THE TRADITION OF HEAD HUNTING IN ARUNACHAL PRADESH

head hunters
head collection

 

 

THE TRADITION OF HEAD HUNTING IN ARUNACHAL PRADESH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABOTANI: the primal ancestor of the Tani group of NORTH EAST INDIA

Abotani is considered the primal ancestor of the Tani group of people in Arunachal Pradesh – Apatani, Nyishi, Adi, Tagin, Hill Miri. They follow the Donyi Polo belief system and they consider Abotani as the one who firstly introduced the technique of rice cultivation.

The following story is told orally through priests Miri among the Adi people:

In older time Abotani Abo “father”, tani “human” has wandered in forest for want of food. Once he went to Takar-Taji’s place Tatar-Taji marriage ceremony where a gaur Mithun was sacrificed. Due to a trick of Abotani, Takar-Taji could sacrifice only one gaur, which was meagre for distribution to the guest. Abotani’s dog Kiipu and the deer Duumpoo shared a packet of rotten soya seeds staple food in olden days, as the use of rice millet and maize was unknown in those days. This led to quarrel between Kiipu and Duumpoo. Duumpoo the deer kicked the soya seed packet and ran away. Angry, Kiipu the dog chased the deer. Abotani had to follow both them. After many days Duumpu the deer landed in the world of Digo Ane “Keeper of Land”; digo “land”, ane “mother” where people were scattering the rice powder set on sun for drying. Duumpoo the deer was caught by these people; Kiipu the dog followed and was caught; Abotani followed them and was also caught by the peoples of Digo Ane. The three were imprisoned. After many days Abotani played a trick: he put a dead mole rat in his armpit and acted as if he were dying. This worried the Digo Ane people, lest the act may anger the Takar-Taji people, and they freed Abotani and granted him the gift of rice, millet and maize seed.

Many other legends between the Tani people speak about Abotani’s stories: a woman in the Digo Ane region told him how to cultivate the rice seeds http://wakling.com/abotani-and-the-quest-for-rice; Abotani had a lot of success in his rice cultivation thanks to his wise wife Aio Diiliang Diibiu http://arunachalipr.gov.in/StateFestival_Dree.htm; however, he divorced from her to marry another woman, and this brought disgrace to his wealth because the new wife was too much after leisures http://arunachaldiary.blogspot.com/2008/05/myoko-celebration-of-apatanis-photo.html; when Abotani realized this, he left also the second wife and continued the cultivation on his own, but still he had to ask for the help of his sister to be saved from the danger of falling from the top of a high tree where he had climbed http://arunachalipr.gov.in/StateFestival_Dree.htm. Events in the legendary life of Abotani and in his quest for rice are part of the traditions of the Tani people and are celebrated in different periods of the year following the rice cultivation season. Abotani is a symbol of the struggle of humankind for food and prosperity though in difficult situations, and of the need for harmony between man and woman to bring wealth to the family.

Religion in Arunachal Pradesh

Religion in Arunachal Pradesh

Owing to its ethnic and cultural diversity, Arunachal Pradesh has long been a spot for the syncretism of different traditional religions. As of today, 40% of the state population follow the Donyi-Polo and Rangfrah religions while the majority of the remainder is Buddhist. Hindus are also found among the Nocte & Miri. Tribals, Buddhists and Hindus coexisted peacefully before the 1800s.

Donyi Poloism is practiced in the form of believing the supremacy of the Sun and the Moon as the greatest deities. As the overseer of the gods we cannot see BO BOMONG. donyi Poloism is followed by major tribe groups like Adis, Apatanis, hill Miris and Nishis who all claim their origin from a single common ancestor – ABO TANI.

The Donyi-Polo faith is the oldest religion followed by all Abo Tani descendants – it is a nature worship religion. The religion has received a massive revival in the decade of 1990 to 2000 under the guidance of Late Talom Rukbo. The religion is based on maintaining and following harmony with the natural world. It believes that every man has a role to play in his life and a purpose for living. How it is etched out is up to the man. Some of the main deities followed by the donyi Polians are KINE NANE, DOYING BOTE, GUMIN SOYIN, DADI BOTE, PEDONG NANE. These mythical deities are the protectors of the Harvests, Home, Life and natural resources. One of the basic teachings in Donyi Poloism is based on the common belief that everything evolved out of nothingness. The nothingness after days of transitions later led to creation of SEDI MELO. the origin of all living and non-living forms in this world. All Donyi Polians trace their ancestry to SEDI MELO. Some of the tribe groups who follow Donyi Poloism eg. The Adis maintain a distinct orally recited lineage of their family lines which is called one’s “ODONG”. All the ODONGs trace back to SEDI MELO. The soul or “AYIT” as it is called in the local languages undergoes life in a man’s body. A man’s purpose in his lifetime is blessed when he learns to live in harmony with god’s all the creations.

The adherents worship an array of nature-related gods and highly complex rituals, which show elaborate art forms passed down through many generations.

After Donyi-Polo, Buddhism lay claim to about 15% of the state’s population. While Tibetan Buddhism is mainly practised by tribes living near the Tibetan border and in the Western part of the state, Theravada Buddhism is practised by tribal groups of Thai-Burmese origin living in Lohit and Changlang.

Theravada Buddhism is followed by the Thai-Burmese Khampti, Singpho, Zekhring and the Chakma refugees living in Lohit, Changlang and Tirap. The Tangsas, on the other hand, practice a blend of Donyi-Polo and Theravada Buddhism. However, with the advent of the rebel NSCN led by the Christian Naga, the local population faces a great danger against their Buddhist heritage that has been passed down through many generations.

On the other hand, their Tibetan Buddhist counterparts, are relatively safer compared to the Theravada Buddhists owing to their geographical location. Mainly followed by the Monpa and Sherdukpen populations of Tawang and West Kameng, Buddhism is the most widely followed religion in these two districts. Neighbouring tribes like the Miji and the Khowa have also come under Buddhist influence.

A significant proportion of the Buddhists in Arunachal Pradesh claim to be Tibetan refugees.

Donyi-Polo (or Donyi Polo, Donyi-Poloism)

literally “Sun-Moon”, is an animist religion followed by many of the tribal groups in Arunachal Pradesh, India (including the Apatani, Adi, Miri Tagin and Nishi tribes). Some anthropologists argue that Donyi-Polo is probably derived from the pre-Buddhist Bön religion of Tibet. Donyi Polo focuses on the worship of the sun and moon, who are considered the eternal watch deities of the supreme gods, Bo and Bomong. Followers of the Donyi-Polo tradition believe that all people of Arunachal Pradesh share a common ancestry from Abotani. The religion has no written scriptures, but has traditionally been passed down orally from each generation to the next. Believers pray to a number of spirits, deities and souls for blessings, but they principally worship the sun (Donyi) and the moon (Polo) as the visible forms of the gods. Donyi-Polo includes religious rituals which coincide with lunar phases and agricultural cycles. A follower of Donyi-Polo believes in the oneness of all living creatures, from the tiniest of organisms to the mightiest of animals, and that every living creature has a role to play in his or her life. They believe that a spirit (or soul) resides within all men, plants, animals,and the land that nourishes them (all of which have a connection with humans). The major deities in the Donyi-Polo tradition, (Kine Nane, Doying Bote, Pedong Nane and Gumin Soyin) play the role of guardians for their devotees. It is there duty to show their devotees, the path which is destined for them, yet decided by themselves. Although generally losing influence with the younger generations, as growing numbers convert to Christianity, Donyi-Poloism has undergone somewhat of a revival subsequent to the efforts of Talom Rukbo, the father of the modern Donyipolo Movement in Arunachal Pradesh. Efforts are now underway to give an organized form to the traditional beliefs and values of the Arunachal Pradesh region, and to protect the locals against coerced conversion to foreign religions

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