Introduction / History
The Kachari Sonwal or Sonowal are an indigenous people who live in northeast India. They are a subgroup of the larger Kachari tribe. The name Sonwal comes from the word for gold. The traditional occupation of the Sonwal was panning for gold during the Ahom kingdom.
Where Are they Located?
Today the Sonwal are primarily engaged in agriculture. They grow rice, betel nut, sweet potatoes and cotton. Betel nut is a mild stimulant chewed in social situations. Sonowal women are expert weavers of cotton and every young woman is given a handloom upon her marriage. The Sonowal also raise poultry and have cattle for dairy products. The Sonwal are believed to have a very rich traditional knowledge of indigenous medicine.
The primary language of the Sonwal is Assamese. Many also speak Hindi so they can communicate with outsiders.
The vast majority of the Sonwal live in the northeastern Indian state of Assam. Smaller groups live in Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The Sonwal marry within their Karachi tribe but not witin their particular clan. The groom's family pays a bride price for the young woman joining their family. The newly married couple lives with or near the groom's family. Most Sonwal live in extended families within their villages. Sons inherit their father's property while daughters inherit their mother's clothes and jewelry.
What Are Their Beliefs?
The Gaonbra or head of the village is the key man of the village. He presides over the village assembly of elders. The village council is a center of solving disputes of the villagers. The punishment given to the guilty is according to the nature of the crime. Ex-communication is considered to the severest form of punishment.
The main foods of the Sonwal are rice, dairy products, poultry, sweet potatoes, vegetables and fruit.
The Sonwal practice Hinduism strongly influenced by folk religion. They use their own priests not the services of Brahmins. They have their own village shrines and generally to not visit Hindu temples. Sonwal consider Shiva, the destroyer god, to be their primary deity.
What Are Their Needs?
The three festivals or Bihus of the Sonwal revolve around the Assamese agricultural year, spring, fall and winter. The people dance, play music, feast on special foods, and perform rituals to ensure the success for the crops for the upcoming year.
The Sonwal need to hear the life-changing message of Jesus Christ in a way they can understand. They need to see the love and mercy of Christ demonstrated in practical ways. They must see that their folk religion will not forgive their sins or give them eternal life.
* Pray that the few Sonwal Christians might grow spiritually and reach out to their brothers and sisters with the gospel.
* Pray for the Holy Spirit to give the Sonwal people a love for God's Word and a desire to spread its influence.
* Pray that God will overthrow spiritual forces of darkness opposing the spread of His Gospel among the Kachari Sonwal people.