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.

Untitled at Si Donyi fest

Untitled at Si Donyi fest

Tagin Man with his Pipe

Tagin Pipe

Apatani Local woman from the village of Ziro

Local woman from the village of Ziro

Adi Bari: A Performative Art

Adi Bari: A Performative Art

Talom Rukbo

 

 

Bari is a popular chorus song of male folk of the Adi which is performed during pime (Autumn) and unying-aaran (New Year festivals and New house ceremony) by sitting around the fire. The song is led by a main singer, followed by a group of people. bari has its particular characteristic lores of different types and varies from low to high like that of kawali and raga. The lores are very much classical, which cannot be picked up easily.

 

 

The bari performed in pime festival during autumn season is called barbi yi ying or podi pitpo bar. Here autumn season is described as a parting point of summer. Insects like snake, leech, mosquitos, etc. disappear during autumn season. The term barbi yiying is given after the name of an insect which appears on earth in autumn and disappears at the advent of spring. One of the main themes of this barbi yiying bari dwells at length on the life of this insect which was mysteriously born or found as a hard piece of meat from the thigh of a giant wild boar called gumgons. It was killed by the people who later became anxious to examine it. They boiled it in a bamboo chunga but it did not go soft like other meat. They went on boiling it for days together but it remained as hard as before. So they put it on bannana tree. At its touch, the bannana tree went dry. This was a great shock to the people and they put it on a hollock tree.They got the same result. They then put it on a flat stone, the stone broke into pieces. They threw it into the water, water started boiling and soon dried out. At their wit’s end they threw it towards a mountain. After a few days they peeped into the cave and heard a sweet voice. Anxious to know the source of the sweet voice, they invited priests from various places. But none could find out. Lastly, a priest called Sedi Relong Lotin Tabe detected that it was the very piece of meat that was thrown into the cave and it had transformed into a living creature and it was that creature which was singing. The insect was named after the priest, as Sedi Relong Lotin. The Adis believe that the insect took shape in autumn season, therefore it appears in the autumn season. It goes round the world singing with its sweet voice, causing natural changes.

The summer season disappears and dry season takes over; the green garment of the earth turns into yellow; dry season opens all roads and paths of movement of all natural creatures, so freely they move out; all poisonous insects are sealed up and all green fruits/grains are ready for food.

All these natural events are considered as the effects of the sweet song of the insect and blessing of the insect. Therefore, barbi yiying is regarded as a great messenger of natural changes and events. All these are described vividly/lively by the bari singer during pime Festival.

 

The next season and subject of bari is unying-aaran festival in winter season. Mythologically and philosophically, winter is called nyanyi the old aunt. Aaran festival is supposed to be brought by this old aunt from the land of koojum-kooja. (a civilised group of people of early days). It is beleived that people disappeared from the earth after a great battle against the spirit of water, when villages were eroded by water. Only the soul remained, koojum-nyanyi-meete, who came to human society with all festivals celebrated by the people of koojum-kooja. Here the winter is personified as living being by bari. It is said that the crust of the earth makes all arrangement of passages for quick and easy movement of nyanyi-meete (winter) to pass away from the earth. Therefore, green leaves become dry, river water turns dry, and the snow clad mountains welcome the mankind to arrange feast for nyanyi-meete.

Sometimes winter is regarded as a rich, kind and peaceful lady who brings happiness, peace and prosperity to mankind. Further she is supposed to bring some functionary duties as gifts to mankind and hand it over to new year (spring season) which again are inter-transferred to mankind by nature.

The gifts brought by nyanyi-meete are the arts of weaving, cultivation, festival, celebration, marriage ceremony, song and dance, and house construction.

In bari the spring season is regarded as a maiden girl or daughter of the year. As only daughter of the family (The New Year) she has taken over the above functionary duties from old aunt. As the first duty of the New Year, she puts new clothes to the Mother Earth and then the rest is left to mankind.

Bari is not only in touch with nature it has touch with spiritual aspects also. In Adi belief, house or home is regarded as the abode of souls of the family members with the beli; that it is the abode of household god (gumin soyin) who looks after the welfare of family. Therefore, house is always addressed as a personified being or spirit as follows : gumin babu (grand father gumin), soyin naane (grand mother soyin), gumin yaayi (father gumin), and soyin maami (mother soyin), gumin aji (baby gumin), and soyin olo (baby soyin)

In bari, the old house is addressed to as an old soul wearing old garment and the new house is addressed as a well-dressed newly born baby. The ceremonial feast is regarded as birth day feast and the ceremonial songs are treated as blessing and lullaby of the new house. Then the building materials – bamboo, wood, cane, leaves – are treated as limbs of natural creature like bone, veins, nails, hair etc. Thus there is spiritual attachment in the bari of new house ceremony.

During peak season of bari, among the experts, competition is held sometimes to test knowledge of various aspects of bari subject like mythology, philosophical back ground of creation of plants, animals, festivals etc.

Bari can be classified mainly into three types called ritok bari, nenem bari and, rellok bari. Every type of bari has its own characteristic tunes with different accent.

Thus the Adis also have their own traditional art of expressing all their philosophies of life and nature through bari songs enriching their cultural life. Therefore, bari is regarded and given a high status in the cultural realm of the Adis.

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