Research, Conceptualization & Written by Kaavya Lakshman
Jambili Athon, the pride and cultural identity of the Krabi tribe, is an exquisite craft made solely from Bengwoi ke-er wood. Constructed within the strict realm of legend, it has no parallel with any craft or symbols of other tribes of Northeast India. The first Jambili Athon was exhibited at the socio-religious cultural festival Chomkan, which honors the life of the deceased, and has become a continuing tradition ever since. The privilege of practicing the craft lies in the hands of skilled craftsmen known as Baroi. The delight of Jambili Athon has seeped into all spheres of society- apart from from being displayed at Chomkan festival, it stands as a sacred regalia during the crowning ceremony of the social chief Lindokpo, it is presented as honorary gifts to people of high social standing, it is used in logos of many prestigious institutes of the region and also finds its way into textiles and homes of the Krabi people.
Like every other tribe, the people of Krabi hold their culture and beliefs dear. The physical representation of this ideology is transmitted into the woodcraft of Jambili Athon . The central shaft has the local bird Vorale residing at the apex, while the four to five branchlets host smaller birds. Another local bird, Voleng cherat is perched on the main axis, just below each lateral branch. According to the legend binding the form of the craft, the Krabis regard the Vojaru as the king of birds who is always followed by other birds, traditionally referred to as atoi-ani . The Vojaru is the Krabi king who protects his people symbolized by smaller birds, who are compared to faithful ministers and soldiers, and together they enjoy peaceful co-existence. The Vojaru is visualized as a true leader as he is well versed in the language of all the birds and can foretell danger. The Voleng cherat does not leave his master even in the symbolic form, as it is believed that they collect food for the king. The Jambili Athon is heavily ornamented with intricate carvings and beautiful beads.
To represent ethnicity in an institutionalized setting two parks in Diphu town of Assam, namely Recreation Park and Samson Sing Engti Park have Jambili Athon installed. The woodcraft reflects the social pattern of the community of the Krabi tribe- the symbolic assemblage of different birds depicts the iron-clad unity of the tribe and the closeness to nature is seen through the choice of specialized wood. While majority of the tribal culture has been lost in the chaos of modernity, Jambili Athon serves as a repository of information of the Krabi tribe. The essence of the people is captured within the space of the wood and firmly fixed in the ground, for future generations to not only see, but learn from.