Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Our Ziro

This can be seen here as well.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Legendary Bwrw

February 15, 1897. A large group of people was gathered at Bwrw. Some unusual people had come from the plains. A white man was leading a big group of armed soldiers. Their intentions were not friendly. With caution, some prominent Apatanis had set up a negotiations with them at Bwrw.

In the winter of 1896, the District Commissioner of North Lakhimpur received a report that a group of Apatanis raided a house, killing two persons and taking away four others as hostages. The owner worked with a British tea planter named H. M. Crowe and so, the Apatanis had violated the laws of the British government. Therefore, the prestige of the colonial administration was at stake.

The Chief Commissioner of Assam, based in Shillong, ordered a punitive expedition to the Apatani country with a force of two hundred soldiers.  The army, however, decided to march with three hundred soldiers and four hundred porters. And so, the expedition started under the leadership of R.B. McCabe (ICS), Inspector-General of Police and Jails in Assam.

After trekking through thick forests and steep hills for eighteen days, the group reached Ziro on February 14, 1897 with only 120 soldiers. Several groups had stayed behind at different stages on the way.

The Apatanis tried to stop the team outside Hong village, but ultimately gave way. Negotiations took place between the the Apatanis and the British government at Bwrw the next day. It was only about ten years back in 1889 that the Apatanis had seen a white man when H. M. Crowe, the tea planter came to their country, for the first time. This was their second contact with any white person.

Bwrw, even more than a hundred years back, was a beautiful place. Lots have happened in a century, but mother nature has changed little. One can still see the outlines of the pine trees that could be seen a hundred years back. The mythical Dolo-Mañdo still stands as firm as it always used to.

The landscape of Bwrw has changed a lot, though. A lively village is springing up here. Tourist lodges and other commercial buildings are coming up.  It is only befitting, one could argue,  that Bwrw where once all the Apatanis celebrated Myoko together becomes a villages again.  

(To read this post in Apatani, click here).

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Celestial Mortar

There are very few open spaces left at Ziro now. The Ziro Putu, which after 1972 Bangladesh war and subsequent departure of the defense personnel, had become symbolic of Ziro, is now dotted with buildings of different shapes and sizes. Dutta Papii, which hosted the legendary Laliñ Yalu is equally congested. The mythical and beautiful Tadu Dobi is now occupied by concrete school buildings.

Dogiñ Nanw, however, still retains its old charm of open space. We, as children, used to pass through this grazing ground with awe during Penw processions of Muruñ. As in the past, this space still serves as the grazing ground for cows.

The focal point of Dogiñ Nanw is the Yapuñ Yapvr a collection of huge stones at the periphery of the field. It is difficult to elicit any story behind these stones, but children were discouraged from going too near them lest the Yapuñ, the Sky God would be offended.

Whatever the true fact, Dogiñ Nanii and Yapuñ Yaper are important landmarks of Ziro.

(To read this post in Apatani, click here.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Nyime Pembu

The name Nyime Pembu or Lali Gyochi has the status of a mythology among the Apatanis. It is rarely seen from Ziro, where they live and one rarely gets a chance to see it even in photography. This year, however, the weather has been kind and the mysterious mountain revealed itself in full glory (photo below by Hage Gumto).
This snow-covered mountain range is said to be a part of the Gorichen, the highest peak in Arunachal Pradesh and the headwaters of the great Kameng river. More about this peak can be seen here.

The name Nyime Pembu features in the migration story of the Apatanis. They are said to have crossed this range while coming from the Wui Supuñ and Wiipyo Supuñ to Anii Supuñ, their present habitat.

The mountain range is best seen from the Eastern Ring Road near Diib of Hari village. The view of the Ziro valley in the morning is similar to one from Dusu Katu - a lake. The surrounding higher hills get lit up by the rising sun, sparkling up the whites of the snow covering the Nyime Pembu. Welcome to another excellent view point at Ziro!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Words and Languages

I came across one of my old articles on Apatani language, published in Popeerscope, a magazine published by Popi Sarmiñ Society in 1998. Here is an excerpt: 

An Apatani man uses his traditional sword – ilyo, all the year round. The act of cutting is expressed by various words, depending on the specific manner of carrying out the action. Pa is the most common verb to mean ‘to cut’: yasañ pato (cut the wood). It usually denotes cutting the wood vertically by bringing the ilyo from above the shoulder. Similar act of  cutting with an axe or a spade, however, is denoted by ta: yasañ tato (cut the wood, especially for firewood), diter tato (till the land). Ta is also appropriate even when the ilyo is used to cut a piece of wood longitudinally to make it fit to be burnt as firewood: ilyo lo yasañ tato (cut wood for firewood with ilyo). When the spade is used to till the land, but the act is accomplished by bringing it from below the shoulder level, the verb o is used: balu oto (till the garden).

If a bamboo, for example, is longitudinally split into two parts, the verb used is por: bije porto (split the bamoo). But if it is so split into smaller strips, cha is used: hiika bije mi chache to (split that bamboo), siirañ chato ((split the log to make it into posts), yaso chache to (split the cane). After the whole piece of a cane is split (chache) into smaller strips, they are shaved with knives to make them ready for use as ropes. The act then becomes gyo: yaso gyoto (prepare the ropes by shaving). So, we can say, yaso mi chache lala la gyodu (the cane is smoothened to ropes by shaving after splitting it into fine strips). And if the skin of the bamboo is separated to use it as a rope, lyo is used: bimpa lyoto (prepare bamboo ropes). When the inner portion of a piece of bamboo stick is shaved into several leaves to make it into a decorative item or for preparation of an altar, the verb tii is used: jompu tiito (prepare jompu). If the outside portion of a piece of wood or bamboo is shaved, the verb used is hu: siika yakho mi humeto (trim this stick).

When something is cut by keeping the ilyo or the knife in close contact with the object and moving the former to and fro as in sawing, the act becomes pi: yo pito (cut the meat), siika yaso mi pireto (cut this rope). If an object is cut by keeping the ilyo or the knife in close contact with it and the sharpened edge facing away from one’s body, nya is the appropriate verb: yakho khohe nyato (make a stick), hiika yakho mi nyamyuto (sharpen the point of that stick). Similar act, keeping the sharp edge facing towards one’s body is gya: sarse gyato (cut the bunch of millet), iñka yaso mi gyareto (cut that rope). And to chop is tiñ: yo pyare tiliñto (chop out a piece of meat), siika yakho mi tiñtuto (chop this stick into two).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mats of Reeds

Midas, King of Macedonia, made the mistake of pronouncing that Marsyas was a more masterful musician than Apollo. Apollo called Midas an ass and to prove his point, touched his head, giving him a donkey's ears. Long and hairy they sprouted up, and Midas in a panic covered them up with a tall cap, hoping nobody ever discovered his embarrassing secret. However, he could not hide this disgraceful matter from his barber, but Midas had warned him that he would be put to death if ever he revealed to anyone the asinine state of the King's ears. 

The barber found himself bursting with the secret and couldn't bear to keep the gossip to himself, but was afraid for his life. So he dug a hole in the bank of the Pactolus river and, after making certain that nobody was listening, he whispered into the hole, "King Midas has an ass's ears." Filling up the hole to forever bury the secret, the barber went away happy and at peace with himself.

All was well until the next spring, when a reed sprouted up from the hole and whispered to the other reeds that King Midas had the ears of a donkey. These reeds in turn whispered the secret to all creatures who passed. Soon the birds learned the news and brought it to a man who knew the language of birds and found the information absolutely hilarious. The man told all his friends and soon the entire kingdom knew about King Midas' miserable secret.  

Thus it came to be that when Midas came riding by in his chariot all his people began to shout in unison: "Take off the cap, King Midas, we want to see your ears!" Unable to face this public humiliation, Midas first had the head of his barber cut off, and then he hung himself in shame. And that was the end of poor, stupid King Midas, the man with the Golden Touch.

It is said that the reeds (pepu), including those that grow by the Apatani seed-beds at Ziro are whispering Mida's secret. 

Notwithstanding the role of these pepus in King Mida's death, the Apatanis have been putting them to good use since time immemorial. The mats that cover the areas around every Apatani hearth are made of pepu
The leaves of the pepu are collected, dried and burnt to make piyu, which in turn are made into pila. Pila is solidified into tapyo. The pila and tapyo from pepu are considered one of the sweetest. Anyone who love pike made with pepu pila will vouch for it.

The pepus are generally grown on the agers of the seed-beds - midiñs. As they love damp areas, they may also be found in the vegetable gardens (balus) where other vegetable may not grow well. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Apatani Handicrafts

It is becoming harder and harder to find good quality Apatani handicrafts these days. Old pieces have been destroyed or allowed to decay without any care. Only a handful of people, who are able and willing to find time to create those handicrafts, are alive today.

While the native people are still to understand the values and significance of this art, there is hope that appreciation for the handicraft skills of the Apatanis will live on. This hope springs from seemingly insignificant facts like finding of an Apatani bamboo glass (Tanii turla) in the corner of a Harrisonburg home

If an American can carry a turla all the way home across the ocean, will an antique collector in the crowded Thamel in Kathmandu remain behind? 

An Apatani rucksak (lera) was nicely displayed in one of the antique shops in Kathmandu. Curiously, I asked the price. It was 8000 Nepali rupees, amounting to 5000 Indian rupees! Good price, as a lera is among the best rucksacks one can find.

A couple of Apatani caps - byopas, too adorned the walls of the antique shop. These byopas are equally useful both in sun and rain. They double up as helmets as well.
One only hope these useful handicrafts are not yet relegated as antiques!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

World Bamboo Day

As the world was observing the World Bamboo Day on 18th last, I was looking around the ways we use bamboos in our daily life. I briefly mentioned the roles of bamboo in our live here and so, will not repeat that. I'll show some bamboo items as I looked around my home. 

Piipiñ and yagii are two of the most prominent items in any Apatani house. Piipiñ is used to dry paddy, millet, chilly or other items. It also serves as giant plates for many people to eat together on certain special occasions.

Yagii essentially serves as a basket to carry things around. They are named according to their sizes - giida pata, entii yagii, puhe yagii and so on. The one in the picture is the giida pata.
 There are many other bamboo implements that I mentioned earlier. I recently constructed a bamboo furniture which I find is really useful.
 And this is the season bamboo is harvested at Ziro. The following are the remains of the bamboo - the top (milyiñ and arañ). They too are used for many purposes; I am still figuring out the best uses now.

The few points mentioned here are hardly a comprehensive list of the ways the Apatanis use bamboo. It is just a pointer to the fact that bamboo is the material that sustains our lives.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Shades of Gold at Ziro

Colors never cease to play at Ziro. Gorgeous grey with placid blue as background in winter. Spring brings with it riots of color - whites of pecha apu, reds of sembo apu and pinks of takuñ apu. As the season advances, greenery spreads everywhere. The blanket of greenery goes on darkening, giving way to yellowish tint.

Middle of September, however, is the best time as far as color combination at Ziro is concerned. Ripening paddy presenting various shades of gold. Emo look whitish with green tints due to their leaves. Different varieties of mipya, which are ripe now, are either golden or blackish. This, verily, must have inspired the pyamiñ combination so characteristic of the Apatani textile.

At places the paddy fields look like islands of gold in the sea of green. At others, the villages with their characteristic green rims of bamboo gardens look like islands of white in the sea of gold.
More shades can be seen here and here. Welcome to Ziro before it turns grey with harvesting of paddy in two weeks from now.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hapoli - Then & Now

Ziro in mid-1980s (Source: posting in Facebook by Tadu Omo)
Ziro in mid-2000s

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Custodian of Ranii Akhii

Dree this year has been celebrated all over the country in the most visible way, thanks to the internet and social networking sites.

Some of the most significant events, however, take place silently. Such an event has been the passing away of Tabyu Karlung, who inherited Ranii Akhii from his brother Tabyu Tabin and has been responsible for initiating the process of Dree ritual every year. He quietly passed away on June 25, 2011 just a week ahead of the Dree.

Ranii Akhii remains one of the most sacred and mysterious artefacts in Apatani culture. As per the oral history, the comb was brought from a mythological place called Wiipyo Ranii by a war expedition. "Wiipyo Ranii gañda ho nyibo pachala, Tanii Dree miinii naniipa, Ranii Akhii mi pagiitii," so goes the narration.
The tale of the akhii, which resembles some designs of Chinese hairpin, has always been baffling. During a major fire accident in Tajang village decades back, Tabyu Tabin, who was its custodian at the time, thought it has been burnt along with his house. To his amazement, however, the akhii returned unscathed a day after he re-constructed his house! Now, however, extra care has to be taken as one of its legs is broken and may not be able to run away in such crisis on its own.

Ranii Akhii has always been kept away from ordinary people, especially children, as it would harm them in various ways if disturbed. If its curse causes, for example, skin diseases, that could be cured by propitiating the akhii in appropriate ways. It was only during occasions like Dree that the sacred akhii could be freely seen by anybody. Did you see it this Dree?

Even as the custodian of the Ranii Akhii quietly passed away, Dree has been celebrated with pomp and gaiety, praying for the well being of humankind. The world goes on.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ziro Landing Ground

1957: Kimin-Ziro road opened.
1952: Divisional Headquarter of Subansiri shifted from Kimin to Ziro.
1951: First aeroplane landed at Ziro landing ground.

This chronology of events looks upside down. It is one of the many intriguing facts about Ziro. Before the Kimin-Ziro road was opened in 1957, one had to trek through pestilential jungles for as long as a week from Kimin. Ziro was, in those days, an administrative outpost.

View of Landing Ground in 2011:

Construction of the landing ground was a major event in the otherwise sleepy valley at 5000 ft above sea level. RG Menzes, then Political Officer, who also opened the Ziro township on March 24, 1952 supervised the works. It is noteworthy that only local people - both Apatanis and Nyishis - were engaged in the construction project.

Landing Ground under construction in 1951:

The first aeroplane to land was an Otter in 1951 and next year in 1952, a Dakota landed after lengthening the landing ground. Since then, supply of essential items to the whole Subansiri division has been much easier. Till this day, this is the base for air-dropping of such items to strategic places like Damin, Sarli, Chambang, Limeking and Taksing.

In the seventies, the first commercial operation - that of Vayudoot - was started with much fanfare. The services never took off as expected as the flights became too unreliable due to unpredictable weather.
A serious attempt was made in the late nineties to extend the length of the present ground so as to make it viable for landing of commercial airplanes. As vast areas of priceless wet-rice cultivation areas were at stake, the project got a major setback. The government still has said to have an ongoing project to ungrade it into an airport. Even at the present status, the landing ground remains the most prominent landmark of Ziro.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Talle Trek

A formal trek to Talle has, at last, been organized. Of the many exciting trekking routes in and around Ziro, the one to Talle forest is the most promising. A local organization named Ngunu Ziro organized a trekking to Talle Valley - Spring Trek "11, this week.

The trek started from Hong village and the team reached Pange via Moko, covering some 5 kilometers on the first day. The next day, they trekked all the way to Talle Valle, covering 15 km. The third day was for exploration of the enchanting valley. They visited the abandoned helipad and the rhododendron grove in the valley. They returned the fourth day, via Maniipolyang.

This time of the year is best if one is interested in talle, the onion-like vegetable after which the valley has been named. Scores of colorful wild flowers adorn the routes while butterflies with intricate designs flit around. The early blooming red Senji have started drooping and buds of differently colored rhododendrons have started blooming.

Sitting on the steps of the camp at Talle, nibbling at talle hamañ, one can feel the cool wind blowing by hiibiñ and watch the long-tailed Palyu piita flying from branch to branch in the tall niiri piisas.

A trend has been started and hopefully will continue in the days to come.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Myoko is at last here. Prolonged preparation has culminated into construction of Nago and sama piniiñ.

Nago plays crucial roles not only during Myoko but in everyday lives of the Apatanis. During the Myoko, Siiki is cajoled to come up in the world of man and to participate in the festivity. Nago is also the place where the all important ritual ropi is performed.

The main attraction of the nago is the piidiñs on either side. Traditionally the structure is roofed with tapo, but bamboos are being increasingly used these days. Tapo retains the advantage that the tapers can easily be inserted into it.

Sama piniiñ is the inaugural ceremony of the Myoko festival. The occasion kick-starts all other processes.

The festival this year is in the villages of Hari, Bulla and Tajang.

Welcome one and all!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Reptiles of Talle

The story of tabu and tatii has enthralled Apatani children for ages. Snakes have always been mysterious creatures and many a myths are associated with them. It is worshipped as well as feared.

Last year, while I was attending a meeting in the US, I got a call from a friend to help a team visit Talle Wildlife Sanctuary. We were carrying out a wildlife survey at the time, and I said why not. So went the team with our local contacts and they were enthralled with the professional approach of the team.

Here and here are the accounts of the expedition by one of the team members. Enjoy the beautiful pictures of some reptiles and amphibians they photographed.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Yapuñ Yaper

It is always a pleasure to walk the road between Hija and Dutta villages. The road is flanked by magnificent bamboo gardens. What one often miss, while enjoying the walk, is the Yapuñ Yaper – the famous stone that we have grown up hearing about.

The spot where this unique stone was originally located used to be an important landmark in the days when the present road was a footpath connecting the two villages. It got displaced when the road was widened. However, some concerned people took interest and fixed the stone over the roadside drain with concrete mix.

I tried to get the history behind the stone with not much success. Do you have any?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


The advent of Myoko is announced in myriad ways. It starts with the monkey hunting expedition (bidiñ) after the harvest. Then follows preparation and fetching of babos and lapangs from the jungle. Not-so long ago, such events were major ones. Members of clans used to stay for nights together preparing the lapangs. When the selected trees were felled for babos, young men used to rush in to mark the piidiñ, so that he can tie his rope on the topmost portion of the babo while dragging it to the village. Such young men were heroes of the clan.

The babos are erected and lapangs repaired during December/January of the Myoko anyangs. The babos are decorated like a bridegroom before they are erected. Taper, rinyo, lako - all in place.

Erection of babo is still a great event that every neighborhood look forward to. Every male member of the clan has to participate. Once fully decorated, the babo is pulled up using cane ropes. The ropes are tied to the topmost portions - the piiding and the tapers. Once in place, one agile young man volunteers to climb up the babo to bring down the ropes.

It is not only the festival of Myoko, but the preparation as well that is worth enjoying and watching.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ziro on New Year Day '11

Ziro on the morning of the first day of 2011 was placid as usual. Light tints of mist across the eastern horizon. In contrast to clear sky and sunny days in the previous days, it was cloudy. "Myodi ho pembe iñdudo" - there must be snow fall in the higher reaches, was the speculation of the elderly person I talked to about the gloomy weather. Yes, the wind blowing down from the north was chilly.

There was no ice, however. In the previous days, the landscape used to be coated in white.

In spite of the rain and cold weather, Manipolyang was dotted with picnicking groups. Taring was the only picnic spot a decade back. It has taken a back seat now after a road was constructed to Manipolyang. It is better this year with an excellent road connecting the place with Hong village.

In the recent years, other picnic spots are coming up. The Old Ziro-Hiija road via Supyu has opened up many such spots along the road. So has the Hari-Hapya road in the east. It is good to see people enjoying nature in many areas. It would be better to see them respect nature and not overburden it with plastic bottles and other waste materials.