eJournal | The New Institutionalized Religion of the Tangsa Community – Assam & Arunachal Pradesh


In recent years, elites in many small ethnic communities in northeast India have made attempts to revive, reform and institutionalize their traditional religious practices in order to stem the tide of conversion to world religions and also to use their new religion as a marker for their ethnic identity. In this paper, I focus on the small Tangsa community, living in the northeast Indian states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, and try to understand the processes and intentions that underlie the form­ation of their new reformed religion called Rangfraism. Friction with Christian mis­sionaries and interaction with Hindu activists in this remote hilly frontier region have played a big role in the process of transforming their traditional system into their “new” religion. I try to ascertain which of the older practices have been re­tained, which have been adopted from other revival movements in the area and which have been appropriated from Christianity and Hinduism. While it will be clear that the leaders have attempted to take the best from all quarters in order to make their new religion more attractive, the analysis will also demonstrate how that very strategy has led to internal contradictions and, hence, to confusion and resistance.


“Tangsa”, meaning “children of the hills”, is an umbrella term for about 35 different trans-Patkai ethnic groups,1 arguably related to the Naga, who entered India from the slopes of the Patkai hills in present-day Myanmar at different points of time in the past, but mostly within the last 100 years, and have settled in the plains of the northeast Indian states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. There are no more than 60,000 Tangsa living in India at the moment; many more Tangsa still live in the Sagaing division of Myanmar on the other side of the Patkai range.

The easternmost part of Indian hill state of Arunachal bordering Myanmar is home to many ethnic communities besides the Tangsa, such as the Singpho (known as Jingphaw or Kachin in Myanmar), the Wancho and the Nocte. The state of Assam, in the valley of the Brahmaputra, is home to many ethnic communities as well as to the mainstream Assamese-speaking predominantly Hindu population. […]

Source: “Best of All Worlds: Rangfraism: The New Institutionalized Religion of the Tangsa Community in Northeast India” by Meenaxi Barkataki-Ruscheweyh: Asienforum, International Quarterly for Asian Studies, Vol. 46, Issue 1-2, May 2015, Contemporary Indigeneity and Religion in India | Download the full article as PDF >>

“[A] common perception of conversion, prevalent in India, is that all conversions take place only among deprived lower caste or tribal groups, which are considered more susceptible to allurement or coercion. The reality of upper caste conversions is ignored in this climate of cynicism.”– Ivy Imogene Hansdak in Pandita Ramabai Saraswati: the convert as ‘heretic’

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