THE APATANI TRIBE
In the eastern part of the mighty Himalayas, 1572 metres above sea level, lies the village of Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh, the home of the Apatani tribe. Settled down in the lush green and snug gold valleys of the lower Srinabsari district, the Apatanis boast to be one of the oldest tribes of these lands. A 30 generation-old ethic tribe of the Eastern Himalayas.
UNESCO has proposed the Apatani valley for inclusion as a World Heritage Site for its “extremely high productivity” and “unique” way of preserving the ecology.
Renowned by their ancient agricultural practices and their nature-loving philosophies, the Apatani’s have become a source of inspiration to our world and modern scholars are researching and urging the world to adopt the Apatani way of life. They strongly believe in paganism evident from the fact that they don’t use animals for agriculture. Also, bamboo being the lifeline of their culture and lifestyle is held very significant in the day to day Apatani life.
The Apatani tribe origins can be traced back to Mudo Suppung, modern day Tibet. They are said to have migrated from there and nested in the Ziro plateau of the Eastern Himalayas. Their origins are solely based on their folk lore’s and tales handed down generation by generation down a 30 generation chain. Their most important folk tales or lore’s including the Miji and Migung. Other ancient myths like Kolyung, Kolo, Wachi and lipyo also exists.
The most used of the above are Miji and Migung, which are used as prayers by their priests and it talks about the mythical origins of the Apatanis. They talk about the mythical route followed by the Apatanis on their way to their present habitat. In the district of Kurung Kumey, lies a small village called Yangte. In yangte, a stone stand in a field which is said to be the place where the Apatanis held a high-jump competition during their course of migration.
The apatanis were isolated from the rest of the population and the first contact was made by the Europeans in the late 80’s. Later in the 1920’s and 30’s, a few more brief visits were made by the Europeans again. Later in 1984 the Assam Rifles regiment with a view of protecting the land built a permanent outpost. The apatanis in turn attacked the outpost and while retreating the chief of the Assam Rifles burnt a few tribal hoses down in retaliation.
The most followed religion by these tribe is Donyi polo, the faith of praying to the sun (Ayo Danyii) and the moon i.e. Atho Pulo. They refer to Abotani as the founder of the Apatani people. They hold a strong belief in the powers of the sun and the moon and also have knowledge of herbal medicines to cure most of their ailments. Their local rituals carried out by their high priests include chanting prayers, bloodletting and animal sacrifices for the betterment of their whole community.
In recent years, there has been an unquestioned and thoughtless conversions to other religions mainly Christianity due to the missionary work of the Mizos. This religion conversion has led to the formation of a preservation organisation known as Daniju Pullo Meder Nllo located in Hari Lemba Zirowhich aims to uphold the traditional beliefs and values and curve the religion conversion.
The Apatanis are a group of nature-loving and ardent believers of nature. One of the most significant parts of the tradition is the use of bamboos. They live in a traditional bamboo huts, their recipes, their manner of cooking, the structure of their houses, taps and apparels are all bamboo made. The Apatanis believe that bamboo totems placed outside their houses will bring good healthy and prosperity and is considered sacred. There are mainly two type of totems installed namely Aanggya and Babo.
The principle tradition of the Apatani is highlighted by their women. They have mastered the art of traditional body modification and tattoos which give them a distinct identity. An Apatani woman can be recognised by their insane body modifications that include accommodating bamboo plugs known as Yapping Hullo by stretching their noses and earlobes. The traditional woman tattoos among woman include, a rein from the forehead to the nose-tip and five vertical lines on the chin which is believed to be the imitation of beard like men have.
Since the late 90’s, the art of tattooing and body modification is going extinct because the modern generations do not believe in such practices and as a result a sense of tribal identity being lost has crept in.
The primary source of food for the Apatanis includes rice and fish which they cultivate in their fields using water from the rivers and streams with the usage of the terrace farming techniques. The apatanis eat everything boiled which includes rice, green vegetables, mithun, meat and fish. Green chilli and ginger is considered an important ingredient in their cuisine. Their eating habits include the practice of taking salt separately which evolved from salt not being available during old times and use of shrubs to get their iodine content.
Rice, pork, fish and vegetables can be considered to be the staple food of the tribe. Suddu yo (bamboo meat) is the best delicacy around which is made by stuffing a mix of chicken mince and egg yolk in a tender bamboo stem and cooking it. The apatanis use very less oil and spices in their food which is mainly steamed or boiled.
The two most important festivals celebrated is the Dree festival, which is celebrated in the Ziro plateau under the lower Subansari district and the annual Myoko festival. The Myoko festival on the other hand is celebrated with a view of upholding the spirit of togetherness and friendship. This festival is a celebration of friendship and harmony between various Apatani villages.
The Appatani tribal people wear bead necklaces, brass chains and metal bells along with some heavy bracelets. The woman wears bamboo insertions in the nose and ears which is steadily being replaced by huge brass or silver rings. The Apatani’s wear elaborate and colourful yet simple and hand woven dresses.
The men tie their hair in a knot above their foreheads using a brass rod which measures 12 inches. They bend a cane belt in the shape of a horse collar, paint it red and use it as belts.