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.

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