The New International Encyclopædia/Assam
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ASSAM'. A chief commissionship in the north-eastern part of British India, bordering on China, Burma, Manipur, and Bengal (Map: Burma, A 1) . Area, 52,078 square miles. The interior belongs chiefly to the valley of the Brahmaputra, while the territory on both sides of the river is mostly mountainous. Among the mountain districts are the Garo, Khasi, and Jaintia Hills. The streams are abundant and the lower lands frequently suffer inundations. The climate is moderate as regards temperature. The annual rainfall in some sections is the heaviest on the globe. The frequent occurrence of earthquakes is a great hindrance to the development of the country. A large portion of the country is covered with jungle, in which elephants, tigers, leopards, and other wild beasts are found in abundance. Large deposits of coal, iron, and petroleum are known to exist, but only the first is exploited to any extent. The soil is mostly very fertile, and the extensive forests contain numerous useful woods. The tea-plant is indigenous and tea-culture is making rapid strides. The area under tea is now about 300,000 acres,and the tea plantations are owned largely by Europeans. The great staple of agriculture is rice. The principal articles of export are rice, tea, silk, cotton, rubber, ivory, and gold. The commerce is mostly in the hands of the Jains. The population in 1901 was 6,122,201, showing an increase of 11.8 per cent. since 1891. Over 70 different languages and dialects are spoken in Assam. The seat of administration is Shillong.
The Assamese, or Ahoms, are probably a Hindu-Shan (Mongolian) mixed stock, with the Hindu element predominant. They are short and thickset, with coarse, black hair and Mongoloid face. Their language has some right to be classed as a sister-tongue of Hindi, Bengali, etc., and not as a mere dialect of the latter. It is spoken by about 4,500,000 people, the standard dialect being that of Nowgong. The Assamese literature is extremely scanty, although it employs a special alphabet of its own. The Assamese have a national festival called Baisakh Bihu, a gay occasion, in which young women especially are prominent. Besides the Assamese, the country contains a number of more primitive peoples (Lushai, etc.), whose language and folktales have recently been studied by Major Shakespeare (1898-99). Over 50 per cent. of the population are Hindu in faith. The Mohammedans number about 1,500,000.
Consult: Cooper, The Mishmee Hills (London, 1873); Hunter, Statistical Account of Assam (London, 1880); Reid, Chin-Lushai Land (Calcutta, 1894); Brown, Grammatical Notes on the Assamese Language (Nowgong, 1893); Bronson, Dictionary in Assamese and English (Sibsagor, 1867).