Monday, February 25, 2008

The Last Traditional War

Did you know that the last traditional tribal war in Arunachal Pradesh was fought at Ziro? The war broke out over the naming of the present Tajang Secondary School. The following is excerps from the leaflet released by the organizers of the school's 36th Foundation Day on February 22, 2008:

"Tajang village boasts of a secondary school, located at Lempia, one of the most picturesque spots of the area. The present site of the school is variously known as Sii Lut (grazing ground of the cows), Sojañ Lapañ (community platform) and Riime Arañ (beside the riime tree). The whole hillock of Lempia was originally owned by the three clans of Tajang village namely, Miso-Hajiñ, Tayañ-Milo and Tabyu, and was under dry cultivation where mainly maize and millet were grown. It now forms an extension of the Tajang village.

The history of the Government Secondary School, Tajang dates back to year 1969-70, when the winds of change was wafting by and the importance of education dawned upon the minds of the senior students and the Gaon Buras of Bulla (comprising of Tajang, Reru and Kalung villages). They dreamt of having a common public ground at a suitable place, where a school could be established. The dream was soon materialized when the owners of the agricultural plots at Lower Lempia voluntarily donated their land for the noble cause. An OBT building was constructed on the ground and in 1971, an English medium school was being voluntarily run by Late Millo Pilya, ex-VLW, and Late Tage Dollo, then a student of middle Standards.

Meanwhile, however, a spark of controversy was smoldering concerning the naming of the school. It was being proposed that the school should be named the Tajang School. This was objected to by the people of Reru and Kalung villages. The Bulyañ (the members of the Apatani traditional village council) of Reru and Tajang tried to solve the impasse at several sittings, but to no avail. The case, at last, was referred to the court of the Deputy Commissioner, Ziro.

Due to the delicate nature of the case, the Deputy Commissioner, too was dilly-dallying in giving a firm decision, during which time, the OBT building at Lempia was burnt down by the people of Reru village. As the situation was quickly deteriorating, the Supuñ Bulyañ - the members of the traditional councils of the whole Apatani villages, was called to intervene. The Supuñ Bulyañ sat at Millo Lapañ and condemned the burning down of the building. They instructed the people of Reru village to reconstruct an OBT building at the original site. A building was accordingly constructed, but was rejected by the people of Tajang village on the ground that it was neither at the original site, nor of satisfactory quality.

On February 21, 1972, the Deputy Commissioner, summoned the representatives of the Tajang and the Reru villages, apparently to give a final verdict on the vexed issue. The people of both the villages turned out in large numbers at the District Court with great expectations. But, as ill luck would have it, the magistrate again wavered in giving a decision and the frustrated people of Reru gave vent to their anger by destroying the Radhe Lapañ at Lempia. The people of Taiang retaliated by destroying the Nani Lapañ there.

February 22, 1972 was, ironically, a sunny day. Precipitated by an indecisive judiciary, the people of Reru and Ka1ung villages attacked the Tajang village on that day with traditional weapons. Thus, a gyambo - a war, had been declared which was to be the last traditional war in the area. It was not before at least three hours that the para-military forces intervened and separated the two warring groups. It was, however, too late by then. The war had already taken a heavy toll. A number of people on both sides suffered injuries and a young man from Tajang village, Ngilyang Grayu, had fallen martyr to the cause of his village.

The neighboring people of Tajang, Reru and Kalung, all of whom are intimately bounded to each other by one or the other relationship, experienced a rude shock. When they saw the cruelty of death and the misery of the injured near and dear ones that their adamancy had brought about, better sense prevailed and the institution for which so much of blood had been shed was named the Tajang School.

The present Tajang School has literally risen from the ashes like the Sphinx. A thatched building and an OBT quarter for the teacher were again constructed by the villagers of Tajang on self-help basis in 1972. An initial batch of seventy-seven students was enrolled. An educational institution again started functioning, this time under the able guidance of Late Rubu Tana and Sri Rubu Koyan, who were the seniormost students and the first graduates from the village. Late Millo Pilya and Late Tage Dollo taught the students voluntarily. The school functioned in this way till 1974, when the enthusiasm of the people impressed the government and it was recognized as a Primary School with minimum facilities. Two dedicated teachers, Sri D. Gogoi and Sri Michi Abing, were posted on regular basis and the school started its long Journey.

The School fulfilled the dream of the people by giving quality education to their children and the students fulfilled the expectations of the government and their parent by excelling in various extra-curricular and academic activities. It paid rich dividends when the then Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Sri Gegong Apang graced the school on July 4, 1981 and upgraded it to a Middle School. Late Gyati Takka, who was then the Deputy Minister for Cooperation, took special interest in the upgradation.

As the school continued its hallowed journey, the public continued showing exceptional enthusiasm and the students continued their outstanding performance in all fields, the then Chief Minister, Sri Gegong Apang again did the school proud by gracing here to upgrade it to a Secondary School on August 19, 1995. This time again it was Sri Kuru Hassang, then Vice-Chairman, Khadi and Gramodyog, Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh, who made relentless efforts for the upgradation of the school.

In the thirty six years of its existence, the Tajang school is proud of having exhibited excellent performance in all spheres. The school celebrated the Silver Jubilee on February 22, 1997. "


  1. A very interesting account, indeed. Maybe you'd be interested in knowing what anthropologist Christopher von Fürer-Haimendorf wrote about this "Tajang war" in his book A Himalayan Tribe : From cattle to cash(1980) :
    "...A school was to be built outside Reru on cultivated land near Lempia, a colony of Tajang which together with Reru and Kalung forms the large composite settlement known by the collective term Büla. There was, it seems, no serious dispute over making the site available for the school-building, but a violent argument arose over the name of the school. The people of Reru wanted it called “Reru school”, because Reru is larger than Tajang and most of the pupils were likely to come from Reru, but the people of Tajang opposed this proposal tooth and nail arguing that the school was going to be built on Tajang land and should hence be called “Tajang school”. Tempers rose to such a degree that the two villages decided to stage a gambu. On 22 February 1972 men of Reru and Tajang donned the dress of warriors and faced each other in long lines on open ground. There was possibly no intention to inflict any fatal casualties, but an arrow struck Nyilang Halyang of Tajang so unluckily that he died. The gambu was then broken off, and there is every likehood that on that February day the long sequence of Apatani arranged village-fights – “mass-duels” as I once called them – has forever come to an end. Buliang, gaonbura and panchayat members then resumed negotiations and on 23 March held a great formal debate. But it was not until May that a final decision was reached, which in true Apatani style was based on a compromise. The land in question was recognized as Tajang village-land, the school was to be built on another site and was called “Reru School”. No compensation was awarded to the family of the Tajang man killed in the gambu, but 20 young men of Reru blamed for the killing were subsequently jailed by the administration.
    To confirm the agreement reached each party to the dispute brought and slaughtered a mithun on the disputed land, and moreover each party brought one piece of old meat, as well as cooked rice and beer. Both parties sat together, exchanged some of the food and beer, and ate together. It is interesting that to my knowledge no comparable fraternization followed any of the many gambu, the circumstances of which I recorded in 1944 and 1945."

    Keep on publishing on Apatani culture and history.

  2. Thanks PB for your comments and information. This account is a big lesson for all of us. Outsiders, however knowledgeable they may be, tend to misinterpret the contexts and contents. Imagine what a blunder it is to get the name of the deceased man wrong!!

  3. I think you should say " last war among Apatanis" and not Arunachal:)

    I am pretty +ve traditional raids happened with casualties elsewhere, way after 1972.To cite an example( needs corroboration from source):

    The present CS of AP, ..... ... was into his first posting as EAC,Koloriang, after clearing his IAS( I am not sure of dates, but must be after 72').One day he heard a party of men give the war-cry( called Gogre-renam, a similar word is used in Apatani to describe it, gyugre or something).He thought its a party of hunters coming back after a successful kill of wild boar( this war-cry is given while entering village back from a kill of a major wild animal like boar,stag,tiger,leopard, elephant etc..or man).
    soon he came to know it was a party of warriors back from a raid, bringing with them the left palm of victim,to be used for arrow-shooting in their Bopi ceremony!

    * Its befitting that the last war of Apatanis was over a school:)


  4. Ok..he was inducted into IAS in 1977


  5. I wonder if there is a difference between 'raid' and 'war'.

  6. Kanno,
    Yes there is..if you have an established/standing army with establised command chain.

    However in primitive tribal societies like AP, almost all 'war' was in form of raids.So raid=war here.

    *I would classify the Gambu as a form of ritualistic,arranged,limited and supervised mass duel(and not as 'war'proper).As Haimendorf had observed ,Taniis never shed fellow Taniis blood in mass scale whatever the grievance and settled for this limited show of force.
    The last war of Apatanis was perhaps the Kure Chambyo 1949.