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.

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 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.

Mopin: The festival of Galo Tribe

HISTORICAL MYTH
The tribes that have been thriving inside the premises of the state of Arunachal Pradesh, celebrate virtually all sorts of festivals which bears the potential to absolutely dazzle you. One of the festivals is regarded as Mopin which is confined to the individuals who belong to the tribe, Galo. The members of this tribe have established their primary thriving spot in the Gallong community that exists in the state of Arunachal Pradesh.

The primary objective that lies behind this spectacular festival called Mopin is to drive away evil spirits who bring bad luck with them and pose a lot of obstacle. The local folks pray during the festival known as Mopin in Arunachal Pradesh so that even the cursed shadow of any devastating natural calamity does not hit them and they can lead their lives peacefully and prosperously

Popir Dance

 

THE RITUALS
The Mopin festival is an important festival of Galo Adi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh which is celebrated in the month of lumi (April) everyyear. It is celebrated with much gaiety for wealth, good health and universal happiness. As a matter of fact, festivals are mirror of people’s culture. Such festival are celebrated at a large scale for thanking gods for their providence and for a bumper crops. During the Mopin festival ,smearing rice powder in each other faces marks the beginning of the festival and animal sacrifices are the ritual of the Mopin festival. Mithun is a very auspicious animal and used in animal sacrifice ritual.

Another feature of the Mopin festival is that a dance known as Popir is performed in a very elegant way. They dance on their best traditonal costumes and adorn themselves with multi-colored beaded ornaments. During this festival rice wine (apong) is served, prepared by the women of galo community. Variety of meals are served, made of rice which is known as Aamin, meat and bambooshoot

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)

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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