Destinations Magazine

Arunachal Pradesh: on a Tribal Trail

By Rashmi Gopal Rao

Landing in Guwahati and hitting the road for Itanagar was a perfect prelude to the land of surreal natural beauty and diverse landscapes, Arunachal Pradesh.  It is a state of unparalleled biodiversity as well as ethnic and cultural multiplicity with 26 major tribes and a mind boggling 100 subtribes, each of whom have their own distinct customs, traditions and practices.

Arunachal Pradesh: on a tribal trailAn Apatani lady

Our first stop as part of SIANG rush 2019 was the quaint village of Chullyu about 85 km from Itanagar.  Largely inhabited by the Nyishis, this village is famous for its organic farming practices.  Nyishis are the most populous and the single largest tribe in the state. The cane helmet with the horn of the great Indian hornbill mounted on it is worn by the Nyishi men and is a striking feature of the tribe, although strict wildlife protection laws make it tough to procure these beaks now.

Arunachal Pradesh: on a tribal trail
A Nyishi headman

Nyishis celebrate festivals like Nyokum Yullo, Boori Yullo and Longte Yullo all of which perpetuate worshipping the Gods for protection against evil spirits and for the well-being of the community.

Arunachal Pradesh: on a tribal trail
Men and women from the Nyishi community

About 50 km from Chullyu lies the famed Ziro valley which is the land of the Apatanis who are known for their ingenious agricultural practices.  They follow an inventive method of paddy cultivation that is done along with pisciculture.  The large nose plugs and facial tattoos are a characteristic trait of Apatani women and the ‘shaman’ or the priest is a key member of the tribe.  Their main festivals include Dree (also spelt Drii) and Myoko.

Arunachal Pradesh: on a tribal trail
An Apatani ‘shaman’ aka priest

Travelling close to 200 km from Ziro to Bora Rupak village in Upper Subansiri district took us to the land of the Galos who are mainly into rice cultivation though hunting was a traditional occupation during the yesteryears.  A visit to a Galo home depicts a bevy of hunting trophies in the form of wild boar teeth, skulls, horns etc.  Mopin is their major festival celebrated in April.

Arunachal Pradesh: on a tribal trail
Trophies at a Galo home

The little village of Jamlo Mongku about 150 km from Bora Rupak is home to the Adi tribe.  Most of the women folk are into weaving and their houses have a back-strap loom on which traditional, colourful skirts (called Gale) are hand woven.  Locally brewed rice beer called Apong is their favorite and the Tapo aka war dance performed by the tribe is truly worth a watch!

Arunachal Pradesh: on a tribal trail
Backstrap loom in Adi homes

An edited version of this article was published in the New Indian Express.

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