The day of the river

The Tsangpo originates in western Tibet from the Tamlung Tso lake and then flows below the almost 8 km tall Namchi Baruah peak along perhaps the deepest gorge in the planet and then meanders around several snow-capped mountains. It then takes an orthogonal turn and enters India as the Siang river in the verdant parts of Upper Siang district close to the Gelling village and tumultuously reaches close to the Yingkiong town, the headquarter of the district.

The Siang river, facing the Upper Siang district in Arunachal close to the Indo-Tibet frontier

The river was being celebrated at Yingkiong today, the 8th of December; the Siang river festival. The Adis from nearby villages, the Membas from farther villages and the Mishmis from the farthest villages were here today. A model of each of the houses of the tribes that inhabit the district is built here at the school ground in Yingkiong. The Mishmi-dwelling is the more modest house with bamboo strips for walls and banana trunk fibers for thatch, the Adi-dwelling with wooden sheets for walls and stemless palm leaves (Zallaca secunda) for thatch and the majestic Memba-dwelling with wooden sheets for walls and for roof.

The Mishmi home with the pig sty below the home
The Memba home with prayer flags
The Adi home with the pig-toilet at the side

Like the river itself that takes steep turns along its course, I change the course of this article and write about the traditional items of the Adis that are on display, some of which are never otherwise shown to outsiders. My friend from the Bomdo village, Agar, who explains the cultural relevance of all these items tells me that some of these are not shown even to their neighbors unless the items are being sold or bartered. Most of these items were bought from the Tibetans by bartering smoked meat, cane, animal hide and suchlike.

The fermented millets are put in the filter made of Phrynium leaves and hot water poured into this filter and millet beer collected in the Dangkeng

 

 

The dangkeng is a vessel reserved for the Aran festival of the Adis. The millet beer filtered using Phrynium leaves is collected in and served from the dangkeng. The dangkeng is supposed to have a spirit and is believed to never leave its owner. From the Bomdo village, Agar tells me an anecdote that a dangkeng that was sold to a person from Simong village, at least 50 km away, actually made its way back to Bomdo!


The Dangkeng used for storing millet beer


 

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘Keeper’, is a wooden vessel, often made of hardwood such as that of Terminalia myriocarpa or Elaeocarpus sp., used for pounding rice for making rice cakes called Etting during festivals.
The mud vessel, called Kedi Peking, was used for cooking rice and meat
The metal vessel called Gandhi peking used for cooking was mostly owned by rich folks.
The bow and arrows used by the Adis

The Adi bow is called Epey and is made from the lower part of the bamboo that is thicker and the quiver is called Gatbung. The arrow called Pungnir usually has a metal head and is tipped with poison called Yongmo (Aconitum ferrox). In earlier times, Yongmo was sourced by the Adi people in Bomdo village from an area called Eko Dumbing, at least three days walk away from Bomdo. Nowadays, with registered single barrels, 0.22 and air guns, the bow and arrow are seldom used.

Yossa is the Adi sword bought from the Tibetans several decades back. These swords have inscriptions on them and the price of the sword increases with the number of markings. The Yossa was used in wars and also has cultural value. When the Adis die unnatural deaths, the Yossa is used to cut down the shelter built far from the village for the dead body after a day to ward off spirits.

The Adi sword Yossa bought from the Tibetans
The tiger jaws are used to adorn the sword sheath, pointing outwards
The headgear with wild pig canines, called Rayi Lippar, is worn only during roje during the war dance
The Adi spear is called Ginning, and was used in inter-village wars
The bead necklace called Dinning is the most expensive one

 

The wealth of an Adi is expressed in the number of mithuns and the number of beads he or she has. These beads were bought by the Adis from the Tibetans but were perhaps of European origin. Beads encapsulate a wealth of stories in them too. Stuart Blackburn documents the myths and stories associated with beads: “in nearly all of these stories beads come from either the spirit world or the natural world, of trees and animals; beads are not given a supernatural or magical explanation, they are not gifted by the gods. Instead, beads are made from bones or from a dog’s heart, while their holes are created by a woodpecker. Curiously, a snake is very often brought into the explanation: it bites the beads, which explains their markings; it spits on them, which is the reason for their colouring; and in one Apatani story, a snake, cut into pieces and boiled in a pot, becomes a heap of expensive beads, which rescues a poor couple from poverty.” According to Blackburn, beads are the “aide-mémoire” which can be used to arrive at the migration routes of the communities.

The beads; most of the ones above are ‘duplicate’ and the ones below are ‘original’!

 

There are beads that are manufactured from India as well and the Adis have a clear distinction of ‘duplicate’ and ‘original’. Below here are the originals with the duplicates. A clue to distinguish them is that the old ones have several markings on them and are quite discolored. Still for an untrained eye, its almost impossible to tell, even in the Bomdo village, only few can differentiate these.

I was glad to learn so much in a day of the festival; about the rich culture and traditions of the Adis. At the festival, there was to be a rock show and traditional dance later in the evening, but I gave it a miss and instead went back to the Bomdo village to appreciate and learn about their culture some more!

 

 

References:

Roy, S. (1997 [1960]) Aspects of Padam Minyong Culture. 3rd edition. Itanagar: Directorate of Research.

Blackburn, S. (2004) Memories of migration: notes on legends and beads in Arunachal Pradesh, India. European Journal of Himalayan Research 25/26: 15-60.

Singh, R. K., Singh, A, Tag, H. & Adi community (2008) Traditional skill among the Adi tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge 7: 27-36.


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