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How the tangkung lost its tail

The Adi community from central Arunachal Pradesh have an interesting way of naming the birds around them: most are named from the sound of their calls. For instance, the Golden-throated Barbet is called Gapo, the Blue-throated Barbet is called Probo, the Collared Owlet is called Inkok- konkok and most warblers are called Michirbi. The beautiful Rufous-throated Partridge therefore is called the Tangkung, although for me the call is closer to a ‘Woo-Whoo’ with ascending notes as the call progresses.

The Adis have lived here for hundreds of years; long enough to have several folktales associated with the plants and animals around them; one of them is about the Tangkung. One day, the partridge went ‘Woo-Whoo’ and the panic in the tone surprised a squirrel, who dropped the acorn fruit she was eating. A young barking deer got alarmed when the fruit fell on him, and he scurried away thereby caused a small landslide. A crab was peacefully basking down below in the river when a stone dislodged by the landslide hit it, blinding its eye.

The Adi community have a formal local council called the Kebang, which is responsible for resolving day-to-day conflicts. So the forest folk organised a Kebang for the crab and the Kebang decided to punish the deer. But the deer explained that he was only feeding when the acorn fell down and alarmed him. When the acorn was summoned, it said that it was only hoping to settle somewhere till the rains when the squirrel found it and then dropped it half-eaten. “Summon that squirrel and let’s get this over with”, the council said. The squirrel too, like the deer, said that she was busy feeding when she heard the Tangkung call and got startled.

“Get tangkung here, double quick”. Tangkung came ‘Woo-Whoo’ing and quickly realised there was no way out. But he begged the council’s mercy, explaining that early morning is the time he calls for a pretty girl tangkung and, really, how could they blame him for that? Still, he had to give up something for causing this whole ruckus. “Take my tail with twelve beautiful feathers”, he said. And that’s how the Tangkung lost its tail, a fine Adi story.

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The Adis live in the beautiful hills along the Siang river valley of Central Arunachal Pradesh in north-east India.

The Adis practise shifting cultivation; a form of farming in which different parcels of land around the village are cultivated in different years in the landscape. The forests in their landscape abound in both flora and fauna, and the people are warm and hospitable.

The story related here was told by Gekut Medo from Bomdo village, Upper Siang district, Arunachal Pradesh.

Do you want to hear the call of the Tangkung yourself? Visit www.xeno-canto.org, and search for “Rufous-throated Partridge”. While you’re there, do browse around and explore bird calls from all over the world.

 

This article appeared in the Hindu in School on 1 October 2014.

Picture: Top – The tangkung: no tail as per the tale. Below – The Siang river valley in the Upper Siang district, Arunachal Pradesh.
Credit: Tom Munson and Anirban Datta-Roy

 

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