Jonbeel Mela: A Unique Fair Where People Still Practice Barter system

Exploring your own backyard can be an enriching experience . I never realized this until I discovered something which was not only fascinating in nature, but unique in India. It was my yearly visit to my homeland Assam; I decided to explore my surroundings which are ignored mostly during my stay. Being a curious soul, knowing the unknown has always been high on my agenda.And when I am being offered to experience something unique in nature, my inquisitive mind becomes restless. It was during a conversation with my parents about the diverse cultures, traditions, rituals and customs in India, I got intrigued to know about an age old tradition called Barter System which was used for centuries before money was invented. What hooked me in my conversation was when I got to know that this tradition is still practiced in my homeland in an annual festival.

And, I decided to travel a few extra miles to discover this tradition. While rolling down my window, I was invited by the fragrance of my own land and when it blended perfectly with the wind, it brought back a bundle of childhood memories. It seemed as if I was lost in my own wonderland. After driving an hour or so, I reached the placed called Dayang Belguri in Morigaon District of Assam. Suddenly I noticed busy roads with a lot of crowd. In no time, I realized that like me, a lot of enthusiasts were there to attend this unique fair.

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Jonbeel Mela – it is called. This is a three day long festival which takes place every year on the weekend of Magh Bihu (Assamese festival) on the bank of Jonbeel . The word Jon means Moon and Beel means Wetland in Assamese language. The wetland is called ‘Jonbeel’ because this large natural water body is shaped like a crescent moon. The uniqueness about this fair is that people from the hills and the plains still practice Barter system in the real sense during this three day grand affair. People from different ethnic groups like Tiwas, Khasis, Jaintias and Karbis participate in the barter system. According to the tradition, Tribal people of the hills come down to the plains with their goods and trade with the people from the plain.

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The fascinating part here is that they don’t not use any kind of currency while trading. They exchange agricultural products like fresh ginger, turmeric, arum, sesame, wild potatoes, chilies, herbs, other vegetables, fruits, rice cakes, dried fish, fresh fish, poultry, different types of aromatic rice, etc with the people from the plains. A rare social practice, which comes alive during this festival.

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The genealogy of this fair can be traced down back to the 15th century, when Gobha Raja, the King of Tewa Lalung tribe, held political meetings with the Ahom King near Jonbeel, where people from different communities used to trade among themselves through a barter system. Interestingly, this deep rooted tradition has been carried on by the people of these different communities for centuries on the bank of Jonbeel. Though the kingdom is no longer in its original form, the King still remains, who is a descendant of the actual kings.

The festival starts off with Agni Puja where the locals pay homage to the ‘God of Fire’. After the Puja, people from different communities get together for community fishing in Jonbeel (Wetland). A beautiful scene where people from different communities, of different age groups come together to Jonbeel for fishing with Jakoi (A traditional bamboo fishing equipment) early in the morning. What a wonderful way to exchange dialogues, share happiness and love among each other. The whole atmosphere is cheerful where people sing Bihu songs, crack jokes, tease each other and of course catch fishes. The purpose of this fishing activity is not just to catch fishes, but to celebrate brotherhood, harmony and love among different communities. The smiles on everybody’s face set the perfect start of this three day festival.

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As the sun was rising high and spreading its rays, the market was getting ready. I decided to take a stroll in the fairground to get a sense of the barter system. Soon avoiding those crowded alleys, where you will find commercial stalls, I reached the place where tribal people were exchanging goods with people from the plains. People from the hills, make their own bamboo tents in the fairground where they don’t only trade, but sleep and cook their food everyday for three days. So while exploring this area, I came across a few of them cooking their meal as well.

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Tribal woman cooking

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It was quite an interesting affair where tribes not only welcome you to their life with a big smile, but also give you the rare opportunity to peep into their lifestyle closely as well. It brought a lot of happiness when I exchanged smiles with them. As happiness has no language bar.

I must admit that those hanging dried fishes were undeniably tempting enough.

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Not just that, I also noticed the unique way of cooking pork in a bamboo tube.

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It was always fun to strike a conversation with them, especially when they are happily posing for your lens. The simplicity, humbleness and hospitable nature of these people make the place so beautiful that it is worth exploring these remote corners of India.

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I never imagined that just a few km away from my hometown, I could discover something so unique in nature that I came back home richer with a bag full of delightful moments, first-hand experience of the age old barter system and a pocket full of love of these tribal people of the hills.


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19 Replies to “Jonbeel Mela: A Unique Fair Where People Still Practice Barter system”

  1. Lovely article. Would like to use this link for my Facebook page with credit to you. Advise.
    Susmita recently posted…A new chapter in artMy Profile

    1. Thanks a lot Sumita for liking this article. Yes , You can use this link 🙂

  2. True colors of India…. and that Bamboo pork is found in form of Bamboo Chicken in the Araku Valley near Vizag… We are all descended from same traditions, only how long ago we parted ways is what separates us..
    Prasad Np recently posted…21 Gun Salute Vintage Car Rally 2016My Profile

    1. Hi Prasad ,Thank you so much for the comment. Yes, absolutely true . And the Bamboo Pork is super tasty 🙂

      There are so much to explore , even in your own backyard that we tend to ignore those normally. Taking the road less traveled is enriching always .

  3. What an interesting festival! We all have just read about Bartar System. Lucky you to have witnessed the same 🙂

    1. Its really fascinating.Come and explore Assam . You will be amazed with scenic beauty and traditions .

  4. Abhinav Singh says: Reply

    Very interesting blog. Never knew barter system is still alive. Would love to see it for myself one day. I hope it doesn’t get touristy over the years. That’s the power of travel blogging. Bloggers don’t depend on other platforms to get amazing stories to a larger audience. By the way I have heard a lot about the pork/chicken in bamboo shoot. Is there a veg version available. I won’t mind Paneer/Soyabean etc in place of pork,haha! Blasphemy?

    1. Thank you so much for liking it. I am happy to bring this Offbeat story for you from Assam. There are many such stories. Yes , since the fair is really popular , so it has become a tourist attraction too. But the best part of this fair is that Barter system is still practiced by the Tribal people of the hills and the people from the plains the way it was practiced earlier. The essence is still there. And , regarding your veg version , I am sure that paneer can be cooked in Bamboo tube too 🙂

    2. To be honest dude. I personally didn’t like the bamboo shoot chicken while I was there in Nagaland. Or maybe it’s acquired taste.

      And no please don’t even think of it’s paneer version :p

      1. Srijaj, Its different . You have tasted Bamboo shoot chicken and here we are talking about chicken /pork cooked in Bamboo tube. Bamboo shoot is not for everybody as it taste quite different.

        It would be interesting to try paneer in a Bamboo tube. Innovation you see 🙂

  5. Beautiful post on ‘Jonbeel Mela’ , Awesome pics. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for liking it .

  6. Incredible India !

    I was not aware that barter system is still alive India.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Mahesh Semwal recently posted…Basai Wetland – Less travelled Bird watching siteMy Profile

    1. Thank you Mahesh ji. Yes, Barter is still practiced in Assam during Jonbeel fair. Its simply Incredible India

  7. We’ve arrevid at the end of the line and I have what I need!

  8. Sorry for a late input. Great article and what a place to stumble cross. Every time I read blogs on India I want to get the next plan out! So much to discover and soooo much to see. I am getting hyped up for a visit soon.

    1. hi parnashree, its me bidyut from guwahati. …..I was searching some magh bihu related pictures on the net. at last I got your site and saw the beautiful pictures which I found relevant to my search. …I actually want to display some of your pictures in my shop. ..is it possible? if yes please let me know. ……its my humble request to you. …

      1. Hi Bidyut, Kindly reach out to me at traveldiary@gmail.com

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