Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Yapiñ Hullo - The Art

The Apatanis are known, among other things, for their body arts like tattooing and body piercing. Story has it that the Apatani women were exceptionally beautiful and attracted the attention of lascivious men. The practices of tattooing and piercing of nose and ears were started to repel such people. This explanation has no basis because a young girl with cute nose plugs - yapiñ hullo - and neatly lined tattoos - tiipe - was considered beautiful and they were sported with pride. A woman with big nose plugs and big ear knot at the back used to convey a sense of dignity.

People usually wonder how the Apatani women manage to put such big nose plugs on their nostrils. The nose is pierced with a pin-sized stick (usually of bamboo) at the age of 7 or 8 years. At an interval of time, the size of the stick is gradually increased. When it becomes as big as the small finger, cross-sections of hard smoked cane - tapi yaso replaces the stick.

I had an opportunity to observe the demonstration of preparing a nose plug when an American friend with a passion for tribal life and arts visited Ziro a few days back.

The cane is hardened by smoking it for years together. A portion is cut out with red hot slim iron stick – dachañ yakho. It is smoothened with charcoal – yamu miiri, and lo! it is ready for use.

The prepared nose plug was tried on the ear of our friend who had his ears pierced. The plug snugly fitted into the ear and was turned into an ear plug! He was overwhelmed on getting such a prized possession and the yapiñ hullo which was turned into a yaru hullo was the best present he could get!

Leonardo Da Vinci believed that nose set the character of the face. Nose, without doubt, is the most prominent feature of the face. No wonder, therefore, that nose piercing has been practiced since time immemorial. Nose piercing was said to have been first recorded in the Middle East 4,000 years ago. Today, the practice of nose-piercing is followed among the Berber and Beja tribes of Africa, and the Bedouins of the Middle East. The size of the ring denotes the wealth of the family.

Nose piercing was bought to India in the 16th Century from the Middle East by the Mughal emperors. The left nostril is the one most commonly pierced in India, as it is believed in the Ayurveda to be associated with the female reproductive organs and piercing is supposed to make childbirth easier and lessen pain during periods. Nose piercing in the west was popularized by the hippies who traveled to India in the late 1960s. It was later adopted by the Punk movement of the late 1970s as a symbol of rebellion against conservative values.

The emerging modern Apatani society prevented tattooing and piercing of noses in the 1970s. Will it return in the post-modern era? I, for one, would not be surprised.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Monsoon at Ziro

The word ‘monsoon’ doesn’t make much sense to the people at Ziro as it rains throughout the year here. However, it rains more in summer – from May to August, making them the wettest months of the year. In that sense it is monsoon now. Every part of the year brings with it unique features of nature. Most of these days, the misty look during rains – miido kamo – gives the landscape a mysterious touch. And after the rain, nature is as fresh as it should be after a refreshing shower.

It is a good time now to visit Ziro to enjoy the bountiful nature. It is green everywhere. The bamboo shoots have grown into young bamboos. Most trees in the nearby forests are donned in new leaves and proudly sway in the gentle winds. The irrigation channels – the siigañs – are filled with briskly flowing water. The green paddy fields are dotted with bent figures of women, busy weeding and collecting edible items like bulyu, tasiñ, chunyi and ngiiyi atuu.

Ziro, with its pleasant weather now, is an ideal place to escape, even for a while, from the sweltering heat of Itanagar or Kimin, leisurely driving up just for 4 hours.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ali inii-nanii

A brief visit to the Dree celebration in Itanagar hurls me back to the days we used to fulfill our fantasy of being tall. I spoted some children trying to use bamboo stilts (ali inii-nanii).

Varieties of competitions could be carried out using bamboo stilts. One was how tall one can make the stilts. Some dare-devil children made them as tall as highest riibii in the village, so that they could directly step on the stilt from there. Other popular competition was to try to topple one another and the person who is still walking on the stilt at the end wins. The stilts had to be made sturdy and short for such competitions.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Dree Greetings!

Dree is here again. While the celebration is being modified beyond recognition to facilitate increased participation and lend an air of festivity, the significance of the Dree ritual is as great as ever.

Dree, traditionally, was a time for the young people to take a break from the daily routine of agricultural works and go around, enjoying the nature with a taku (cucumber) - the first crop of the season. The modern version of celebrating with taku is the food festival, started in Itanagar since few years now and being initiated at Ziro too this year.

In whatever form, may the spirit of Dree live on!

And may mother nature continue to nurture the humanity!