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.

Folktale : The Singphos of Arunachal pradesh

The Singphos inhabit the area bounded by the Dibrugarh district of Assam in south and west, the Tengapani river in the north and the east it adjoins Pangasi of the Tirap district on the Indo Burma border. The Singphos were considered as the most powerful tribe in the Indo-Burmese border and played an important role in shaping the history of northeast frontier region.

Singpho tribe

A Singpho Folktale

There was once a very great Raja who had seven wives. One year they all became pregnant at the same time. The six elder wives had human children but the seventh and youngest gave birth to a tortoise. When the raja saw the tortoise baby he was angry and drove the mother, though she was most beautiful, out of his house and made a little hut for her outside the village. Gradually the six elder boys grew up and when they were old enough, they prepared to go down river to trade. When the tortoise boy heard about it he said to his mother, ‘My brothers are going to trade; let me go as well.’ The mother said, ‘your brothers can walk about, for they have hands and feet, but you have none. What do you want to go trading for?’ ‘All the same,’ said the tortoise boy, ‘even if I have no hands and feet, I’d like to go.’ So the mother prepared the tortoise-boy for his journey and put him in the boat with his brothers. When they came into mid-stream the tortoise-boy brought a flute from under his shell and played it. The trees of the forest heard the music and came to the bank to listen and this is why to this day there are many trees along the banks of rivers. The boat went down the river and the tortoise played his flute. After a time he said to the six brothers, ‘Leave me here; you go on and when you return, call me and I will join you.’ He jumped into the water and sank to the bottom. There he found a great store of gold and silver and precious stones and hid them under his shell. He went on a little further and found many different musical instruments. When their brothers had finished their trading they returned and called their tortoise-brother, and he came up from the bottom of the river and clambered into the boat. Then he brought out the instruments from beneath his shell and played them. He gave some of them to his brothers and they all played together very happily. When the boat neared home and the raja heard the music he supposed that his sons must have made a great deal of money and were celebrating their success. He went down to the bank to welcome them with honour and took them home. But he took no notice of the tortoise-boy and left him in the bottom of the boat. But soon his mother came for him.
Presently the Raja made arrangements for the marriage of his sons. The tortoise-boy said to his mother, ‘My brothers are getting married; find a wife for me too.’ The mother said, ‘But you are tortoise, you are not a human being. What sort of girl will you get to marry you?’ The tortoise-boy said, ‘There is a Raja’s daughter in a village not far away and I want to marry her.’ The mother said, ‘But she is the daughter of a Raja and you are a tortoise.’ The tortoise-boy said, ‘that may be so, but what does it matter? Go and ask the girl’s father.’ So the mother went to the Raja and said, ‘Give your daughter to my son.’ The Raja replied, ‘Very well, I will give him my daughter on this condition, that within two days, before the sun rises for the second time, your son must make a boat of gold and  diamonds and bring it to my palace.’ The mother went home and told her son. Now the tortoise had great wealth hidden beneath his shell and he brought it out and called a craftsman who made a boat of gold and diamonds and they took it to the Raja’s palace before the sun rose for the second time. The Raja came down to see it and there the tortoise-boy was sitting in the boat shining like the sun. When the tortoise saw the Raja he changed his shape and became a handsome youth, and the Raja willingly gave him his daughter in marriage.

Reproduced from the book “Myths of the North-East Frontier of India” by Verrier Elwin and reprinted by the Director of Research, Government of Arunachal Pradesh, Itanagar.

THE RIVER SYSTEM OF ARUNACHAL PRADESH

Subansiri River

Subansiri River

  THE RIVER SYSTEM OF ARUNACHAL PRADESH

It may not be wrong to speculate that, but for the existence of Punjab in India, Bibhabasu das Shastri, the then Director of Research in the Government of Arunachal Pradesh, who was credited with giving the name “Arunachal Pradesh” to the then NEFA, in 1972, would have named it Punjab, since the five major rivers of this state, namely KAMENG, SUBANSIRI, SIANG, TIRAP and LOHIT, have been associated with the region from the very early times. Anyway, a speculation apart, Arunachal Pradesh is drained by innumerable rivers and a number of streams that drain the area almost throughout the year.

Starting from the west, in the Kameng district the first noteworthy river is the Nyamjang Chu, also called Dargong, drawing the waters of Mela ridge.  Then, there is the river Namka Chu, which assumes the name of Tawang Chu. The Kameng river starts at the Kameng  range at a height of 3000 mts, which is fed by the Dirang river, which flows through the Se La Pass. Other important rivers of the district are the Bhorelli, the Bichom and the Tengapani rivers. The long and narrow valley at the foot of Bomdila range is intersected by many streams, all of which are not perennial. The important river is the Daphla Kho, which flows into the basin of the largest river of Kameng, the Bhorelli. From the south-west direction, the Rupa river runs through the Sherdukpen Hills and joins the Kameng river. The rivers of the eastern Kameng hills flow in the south-westernly direction and the rivers in the western flow in the south easternly direction.

Kameng River

Kameng River

The main rivers of the Subansiri district are the Subansiri, Kamla, khru, Panior, Par and Dikrang. The life-line of the river system of the district is Subansiri which makes its way across the entire length of the territory flowing from north-west to south-east, also marking approximately the eastern boundary of the district. The headwater of the river in Tibet is formed by Char Chu, Chayal Chu and Yume Chu rivers. The Kamla river forms an important part of the Subansiri drainage system. It immerges from the confluence of a number of amall rivers cascading down from the noth-western snowy heights of the district. It may not be wrong to say that the Kamla river is the Nile of the Apatani valley. The Khru river is a turbulent river and like the Kamla, cuts through precipitous gorges. River Dikrang is formed by Par, Norochi and Pachin rivers. 

 

Moving to the east, the main rivers in the Siang district are Siang and Siyom, flowing in a north-sough direction. The Siang, also called Dihang, is known as Tsangpo in its upper course in Tibet. The river, originating in Tibet, makes its way into the Indian territory east of Gelling. In Arunachal, the river covers a length of about 250 kms., and is fed by many tributaries of which Siyom, Yame and Yang Sang Chu are worth mention. The Siyom river rises from the Pari mountains in the Mechuka area and flowing east through the areas of the Membas, the Ramos, the Pailibos and the Bokars, merges with the Siang river near Pangin. Another river of the Distric worth note is Simen, which emargs from high hills of Basar, and flowing southwards merges with Brahmaputra.

In the Lohit district, the main rivers are the Lohit, the Dibang, the Kamlang and the Nao-Dihing. River Lohit is called Tellu by the Mishmis. It originates from the mountains across the north-east border, i.e. from China where it is called Zayul Chu. River Lohit has a course of about 190 kms. Through steep hills and valleys before it reaches the plains at Parsuram Kund. The Dibang is the main river of the western part of the district. Originating from the southern flank of Great Himalayan Ranges, it flows from north to south and finally meets river Lohit near Sadiya. This river is called a Talon by the Indus and changes its course very often in the foothill region, thereby making it almost impossible to bridge it. The plains towards the south of the district are drained by the Kamlang and the Nao-Dihing rivers. The main tributaries of the Nao-Dihing in the Lohit district are Dirak on the left bank and Tengapani on the right bank. The Kamlang rises from the Galo in Wakro and flows in an east-westernly direction to finally meet the Lohit river.

Most of the rivers in the Tirap district flow east to west. The major rivers of this area the Nao-Dihing, the Burhi-Dihing, the Tirap, the Namsang, the Namphuk and the Namphai. The Noa-Dihing flows east-west through the entire north-eastern and northern stretch of the district and meets the Lohit river near Namsai in the Lohit district. One of its major tributary is the Dapha river. River Burhi-Dihing, flowing south-west, joins the Brahmaputra near Borgohaingaon in Assam. The Namphuk, the Namchik, the Namsang, the Namphai and the Tirap rivers are its main tributaries. The Tirap river originates from a high peak between Laju and Wakka in the south-western region. It flows from south-west to north-east through Tirap district and then turns north and due west in the plains to join the Burhi-Dihing near Ledo. Some other rivers in the district are the Tisa, the Taken, The Tiking, the Tising ju and Tewai.

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.

Old cultures and portraits::Tribes of Arunachal Pradesh.

 

Below are the very rare portraits of the ancient Indigenous Tribes of Arunachal Pradesh.
All the pictures were taken when before Arunachal Pradesh was an full fledged state. So, the below picture depicts the History of Arunachalee people, when they first came to the consciousness about the world wide civilization.

Group of Hill Miris ( now called Nyishi's )

Group of Hill Miris ( now called Nyishi’s ) , Arunachal Pradesh

These Hill Miris are from the Kamla River valley, possibly from the settlement of Bidak or another Hill Miri settlement in the lower valley. Their earrings, machete, pipe, animal-skin bag, cane-belt, wrist guard (left arm of the central man) and general hair style are common throughout much of the Subansiri region…. However, the leaf head cover, heavy cane-work arm guard (central man’s right arm), cloth penis cover (man far left in background), grass penis cover (half visible on the far right) and textile (almost a coat, with narrow, dark borders on the central man) were more typical of the Kamla River area. (1945).

Portrait of a Digaru Mishmi woman


Portrait of a Digaru Mishmi woman, Arunachal Pradesh

 

This Digaru Mishmi woman is standing in the plains of Assam, probably near the town of Sadiya. She wears typical Digaru textiles, headband and ornaments, especially the earrings and the necklace of metal discs. She also wears a pair of jungle cat teeth and a key, hanging from her necklaces. (1937).

Sherdukpen dancer

 

Sherdukpen dancer, Arunachal Pradesh, India

This Sherdukpen dancer with a wooden mask is a figure in a version of a yak dance performed widely across the Tibetan Buddhist world. The dance tells the story of three sons, one of whom is dispossessed but is helped by a yak. He is performing for J. P. Mills, Adviser to the Governor of Assam for Tribal Areas. Mills came to meet the Sherdukpen Sat Rajas (‘Seven Kings’) at their winter camp on the Belsiri River, east of Charduar in Assam, where they presented him with an honorary scarf. Each year Sherdukpens (and other Arunachal tribes) came to Charduar to receive annual payments from the government. Charduar was the headquarters of the Balipara Frontier Tract, which included most of the eastern districts of present-day Arunachal Pradesh, where Sherdukpens (Akas, Mijis, Monpas and Buguns) live. Charduar (‘Four-Door/Gate’) was one of several duars along the base of the eastern Himalayas where hill tribes came to transact business with the rulers of the plains. Many tribes received an annual payment (posa) in goods and/or cash in return for not raiding villages in the plains. For some tribes, these payments continued for several years even after 1947. (1944)

Apatani boy during a ritual procession

 

Apatani boy during a ritual procession

This Apatani boy, standing in the paddy fields, is part of a longer procession led by a shaman during a large feast. He carries a brass plate and a bamboo stick, wrapped in cloth, with which to strike it (the only musical instrument used by Apatanis). He also wears a necklace… of expensive conch-shell beads, a man’s hair knot with skewer, a string of metal beads on the hair line and cane rings below the knee. Each year, several Apatani families celebrate this three-week long feast, involving mithun and cow sacrifice, public chanting by the shaman and complex gift-giving between the feast sponsor and various kin and ceremonial friends. During the procession, which takes place more than a week after the large animal sacrifice on the first day, the shaman leads a long line of young boys and men belonging to the sponsor’s clan. Dressed in ceremonial finery, they walk through the entire Apatani valley (only 8 kilometres long and 4 across), visiting all nine villages and each ritual platform in each village. At every platform, they perform a simple dance and are given food and drink.

Leader of Sherdukpen Sat Rajas

 

Leader of Sherdukpen Sat Rajas

This Sherdukpen man is the leader of the Sat Rajas (‘Seven Kings’), the representatives of a few Sherdukpen villages who came to the plains to transact business with the government. (1944) He wears ceremonial clothes and a hat influenced by eastern Bhutanese and Tibetan traditions. J. P. Mills, Adviser to the Governor of Assam for Tribal Areas, met the Sherdukpens at their winter camp on the Belsiri River, east of Charduar, where they presented him with an honorary scarf. Each year Sherdukpens (and other Arunachal tribes) came to Charduar, in Assam, to receive annual payments from the government. Charduar was the headquarters of the Balipara Frontier Tract, which included most of the eastern districts of present-day Arunachal Pradesh, where Sherdukpens (Akas, Mijis, Monpas and Buguns) live. Charduar (‘Four-Door/Gate’) was one of several duars along the base of the eastern Himalayas where hill tribes came to transact business with the rulers of the plains. Many tribes received an annual payment (posa) in goods and/or cash in return for not raiding villages in the plains. For some tribes, these payments continued for several years even after 1947.

Portrait of a Wancho Naga man

 

Portrait of a Wancho Naga man

 This photograph was taken by the anthropologist Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf in 1962 in Mintong, Arunachal Pradesh, Tirap district, India.

Portrait of the Wancho girl(1962)

Portrait of the Wancho girl
Above is an portrait of an Wancho girl (1962)

Portrait of an Apatani man 1962

 Portrait of an Apatani man
Above is an portrait of an Apatani man surrounded with children and having his first click. (1962)

Portrait of a Mingyon Adi man 1937

 

Portrait of a Mingyon Adi man

This Minyong Adi man wears a cotton tunic with a rough texture, the result of the fact that the fibres were roughly spun. He also wears the short hair cut that was distinctive of Adis. He may be the headman of the village. This photograph was taken in Pangin village, Arunachal Pradesh, East Siang District, India in 1937.

Portrait of a Minyong Adi woman 1937

 

Portrait of a Minyong Adi woman

This Minyong Adi woman is standing in the plains of Assam, probably near the town of Sadiya. She wears typical Minyong jewellery, especially the earrings and broad metal ornament. A bamboo comb is also visible. (1937).

Portrait of a Mingyong Adi woman and child

Portrait of a Mingyong Adi woman and child

This photograph, taken in Rengin village, Arunachal Pradesh, East Siang District, India, shows a Minyong woman carrying a child on her back. She wears the high hair line, typical for Minyong men and women. (1937)

Portrait of Minyong Adi Shaman

Portrait of Minyong Adi Shaman

This woman is a shaman among the Minyong Adis in the Siang river area. Anthropologist Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf met her as he and his party were trekking near Yamung village. In addition to her earrings, with tassels, and elaborate jewellery, some of it silver, she wears dried bird skins. Women still practice as shamans among the Minyong Adis, although this is somewhat unusual among other groups in central Arunachal Pradesh. (1937)

Portrait of a Minyong Adi man

Portrait of a Minyong Adi man

The Minyong Adi man in this photograph (taken in Rengin village, Arunachal Pradesh, East Siang District, India) is smoking a pipe with a metal stem and bowl. He wears a handwoven jacket that was typical among Adis.

Mingyong Adi shaman

Mingyon Adi shaman

The Minyong Adi man in this photograph (taken in Arunachal Pradesh, East Siang District, India) is a shaman, as indicated by his elaborate jewellery and hair dress. Minyong Adis have both male and female shamans, who wear similar costumes. (1937)

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