Tattooing in Arunachal Pradesh- the culture of tribal tattooing

Tattooing in Arunachal Pradesh- the culture of tribal tattooing:

Many tribes of Arunachal Pradesh used to tattoo different parts of the body as a means of personal decoration and in some cases, certain religious or social taboos were there behind the tattooing. The most famous tribes known for tattooing are the Noctes and Wanchos of Tirap district. Nocte men generally did not tattoo their faces or bodies except for a few cases where men were tattooed on the face and the chest. Tattooing of women was common in all Nocte villages. Women were generally tattoed on the arms and the back and the common design was normally big stars with cross lines joining the ends. In some of the areas, girls were tattooed after puberty and in some other cases it was done by the maternal uncle of the girl. Faces of the small girls were tattooed on chin with a diamond and line through it. Besides face tattooing, other parts of the body such as the chest, naval, thighs and calfs were also tattooed with lines and dots.

Amongst the Wanchos, both men and women heavily tattooed their bodies. Tattooing in fact had a very special significance for the Wanchos. Besides being a personal decoration, it had both social and ritual importance. Apart from the rank and social status of a person, different designs of tattooing on different parts of the body signifies the attainment of different stages in life, particularly in case of women. A man from the chief’s family had very elaborate designs all over body, while the tattooing was rather simple in other cases. They had beautiful designs on the neck, throat, chest, arms, back and the stomach and even round the eyes. A head-hunter had special designs on the face and body as marks of bravest parts of their bodies such as chest, arms, back, umbilicus, thighs and calfs were tattooed. Tattooing was a part of the marriage ritual. The first tattooing was done over the umbilicus at the age of 6 or 7 years. Calves were tattooed when the girls attained puberty. When the girls left the house of the parents after marriage, third tattooing was done on the thighs. The last and the fourth tattooing was done above the breasts during the seventh month of pregnancy, or in some cases, after the first child was born. The girls of the chiefs family also got their forearms tattooed. Tattooing of the different parts of the body had different names; that on the different parts of the body had different names; that on the face was called thun hu, on the chest kha hu, on the neck dino hu, on the back tock hu, on the thighs batan hu and so on.

Amongst the Nishis, the art of tattooing was to be found amongst few people of joram area where a perpendicular line was drawn in the middle of the chin, crossed by two horizontal lines, and one line on each cheek connecting the corners of the lips to the ears. Otherwise, tattooing was not done in the Nishi society.

 The Apatanis, a close neighbour of the Nishis, both men and women, used to tattoo their faces, which distinguished them from their neighbours. The men tattooed the face below the mouth. This was of ‘T’ shape on the middle on the lower chin. The tattooing of the women were perpendicular from the forehead to the tip of the nose and five lines on the lower chin vertically done and one horizontal line on the upper portion of the lower chin. All the children were tattooed at the age of 7-8 years.

The Shingpho men used to tattoo their limbs slightly, and the married women were tattooed on both legs from the ankles to the knees in parallel bands.

Amongst the Akas, the art of tattooing was quite common. The women tattooed their faces in a pattern of straight lines running from below the forehead to the chin where it bifurcated into two directions. Other parts of the body were not tattooed. Tattooing was done generally in the early years of girlhood and always before puberty. Men were generally not tattooed.

Amongst the Adis, though tattooing was not common, some tattoo marks could be found amongst some tribes on the forehead or on the nose. The design of these tattoos was usually a cross having a single or double horizontal beam, the vertical line running from the forehead down to the tip of the nose.

PROCESS OF TATTOOING:

The process of tattooing amongst the tribe was a very painful one and demanded great patience and endurance on the part of the person upon whom it was done. Normally, tattooing was done only on a special day fixed by divination which signified its ritual importance. Designs were first drawn with black paint made from the soot over the body and they were picked by thorns of cane. Then the juice of a particular plant mixed with blue colour was applied over the designs or in some case, the colour made from ashes of straws was smeared over the pricked portions. The juice of the plant believed to have healing effects on the wounds. The wounds sometimes became serious, and usually confined the person who could hardly move about for a few days. No medicine was applied but hot fermentation was given for a few days. The persons who performed the tattooing operations, mostly male but in some cases female were considered to be experts in this art; they were mostly paid in kind such as rice, rice beer and meat. Nowadays, the custom of tattooing has almost been given up by the various tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, probably realising the futility of such painful operations and also because of the impact of the outside world.

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House of Adi tribe-Arunachal Pradesh

The houses of the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh represent the traditional style of constructing the dwellings from the locally available materials and the size of the houses depends on the family patterns of the tribes. Since the living conditions are very tough in this area, the houses of the tribes are constructed to meet the challenge of nature.

adi house

Adi house

The Adis construct their houses either on the plain-level ground or on the sloping ground. The size of the house depends on the family and the style of the house also differs from area to area. These traditional houses are constructed with bamboos, woods, canes, leaves etc. And no nail is used in their construction. The house raised well above the grounds with the help of stilts. On the sloping grounds, the shortest posts are nearest to the upper ground and longest are away from it. On theses stilts are tied wooden beams and thus the level floor is made. The roof is made by dry paddy straws, dry Tokow leaves or thatch grass. The Adi house has no windows and there are two doors, one in the front for male members and the other at the back for women. Normally, there is big hall in every house which serves the purpose of sleeping, living, cooking, dining, etc. Some house has divided into many chambers and married couples and young girls have separate rooms. Every house has one or more fire places. The space between the floor and the ground is used for keeping domestic animals like cows, the pigs and collection of dry fire-woods. The Adis keep all their articles of daily use such as fishing nets, utensils, baskets, agricultural implements and looms etc. Inside the house.  In the front of Adi house has an open balcony where the whole family can sit and gossip.

With some local variations of design and style, the household articles of a normal Adi tribes usually consist of brass or aluminum utensils for cooking, various types of containers made of cane or bamboo used for storing various items, mats, baskets for different uses, head gear etc. Etc… then, there are tools and other implements used for agriculture, fishing and hunting instrument used by every the tribe.

 

THE MURDER IN 1911

THE MURDER IN 1911

Captain Neol Williamson was the Assistant Political Officer at Sadiya in the beginning of the 20th century and wedded to the ideas of British imperialism thoroughly. Within a very short time of his appointment, he toured into the interiors of the north-eastern hills and very often crossed the line of his jurisdiction. In the year 1908, Williamson toured the Pasi, Gallong and Minyong village around the present day Pasighat. In the following year he again made the tour in Lohit valley, this time going beyond the ’Outer line’. He also toured the Abor hills going along the course of Dihang river and went upto Kebang village. During this tour, he was accompanied by Colonel D.M. Lumsden and W.L.B. Jackman, a member of the American Mission at Sadiya. Williamson and his party could not go beyond the Kebang Village due to an inter-tribal war between the Pangis and the Minyongs.

 The main objective of these tours was to gather detailed knowledge of the tribal land, explore the possibilities of the trade route through these hills to Tibet and to ascertain the extent of the Chinese influence in this area. The Adis, however, were always suspicious of these tours since during tours, they were not only required to work as porters but were also supposed to provide ration supply to the touring party without any substantial payment. Besides, the  tribals were also haunted by a common sense of insecurity and humiliation. To a primitive people, with their distinctive native culture, institutions and values, the activities of the British amounted to a direct interference in their freedom and the imposition of an alien culture on them. Like any other tribal society which valued its freedom more than anything else, this was causing irritation among the Adis. The result was explosive, leading to the murder of Williamson and his party in 1911.

 Noel Williamson was determined to penetrate into the hills with a view to fulfill his objective and once again, therefore, 1911, he penetrated again into the Mishmi hills upto Walong. There he noticed the Chinese flag at Menikari and was also reported the Chinese occupation of Rima. Noticing the Chinese activities In the Mishmi Hills he became concerned about the lot of the Abor Hills; immediately after his return from the Mishmi hills. He, therefore, chalked out a programme of tour into Abor hills. From the Chinese action he had seen in the Mishmi Hills, he at once realize the necessity of finding out the extent of the Chinese influence in these hills. Thus in 1911, Williamson ventured on another expedition of the Adi Hills that was to make an important landmark in the history of the North East.

Before proceeding to see the expedition of Williamson in 1911, let us have a look at the rules and regulations of the Government concerning such expeditions. the orders relating to the tours beyond the area of political control on the north-east border of India were  summed up briefly in the rule that the sanction of the Local Government must first be obtained in all cases. When such tours were likely involve complications that could demand the sending of a punitive expedition, the tour could not be permitted without the prior permission of the Government of India. All the official records reveal that Williamson had failed to get the necessary sanction of the Government before he started his tour of the Abor Hills in 1911.

During this expedition, Willamson was accompanied by 34 Gurkhali coolies, 10 Miris, 2 orderlies and three servants. Besides, Dr. J.D. Gregorson, a successful doctor in medical charge of the European and native staff of an important tea garden at Tinsukia and Lakhimpur, who took a deep interest in the tribes of the Hills, also accompanied Williamson. On 18thMarch, 1911, the party reached Rottung and halted there for the night. During that night, some provisions and a case of liquor was stolen from the camp by some tribal people. Williamson asked the  village people that the guilty were to be presented before him when he returned back from his journey. The naturally made the village people very angry, since Williamson had the guts to threaten the Adis in their own land. It is suggested that the plan to murder the entire party was discussed by the villagers the same night. This was even reported to Williamson, but he did not pay any attention to it. He was confident that the Adis would not attack him since as per the nature of the Adis, they are stronger in deliberation than in action. On the next day the party marched upto Pangi village and stayed there waiting for the arrival of the porters. On the 28th March, a Mising servant, Manpur, was sent back to Rottung with some sick coolies and some letters. Manpur, it was reported, told to the people of Rottung that he had come to take more sepoys into the hills so that the Adis could be punished. This false statement on the part of Manpur agitated the tribals who killed the four men and marched upto Pangi to take action against Williamson and his party.

On the fateful day of 30th March, Willamson marched further from pangi, leaving Dr. Gregorson and three coolies in the camp. The tribals, gathering more men at Kebang and Babuk villages, came to the Pangi camp and killed Dr. Gregorson and the three coolies. They they followed Williamson who had reached Komsing village, which is 80 miles from the present day Pasighat. On the morning of 31th March, 1911, the furious tribals arrived there and in the broad daylight, Williamson and his party was murderd at 10:00 a.m. Only a few managed to escape to relay the news of this murder at Sodiya.

KEBANG and GAMBO :Adi Village Council System

KEBANG:

The Adi tribes of Arunachal Pradesh largely found in the erstwhile Siang district had developed a well organized republican system of administration. The KEBANG or the village council formed the basis of their political organization. The Adi folk songs and folklores often bear the reference to Kalu Kebo(the council of people), Kabo-Yabo (the public) and qumin-soyin(the village spirits) etc., which proves that the village council or kebang exitsted in the Adi society from the very early times.

Every Adi village is run by a council called kebang and all adult villagers are its members. All of them can participate in its deliberations which are guided by the elders of the council and are known as Kebang-Abus. The leadership of the Kebang is not hereditary but is acquired by an elder by virtue of his merits in different fields. The kebang was and is a democratic body and all the villagers are to take part in its meetings. Though there is no restriction on women taking part in Kebang, generally they did not participate in its deliberations due to one reason or another. The kebang, therefore, was generally an all male affair.

The meetins of the village council (Dolung kebang) are generally held at dere or moshup, the Adi name for public administration. During the British period, due to various reasons such as the possible fear of British intervention in their territory and curtailment of their right in the plains, two other categories of Kebangs came into being namely the Bango-Kebang or a council of many villages and the Bogum-Bokang kebang or a council of the whole Adi tribes. Due to the presence of the Britishers and their influence three more officials began to be associated with the kebang. They were the Gam, the political Jamadar and kotoki. The Gam or the Gaonburah were appointed by the Government under regulation 1 of 1945 by virtue of their influence, experience and acceptability to the villagers. Normally each clan had a Gam who could be easily spotted by the red coat that was their official dress.

   In the Keabang the proceedings are generally initiated and controlled by the experienced members called the Abus. The proceedings of the Kebang sometimes continue for days together till all participants are exhausted and arrive at an agreeable decision, failing which the kebang is adjourned for the next session. Every speaker in the Kebang begins his speech with an introduction called Abe, which narrates the ancient history and glory of the Adi tribe, and exhorts the village elders for important judgment. Cases of both civil and criminal nature are put up before the Kebang by the contending parties backed by their fellow clansmen and supporters. The Abus guide the speakers and interpret the laws, sometimes giving examples as to how a case of similar nature was decided earlier. It is noteworthy that the aim of Kebang is to make all parties agree to a compromise and not to enforce any judgment. Once a decision is taken in a Kebang its implementation is automatic. In the criminal cases, the common punishment is usually the imposition of fines and compensation to the aggrieved party.

The village councils are empowered to decide the cases falling within the jurisdiction of their respective villages. The cases which involve two or more villages, the Bongo Kebang is called and those cases or an event which can affects the entire community, the Bogum Bokang Kebang is convened. The Kebang operates on the principle of unquestionable loyaelity to the village community and customary laws. Many a times the supernatural guidance is sought through oaths and ordeals, which comprise of physical and psychological tests. The findings of the supernatural courts were considered to be final and binding though this practice is not generally encouraged now a days.

THE GAMBO

The Adis who live in Mechukha area had a different system of administration which centered around GAMBO. A GAMBO means a head or a leader or an influential person of a particular clan or village. Earlier these GAMBOS were selected by the village people to act as their leaders. This selection of the GAMBO was, generally speaking, hereditary and normally the eldest son succeeded his father. In some cases, the GAMBOS attempted to become the DERA or the chief of their village.

The Gambos decided the issue and disputes related to property, murder, thief etc.. in the village but were not arbitrary. They were guided by the customary laws and traditions. In the issues relating to relations with the outsiders, tribals or otherwise, the support of the chiefs of other village also sought. The Gambos did not have either the authority or the power to collect taxes from the villagers. The Gambos gradually lost their influence after 1954 when the Assam Frontier regulation of 1945 was enforced in NEFA.

Moshup and Rasheng- The Social Institutions of Adi tribe

The social institution that forms an important part of the social life of most of the tribes in the existence of the Dormitories or communal barracks or bachelor’s quarters.

Amongst the Adis these Dormitories are called MOSHUP (for boys) and RASHENG (for girls). The basic idea behind these institutions to create a habit of discipline amongst the children and also to create a feeling of cooperation. The Moshup is normally situated in the centre of the village and is constructed at a place from which different approaches to the village can be seen. These dormitories are used as the sleeping houses by all the youngmen of the village from the age of ten till marriage. The Moshup, sometimes has its advisory board comprising of the old and experience people. They advice the young members on the matters of community life, hunting, etc. etc.. The old and infirm members of the village also came to Moshup in the day time to get-together and gossip. Guests and visitors are also entertained here and kebangs are also held here.

The RASHENG or the girls dormitories was meant for the gaiety, amusement and the art and regulation of love-making. This rasheng is purely secular in nature and has no religious significance. After reaching puberty, girls sleep in their respective clan Rashengs. During the day time it is generally vacant but at night spinning and weaving is carried out here. A senior experience girl normally supervises the Rasheng. It is a training institution for the girls in discipline, comradeship, responsibility and leadership. The romantic life of a girl starts here. Young boys from different clans come and join the girls at night and the affairs of the boys and girls of marriageable clans generally lead to marriage. Thus the Moshup and rasheng of the Adis are the central institution where the boys and girls received practical training in traditional mode of life.  

The Origin and Migration of Adi Tribe Part I- Compensated by the oral tradition of the people in the form of Legends, Myths, Folklores and Sayings etc.

The Origin

The Adis do not have any historical records in the want of a language; but this is compensated by the oral traditions of the people in the form of legends, myths, folklores, proverbs and sayings etc. These oral traditions are reflected in Abangs, Ponungs, Abes etc. The oral religious literature of the Adis is mainly represented by rhapsodies known a Abangs, relating to the mythe of creation, origin of social institutions and history of the people. The Ponungs are nothing but legthy ballads, drawing their themes from Abangs, highlighting the origin of different things including the Adis race itself. The Abes may be considered as the political literature of the people and the term is used to mean the introductory speeches given by the Kebang. An elderly person gifted with powers of good oratory is called the Kebang Abu, who traces the origin and migration of the people of the central zone of Arunachal from Uli, Usha and kumting in Tibet in a poetic language. There are dozens of myths currents among the Adis which talk about their origin and migration. The task of tracing the origin and migration of the Adis was taken over by various foreign scholars in the 19th and the early part of the 20th century.

William Robinson was the first European scholar to draw a connected account of the tribes and, as quoted, the difficulty in lifting up “ the dark veil which conceals the origin of the tribes”. John Butler thinks the Adis,“to be the descendents of the tortar race” by observing their physical features. Father Kreek believe that the Padams stood midway between mongoloid and Caucasian race and referred to a popular tradition about the origin of the padam people. He recollected a story that when the earth was full of mud, God came down from heaven and made two brothers and sisters with a handful of mud. The padams descended from the elder and the Miris from the younger brother. E.T. Dalton also tried to trace the origin of the Padams from an older son of a woman in the beginning of the earth. G.W. Beresford believes that all the Adis acknowledge a common origin from the Bor Abors. G.D.S. Dundar has also tried to trace the traditional origin of the tribes. R.C.R. Gumming refers that all the Adis claim their origin form some race tribes settled a Killing in Bomo-janbo country. According to a popular version,” in the beginning there was only darkness, and out of the union of the sky(Melo) and the earth(Sedi) things were born. Pedong nane who descended from Sedi-Melo were married to Yidum Bole and out of their union was born Donyi, the first man”. Dr. Verrier Elwin has collected some myths referring to Donyi or Tani as the first man on the earth.

Different branches of the Adi families however, have their own myths and traditions regarding their origin and migration. The Padam Minyong myths refer that keyum was the first in the line of creation. After a few generations came sedi who is believed to be the creator of the world. Pedong nane was the sixth generation of Sedi who gave birth to different gods, goddesses, spirits and animals and Donyi or tani was the youngest issues of Pedong Nane. This group of the adis regard Donyi or Tani as the common ancestor of the Adis. It is also believed that Pedong’s son was Dobir who had a son named Dirbo, and he had a number of sons. One of the sons of Dirbo was Bome from whom the Padams descended and the other was Banyo from whom the Minyongs descended. This myth of origin is also prevalent amongs Pasis, Panggis, karkos, Shimongs, Milangs and the Eastyern Adi groups.

 The myths of the Galo group of   Adis trace their origin from Sichi. They believed that after a few generations from Sichi, Tani, the first man was born and it was from him that all the sub-tribes of the Galo groups like the Pailibos, Bokars, Ramos etc.., came into being. The Pailibos claims to be the descendents of Sichi, the mother earth and recounts the story of the creation of different clans of the Pailibos from the descendents of Sichi or Sichang. The Bokars claims their descent from the first man Abo Tani and belives that one of the off-spring of Abo Tani was Dungume from whom runs the direct line of descent of the present day Bokars. The ramos attribute their origin to the union of Medoang (the sky) and Seaching(the earth) and consider Donyi (the sun) and Polo(the moon) as their first issues. As per their oral tradition, Donyi and Polo have gone to stay with medong(the sky) but the ramos have stayed back with their mother Seaching(the earth). It is also held that Jomso was the common forefather of the Ramos, Bokars and Pailibos. In the Galo mythology, Jimi is the creator who created Mrdo(the sky) and sichi(the earth) and from their union started the human race. The first child was Sibuk and one of his descendant was Tusi whose son was Rimi or Tani, the father of the man. Tani is the common father of man, as acknowledged by the Galos.

 

Rayang Village (Near Ruksin,Pasighat), East Siang

Rayang Village
Rayang Village

 

 

 

 

 

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