The Intriguing Apatani Culture
A long time ago we had written about Kayans, the women from Burma who wear thick rings on their necks from a very young age. Those neck pieces were enchanting and repressing, today we shall take a look at the Apatanis, also known as the Taniis, the tribe from Arunachal Pradesh in India, whose women adorn their noses with huge nose plugs.
Its a strange custom, like the Kayans, but every custom has a reason though different from common beliefs and as the years go by most ancient customs become extinct. But there is lots to learn from every culture, lets take a look at what the Apatanis have to offer.
Although todays generation of Apatani women choose not to wear the yaping hullo (nose plugs) it has been an integral part of their roots.
Started decades ago, this tradition is believed to make the Apatani women look unattractive to males from other tribes. Apart from the nose plugs, the Apatani people practiced facial tattooing, where the females had one tattoo running from the forehead to the tip of their nose and another one on their chins.
Although the tattooing was not limited to the Apatani women, the males used to have a “T” shaped tattoo on their chins.
Apatani Religious Practices:
Apatanis have some very interesting religious aspects like worshipping the sun and the moon (Donyi-Polo). In Donyi-Poloism, believers pray to a number of deities for blessing, but principally worship the Sun and the Moon as the visible forms of god. Donyi-Polo includes religious rituals which coincide with lunar phases and agricultural cycles.
A follower of Donyi-Polo believes in the oneness of all living creatures, from the tiniest organisms to the mightiest animals, and that every living creature has a role to play in his or her life. They believe that spirit resides within man, and within his nearest neighbours, the trees, flowers, plants, the land that nourishes them, the birds, the mountain ranges, all of which have a connection with humans.
If something goes wrong they believe its caused by evil spirits and the spirits are appeased by sacrificing domesticated animals. When an Apatani dies as well there are sacrifices made with the skeleton of the sacrificed animals placed over the grave (biyu) of the deceased.
Apatani Medicinal Practices:
Apa Tani Bleeding Tubes:
Apatani healers use bloodletting devices to heal members of the tribe. These are small bamboo tubes called take-birii which are applied on the face, nose and leg of women who come for healing.
They submit their affected parts to the suction of the bamboo tubes. The blood oozes into the tube and the traditional female healer then comes round to collect it – she sucks it out and spits it into a bowl.
Aptani Cure for Fractures:
This is a very interesting part, taken from the book RANTH-PIGEH, Short story-I, by Er. Hage Pilliy, “In olden days the modern medical facilities were not available in the vicinity of Ziro. During those days when a person got injured or fractured a bone, people resorted to hunting a crow’s nest. On finding one newly hatched offspring of crow they used to injure its legs and wings, and then left it in the nest. After four-five days, the paste of “medicine” which was found in the nest was collected and applied on the injured portion of the patient’s body, who used to get cured thereof. But it was not known from where those paste (medicine) was collected by crows. It was believed that that the birds flew high above the sky beyond the sight of human eye and collected it from there.”
March of the Apatanis:
March of the Apatanis is a documentary based on the life of the Apatanis, apart from that it also focuses on an Apatani wedding ceremony and its rituals.
The Apatanis have two major festivals, Myoko and Dree. Myoko is the festival of friendship and prosperity, celebrated through all of March each year. While Dree is the festival for agriculture that is celebrated in July. Lets dig a little deeper in these Tanii festivals, starting of with Myoko.
The sacrifice of a pig is a major event of the festivities, not only because of the economical value but also for distributing the meat, which is mostly given away and not consumed by the performer. This practice is to reinforce essential bonds of mutual assistance with family, in marriage or friendship.
You can read more about Myoko on Myoko: the division of Pig Meat.
While Dree, celebrated on the 5th of July every year by the Apatanis is prayer for a bumper crop as well as for the peace and prosperity of mankind. The folklore behind dree festival is interesting as well!
Learning from the Apatanis:
Tapyo is a salt used by the Apatanis, prepared from the ashes of certain plants growing in their region. Tapyo is used in traditional Apatani cusine and also as an alternative salt.
It has been used prior to the introduction of sea salt or iodized salt to the tribe, although the chemical compositon of Tapyo is not known, its believed to be the reason why the Apatanis have been free from goitre.
The Apatanis are pro agriculturists who have created an intricate irrigation system of canals and channels from the time they started wet rice cultivation. Interesting, because there is only a small source of water from a river in Ziro, that irrigates the entire valley.
Apart from this, the Apatani’s live in houses made of bamboo, which is very viable environmentally, there’s so much more information available on the Apatani’s that you may find interesting. You can watch this film by Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf, based on fieldwork carried out in Arunachal Pradesh in 1944-45. The film is part of a large archive of footage shot by Haimendorf in the Himalayas.