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Arunachal Pradesh, meaning ‘the land of the rising sun’ is a state comprising of 24 districts with 26 major tribes including various sub tribes. It is equally rich and diverse in both cultural and ecological aspects, however for a long time much of the world remained elusive to this richness because of the state’s remote location.
An exploration of the cultural roots of Arunachal Pradesh therefore, takes us on a fascinating anthropological journey. Come let’s have a look!
Before 1972 it was known as North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA) under the Assam constituency. The name Arunachal Pradesh was given by Sri Bibhabasu Das Shastri, the then Director of Research and K.A.A. Raja, the then Chief Commissioner of Arunachal Pradesh on 20 January 1972. On 20 February 1987, Arunachal Pradesh became a state.
The ancient history of Arunachal Pradesh remains uncertain, yet many traces can be made to Indian History. It is often believed that Arunachal has an ancient connection with India and its mention can be found in the Mahabharata and the Kalika Purana. Sage Parshurama had washed off his sins in the Lohit District, Maharshi Vyasa had meditated here and Lord Krishna is said to have married Rukmini from here. The sixth Dalai Lama was born here in Tawang in the 17th century. This rich and diverse backdrop makes Arunachal Pradesh one of the significant parts of India’s unique history.
A place brimming with tremendous anthropological richness, Arunachal Pradesh is home to several groups of indigenous people. Broadly speaking there are three cultural groups; first being Monpas and Sherdukpen of Tawang and West Kameng districts who are followers of the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism. The second group comprising of Apatanis, Adis, Galos, Mishmis, Nyishis, Tagins, Akas etc worship the Sun and Moon God while the third group including Noctes, Wanchos and Khampti (tribal communities of TLCN – Tirap, Longding, Changlang, Namsai) follow basic Vaishnavism and Buddhism respectively and are ruled by a hereditary chief. Additionally there are the Galo, Nyishi, Tagin, Apatani and Adi communities who are commonly known as Tani clans due to their connection with Abotani (abu/abo-father, tani-tribes) – from whom the mythical heritage of mankind’s origin is associated.
The people’s languages are mostly derived from Tibeto-Burman language with more than 50 dialects spoken by specific tribes. The Tani clans have similarities within each other’s social languages. Assamese is spoken by most people since prolonged influence of the Ahom dynasty era. Hindi and English are currently the most widely spoken languages for people across the state, besides their own tribe’s language.
Culture and Tradition
Having lived in close proximity with nature since centuries, people were depended on Mother Nature for everything. From traditional handicrafts, fishing and hunting tools etc – the people developed many unique skills over the years and even today many of these skills are passed down. Apong (rice/millet wine) is the prominent drink induced by the people, especially in festivals. People used to drink it to honor the spirit guardians. Dance is an important element of the people’s heritage and traditional dancing along with priest/priestess chants, war dance and ritual dance with Buddhist connection etc are mostly performed by men. Ponung/Ponu is performed in groups by both men and women for the celebration of joyous and fortunate events in the future. A rich oral collection of folklores and chants, usually in a ballad tone, have been passed down from centuries about the historical events, myths, power of spirits and calling of deities.
Festivals and Agriculture
According to the Tani clans, Abotani was the first to introduce the technique of rice cultivation. Agriculture has been the source of livelihood from time immemorial ever since. Many of the tribes celebrate harvest festivals like Myoko by Apatanis and Podi-Barbi by Adis, Tam-la-du by Miju and Digaru MIshmis Boori-Boot by Hills Miris(now Nyishi) etc are some of the festivals celebrated for the prosperity of crops each year. Jhum cultivation is the prominent form of agriculture carried out across the various villages of the state.
Donyi-Poloism (Sun-Moon) is the philosophy of maintaining the balance of nature and harmony among tribals. Most of the tribes here worship nature, and other deities. With time, Buddhism emerged as one of the prominent school of belief amongst the people.
There seems to be no source of written records of Arunachal Pradesh’s culture and most of the information can be found through oral literature only. An enchanting abode of some of the world’s most unique communities, an abundance of rich biodiversity and a world set apart in time, Arunachal Pradesh is truly a paradise that will forever remain a blissful place, unspoiled by the passage of time.