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!