Travel Magazine

Notes from the Aran Festival

By Kartix
At 3 am I woke up once hearing the sound of pounding pestles; the Bomdian women were making 'Ittings', rice cakes for the 'Aran' festival. The men were perhaps still sound asleep, for their work begins much later. At 7 am, the men are now busy, gathering palm leaves, bamboo poles and tree boles, each one in charge of slaughtering mithun, pig or chicken. Today is the 'Aran' festival, although it is a hunting festival, it marks the beginning of the farming season. Overall, 15 chickens, 8 pigs and 1 mithun will be slaughtered in four households of the Bomdo village today. The meat though will eventually trickle down to every family in the village either from the clan or the clan-in-law portion. For instance, the Medo clan would divide all the meat among the 10 Medo households with the biggest portion for the household that owned the animal. These ten households will further distribute their portions to their in-laws. This year, although only two clans; the Medo and Duggong households slaughtered animals, the meat will be distributed among the seven clans in the village.
The Aran festival itself has had a herculean effort preceding it. The Bomdian men have been making fortnightly visits to their hunting camps, a day's walk (at least 15 km up and down the hills! link) from the village since last November. All the meat is smoke-dried in their camps and brought back to the village just before the Aran festival. On the day of Aran, the sisters would make rice cakes and offer it to their brothers who in turn would offer them dried meat; this could be of wild pig, serow, barking deer or even, rarely, the takin.
On this particular day, everything went on like clock work. It began with the pigs in the two Medo households followed by the massive millet beer brews. The smoked squirrels on the sides of the Phrynium leaves are supposedly put to bring balance to the brewing filter. And then I went to Kangong Duggong's home, where a huge Mithun was due for sacrifice. This one needed tugging by at least 20 folks and the Mithun actually broke two of the bamboo steps made for strangling it.
Notes from the Aran festival
Notes from the Aran festival
Notes from the Aran festival
Then, there was an unexpected sad news. Bamut Medo, my field assistant's mother had passed on. This was particularly melancholic since I had sat beside her in the morning and someone had checked her pulse, she was alive when I was there. Now, an hour later shes gone. And gone with her are the experiences she has had in this landscape over a century, yes she was over a century old. She had been to Tibet thrice in her younger days, when salt was still bartered with the Tibetans in exchange for rice, rice beer, rice wine beads and cane artefacts from the Bomdo village. This is no mundane experience since the Tibet border is at least ten hills away, some of them snow-peaked. She used to bask in the sun every morning in Bamut's house and on my way and back from field she'd tell me she can't see me but can clearly hear me. With the broken Adi that I know I used to ask her if she had eaten, and she kept telling me it doesn't matter since she will be gone someday soon.
Half hour later I sat for a while with her body, while a tear unchecked made its way down my cheek, I saw her daughters and sons gathered for their final goodbyes. An old man was talking to her like she was alive, maybe she did hear him still. Couple hours later, some meat trickled to the place I stay in too and the day ended with some major notes and one major minor note.

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