The term "Assamese" is often used to refer to those who are citizens of Assam: Mymensinghy settlers (from Bangladesh) and tea-garden laborers are thus included in its coverage. The term can also be used to describe the indigenous or longsettled inhabitants of this northeast Indian state.
The Brahmaputra Valley population reached 12.5 Million in 1971; at the time of the 1961 census there were 16,307 inhabited villages in Assam with an average population of a little more than 500. About 12 million people spoke Assamese in 1981. The people of Assam have been described as small in stature with dark yellow complexion, an indication of their Mongoloid origin. Their language was in premodern times the easternmost member of the Indo-European Family.
The Assamese for centuries have occupied a peripheral position, both geographically and politically, in relation to the rest of India. The country was originally ruled by the Ahoms, a Shan people who migrated from upper Myanmar (Burma), at the beginning of the thirteenth century. These people variously applied the terms "Assam," "Asam," or "Aham" to their country. The Ahoms maintained chronicles of the main events of their reign. Assam originally consisted of six districts of the lower Brahmaputra or Assam Valley. But when in 1822 a chief commissionership of Assam was created by the British it was extended to include two districts in the Surma Valley, six hill areas, and two frontier tracts. Villagers associate on the basis of membership of a local center of devotional worship called a "name house" ( nam ghar ), whose members describe themselves as "one people" ( raij ). There are usually several name houses in a village. Assamese Households can be graded into five economic categories, chiefly on the basis of income. Villages are also made up of families from a number of distinct castes.
Rice is the staple in Assam. If a harvest is good the People may relax and enjoy their abundance for the months ahead. Their lives revolve around rice production. They have built their houses so that their fields can be easily viewed as their crops grow; the granary is positioned at the front of each house so a farmer can rise in the morning and see his store of rice before anything else.
Within the Assamese religion a form of Hinduism exists with two contrasting emphases, that of caste and that of sect. In caste one finds polytheism, hierarchy, membership by birth (inherited status), collective ideas of humanity (caste groups), mediation of ritual specialists, rites conducted in Sanskrit through priests, complexity and extravagance of Ritual, multiplicity of images, and salvation through knowledge or works. In sects one can find monotheism, egalitarianism among believers, membership by invitation (acquired status), individual ideas of humanity (individual initiates), direct access to scriptural revelation, worship conducted in the vernacular by the congregation, simplicity of worship, incarnation of God in the written word, and salvation through faith and mystical union.
Cantlie, Audrey (1984). The Assamese. London and Dublin: Curzon Press.
Census of India 1961. Vol. 3, Assam. New Delhi: Manager of Publications.