (local sweet delicacy), which is exchanged with wild turmeric, ginger and local folding knife by the indigenous people. It’s astonishing that in this age of crypto money, one can buy things without any currency. Yes, this happens only in India.

(Image: News18)

This is the only event in which the world’s oldest trade mode is still alive. Today is the second day of the three-day annual fair and the most relevant one. On this day, one can buy the products of hills brought by the tribal of the Tiwa, Khasia and Karbi communities in exchange for your own. No weight or scale is used, and most transactions are based on solid trust, belief and mutual consent.

BJP’s Morigaon MLA Ramakanata Deori, who attended the fair, said he took around 12-kilogram of hill-grown pepper. “I have been visiting this fair since my childhood. The fair has grown and prospered today. You get some rare hill produce which you won’t find anywhere. The hill tribal brings lac and the dhuna. I exchanged them for pithas,” he stated.

History of Jonbeel Mela

Held by the banks of the crescent moon-shaped lake and thus the name Joon(Moon) beel (lake) mela, the genealogy of the fair can be traced back to the 15th century with a three-day programme celebrated under the auspices of the then Gobha kingdom with the participation of the Jaintia king of neighbouring Meghalaya.

(Image: News18)

The world’s oldest system of trade is kept alive by the Tiwas, a tribe of Central Assam and neighbouring Meghalaya in the fair. A few days before the fair, which falls on the Makar Sankranti, members of Tiwa, Karbi, Khasi and Jaintia tribes come down from the neighbouring hills with various products.

(Image: News18)

The products usually traded during the fair include ginger, bamboo shoots, turmeric, pumpkin, medicinal herbs, dried fish and ‘pithas’ (rice cakes). The tribals barter their products with salt, oil, clothes, utensils and other items which mother nature does not bestow upon them. The transactions defy all laws of business economics.

“I have been coming here since my childhood. We bring chira (flattened rice), dry fish, pitha and exchange them with the special chilli from the hills, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon rolls and pepper pods. They are of exotic quality and pull through the year. We do not fight or quarrel about the exchange portions or the amount exchanged. Everything is based on trust and friendship among us,” expressed Rupali Bordoloi, a local from Morigaon.


The fair begins with an ‘Agni Puja’ (obeisance to the fire god) for the well-being of humanity. The ‘Tiwa’ king Deepsingh Deoraja (also called Gova Raja as the ancient kingdom of the Tiwas was known as Gova), along with his ‘courtiers’, participated in a community feast and then collected a customary tax from his subjects.

Two peethas for a hand full of turmeric. Ten portions of turmeric for ten pitches. It’s interesting; no one deals in cash here, but nothing is measured on scales too. It’s all ‘bhags’ (parts). The economics here is simple and sorted.

(Image: News18)

The Tiwas, one of the many Tibeto-Burman tribes found in Assam, are subdivided into hill Tiwas and plains Tiwas based on their habitat. They have their language and culture, but most now speak Assamese.

The kings, on this day, meet and interact with the people to try and understand their issues. He also collects the Khajna (tax) for the traders in the fair.

Participants in the mela from distant villages and the hills, often addressed as Mama and Mami, bring local rice, lac, pumpkin, wax gourd, sponge gourd, yam, cinnamon barks, raw pepper, dried fish, and baskets, among other things.

(Image: News18)

However, in the barter trade this year, the turmeric and ginger sold like hot cakes as people from the plain traded them with dried fish, puffed rice, flattened rice and pithas.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma Himanta Biswa Sarma, in a tweet, said: “Jonbeel Mela, an integral part of Tiwa cultural heritage, has been promoting peace & brotherhood between the people of hills & plains since medieval period,” He also addressed a meeting in presence of Gova Raja Deepsingh Deoraja.

By 8:30 AM, when my friends in Guwahati were sitting with their morning tea cups, the fair here was over.

I gathered the commodities Shila asked for, including a few rolls of cinnamon. Without shelling a dime, I pondered what keeps the ancient trade practice alive in the 21st century. Probably, it’s the barter of love for love which is the driving force behind the fair’s uniqueness in the world. Barter- perhaps we should think about it; if not goods, let’s use this system to exchange ‘love for peace’ and ‘peace for unity’. Let’s make ‘barter of love’ the new cool. Don’t you think this revived concept will make the world a better place?

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