Orange Festival – Dambuk – Arunachal Pradesh:-December 15-18, 2016

Four days of songs, art and adventure in a faraway land.

December 15-18, 2016

Venue: Dambuk, Arunachal Pradesh

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.

THE TRADITION OF HEAD HUNTING IN ARUNACHAL PRADESH

head hunters
head collection

 

 

THE TRADITION OF HEAD HUNTING IN ARUNACHAL PRADESH

The Noctes and the Wanchos, who inhibit the Tirap district of Arunachal Pradesh, are related to the Naga tribes to their southwest and, therefore, their religious faiths and beliefs have close association with the Naga religion that has been termed as ‘Animism’. Both these tribes, in the past had a strong tradition of ‘head-hunting’. Though the practice of head-hunting was not purely a religious practice, yet it carried behind it the religious sanctions and was undertaken only after divination. Belief in the magical powers of human heads, particularly in connection with the fertility cult, was one of the main reason behind this practice.

There are different stories regarding the origin of head-hunting amongst the both tribes. One thing is certain that the basic reason behind the custom of head-hunting was the internal feuds due to various reasons. It is also held by some writers that the custom of head-hunting originated amongst the Noctes and later on spread to the Wanchos. Amongst the Noctes, the most common practice of head-hunting was to raid a village stealthily or by ambushing. There were also incidents of one village challenging the other. Surprise raids were conducted by leaders selected from amongst the experienced head-hunters. Omen were taken by the village priest to foresee the outcome, and the expedition started only if they were favorable. After returning from a successful raid, the head-hunters indulge in dancing and singing. The heads were collected in one place and the priest mixed powdered rice and egg and sprinkled the mixture over heads to calm down the spirits of the dead person. These heads were then hung from tree. The head-hunters got themselves tattooed; KHOTANG festival was then celebrated in which the heads were boiled, cleaned and put together in one place. The head-hunters danced around the heads and a share of the community feast was offered to these heads. After khotang festival was over, the heads were put to rest in the Morung.

The Wanchos also undertook the head-hunting raids in the past and human head formed the central motif of their traditional wood carving. In addition to the expression of their manliness and power. There were some other reasons too for this custom. Head-hunting expeditions were resorted to some times for more real cause such as encroachment on others territory and refusal to pay compensation by the poachers when detected. There was then, ofcourse, the belief in the magical efficacy of human head  because it was believed to increase the yield of cultivated land. Generally, the causes for head-hunting arose between the two chiefs and their subjects automatically got involved in it. The expedition was undertaken when the prediction was favorable. During expedition, head were taken indiscriminately, but under no circumstances, a commoner could take the head of a chief. The exception to this rule was punished heavily. After the heads were brought to the village, the flesh was allowed to decompose with boiling water and preserved in the morungs or a house specially constructed for the purpose near the house of the chief, which was called PONU. A ceremony was held after five days of bringing the heads to the village in which the head-hunters were tattoed on different parts of the body. The festival which was celebrated after harvesting was called GANTANG in which, just like the Noctes, the heads were offered rice-beer and pieces of ginger.

As long as social position depends on tattooing, and can only be got by bringing the head of an enemy, so long shall they have these wars and consequent isolation of clans. The man who brings in a head is no longer called a boy or a woman, and can assist in councils of state. The head he brings is handed to the chief, who confers the AK, or right of decoration by tattoo, at which there are great feastings, and pigs, coes or even buffaloes are killed and no end of rice-beer is drunk. The front of chief’s house, as well as inside it, are numerous trophies of the chase and memorials of feasts, and in a separate house(ponu), dedicated to the collection, memorials of ferocity and vengeance-human skulls arranged in shelves like boolks, the records of recent achievements, and basket full of fragments of skulls, the memorials of the bloody deeds of their forefathers.

The tales of Ami Dori : Oral tradition and culture in the Apatani Valley

The tales of Ami Dori : Oral tradition and culture in the Apatani Valley

There was a young girl called Ami Dori. She was an extremely good person, who spoke kindly and never ever had a bad word for anyone. She was also very beautiful, of incomparable beauty. She was as lovely as the rising sun and the shining moon, a girl of good speech, thought and action. Because she was so perfect she was considered the elder sister of the god iipyo wi.
But her brother’s wife became jealous of her perfection and began to slander her. ”Everyone says that your sister, Ami Dori, is good but she’s not. She’s evil. Do you know what she’s done? She had illicit sex with Tadu and with Bume – that’s what they say, she’s done bad things with them.” When he heard all this about Ami Dori, her brother believed his wife and then he, too, began to speak ill of her. And when their parents heard what the brother had to say, they also started to call her names. Hearing what the parents said, others outside the family began to talk ill of Ami Dori.
When she heard all that was said about her, all this horrible talk, Ami Dori felt terrible, very bad inside, and said to herself: ”At first everyone praised me and said I was a good person, but now they say I’m bad.” That’s how she felt. ”I am the sister of iipyo wi and so I’ve never had a bad thought in my heart, never done a bad thing. Not in the past, not even in childhood, not in the present and not in the future would I ever do anything bad. I never had and never will even entertain bad thoughts. You [her family] have prevented me from living my life as I wished.”
Full of sorrow and pain, Ami Dori left her parents’ house then went to a grove where she made the takun tree her mother and the sangko bacho tree her father. Why did she do that? You might ask. Well, her sister-in-law had slandered her, her brother had slandered her, her mother and father had slandered her, the whole village had slandered her. She was devastated and began to think: ”If my mother doesn’t act like a mother, and if I can’t consider her my mother; if she can’t think of me as her daughter, if my father can’t think of me as his daughter, if my brother can’t think of me as his sister, if my sister-in-law can’t treat me as a sister-in-law, if everyone calls me an evil person, then I don’t know how I can live on this earth.”
Then she said to the creator god, ”Since my birth, until this very day, I have done nothing wrong. I did nothing with Biilyi Tado and Bume Tah; I never even looked at them. To say I had illicit sex with them is idle gossip. God, you know everything – the stars, sun and moon, all the gods, souls, including the malevolent giirii wi; you created all the creatures, from spirits to humans and animals, all the insects and reptiles, the flora and fauna, trees, everything little and big. Everything and everyone is your creation. So you know me, what I’ve done and what I’ve said and who I am. I also know and because I know I can no longer live among people. I’m going to leave this earth. They say that I had sex with Biilyi Tado and Bume Tah and I am humiliated/disgraced.”
With these sad words and thoughts, she tied a cane-rope to a branch of the takun tree and then around her neck and committed suicide. There, in that takun grove, she took her own life and left this earth. After her death, her maternal uncle [and his brothers ?] came and said, ”Ami Dori was always a good person. How could you speak about such a good person in such a terrible way? Because she felt disgraced, she killed herself.” [They thought that she died because she felt disgraced?]
Ami Dori’s family replied, ”We all believed what the others said, that she was bad. We believed what her sister-in-law said about her, what her own brother and her own parents said. Asking more and more questions, the maternal uncle found out that her brother and his wife had first said that she was bad, that she had sex with Biilyi Tadu and Bume Tah. He also learned that they were not humans, but snakes, who became humans who turned back into snakes. Ami Dori had played with those snakes. They explained this to the maternal uncle and his brothers. [When they heard all this] the maternal uncle and his relatives spoke directly to Ami Dori, ”You are sister of iipyo wi, the good Ami Dori, but they said that you were bad. But we, in our hearts, do not believe them. All those people accused you of doing evil, but you have said that you did nothing wrong with Biilyi Tado and Bume Tah, that you have been wronged, that you are blameless. But instead of taking revenge, we will bury you. Then you must show us that you are pure and not evil; give us a sign from your grave that you led a good life.”
On the next day, in the early morning, her family and her sister-in-law’s family [?] went to her grave and saw a small shoot growing, no taller than a snake’s fang. On the second morning it was the size of a lizard’s leg. And on the third day a full tree had grown over her grave mound, a big, thick tree with many branches. From her grave, through the power of god, spiritual power, she showed that she really had committed no evil. Different flowers blossomed on the many branches of that tree – a red flower, a white flower, a green flower and a dark flower [this is in nyibo language]. And the tree was called the ”Dori” tree and the necklace tree because different coloured necklaces hung from those branches – the domin, doku, rite, tado, sampyo, santer, ahing paming, and lebu – all these necklaces grew on the tree.
”One person watches and one makes a hole [in the bead]; one person rolls the thread and one puts it through the hole; and plucks the beads from the tree.” [In the same way ?] everyone now knew that Ami Dori was a good woman, that she had done no wrong; that god had made her a pure being. They knew that she had done nothing wrong with Biilyi Tadu and Bume Tah, that everyone had unjustly slandered her. The necklace tree appeared to show this to everyone. When the tree had demonstrated Ami Dori’s goodness to the maternal uncle, the others – her brother and sister-in-law, and her parents stood accused.
In order to show the rest of the world that she was innocent, her uncles took the necklaces [from the tree?] and set out to sell them. This is said to have been the ”first business”. In our miji language we have the saying: ”Tado must go and sell; Haley must go and sell”. [Tado-Haley refers to a generic trader] These two men set out to sell these necklaces, which were created by the creator of all we see [the stars, sun, moon, etc.] They went to sell those necklaces to show the world that Ami Dori was innocent.
They went to the house of Nyime Payang Radhe [a ruler from Tibet?], to try to sell them to his daughters. But they rejected them, saying they weren’t up to the mark. So the uncles took the necklaces and wandered from place to place, trying to sell them, explaining that they were expensive because they were the ornaments of Ami Dori. North and south they went, here and there and everywhere, until they reached the house of Pan Pachi Tari [some kind of title]; to his women folk they said, ”Here are fine necklaces; look at them and see how nice they are.” Then Pan Pachi Tari bought them for his daughters, saying, ”I’ll buy them with my lands.” And so it was that because Ami Dori was a virtuous person, of excellent character, kind thoughts and gentle speech – because she was the best person on earth her sister-in-law, her brother and her parents spoke ill of her, and others did until the whole world slandered her. God made her pure and through the power of meping wi, the necklace tree grew and showed the world [that she was innocent].

THE DONYI-POLO CULT OF ADI’s in ARUNACHAL PRADESH

In analysing the religion of the tribal people of arunachal pradesh, it is found that Donyi-Poloism is a channel, through which human aspiration and faith which traditionally cultivated by the Adis, is expressed.

like anybody else they have to face the realities of life, make sense of their exixtance as well as of the nature. in search of the answers to their questions and in an effort to find coherence of the total existance, they have discovered the profoundity of Donyi-Polo. The supreme qualities of Donyi-Polo are expressed through natural symbols such as the Sun and the Moon. the qualities of which are easily understood and realised. Day in and day out they perform their tasks enabling creatures to make their existance possible. the qualities on which these two powerful symbols are based have to be immutable and universally acceptable.

thus, traditionally, Donyi or the Sun is considered to be the principal guide of truth and polo or the Moon symbolises love, kindness, sympathy and compassion. the Adis attempt to accomplies perfection through truth, wisdom and compassion and thus realise Donyi-Polo. Donyi-Polo can therefore, be considered as a philosophy of humanistic faith that is based on natural traditions, ideology of which has evolved out of the belief and practices of the generations of the tribes.

in Donyi_Poloism, the flow of thought is maintained uninterruptedly through direct, personal contacts in which knowledge is believed to be complete and genuine.

It is seen that the Adis are awakening up to their pride in being Adi. They are also trying to rediscover the religion of the Nature. they are interpreting their relationship to the world on the basis of the hermeneutical principles. Thus they cling to the divine universal symbol of the Sun and Moon, which helps to maintain their original identity of the natural religion. as such, a new social order is opening up based on the hierarchy of valyes of which they apparantly had comprehension before.

The strategies adopted for organisation of the tribal oral religion has been to give a call to eliminate all alien beliefs and practices, to revitalise the traditional ritual practices and to produce a new theology.

All these are problematic. The call to eliminate the alien beliefs and practices has no doubt a populist dimension. It is aimed to gather support from within and as well as across groups. the call readily appeals to the emotions of the people and help in mobilisation. In practical terms the call is a kind of reaction to what has been going on in the region. attempts to proselytization at one time may have brought a glorified status but that does not work anymore in the changed political circumstances. Moreover, they realise that proselytizedtion does not fit into their way of life and also undermines. Proselytization can be shunned but what about modernisation which is creeping in. all theis resulted in their search for a coherent order of values which would be capable of conferring meaning and unity in the society. This they found in Donyi-Poloism. Donyi_poloism thus became a symbol of their religion and cultural identity. Not that they have been able to resolve all the problems and oppositions, They confront them and as a result of which Donyi-Poloism is continuously evolving itself.

Rituals make the religious faith visible. But in tribal soceity they are much more than that. Rituals are very closely related with their economic activities, with their social relations and the maintenance of reciprocal behaviour. besides, the ritual reflect their conception of nature, supernatural and also their values.
The elites of the Donyi-Polo faith represent only a small section of the ethnic groups of the state, namely, the Adis, Some twenty years back the ethnic composition of this group officially included just two major tribes, The Gallong and the Minyong from the erstwhile Siang District. Today the group Adi represent other tribal groups which were once sub-tribes of either of the major groups-Gallong and Minyong.

The Adi theologian Always deny their tie with any other religions (like Christiannity, Buddhism etc.), they remain grounded in these religious thoughts. In interpreting the indigenous belief of the Adis, they are looking for the similarities with Semitic religioun, Donyi-Polo has been endowed with such attributes as ‘creator’, ‘almighty’, ‘omnipresent’, ‘omniscient’, etc. The minority but dominant group even succeded in getting a bill enacted in the year 1978, providing legal protection to the indigenous faith.

Oral Narratives and Myth

On the eve of the new millennium, newspapers carried reports of a small and breathtakingly beautiful valley hidden in the hills. The reports said that the valley of Dong,in Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh, and not Katchal of And aman and Nicobar Islands, was the place that would receive the first rays of the millennium sun in mainland India. This fact, further confirmed by scientists and the Survey of India, promoted a rush of visitors to the remote spot in the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh which was dubbed the sunrise village. Part of the Eastern Himalayan range, Arunachal Pradesh is the largest state of India’s North-East Region (NER), the broad term given to the group of 7 states, dubbed as the seven sisters. The state was earlier known as NEFA – the North East Frontier Agency until 1972, when it became a union territory with the brand new name of Arunachal Pradesh, Land of the Dawn Lit Mountains. Arunachal Pradesh became a full fledged state in 1987. It is 83,743 sq km. in area stretching eastwards from Bhutan in the west to the Patkoi Hills that forms India’s boundary with Myanmar. To the north and north-east, the state marks the last frontier of the country with a 1,080 km long international boundary with China along the crest of the eastern Himalaya. It is an area of great scenic beauty with snow peaks falling gradually southwards into pristine forests and valleys crisscrossed by turbulent rivers and streams. These water routes feed the mighty Brahmaputra River in the plains of Assam, providing a unique environmental world which gives the state the honour of being one of the greenest parts of the country. The Himalayan region captures some of the world’s heaviest rainfall and the result is an expanse of lush tropical forest where life breeds in myriad forms. It is estimated that Arunachal Pradesh harbours a minimum of 5,500 flowering species. Arunachal Pradesh is also known for naturally occurring orchids with over 525 species. An orchid centre set up in Tipi in West Kameng district is the largest orchidarium in Asia. The state is also one of the few places in the world that can boast the four big felines – the tiger, leopard, clouded leopard and snow leopard within one area in the Namdapha biosphere reserve of Changlang district.

This, in summary, is a brief introduction to Arunachal Pradesh. A closer examination will reveal that the area offers a complex cultural mosaic characterised by unique features that the state, due to geographical and historical reasons, has succeeded in keeping as one of the last bastions of the tribal world. The tribes of Arunachal Pradesh have always lived off the forest without any threat to the ecosystem. The tenets of traditional practice are deep rooted in environment ethics, supporting a close and harmonious relationship with nature. Arunachal tribes have a tremendous knowledge of the use of plants for native medicine and the instructions handed down from generation to generation are contained in stories and myths that is a unique feature of the different communities living here. The state is divided into 16 administrative districts and is home to 26 tribal groups, further sub-divided into clans and subgroups each with its distinctive traditions and customs. Apart from the Buddhist tribes of the northern boundaries, the tribes of what is termed the central belt of Arunachal Pradesh, viz: the Adi, Galo, Nyishi, Apa-Tani, Tagin and Mishmi comprise the Tani group of tribes that claim ancestry from a common legendary forefather called Abo Tani, the first man on earth. This in turn forms the tenets of indigenous faith called the way of Donyi-Polo, literally translated as Donyi-sun, Polo-moon, that recognises the sun and moon as the cosmic symbolic power through which the supreme spiritual being, the world-spirit, is made manifest. According to this belief, in the beginning there was only Keyum or nothingness. There was neither darkness nor light, nor was there any colour or movement. Keyum is the remote past beyond the reach of our senses. It is the place of ancient things from where no answer is received. Out of this great stillness, the first flicker of thought began to shine like a light in the soul of man. This shimmering trail took shape and expanded to what is known as the pathway. Out of this nebulous area, a spark was born that was the light of imagination. It grew into a shining stream that was the consciousness of man, and from this stage all the stories of the world, its creation, and all its creatures came into being. The myth as primitive history expressed in poetic form is notable among the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. This is an entirely non-script collection, sung or chanted as narrative ballads and epics about the origin of the world, the sky, the heavenly bodies and the mother earth, are recounted by professional rhapsodists on a variety of occasions, especially during the time of the great festivals. Almost all of tribal
belief is tied up with agricultural practice, but though the festivals are agricultural rites marking the passage of the seasons, the religious aspect is always present along with the recollection of a serene and happy co-existence with the natural world that helped man to survive in a harsh environment all these years with very little contact with the outside world. An example of this is revealed in one of the first stories that I heard as a child about a far away land of fish and stars (EngoTakar) and the lost civilization of the Kojum Koja. It is said that at the dawn of human existence, there sprang up on the surface of the earth an ancient human society known as Kojum Koja. Kojum Koja established villages and were a self sufficient, contented and happy people. The Kojum Koja civilization was destroyed by a devastating flood let loose by the ruler of the waters, Biri Bote, whose son was accidently trapped and killed by the people of Kojum Koja during a festival. At this time, a guest appeared amongst the society of Kojum Koja. It was the bat, Koru Ponsung Babu. The guest inquired about the meat and the people of Kojum Koja replied that a fish had been caught in their traps and that they had killed it for the festival. After hearing this, the bat left for the domain of water (Silli Sidong). Arriving in the deepest depths, the bat noticed the wife of the ruler of the watery regime weeping in great sorrow. The queen was asking who had kidnapped her beloved son, Biri Angur Potung. The bat broke the news to her that her son had been killed and consumed in a festival by the Kojum Koja. The news of the killing of Biri Angur sparked off a great war. Message of the tragedy reached every nook and corner of the watery regime and its ruler commanded his war generals to launch a destructive and terrifying attack on the people of Kojum Koja.

myth

With sharp dazzling blades and rattling swords, the combined armies unleashed their fury wave after wave on the land of Kojum Koja. The Kojum Koja defended themselves valiantly but the armies of the great king besieged them from all sides. In the form of rain, storm, flood and erosion, the armies of the waters destroyed the land of the Kojum Koja and buried their civilisation. After this great battle, the world was dark and silent. Everything was covered in water and it seemed all life had ended, until, out of this wreckage a lady emerged like a lonely reed rising taller and steadier inch by inch, like a ray of hope. This was the popular beauty known as Nyangi Myete, celestial bride of the Kojum family who drifted down to humanity to tell the tale of destruction, and to generate new hope for another civilization on earth. Dressing herself in the fashion of a glamorous bride wearing a white silken skirt with a green border, and possessing all the qualities of civilised life, the celestial beauty floated down to bring grace and warmth to the society of humans. Indeed, her arrival generated a new current of life and enthusiasm among the people she visited. Tradition presents her as the most charming and beauteous bride of the Kojum Koja. She is the centre of attraction and the warmth of the society revolves around her. It is Nyangi Myete who pleases guests and friends by pouring out cups of rice wine while her charismatic and entertaining manner maintains the honour and humour of the society. It is her generosity that makes people dance and sing and enjoy life. The land and people of Kojum Koja may be buried in the deluge but because of this celestial lady the memory of that civilised society remains immortal. From the obscure world of myth, this celestial lady came down to live on this earth. Her beauty is present in the form of natural things. The green vegetation on the surface of the earth is the green-bordered skirt that she wears. Her silken white robe is transformed into clouds. The changes of the seasons are her appearance at different social occasions. The water and rain are her sweat and tears. Her melodious songs and music are transformed into the sweet voice sof birds and humming insects. The ever changing and beautiful natural world represents the charming beauty of the Kojum Koja. Thus, mythological belief is projected into present reality through natural surroundings and the interpretation of human imagination. The Land of Fish and Stars (engo takar) is akin to the Dreamtime that is so crucial in Australian aboriginal literature. All the things that we perceive-the sun, moon, hills and rivers were all born out of that mythical place that exists as the dreamtime, the place of ancient things from which the stories of the world, the stories of gods and goddesses and the birth of man and life on earth unfolded since thought and speech began. There are similarities across the world in the first stories of wandering tribes and vanished empires. The ancient Mayan and Aztec civilisations worshipped the sky god and sacrificed to the mighty sun, and stretching from China throughout the Far East and across to the frozen frontiers of Alaska and to the Americas, myths and legends are the basis of traditions and beliefs of communities across the world. So it is with the Homeric legends, the gods of Northern Europe, Hindu mythology, and myths of ancient Egypt and Rome. In the fast-paced global world of today, one may well ask what the worth of these old stories and legends is. The question of direction and destiny has become one of great complexity and soul searching. And the question is ‘Where do we begin? What is the most important thing to start with?’ Perhaps in this, myth and memory have their role too. How do we identify ourselves as members of a community belonging to a particular place, with a particular history? Some of the signs for this lie with our stories. We are here today as members of a community with a particular set of beliefs, by an act of faith, because we believed in the ‘word’ as composed in our myths and legends. It is here that we may find that peculiar, indefinable something by which we recognise each other, and make others see us as a group, a society, a people of a particular community. Today I might say that these stories of gods and demons have no basis in logic, but the storyteller will tell me that they were born out of reason, out of the minds of men. The stories did not come out of nowhere like a bolt of lightning. Life generated it in us, and the significance of songs and stories is that they demonstrate the complex nature of human faith founded on memory and the magic of words in the oral tradition. With time, the collection of myths developed into parables and a code of conduct that became the basis for daily customary practice as observed by the tribes. Everyone knows the stories, in one form or another, and it is this knowledge that links the individual to a group, a certain region and community, but most often the stories are inseparable from the routine of daily life that they are not even perceived as stories anymore. This is why if I asked someone to tell me a story they would say there was nothing to tell. There are no reference books, few recorded volumes in print, and to find out anything you need patience and persistence. For instance, if I approach someone, pointed out as a great story teller, he will inevitably shrug and say, ‘What! What kind of story? How can anyone pull a story out of air, eh?’ And if I turn to the young girls weaving cloth and asked them who taught us to weave, I know they will burst into laughter and say, ‘Who knows about these things. It was here before we were born!’ But if I persist, asking what is this colour, what did we use before this, what is that implement called, I might unearth interesting information about the “cloth of butterflies”, how the wife of a god whispered the secret of weaving to a woman in a dream and how the first cotton plant grew out of the white feather of a kite. Who invented these stories? Who said this should be done? Who gave us these instructions and told men and women to erect a guardian gate at the entrance
to every village? Who told us that the leaves and branches of certain trees are auspicious? One gateway leads to another and a story begins to unfold a storehouse of meanings. Scholars tell us that in the history of literature, the verse form is older than prose. The early history of many countries proves this as recounted in epics, ballads and heroic poems. Our own traditional literature offers similar proof. People here still believe that different clans possess different roots that return to haunt every generation. These roots reveal themselves as the powers of healing, prediction, war and chase, or the root of words, meaning oratory. It is what holds our ceremonies, rites and rituals together. In this context, the role of memory becomes crucial and remembrance of the word became the art of the storyteller, the orator, the medicine man, the priest. This seems to tally with what I now read that: ‘we are the versicles or words or letters of a magic book, and that incessant book is the only thing in the world: more exactly, it is the world.’ (JL Borges) Arunachal Pradesh is a place full of stories. The stories explain observed behavior and natural phenomena and imbue them with sense and order. They also remind the community that it is important to keep our obligations, the reasons for which are contained in the stories. These obligations apply to every aspect of daily life from social behavior, ceremonies, worship and environment to the preparation of food with its associated taboos. In Arunachal mythology, rice is of divine origin. It is a gift of the gods that came to a race of sky dwellers in the land of fish and stars. The story goes that during a great hunt, the faithful dog of a legendary hunter lost his way and strayed into the kingdom of the great mother earth, the goddess of grain. The dog told her how he had lost his way. The goddess heard him out and gave him a few seeds of rice, which the faithful dog carried back to the land of the sky dwellers in the crease of his ear. This is one of the many stories of how grain came to man. The energy of the village is concentrated on the cultivation of rice and every fertile plot of land is given over to growing this crop. Based on the rich store of rice myths, its relevance is associated with all the important rites of life, birth and death, ranging from festivals and community feasts to marriages and ritual offerings. Special rice preparations are required for many occasions. Among the Khamptis and Singphos of Lohit district, a preparation of red rice wrapped in leaf packets is an essential item of offering in weddings. Rice is also the chief ingredient for the local rice beer that is believed to be a gift from the gods. Like any other good wine, making rice beer is an art. A house is lucky if its women make good rice beer for it is the precious ingredient of social life that frees the mind, loosens the tongue and makes people happy. Before rice beer was invented, life was very dull. Men sat about feeling bored; they had nothing to talk about; they did not hold councils or tell stories or laugh.” In parts of Dibang valley, a pale gold local wine is made by the Idu Mishmi from extract of honeycombs. The region is noted for its tradition of honey gathering. This event is associated with the performance of prescribed rituals after which men scale the craggy peaks and caves lined with enormous beehives using bamboo ladders, rope and twine. It is a dangerous feat and only the strong and fearless are chosen. The bees are smoked out with the burning of leaves and long bamboo poles are used to dislodge the hives. The honeycomb is boiled and yeast is added to make a potent brew that is called yu ambey. Sometimes, at the entry of a house a visitor might be surprised to see a dangling honeycomb that is referred to as the devils’s puzzle. An Idu home generally sports this item as a protection against evil spirits. When night falls and spirits are wandering the earth, the honeycomb acts as a spell that diverts their attention. The spirits begin to examine and count the cells of the empty comb. This exercise takes up all their time and soon their power is broken as the night passes and they flee back into their world, and no harm befalls the family. These days we talk about identity, culture, heritage, and what it means. There are many movements to forge regional identities. Everyday we are reminded to uphold our culture. It is a line inserted in every speech, as if culture is the magic word that will arouse attention and endear the speaker to his audience. What then, is myth, identity, meaning and culture? One bright sunny day, a host of school, children drew pictures, worked on paper masks and there, in the shade of the
normally empty and silent state museum, practiced a war dance loud with laughter, battle cries and ferocious footwork. Part of the Tribal Transitions Project,4 the Museum Max workshop was all set to reorient methods of teaching and linking with education. In the process, drawings blossomed on paper, flutes and trumpets were coloured orange and blue, pyramids of mountains rose towards a flock of birds circling a red sun, while a picture of the famous log drum of the Nocte and Wancho of Tirap district showed a smiling face and four legs. In fact, this was the first time I heard the log drum being freely sounded as a group of students tap-tapped on the burnished wood bringing to life the sounds of a bygone era. In the present time when the region is confronted with rapid changes, these ancient tales need not be perceived solely as something of the past, as ‘dead’ literature, that in the process of documentation all the old words are frozen in print and will have reached a dead end. With every new understanding a story will unfold endless doorways. As in the case of the activities at the museum it is apparent that tribal traditions need not be devoted to, or perceived solely as something of the ‘past,’ but instead be the catalysts for the creative instincts of a people that identify their culture. In this way this literature of oral narratives also gives us our sense of identity. In short, like the flute, the gong and the log drum, and the storyteller’s art, culture and identity will mean nothing unless it can be shared.

This article is taken from Glimpses from the North-East Written By Mamung Dai.

About the Author:

mamung dai

Mamang Dai is an acclaimed journalist, poet and author. Born in Pasighat, Arunachal Pradesh, she is the author of Arunachal Pradesh-The Hidden Land, Mountain Harvest (a book on the Food of Arunachal Pradesh) and The Legends of Pensam (Fiction-Penguin India 2006) She also has a Poetry collection: River Poems (2004). Her work, The Sky Queen and Once upon a Moontime (KATHA) are among the first illustrated publications of the oral literature of the state for young readers. Currently the General Secretary, Arunachal Pradesh Literary Society, Itanagar, and member- North East Writers’ Forum, (NEWF), she is also a Member ofCouncil of the Sahitya Akademi.

Adi Tribes dried chillies

chillies

chillies

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