Adventure at Mechukha:-7,8,9th November 2016

Be there on 7,8,9th November 2016 for Adventure at Mechukha and experience the serenity of Mechukha and specially it’s a call for all the nature lovers , adventurous people and yes also to the people who love music , food , who’d like to witness the cultural programmes as well.

A glimpse of artist line up and adventurous sports… Stay tune for more updates..

Myth and origin of the tribes Arunachal Pradesh-THE APATANIS

Apatani Tribe

 THE APATANIS

The Apatanis are settled in the lower Subansiri district of Arunachal and are one of the most advancing tribes of the state. There are no literary sources regarding the origin and migration of the Apatanis and the archaeological evidences are too meagre  to throw however, the Apatanis have preserved different myths and traditions, which throw welcome light on all aspects of their life including their origin and migration.

The Kolyung, Kolo, Wachi and Lipyo are considered as the earlier myths of the Apatanis which deal with the creation of the Universe. These myiths reveal that Abotani was the first ancestors of the Apatanis as well as of the world, who was first transformed into a perfect shape of human being on the earth. It is stated in the myths that the earth and the sky mingled with the rays of the Sun and the water and gave birth to gods, called Chatung and chanbha. These two gods mingled with goddess Chankangrima and Dokarimang who gave birth to Tani (Abutani) and Toro. As per the version of the Apatani priests, a series of Tanis were born and the last tani was known as Neha Tani. The priests furthure narrate that these were three forefathers, namely Kibo-Riba, Bani-Baro and Nichi-Nicha, who formed the paternal lines of Abo Tani. As per the Apatani myths, these three forfathers were generated at a mythical place of Apatanis called Mudo Suppung, which believed to be the present Tibet.

The oral sacred literature of the Apatanis reveals that Wuhi and Iipya Supungs were the earliest mythical places of Apa Tani where various tribes were generated. This if followed by another mythical place called Muddo Supung, where the present Tani tribe generated. The Wuhi and Iipyu Supungs are believed to be located somewhere in the belt of China and Mongolia. From Muddo Supung the Apatanis are said to have migrated to their present habitat at different times. The priests chant the mythical migration routes of the Aptanis during prayer from the border areas of Tibet and China, in the north of Subansiri and Siang district of Arunachal, specifically from the present Tunga, Lassa and Shoka passes. Afterwards, the Apa Tanis are believed to have crossed the rivers Kuru and Kime (Kamala), which flows near the Tsaaipo valley and later on reached the present valley where the ancestors of Apa Tanis settled for few generations. Then they crossed Gyayu and Supu rivers and migrated to the present valley. It is also told that after crossing Kuru and Kime rivers, the original Apatanis splits into three groups, each of which took a different route to the Apatani country. The stages on these routes refer to  some localities in the Nishi and the Miri Hills, north of the Apa Tani country. Each of these three groups of immigrants is believed to be responsible for the foundation of different Apatani Villages.

The folk stories of the Apatanis and the Nishis also reveals that the Apatanis came down from the extreme north of Subansiri and Siang districts of arunachal. According to scholars:’ though local tradition speak of an immigration of the tribes ancestors from a northern direction, these memories can only relate to the last stages of a population movement which may well have changed its course more than once.’

Myth and origin of the tribes Arunachal Pradesh-THE AKAS

The Akas

THE AKAS

The Akas are a small tribal group inhabiting the sub-Himalayan regions of India towards the southern area of the Kemeng district of Arunachal, and they call themselves as Hursso. In fact, the name Aka has been given to them by the people of the plains in Assam, which means a painted, may be because of their custom of painting their faces profusely. Nothing concrete is known about the origin and migration of the Aka Tribe. As per a Hursso tradition, recorded by Dr. Elwin,  long ago there was a man called Awa, who got married to Jusam, the beautiful daughter of the Sun, and out their union were born one son and daughter named Sibji Sao and Sibjim-Sam and they are regarded as parents of all mankind. An Other scholar Sesselmayer remarks that, the Hursso (Akas) do not pretend to be the native inhabitants of the country which they now occupy, and have been unable to account for their real home. He argues that the Akas believe themselves to be the inhabitants of the plains of Assam and that their ancestors were driven out from Partalgose on the banks of the Ghiladhari river, north of bisnath by Krishna and Baral, the famous characters of Mahabharata.

An Other scholar gives another version regarding the original home of the Akas, quoting from an Aka legend that long-long ago all men descended from heaven to earth by means of ladders. While the Assamese and the Akas of the royal blood came down by a golden ladder, the remaining Akas used a silver ladder, besides, the Monpas and the Tibetans were given an iron ladder, while the Nishis and the Adis had to be satisfied with a bamboo ladder. All these people came to the  earth on the Longkapur Hill in the Lohit valley and then scattered in search of land. The akas spent so much time resting and drinking that others got the best of the land and the Akas had to accept what was left. They at first settled at Bhalukpung where on the right bank of the Bhorali river, their two chiefs Natapura and Bayu built their respective capitals. Bayu demanded the beautiful wife of Natapura as a sort of tribute and after a number of adventures the lady with a newly born child arrived at Bayu’s palace. The child Arima grew up to become a great warrior and finally killed his own father by mistake. Overcome by remorse, he migrated to the present country of the Akas and it is from his children that the present day Akas have descended.

It may be noted here that unlike many other tribes of Arunachal, the Aka legends points out that the migration of this tribe followed from south to north. i.e. from the plains of Assam to the Hills.

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.

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.

 

THE Assassination of Captain Noel Williamson and Medical Officer Dr Gregorson (31st March 1911) and Abor Expedition and its Consequences

THE Assassination of Captain Noel Williamson and Medical Officer  Dr Gregorson (31st March 1911)

and Abor Expedition and its Consequences

A political agent of the British Raj. Captain Noel Williamson and his doctor companion were carrying the message of the death of King Edward VII to the tribal chiefs. After some ten minutes you will come to Captain Noel Williamson’s grave just up above the houses. It still has its original stone inscription and a more recent brass plaque “On this spot was murdered Noel Williamson, Assistant Political Officer Sadiya, 31st March 1911”.

Captain Noel Williamson's grave
Captain Noel Williamson’s grave in Komsing village Pasighat

“Noel Williamson was the Assistant Political officer of Sardia (sic) who toured the Siang Valley in 1909 up to Kebang. He had a friendly approach and gained the confidence of the people. Greatly encouraged by this gesture of goodwill, he decided to visit Komsing from where an invitation was extended to him. A plan was made, and even though the Government at first was reluctant, they subsequently approved the limited tour (beyond the inner line) up to Komsing on the left bank of the Siang river.

Accompanied by Dr Gregorson (sic), Medical Officer of European and Native Staff of tea gardens in Upper Assam, a company of 47 porters and armed escort, Williamson left Pasighat on 20 March 1911. At ferry point of Komlighat a friendly courier of one of the headmen of Kebang village Takut tried to dissuade him, as there was a conspiracy to stall the move. But Williamson brushed him aside and crossed the river and arrived at Sissan village. At Sissan a number of porters fell sick forcing Dr Gregorson to stay back while Williamson marched ahead to Komsing.

 On 29th March accompanied by an interpreter, three sick porters left for Rotung en route to Pasighat. The interpreter was carrying three official envelopes for delivery to post at Pasighat. He flourished these envelopes to the curious villagers in a show of great importance. The envelopes were bordered with black stripes as a mark of mourning for the death of King Edward VII of the British Empire. But the foolish interpreter boastfully explained that white indicates two sahibs, the black borderline countless sepoys and the red seal was of great anger. He further told the frightened villagers that his move to Pasighat was to deliver the letters to call the army to level the hills by bombardment. Greatly alarmed, the leaders decided to stop the delivery of the letters. Fast runners moved to Kebang, the leading village and relayed the ominous message. Next morning when the interpreter and his companions moved out in great self-assurance they were waylaid and brutally murdered. The people then mobilised for an offensive attack. Stockades were built up, needle-sharp panjies laid on the route of march, stone chutes with immense piles of boulders concealed on the path, strung arrows held in tension of string to fly at all directions, patrols moved out to watch towers, an elaborate signal system operated, food packets cached for emergency.

On 31st March, a patrol of sturdy youths secretly crossed the river to the other bank and descended on Sissan to surprise the small party. Dr Gregorson, along with the escort and porters fell to the attack. Only three could escape death by jumping into the river. At Komsing village Williamson was received with traditional hospitality. Assured of friendship and peace, all were in a relaxed mood. The second patrol from Kebang already took up position. It was midday when Williamson went for a bath in the enclosure when all of a sudden a heavy sword blow fell on him and he died soon after. Simultaneously followers and others including the sentries were taken completely unaware and fell to the attack.

It was a tragedy of the worst magnitude. The escaped sepoys managed to reach Pasighat to convey the news of the disaster; an immediate alarm was raised. Soon after a massive operation was planned under the command of Major General H Bower, the Officer Commanding of Assam Brigade. The Brigade comprised the crack units of Gurkhas, sappers and miners, medical team, cartographers, naturalists and scores of army officers. The extensive preparation for the punitive expedition continued till mid October. Troops were brought from far away Kolkata by river steamers and ferried across to Koboghat by dozens of country crafts. The party then moved up river and took punitive action. An ambush was planned by the people from Kebang village and their few allies (villages north of Kebang refused to become involved) but this was spotted and instead, the villagers themselves were caught in the crossfire from two machine guns and massacred.”

 

Abor Expedition and its Consequences

 

Noel Williamson along with Dr. Gregorson went across the ‘inner line’ in the Abor hills in March 1911 and with the exception of six coolies, who managed to escape, Kebang Abors murdered the members of the expedition at village Komsing. The Government of India took it as an affront to the imperial prestige. An impressive expedition under Major General Bower was sent to teach a lesson to the offending Abors. Three survey missions were also sent along with the pacification expedition to map out the entire region up to the Himalayan water shade. The survey missions were to explore and survey the country and recommend a suitable frontier line between India and Tibet. The Deputy Commissioner of Lakhimpur, A H W Bentick, in his ‘Political Report on the Expedition’, furnished the proposals as to the future of this frontier tract on April 23, 1912. Accordingly, the North East Frontier Tract was divided in to three sections: the central and eastern sections to control the Ponpong Nagas, Singphos, Mijus, Chulikata and Babejia Mishmis and the various tribes of Abors as far as the Siang –Subansiri divide, and the western section (which came to be known as the Balipara Frontier Tract) to deal with the tribes from this divide westwards to Bhutan. The two eastern sections were placed in the charge of one Political Officer with head quarters at Sadiya, which came to be known as ‘Sadiya Frontier Tract’.

Under this dispensation, two Assistant Political Officers, one, for Abor subdivision at Pasighat and another, at Wallong for the Lohit Valley subdivision, were proposed. The Government of India Act, 1919 vested with the Governor of Assam with the administration of the three Frontier tracts and declared them as “Backward Tracts”. Similarly, the Government of India Act, 1935 termed these tracts as the “ Excluded Areas” in 1936, by which it was meant that the State Assembly of Assam was not empowered to frame rules for these ‘Excluded Frontier Tracts’ and the Governor of the State was to govern them directly. Between 1943 to 1948, these frontier tracts were re-organized in to five Agencies: Sela, Subansiri, Abor, Mishmi, and Tirap.

 

Sino-Indian Border Dispute and Arunachal Pradesh

Sino-Indian Border Dispute and Arunachal Pradesh

The Tibet Expedition, 1903-’04 represents one of the landmarks of British’s ‘Forward policy’ to the Himalaya region. However, the gains made by the expedition were squandered at the altar of British imperial interests. The Chinese,who were found totally ineffective during the expedition, were permitted to pay the indemnity on behalf of the Tibetans and the British empire made a hasty retreat from its imperial designs in the Eastern Himalayan region. Charles A Bell, Political Officer, Gangtok, and the overseer of the British interests in Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet, realized in 1909 that the British did not have an effective treaty right over the foreign relations of the communities in the Eastern Himalayan region.

 Before he finalized the Anglo-Bhutanese Treaty, 1910, he wrote to the Secretary to the State, Government of India, in respect of each of the tribes’ on the following points:

 “(i) How far does the territory of the tribe stretch towards Tibet from the Indian frontiers?

(ii) How far is the country cultivable, e.g. how far would it be able to support troops, if and when, the lands were fully cultivated? It may be, as in Bhutan, that there were large areas of the government land at present uncultivated.

(iii) To what extent the tribal territory would act as a barrier to invaders, e.g. its physical difficulties, breadth (of the land) to be crossed and the supplies (when the lands are cultivated as fully as possible) obtainable?

(iv) Whether the tribes in any way have recognized the suzerainty of Tibet or China? The claims of these countries are often so shadowy that it would be well to clear up the point as far as possible.

(v) (Is there a) possibility of inducing the tribes to agree to the treaty? I understand that the use of bazaar in the plains give us a good hold over the tribes.We may have some other pressures to bear.”

 China invaded Tibet in 1910 and this time, unlike in 1904, the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan theocrat, took refuse in India. Worried of the Chinese advance and ambitions in the Himalayas, the British thought about its vulnerable hold on the eastern Himalayan ranges. The British hurried in to holding the Shimla Conference in 1913-1914, in which the Tibetan and Chinese representatives were joined by Henry McMahon, the Chief British Negotiator, with Charles A Bell and Fredric M Bailey, the then Political Officer and his successor respectively. The Conference could arrive at initialling an agreed boundary on the Eastern Himalayan region between the three delegates, but it was not finally signed by the three delegations. Though they had no reason for that at that time, but the Chinese government repudiated the claimed and agreed boundary in course of time.

 The British had their reasons to be convinced that the agreed boundary running across the Himalayan water-divide, (which came to be known as the McMahon line) was the long existing natural northern boundary in the region. Bell, who had been keeping a close watch on the going on in the region, proposed another step to bring the Assam Hills under more effective administrative control from the British. He suggested to the government the creation of a “North Eastern Frontier Agency” on the pattern of the North West Frontier Agency (NWFA). The Agency, headed by an Agent, would be head quartered at Tawang, on the western most district of Arunachal on the shortest route between Lhasa, the Tibetan capital and Calcutta, the British imperial seat of power in India. It was to include the British ‘political’ works connected with Sikkim, Bhutan, Tibet and Assam Hills. The First World War 1914-1918, its aftermath, the world-wide economic depression, the Second World War and the British withdrawal from India were some of the reasons, which came in the way of affecting the McMahon Line as the northern boundary of Arunachal Pradesh. Thus, the British were not in a position to implement the decisions of the Simla Conference or give serious consideration to Bell’s suggestions on time.

 The two distinct world-views represented by the Indian Union and the People’s Republic of China led to a “silent” conflict between the two neighbours from 1950’s. This exploded into an open armed clash between the two regimes in 1962. Since then, the two governments have been holding a series of talks to sort out the boundary dispute. Arunachal Pradesh is one of the Indian regions which China claims is disputed territory. India has been careful to evolve special dispensation suited to the largely tribal population of the state. Keeping in view of the national policy to integrate the small ethic groups with the larger nationalities., Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister of and the self-confessed “missionary” of his gospel on the policy to the tribes, Verrier Elwin, evolved a set of five principles as the “tribal Panchsheel” as the magna carta of the tribal administration in India (Elwin 1964). Not only that, they also created in the 1950s a new inspired and committed bureaucracy known as the Indian Frontier Administrative Service IFAS), which extended the limits of administration slowly and presently was disbanded in the aftermath of the Indian army debacle.

 Singphos and Khamtis, migrated from Shan State of Burma towards the end of 18th century and were known as war like- peoples. Today they are enterprising and extremely progressive business group and progressive farmers and traders, who are in touch with the plains of the Assam. Siang district is the home of the Adi group considered to be one of the most progressive in the State. They are divided into two: Gallong section (Ramos, Bokar and Pailibos) and Padam- Minyong section consisting besides Padam and Minyong, Passis, Pangis, Boris, Ashings, Tangams and Shimongs. Though these communities are known for their strong democratic spirit, they also had the tradition of slavery, which still reflects at societal levels. “An important feature of many Adi villages is the dormitory, the club of the boys and men, which organizes the youth of the tribe and used for deliberations of the Kebang or tribal council” (Elwin 1964). Again, this was the region, where Noel Williamson, the British Assistant Political Officer and members of the expedition were murdered in 1911.

 Subansiri is the home of the Nyishis as well as the most agricultural enterprising and environmentally sensitive of the State’s communities, the Apatanis. In the year 1890 the first European visitor to the Apatani plateau found: “in a remote, well-watered valley lived a society of highly organized, industrious people, who had developed an extensive system of irrigated fields and, though ignorant of plough, succeeded with their hoes in raising two annual crops for themselves and their neighbours. But they had no contacts with the outside world; the Daflas prevented them going down to trade in the plains; and so they lived, fairly prosperous. Fairly happy, in complete isolation” (Elwin 1964). The Nyishis and Hill Miris are other communities of the district. A near revolution has occurred of late, when a site was selected to establish a modern township, Itanagar, for the state capital in the thinly populated foothills of Subansiri. The Nyshis rose to the occasion took full advantage of the opportunity and are on their way to being one of the most powerful communities of the state.

 Monpa and Sherdukpens are the residents of Kameng district in west. They keep large herds of cattle; graze them on the various elevations as per the season; have an economy around bovine rearing. They follow the Geylugpa (yellow hat) sect of Mahayan Buddhism. Tawang, the seat of one of the most important monasteries in the Himalayas, is located here and is about 350 years old. It is one of the living centres of Buddhist  in the world, where hundreds of monks and nuns are trained. This is the land of one of the most progressive communities of the state, who are famous farmers, trader’s as well an as good animal husband. This was also the region through which the Tibetan Dharamaguru, the Dalai Lama, descended to India in 1959 leaving behind his official abode in Lhasa in Tibet. Since then, this has also been the Himalayan battle ground between the Indian and the Chinese army in their border skirmishes.

 Arunachal Pradesh is also saddled with another problem: integration of two sets of foreign refugees; the Chakmas and Tibetans, both settled in Lohit district. About 20, 000 Chakma refugees from East Pakistan (Bangladesh) and some refugees from Tibet were settled in the district way back in 1960’s. They were allotted some land to support them through cultivation. This step was taken in the period in Arunachal history, in which it was not only shocking defeat of the Indian army in NEFA, but its identity as a distinct political unit was yet to be carved; its own administration was to be established; and some political education was to be imparted to its leaders for a democratic system to function. After nearly four decades, Chakmas’ population has risen to above 60, 0000, who demand their citizenship, which is opposed by a sizeable public opinion of the State on the ground that this numerically large ethnic group will affect the fragile ethnic among the indigenous communities in the State.

 

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].

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.

Apatani woman Ziro Arunachal Pradesh

 

Apatani woman Ziro Arunachal Pradesh

Apatani woman Ziro Arunachal Pradesh

 The Apatani tribe live in central Arunachal Pradesh in and around the beautiful, fertile, and for Arunachal fairly flat, Ziro valley. Historically famous for their beauty, Apatani women were all too often kidnapped by warriors of the neighbouring Nishi tribes. As a ‘defence’, Apatani girls were deliberately defaced. They were given facial tattoos, like graffitied beards scribbled onto living Mona Lisa paintings, and extraordinary nose plugs known as dat fitted into holes cut in their upper nostrils. Some men also have tattoos. Peace with the Nishis in the 1960s meant the end to that brutal practice, but many older women still wear that.

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