ASSAM, a province of British India. Until the begin-ning of 1874 Assam formed the north-east division of the territories under the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal. In that year it was erected into a separate administration, pre-sided over by a Chief Commissioner, who acts directly under the Governor-General of India in council. The district of Cachar was added to the old division of Assam, and now forms part of the Chief Commissioner's jurisdiction. It lies between 24° and 28° N. lat., and between 90° and 98° E. long., and consists of the upper valleys of the Brahmaputra for a length of about 500 miles from where that river enters the north-eastern frontier of British India. These valleys vary in breadth, but generally occupy a space of about 60 miles between the Himalayas on the north, and the water-shed which separates the Brahmaputra from the river system of Cachar. Assam, therefore, is bounded on the N. by the sub-Himalayan ranges of the Bhutia, Aka, Daphla, and Miri tribes; on the E. by the unsurveyed forests and mountains which separate British India from northern Burmah; on the S. by the hills inhabited by the Nagas, Jaintiyas; and Khasias, which separate Assam from Silhet; and on the W. by the Garo hills and Kuch Behar. Assam may be considered, however, either as a natural province or as an artificial political division. In its former aspect, in which it will be dealt with in this article, it has an area of 48,473 square miles, with a population in 1872 of 2,412,480 souls. It is the outlying province of India to the north-east, so that while the pressure of population in several of the inner divisions of Bengal varies from 500 to 573 persons per square mile, in Assam it is barely 50. Even deducting 12,058 miles of hill country in Lakhimpur and Cachar districts, the pressure of population is only 66 persons per square mile in the more cultivated parts of Assam. Taken as a political division, it is locally administered by a Chief Commissioner, with his headquarters at Gauhatf. It is subdivided into the ten following districts, each under a deputy commissioner:
Table showing the Area, Population, and Land Revenue of the Assam Province
== TABLE ==
The area given in this table is exclusive of 8343 square miles of hill country in Lakhimpur, and 3715 square miles of the Cachar hills, but it includes the two districts of Goalpara and the Garo hills, which, although for political
Animals and Plants under Domestication, vol. i. p. 62.
£245,959 10 0
3 This includes the population of Eastern Duara, 37,047, not classified according to religion.
convenience placed under the commissioner of the Kucb Behar division of Bengal, belong physically and linguisti cally to Assam.
HISTORY.Assam was the province of Bengal which remained most stubbornly outside the limits of the Mughul empire and of the Muhammadan polity in India. Indeed, although frequently overrun by Musalman armies, and its western districts annexed to the Muhammadan vice-royalty of Bengal, the province maintained an uncertain independence till its invasion by the Burmese towards the end of the last century, and its final cession to the British in 1826. A full account of its ancient kings will be found in Mr William Robinson's Assam, chap. iv. (Calcutta, 1841). It seems to have been originally included, along with the greater part of north-eastern Bengal, in the old Hindu territory of Kamrup. Its early legends point to great religious revolutions between the rival rites of Krishna and Siva as a source of dynastic changes. Its roll of kings extends deep into pre-historic times, but the first Raja capable of identification flourished about the year 76 A.D. Kamrup, the Pragjotishpur of the ancient Hindus, was the capital of a legend-ary king Narak, whose son Bhagadatta distinguished himself in the
reat war of the Mahabharata. On the rise of the Koch power, the ings of Kuch Behar wrested a portion of Assam from the kings of the Pal dynasty to whom it belonged. In the early part of the 13th century the Ahams or Ahoms, from northern Burmah and the Chinese frontiers, poured into the eastern districts of As-sam, founded a kingdom, and held it firmly for several centuries. A tradition relates that this race of conquerors were originally let down from heaven by iron chains, and alighted in a place called Mungbingram, supposed to be in the Patkai range, in 567 A.D. Their manners, customs, religion, and language were, and for a long time continued to be, different from those of the Hindus ; but they found themselves compelled to respect the superior civilisation of this race, and slowly adopted its customs and language. The con-version of their king Chuchengpha to Hinduism took place about the year 1611 A.TJ. and the whole Ahams of Assam gradually followed his example. In mediaeval history, the Assamese were known to the Musalman population as a warlike, predatory race, who sailed down the Brahmaputra in fleets of innumerable canoes, plundered the rich districts of the delta, and retired in safety to their forests and swamps. As the Muhammadan power consolidated itself in Bengal, repeated expeditions were sent out against these river pirates of the north-east. The physical difficulties which an in-vading force had to contend with in Assam, however, prevented anything like a regular subjugation of the country; and after repeated efforts, the Musalmans contented themselves with occupy-ing the western districts at the mouth of the Assam valley. The following details will suffice for the history of a struggle in which no great political object was attained, and which left the Assamese still the same wild and piratical people as when their fleets of canoes first sallied forth against the Bengal delta. In 1638, during the reign of the Emperor Shah Jahan, the Assamese descended the Brahmaputra, and pillaged the country round the city of Dacca; they were expelled by the governor of Bengal, who retaliated upon the plunderers by ravaging Assam. During the civil wars between the sons of Shah Jahan, the king of Assam renewed his predatory incursions into Bengal; upon the termination of the contest, Aur-angzeb determined to avenge these repeated insults, and despatched a considerable force for the regular invasion of the Assamese terri-tory. His general, Mir Jumla, defeated the Raja, who fled to the mountains, and most of the chiefs made their submission to the conqueror. But the rains set in with unusual violence, and Mir Jumla's army was almost annihilated by famine and sickness. Thus terminated the last expedition against Assam by the Muham-madans, whose fortunes in this country were never prosperous. A writer of the Muhammadan faith says :"Whenever an invading army has entered their territories, the Assamese have sheltered themselves in strong posts, and have distressed the enemy by stratagems, surprises, and alarms, and by cutting off their provisions. If these means failed, they have declined a battle in the field, but have carried the peasants into the mountains, burned the grain, and left the country desert. But when the rainy season has set in upon the advancing enemy, they have watched their opportunity to make excursions and vent their rage ; the famished invaders have either become their prisoners or been put to death. In this manner powerful and numerous armies have been sunk in that whirlpool of destruction, and not a soul has escaped." The same writer states that the country was spacious, populous, and hard to be penetrated; that it abounded in dangers; that the paths and roads were beset with difficulties ; and that the obstacles to conquest were more than could be expressed. The inhabitants, he says, were enter-prising, well-armed, and always prepared for battle. Moreover, they had lofty forts, numerously garrisoned and plentifully pro-vided with warlike stores ; and the approach to them was opposed by thick and dangerous jungles, and broad and boisterous rivers. The difficulties in the way of successful invasion are of course not understated, as it was the object of the writer to exalt the prowess and perseverance of the faithful. He accounts for their temporary success by recording that "the Musalman hordes experienced the comfort of fighting for their religion, and the blessings of it reverted to the sovereignty of his just and pious majesty." The short-lived triumph of the Musalmans might, however, have warranted a less ambitious tone. About the middle of the 17th century the chief became a convert to Hinduism. By what mode the conver-sion was effected does not clearly appear, but whatever were the means employed, it seems that the decline of the country com-menced about the same period. Internal dissensions, invasion, and disturbances of every kind convulsed the province, and neither prince nor people enjoyed security. Late in the 18th cen-tury some interference took place on the part of the British Government, then conducted by Lord Cornwallis; but the successor of that nobleman, Sir John Shore, adopting the non-interven-tion policy, withdrew the British force, and abandoned the country to its fate. Its condition encouraged the Burmese, an aggressive people, to depose the Raja, and to make Assam a dependency of Ava. The extension of their encroachments on a portion of the territory of the East India Company compelled the British Government to take decisive steps for its own protection. Hence arose the series of hostilities with Ava known in Indian history as the first Burmese war, on the termination of which by treaty in February 1826, Assam remained a British possession. In 1832 that portion of the province denominated Upper Assam was formed into an independent native state, and conferred upon Purandar Sinh, the ex-Raja of the country; but the administration of this chief proved unsatisfactory, and in 1838 his principality was re-united with the British dominions. After a period of successful administration and internal development, under the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, it was erected into a separate Chief-Commis-sionership in 1874.
PHYSICAL ASPECTS.Assam is a fertile series of valleys, with the great channel of the Brahmaputra (literally, the Son of Brahma) flowing down its middle, and an infinite number of tributaries and water-courses pouring into it from the mountains on either side. The Brahma-putra spreads out in a sheet of water several miles broad during the rainy season, and in its course through Assam forms a number of islands in its bed. Rising in the Thibetan plateau, far to the north of the Himalayas, and skirting round their eastern passes, not far from the Yang-tse-kiang and the great river of Cambodia, it enters Assam by a series of waterfalls and rapids, amid vast boulders and accumulations of rocks. The gorge, situated in Lak-himpur district, through which the southernmost branch of the Brahmaputra enters, has from time immemorial been held in reverence by the Hindus. It is called the Brahma-kunda or Parasuramkunda; and although the journey to it is both difficult and dangerous, it is annually visited by thousands of devotees. After a rapid course westwards down the whole length of the Assam valley, the Brahma-putra turns sharply to the south, spreading itself over the alluvial districts of the Bengal delta, and, after several changes of name, ends its course of 1800 miles in the Bay of Bengal. Its first tributaries in Assam, after crossing the frontier, are the Kundil and the Digaru, flowing from the Mishmi hills on the north, and the Tengapani and Nawa Dihing, which take their rise on the Singpho hills to the south-east. Shortly afterwards it receives the Dibang, flowing from the north-east; but its principal confluent is the Dihang, which, deriving its origin, under the name of the Sanpu, from a spot in the vicinity of the source of the Satlej, flows in a direction precisely opposite to that river, and traversing the table-land of Thibet, at the back of the great Himalaya range, falls into the Brahma-putra in 27° 48'N. lat., 95°26'E. long., after a course of nearly 1000 miles. Doubts were long entertained whether the Dihang could be justly regarded as the continuation of the Sanpu; these, however, have been gradually removed by the additional testimony of more recent notices; and as it is now ascertained that the last-named river does not flow into the Irawadi, it appears impossible to account for its course to the sea, except by presuming it to dis-charge its waters into the Brahmaputra through the channel of the Dihang. Below the confluence, the united stream flows in a south-westerly direction, forming the boundary between the districts of Lakhimpur and Darang, situated on its northern bank, and those of Sadiya, Sibsagar, and Naogaon on the south; and finally bisecting Kamrup, it
crosses over the frontier of the province, and passes into Bengal. In its course it receives on the left side the Burl Dihing, a river having its rise at the south-eastern angle of the province; and lower down, on the opposite side, it parts with a considerable offset termed the Burl Lohit, which, however, reunites with the Brahmaputra 60 miles below the point of divergence, bearing with it the addi-tional waters of the Subansiri, flowing from Thibet. A second offset, under the name of the Kalang Biver, rejoins the parent stream a short distance above the town of Gauhati, The remaining rivers are too numerous to be particularised. Of these, not less than 61 are distinguished by well-known names, of which 34 flow from the northern, 24 from the southern mountains, and the remainder from sources beyond the confines of Assam. The streams of the south are not rapid, and have no considerable current until May or June. Among the islands formed by the intersection and confluence of the rivers is Majuli, or the Great Island, as it is called by way of pre-eminence. This island extends 55 miles in length by about 10 in breadth, and is formed by the Brahmaputra on the south-east, and the Burf Lohit river on the north-west. A Per-sian writer, Muhammad Kazim, in describing Assam at the close of the 17th century, makes some observations on its general appearance. He thus speaks of Majuli two centuries ago :
" An island well inhabited, and in an excellent state of agricul-ture ; it contains a spacious, clear, and pleasant country. The culti-vated part is bounded by a thick forest, which harbours elephants, and these animals may be caught here, as well as in four or five other forests in Assam. If there be occasion for them, five or six hundred elephants may be procured in a year."
Describing the country south of the Brahmaputra, the same native author observes :
"Across the river on the side of Garhgaon is a wide, agreeable, level country that delights the heart of the beholder. The whole face of it is marked with population and tillage; and it presents on every side charming prospects of ploughed fields, harvests, gardens, and groves. From the village of Salagira to the city of Garhgaon, a space of about 50 kos (100 miles) is filled with such an uninter-rupted range of gardens, plentifully stocked with fruit trees, that it appears as one garden. Within them are the houses of peasants, and a beautiful assemblage of coloured and fragrant herbs, and of
arden and wild flowers blowing together. As the country is over-owed in the rainy season, a high and broad causeway has been raised for the convenience of travellers from Salagira to Garhgaon, which is the only uncultivated ground that is to be seen. Each side of this road is planted with shady bamboos, the tops of which meet and are entwined. Among the fruits which this country produces are mangoes, plantains, jacks, oranges, citrons, limes, and punialeh, a species of amleh, which has such an excellent flavour that every person who tastes it prefers it to the plum. There are also cocoa-nut trees, pepper-vines, areca trees, and the sadij (an aromatic leaf), in great plenty. Sugar-cane excels in softness and sweetness, and is of three colours, black, red, and white; there is ginger free from fibres, and betel vines. The strength of vegetation and fertility of the soil is such that whatever seed is sown, or slips planted, they always thrive. The environs of Garhgaon furnish small apricots, yams, and pomegranates; but as these are wild, and not assisted by cultivation and engrafting, they are very indifferent. The principal crop of this country consists in rice and mash. Ades, a kind of pea, is very scarce, and wheat and barley are never sown."
And in respect to the other great division of the province he remarks :
"The country which is on the northern side of the Brahmaputra is in the highest state of cultivation, and produces plenty of pepper and areca nuts. It even surpasses the southern portion in popula-tion and tillage ; but as the latter contains a greater tract of wild forests and places difficult of access, the rulers of Assam have chosen to reside in it for the convenience of control, and have erected in it the capital of the kingdom. The breadth of the northern division from the bank of the river to the foot of the mountains, which is a cold climate and contains snow, is various, but is nowhere less than 30 miles, nor more than 90. The inhabitants of those mountains are strong, have a robust and respectable appear-ance, and are of a middling size. Their complexions, like those of the natives of all cold climates, are red and white ; and they have also trees and fruits peculiar to frigid regions."
This description, written two centuries ago, would apply at the present day. In the upper part of the valley, towards the gorge where the Brahmaputra enters, the country is varied and picturesque, walled in on the north and east by the Himalayas, and thickly wooded from the base to the snow-line. On either bank of the Brahmaputra a long narrow strip of plain rises almost imperceptibly to the foot of the hills. Gigantic reeds and grasses occupy the low lands near the banks of the great river; expanses of fertile rice-land come next; a little higher up, dotted with villages encircled by groves of bamboos and fruit trees of great size and beauty, the dark forests succeed, covering the interior table-land and mountains. The country in the vicinity of the large rivers is flat, and impenetrable from dense tangled jungle, with the exception of some very low-lying tracts which are either permanent marshes or are covered with water during the rains. Jungle will not grow on these depressions, and they are covered either with water, reeds, high grasses, or rice cultivation. On or near such open spaces are collected all the villages. As the traveller proceeds farther down the valley, the country gradually opens out into wide plains. In the western district of Kamrup the country forms one great expanse, with a few elevated tracts here and there, varying from 200 to 800 feet in height.
VARIETIES OF SOILS.The soil is exceedingly rich and well adapted to all kinds of agricultural purposes, and for the most part is composed of a rich black loam reposing on a gray sandy clay, though occasionally it exhibits a light yellow clayey texture. The land may be divided into three great classes. The first division is composed of hills, the largest group within the valley being that of the Mikir Mountains, which stand out upon the plain. An-other set of hills project into the valley at Gauhati. But these latter are rather prolongations of spurs from the Khasia chain than isolated groups belonging to the plains. The other hills are all isolated, and of small extent. The second division of the lands is the well-raised part of the-valley whose level lies above the ordinary inundations of the Brahmaputra. The channels of some of the hill streams, however, are of so little depth that the highest lands in their neighbourhood are liable to sudden floods. On the north bank of the great river, lands of this sort run down the whole length of the valley, except where they are interrupted by the beds of the hill streams. The breadth of these plains is in some places very trifling, whilst in others they comprise a tract of many miles, according to the number and the height of the rocks or hills that protect them from the aberrations of the river. The allu-vial deposits of the Brahmaputra and of its tributary streams may be considered as the third general division of lands in Assam. These lands are very extensive, and present every degree of fertility and elevation, from the vast chars of pure sand, subject to annual inundations, to the firm islands, so raised by drift-sand and the accumu-lated remains of rank vegetable matter, as no longer to be liable to flood. The rapidity with which wastes composed entirely of sand newly washed forward by the current during floods become converted into rich pasture, is astonishing. As the freshets begin to lessen and retire into the deeper channels, the currents form natural embankments on their edges, preventing the return of a small portion of water which is thus left stagnant on the sands, and exposed to the action of the sun's rays. It slowly evaporates, leaving a thin crust of animal and vegetable matter. This is soon impregnated with the seeds of the Saccharum spontaneum and other grasses that have been partly brought by the winds and partly deposited by the water. Such places are frequented by numerous flocks of aquatic birds, which resort thither in search of fish and mollusca. As vegetation begins to appear, herds of wild
elephants and buffaloes are attracted by the supply of food and the solitude of the newly-formed land, and in their turn contribute to manure the soil
GEOLOGY.Limestone, coal, and petroleum are found ; with oil springs, mineral springs, and brine springs. The mountains on the opposite sides of the valley are characterised by distinct systems, those on the north being composed of primitive formations, while those on the south partake largely of sandstone, shell-limestone, and coal. Some valuable minerals are met with. Gold-dust is found in all the rivers flowing from the northern mountains, but it differs in purity and colour, and also in malleability. That which is obtained in the Dikrang is purer than that found in the Brahmaputra, though it is more abundant in the bed of the latter river. Gold-dust is found most plentifully near the foot of the northern bills ; it is never sought for in the southern rivers. Beds of iron-ore exist in various places, and tracings of former workings on a large scale remain ; but the native article, being undersold by iron imported from England, is now driven out of the market. Coal has also been discovered in beds of considerable magnitude, and from the circumstance of its existence at the two extremities of the province, there appear grounds for the inference that the coal formations of Assam are co-ertensive with the whole length of the valley. The extreme difficulty, however, of moving about in those districts, the absence of roads, and the jungly and almost uninhabited state of the country, have tended to prevent the opening up of the mineral deposits of the province. More recently, the largely-extended cultivation of tea, and the conse-quently increased demand for means of transport and communica-tion, have directed attention to the local supplies of fuel for the river steamers which now navigate the Brahmaputra. In 1864-65, Mr H. B. Medlicott, Deputy-Superintendent of the Geological Survey, visited this province, and reported most favourably of the value and extent of the coal. To the north of the Brahmaputra no coal worth working was found. To the south, in Upper Assam, the principal localities are in the neighbourhood of Jaipur, in the Debrogarh sub-division of the Lakhimpur district, and in the vicinity of Makum. The chief sites are the Terap, where a minimum thickness of 5 feet of bright clean coal, nearly horizontal, was seen ; the Namchik, a tributary of the Dihang, where, within 200 feet in length, three thick beds of good sound coal were seen, one 8 feet thick; and at Jaipur, where a seam of 17 feet thick occurs, of which 10 feet is good bright coal. Several other seams also exist which have never been touched. The inaccessible nature of the country, however, and the want of a trustworthy map, render it quite impracticable at present to obtain even an approximate idea of the extent of area over which these beds range, and of the amount of fuel available. It can, however, be safely asserted that this amount is very large and most valuable. Assays of the Assam coals showed a proportion of ash not exceeding from 2 to 5 per cent. The survey of the country is now being pushed forward. Neither copper nor silver are found in the province. Eock-salt is dug out of the earth, and brine springs are not uncommon, from which salt is made; but the manufacture is costly, and the salt is as expensive as that imported from Liverpool.
VEGETABLE PRODUCTS : TEA.The most important article of commerce produced in Assam is tea. The rice crop covers a very great proportion of the cultivated land, but it is used for local consumption. The tea plantations occupy only a very small area, but they are the one great source of wealth to the province, and the necessities of tea cultivation are the chief stimulants to the development of Assam. The plant was discovered in 1823 by Mr Robert Bruce, who had proceeded thither on a mercantile exploration. The country, however, then formed part of the Burmese dominions. But war with this monarchy shortly afterwards broke out, and a brother of the first discoverer, happening to be appointed to the command of a division of gun-boats employed in some part of the operations, fol-lowed up the pursuit of the subject, and obtained several hundred plants and a considerable quantity of seed. Some specimens were ultimately forwarded to the superintendent of the botanic garden at Calcutta. In 1832 Captain Jenkins was deputed by the Governor-General of India, Lord William Bentinck, to report upon the resources of the country, and the tea plant was brought to his especial notice by Mr Bruce; in 1834 a minute was recorded by the Governor-General on the subject, to which it is stated that his attention had been called to it in 1827 before his departure from England. In accordance with the views of that minute, a committee was appointed to prosecute in-quiries, and to promote the cultivation of the plant. Com-munications were opened with China with a view to obtain fresh plants and seeds, and a deputation, composed of gentlemen versed in botanical studies, was despatched to Assam Some seeds were obtained from China; but they proved to be of small importance, as it was clearly ascertained by the members of the Assam deputation that both the black and the green tea plants were indigenous here, and might be multiplied to any extent; another result of the Chinese mission, that of procuring persons skilled in the cultivation and manufacture of black tea, was of more material benefit. Subsequently, under Lord Auckland, a further supply of Chinese cultivators and manufacturers was obtainedmen well acquainted with the processes necessary for the production of green tea, as the former set were with those requisite for black. In 1838 the first twelve chests of tea from Assam were received in England. They had been injured in some degree on the passage, but on samples being submitted to brokers, and others of long experience and tried judgment, the reports were highly favourable. It was never, however, the in-tention of Government to carry on the trade, but to resign it to private adventure as soon as the experimental course could be fairly completed. Mercantile associations for the culture and manufacture of tea in Assam began to be formed as early as 1839; and in 1849 the Government disposed of their establishment, and relinquished the manufacture to the ordinary operation of commercial en-terprise. In 1851 the crop of the principal company was estimated to produce 280,000 lb. Since then the enterprise has rapidly developed. The returns for 1871 show 11,475,398 B> of tea manufactured; in Assam, against 9,511,517 in 1870, showing an increase of 1,963,881 B> in one year. There were 416 gardens open, and the whole extent of land held under the different tenures for this purpose was 474,939 acres, of which 54,384 were reported to be under cultivation. The average monthly number of labourers employed on the tea gardens of As-sam during 1871 was 54,326, of whom upwards of 38,000 were imported under the Labour Transport Acts, chiefly from the western districts of Lower Bengal. It is to be remembered that Assam now includes Cachar, and these statistics are for the whole province as constituted in 1874. Tea cultivation is steadily progressing in Assam, and has firmly established itself as a staple of Indian trade. Be-sides rice and tea, the other principal crops of Assam are pulses, Indian corn, oil seeds, sugar-cane, pdn, hemp and jute, rhea grass, mulberry, potatoes, and other vegetables.
ANIMALS.The zoology of Assam presents some interesting features. Wild elephants abound and commit many depreda-tions, entering villages in large herds, and consuming everything suitable to their tastes. Many are caught by means of female ele phants previously tamed, and trained to decoy males into the snares prepared for subjecting them to captivity. A considerable number are tamed and exported from Assam every year, but the specula-tion appears to be rather precarious, as it is said about twice the number exported are annually lost in the course of training. Many are killed every year in the forests for the sake of the ivory which they furnish ; and the supply must be very great which can afford so many for export and destruction without any perceptible diminution of their number. The rhinoceros is found in the denser parts of the forests, and generally in swampy places. This animal is hunted and killed for its skin and its horn. The skin affords the material for the best shields. The born is sacred in the eyes of the natives. Contrary to the usual belief, it is stated that, if caught young, the rhinoceros is easily tamed, and becomes strongly at-tached to his keeper. Tigers abound, and though many are annu-ally destroyed for the sake of the Government reward, their numbers seem scarcely, if at all, to diminish. Their destruction is some-times effected by poisoned arrows discharged from an instrument resembling a cross-bow, in which the arrow is first fixed, and a string connected with the trigger is then carried across the path in front of the arrow, and fastened to a peg. The animal thus struck is commonly found dead at the distance of a few yards from
the engine prepared for his destruction. Leopards and bears are numerous ; and the Arctonix Collaris of Cuvier, a small animal Bomewhat resembling a bear, but haying the snout, eyes, and tail of a hog, is found. Among the most formidable animals known is the wild buffalo, which is of great size, strength, ard fierceness. Many deaths are caused by this animal, and a reward is given for its destruction. The fox and the jackal exist, and the wild hog is very abundant. Goats, deer of various kinds, hares, and two or three species of antelope are found, as are monkeys in great variety. The porcupine, the squirrel, the civet cat, the ichneumon, and the otter are common. The birds are too various to admit of enumera-tion. Wild game is plentiful ; pheasants, partridges, snipe, and waterfowl of many descriptions make the country a tempting field for the sportsman. Vultures and other birds of prey are met with. Crocodiles (commonly called alligators) swarm in all parts of the Brahmaputra, and are very destructive to the fish, of which hun-dreds of varieties are found, and which supply a valuable article of food. The most destructive of the feres natwm, as regards human b'fe, are, however, the snakes. Of these, several poisonous species exist, including the cobra and karait (Naga tripudians and Bv/n-garus cosruleus). The bite of a fairly-grown healthy serpent of either of these species is deadly; and it is ascertained that more deaths occur from snake-bite than from all the other wild beasts put together. Among the non-poisonous serpents, the python ranks first. This is an enormous boa-constrictor, of great length and weight, which drops upon his prey from the branch of a tree, or steals upon it in the thick grass. He kills his victim by rolling himself round the body till he breaks its ribs, or suffocates it by one irresistible convolution round its throat. He seldom or never attacks human beings unless in self-defence, and loss of life from this cause is scarcely ever reported. Full details as to the botany and zoology of Assam will be found in Mr William Robinson's account of the province (Calcutta, 1841).
The INHABITANTS of the entire province number nearly two and a half millions, of whom more than one million and three-quarters are Hindus; 250,490 are Muhamma-dans, 1788 are Christians, and the remaining third of a million are hill tribes, professing aboriginal faiths. The native population is so exceedingly sparse that the demand for labour on the tea gardens has given rise to a system of importing coolies from western Bengal. A series of laws regulate the terms of the contract between the planter and the imported labourer, prevent abuses in recruiting coolies among the ignorant peasantry of the west, and provide for their health and comfort during their transit to the distant districts of Assam Under these Acts 4988 labourers were imported into the tea districts of Assam (including Cachar) in 1871, the total number of imported labourers employed on the tea plantations at the end of that year being 39,426. A large proportion of the native inhabitants derive their origin from tribes who came from the Himalayan ranges, from Burmah, or from the Chinese frontier. The most important of these are the Ahams or Ahoms, an off-shoot of the Shan race of Northern Burmah. They were the last conquerors of Assam before the Burmese, and they long preserved their ancient traditions, habits, and institutions. Hinduism first made its encroachments among their kings and nobility. Several generations ago they gave up eating beef, and they are now completely Hinduised, except in a few remote recesses of Assam. Hinduism has also impressed its language upon the province, and the vernacular Assamese possesses a close affinity to Bengali, with the substitution of * for the Ben-gali ch, of a guttural h for the Bengali h or sh, and a few other dialectic changes. Indeed, so close was the resem-blance that during the last thirty years Bengali was used as the court and official language of the province under our rule. But with the development of the country the Assamese tongue has asserted its claims to be treated as a distinct vernacular, and a late resolution of Government (1873) re-established it as the language of official life and public business.
The Assam peasant, living in a half-populated province, and surrounded, by surplus land, is indolent, good-natured, and, on the whole, prosperous. He raises sufficient food for his wants with very little labour, and, with the excep-tion of a few religious ceremonies, he has no demand made upon him for money, saving the light rental of bis fields. Under the peaceful influences of British rule, he has completely lost his ancient warlike instincts, and for-gotten his predatory habits. In complexion he is a shade or two fairer than the Bengali His person is in general short and robust, but devoid of the grace and flexibility of the Hindu A flat face, with high cheek-bones, presents a physiognomy resembling the Chinese, and suggests no idea of beauty. His hair is abundant, black, lank, and coarse, but the beard is scanty, and usually plucked out, which gives him an effeminate appearance. The women form a striking contrast to the men; there is more of feminine beauty in them than is commonly seen in the women of Bengal, with a form and feature somewhat approaching the European. In most parts of the country the women of rank go about in public, without that artificial modesty practised by native ladies in other parts of India. Although the ancient ruling classes originally came to the province across the Himalayas or from Burmah, a stream of immigration also went on from Ben-gal, and the Nadiyals or Doms, who originally emigrated from the Delta, are said to be the most numerous tribe in Assam. Their original employment was that of fishermen. Although a very low caste, and indeed one of the out-castes among the Hindus of Bengal, they observe in As-sam various rules of purity in eating and drinking, with a greater strictness than even the Brahmans. They have not, however, taken a Brahman as their spiritual guide, but follow the instructions of the Kalitas, the ancient priests of the Ahams. The habits of life of the Assamese peasantry are pre-eminently domestic. Great respect is paid to old age; when parents are no longer capable of labour they are supported by their children, and scarcely any one is allowed to become a burden to the public. They have also in general a very tender regard for their offspring, and are generous and kind to their relations They are hospitable to people of their own caste, but to no others. The use of opium is very general among the Assamese.
HILL THIBES.The hill and frontier tribes of Assam are the Nagas, Singphos, Daphlas, Miris, Khamptis, Mataks, Abars, &c, nearly all of whom, excepting the Nagas, are found near the fron-tiers of Lakhimpur district. The principal of these, in point of numbers, are the Nagas, who inhabit the hills and forests along the eastern and south-eastern frontier of Assam. They generally live in small scattered communities of about twenty houses each", and are divided into numerous clans or khels, of which the six most important residing in British territory are the following, viz., the Namsangias, Bardwarias, Paindwarias, Laptangs, Eaimais, and Topigamaids. Exclusive of the Naga Hills district of Assam, the population of which is returned at 68,918, the Ndgas of Lakhimpur count 2865 houses, with an estimated population of 14,383 souls. They cultivate rice, cotton, yams, and Indian corn, and prepare salt from the brine springs in their hills. The different tribes of Nagas are independent of and unconnected with one another, and are often at war with each other. The Singphos are the most powerful tribe bordering on the Assam valley, and are scattored over the largest extent of country. Their territory is bordered on the north by the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra; on the south by the Patkai range; on the west by an imaginary line drawn south from the town of Sadiya to the Patkai mountains; on the east by the Langtung mountains. They are a wild, daring tribe; and in the early days of English rule in Assam they gave a good deal of trouble by their frequent raids. They are now, however, looked upon as peaceful and friendly neighbours. They have settled down to agriculture, and now do for themselves what formerly they depended on their Assamese slaves to perform for them. They only cultivate sufficient food for a portion of the year, and during the remaining months they live upon wild yams and other jungle pro-ducts. The Government has no very definite relations with them; but they are generally obedient, and in a loose way recognise British supremacy. The settlements of the Singphos in or near the fron-tier of Lakhimpur are estimated to number about 3435 souls. The other tribes are the Khamtis Abars Miris Mishrnis, and Daphlaa.
Slavery, which existed in a mild form until our acquisition of Assam, has ceased under British rule.
ADMINISTRATION.The administrative statistics of the province will be given separately for each of the ten districts mentioned in the foregoing table under their alphabetical headings. Here it will suffice to say, that Assam as a whole is under a Chief Commissioner who is directly responsible to the Governor-General in council. The Assam districts form what is called a non-regulation provincei.e., one to which it has not been found expedient to extend our system of government in its strict legal entirety. Each district, instead of being under a judge and a magistrate-collector, with their separate sets of subordinates, is managed by a deputy-commissioner, in whom both the executive and judicial functions are combined. It is essentially an outlying province, yielding very little revenue to Government, and administered as cheaply as practicable. With the exception of GoalparA, the land revenue of Assam is at present under a light temporary settlement, the permanent settlement not having yet been extended to it on account of its sparse population and backward state. The population is essentially agricultural, and no tendency appears on their part to gather into trading centres or to develop city life. Throughout the whole province there are only two towns with a population of upwards of 5000 souls, viz., Gauhatf, population 11,492; and Sibsagar, 5278. The various Government rules for "granting waste lands in fee-
simple or on long leases at easy rates, have brought a considerable number of English capitalists and speculators into the province. It is on these grants that many of the tea-gardens have been formed. The development of European enterprise has created a sudden and an urgent demand for roads, which the Government has hitherto not found itself in a position to meet. For all the ordinary purposes of the province, and for its heavy and bulky staples, such as timber, rice, food grains, and oil seeds, the Brahmaputra and its tributaries afford ample means of transit. The great-trunk road, which the Muhammadans drove through Assam with a view to controlling the turbulent population, has long ago fallen into decay, and at many places is only recognisable as a line of fragmentary embankments. Each district, however, is now developing a system of roads, or at any rate of country tracks, of its own; and Sir George Campbell, the present Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal (1874), initiated a liberal policy towards the Assam com- munications, with the view rather to the future of the province than to the amount of expenditure which its revenue at present warrants. Now that it is erected into a separate administration, a still more rapid progress may be looked for. With its vast forests, its inexhaustible rice-grounds, its coal, iron, and tea, and the cheap means of transit which its rivers afford, Assam, although at present- one of the most backward among Indian provinces, has capabilities of development such as no other part of Bengal possesses. (w. w. H.)