Ziro Valley (18 hour drive from Guwahati) is a beautiful, remote green place in central Arunachal Pradesh inhabited by the Apatani people Also called the Jiro Valley, it is the home of Apatani Cultural Landscape, which was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Surrounded by blue rolling hills and topographically cut off from the rest of the populated areas of the region, Ziro Valley presents an example of how co-existence of man and nature has been perfected over the centuries by the Apatani civilization. The valley, inhabited by the Apatani tribe, lies tucked in the lower ranges of the eastern Himalayas in Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India. It comprises of about 32 square kilometers of cultivable areas out of 1058 square kilometers of plateau, undulated by small hillocks at an elevation of 1525 meters above sea level to mountain tracts ranging from 1830 to 2900 meters above sea level. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The hallmark of the valley is judicious utilization of limited land area. The relatively flat land in the valley is used for wet-rice cultivation where fish also is reared. This systematic land-use pattern ensures high level of biodiversity in the area and efficient conservation of crucial watersheds ensuring perennial streams flowing into the valley to meet the needs of the people.” The site is important because: 1) Ziro Valley bears exceptional testimony to the cultural traditions of the Apatani tribe that is responsible for maintaining the landscape more or less in the same state for centuries together. It is largely the strong traditional institutions, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs that have guided the Apatanis in their characteristic wet rice cultivation and management of other natural resources.

2) “The settlement pattern of the Apatanis in the Ziro Valley is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement in an upland area and of the fact that man’s incessant struggle for survival makes it possible to make even most adverse environment habitable. The way the Apatanis have brought Ziro Valley to the present status is representative of their culture and belief systems that have been the guiding principle of all their activities. These systems themselves are examples of how they evolve out of interaction between man and environment. With globalization, ideological onslaught from outside the area, and subsequent changing values in the society, these systems are under serious threat. Though they have demonstrated its ability to adapt to the changing world, subtle changes are taking place, which has the potential to disrupt the very fabric of the system unless appropriate actions are taken in time.

Talle Wildlife Sanctuary (Ziro Valley area) is the home to clouded leopard and other animals. Covering 130 square miles, it is a wild place with lush tropical forest, mountains, cloud forest, jungle tracks, scary hanging bridges, bamboo forests, and rhododendron trees covered with hanging moss. Much of it is unexplored even by the tribes who hunt there. There are lots of leeches.


The Apatani are tribe of Chinese-Tibetan descent that lives in and around the Ziro Valley and the Talle Wildlife Sanctuary in central Arunachal Pradesh in India and the Xibaxiaqu area of the Lhoyu region in southern Tibet. There are around 40,000 of them, with a half to two thirds of them in India. They are farmers who like to hunt in the forest and catch small game with traps, bows and slingshots, but don't spend the night in the forest because they are afraid of spirits called bhoots. [Source: Jesse Oak Taylor-Ide, National Geographic, September 2000]

The Aptanis have been described as stout and well built and short to medium height. They are said to look more like East Asians—namely Tibetans— than Indians and South Asian. There are two main groups among Apatanis and they differ significantly in appearance. Traditionally there were seven large villages of Apatanis and most lived a settled existence.[Source: Encyclopaedia of Scheduled Tribes in India: Five Volume by P. K. Mohanty, 2006, webindia123.com]

Apatani Cultural Landscape was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. According to a report submitted to UNESCO:“The Apatanis, one of the major ethnic groups of eastern Himalayas, have a distinct civilization with systematic land use practices and rich traditional ecological knowledge of natural resources management and conservation, acquired over the centuries through informal experimentation. The tribe is known for their colorful culture with various festivals, intricate handloom designs, skills in cane and bamboo crafts, and vibrant traditional village councils called bulyañ. This has made Ziro Valley a good example of a living cultural landscape where man and environment have harmoniously existed together in a state of interdependence even through changing times, such co-existence being nurtured by the traditional customs and spiritual belief systems. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The community has evolved a unique skill of rice-fish cultivation where along with paddy, fish is also reared on the fields. This is further supplemented with millet (Eleusine coracana) reared on elevated partition bunds between the rice plots. The agro-ecosystems are nourished by nutrient wash-out from the surrounding hill slopes. Nutrient loss with crop harvest is replaced by recycling crop residues and use of organic wastes of the villages so that soil fertility is sustained year after year.”

History of the Ziro Valley and the Apatanis

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The landscape development in the valley would date back to the time when the Apatanis are said to have settled down at Ziro. In the absence of any written record, the exact time is shrouded in mystery, but oral history traces back to at least twenty generations after the tribe migrated from mythological Wi and Wiipyo Supuñ, via Miido Supuñ to Siilo Supuñ, the present habitation bringing with them seeds of pine, bamboo and mustard. Tibetan and Ahom sources indicate that the central tribes of Arunachal mountains, of which the Apatanis are one, have been inhabiting the area from at least the fifteenth century, and probably much earlier. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“ The first reference to these tribes appears in a geographical text attributed to the eighth century but which probably dates from the twelfth century; several thirteenth-century references are mentioned in later historical works. The Apatanis are said to have settled down in Talley Valley for some time before shifting base to Ziro. The Ziro valley was initially a swampy wasteland inhabited by prehistorc reptile called buru, the last of which were killed by a kind of brass plate (myamya talo) which are being preserved even to this day. The development of the valley to the present status testifies to sheer hardwork and continued human struggle for survival against the infinite might of nature.

“Of the 26 major tribes in Arunachal Pradesh and many more in the Northeast India, Apatani is unique on many aspects. until the early 1970s, the whole population of the Apatanis was confined to Ziro valley whereas others were spread over large geographical areas. The linguists describe the Apatani language as a relatively ‘aberrant’ member of the Tani subgroup of Tibeto-Burman, classifying it as an early branching member of the Western Tani branch. Despite it being a part of the larger Tani tribe, along with the Nyishis, Tagins, Galos, Adis, Mishings, etc., whose common ancestor is believed to be Abotani, the Apatanis have distinct cultural practices and customary laws. Periodic strengthening of relations by offerings of different parts of sacrificial animals during various occasions is such an example. In addition, it is the only tribe who practice sedentary agriculture in the midst of shifting cultivation all around by other tribes.”

Lhoba Minority

The Apatani are — or may be — related the Lhoba. The Lhoba are China's smallest minority. They speak a Tibetan-Burman language and have no written language. They have traditionally been distinguished from other groups by the fact they wore no shoes. They are also known as the Loba, Mishi and Apatani (out of China). The name Lhoba was given to them by the Tibetans. It means “southerners." The Tibetans have traditionally viewed them as inferior and banned intermarriage with them.

Most Lhoba are animists. They have traditionally killed chickens for divination purposes during weddings, funerals, planting and traveling. The Lhoba practice agriculture, make a variety of items from bamboo and are hunters. They have traditionally traded animal hides, musk, bear paws and other items with the Tibetans in return for farm tools, clothing, salt, wool, grain and tea. Staples of the Lhoba diet are dumplings made with maize, millet flour, rice of buckwheat. Some have adopted the Tibetan custom of drinking butter tea. In the old days, Lhoba kept slaves. Lhoba women smoke pipes.

There are about 4,000 Lhoba in China, with many more in northeast India, Myanmar and Bhutan, where they are mainly known as the Apatani. In China they live mainly in along the southeastern border of Tibet in Zayu, Menyu, Medog, Mainling, Nangxian and Lhunze counties. Most Lhoba in China live in the Luoyu area between Chayu in the east and Menyu in the west, in Tibet. Miling, Motuo, Chayu, Longzi and Langxian are most densely populated places. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~]

Apatani Culture and Traditions

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Apatanis, the tribe inhabiting Ziro valley are known for their effective traditional village council called bulyañ, which supervises, guides and have legal oversight over the activities of individuals that affect the community as a whole. They work by addressing to the conscience of the people rather than by instilling fear of the law, and by promoting prevention of unlawful activities rather than by punitive actions. Preservation of such an effective socio-legal system is of special value when the formal justice systems of modern times have often come up for criticism. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The Apatanis are among the few tribes in the world who continue to worship nature. It is their relation with nature that regulates their cultural practices. All the traditional festivals are, in a way, celebration of nature. Such a system designed for nature, culture and man to mutually support each other has timeless universal value.

“The traditions and customs of the Apatanis which have ensured mutually dependent co-existence with nature is prospering. Festivals like Muruñ, Myoko, Yapuñ or Dree are celebrated as devoutly and colorfully as ever. All the formalities of maintaining the sanctity of traditional friends – buniñ ajiñ and manyañ, handed down from generation to generation are intact. Due to their traditions and customs as well as robust spiritual values the sacred groves of the Apatanis are intact. In addition, sacredness of some species of trees like banyan trees and animals of any cat family are maintained.”

Apatani Clothes, Facial Tattoos and Genital Worship

Apatani males wear cane knitted rings which are locally called Tarin and are beautifully knitted from a particular cane known as Taer yasso. Their priests must put on the ring when they attend certain ceremonial occasions like Murung, Myoko and Subu. Many males have long hair and make a knot on the forehead known as piiding after carefully combing their hair a bamboo comb. On the knot is decoration horizontally tied with Dinchu (a metal chain). Apatani women wear necklaces of blue beads. Men wear ornaments made with a particular white bead called Milosampo during special occasions and children put on rings of white beads known as Rite. Adult males wear a loin cloth with cane matting hanging from the waist like a tail which is called Ahu-Yari. They also put on a number of cane matted rings known as huring around their waist. Women wear knitted Western-style skirts and thick white and black blouses. +/

Ornamentation of the Apatani has included earrings, nose plugs and tattoos. Even stillborn children are decorated before they are buried. Children have woolen black threads tied on their waist and wrists after birth. Earrings are worn both by males and females. [Source: Encyclopaedia of Scheduled Tribes in India: Five Volume by P. K. Mohanty, 2006, webindia123.com +/;

Some Apatani women have face tattoos. Michael Snyder wrote in the Washington Post: “Like many women of her age (which is indeterminate; birthdays are neither marked nor celebrated among the Apatani), Yagyang wears the nose plugs and facial tattoos that distinguish the local women from those of neighboring tribes: a single blue line from the forehead to the tip of the nose and five separate lines running from the lower lip to the chin. The origin of these tattoos is obscure. The common story goes that they were designed to disfigure the Apatani women, who were otherwise so beautiful that men from the surrounding tribes would raid the valley to kidnap them. Koj Mama, the president of the Arunachal Pradesh Birding Club and director of Brahmaputra Tours, told me that this is almost certainly an invention.” [Source: Michael Snyder, Washington Post November 14, 2013]

Among the Apatani, a festival called "Molang" is celebrated in the twelfth or the first month according to the Chinese lunar calendar. A shaman chooses the date of celebration, on which young men, led by the shaman, dress up in their best clothes are tour nearby villages. When they pass a field, the shaman scatters rice into the field. The young men wave their long swords and hammers at copper trays, while an old man at the end of the line scatters rice powder. When they pass a field that is to be sowed, young men with male organs made of bamboo walk into the field and dance production dances. When they go to dance and sing in the square of a village, the villagers give them wine. The touring group of young men are expected to visit all villages of the tribe. This festival is a kind of fertility rite whose aim is to bring a good harvest based on the similarities between crop and human reproduction. In some communities, wood phalluses stand by houses to show a wish for more offspring. In the old days many ethnic groups in China had similar acts of worship; even now, traces of such activities remain in the festival os some southern groups. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

Apatani Society

In Apatani society men are technically of higher status than women. Both sexes share in chores and duties in the fields and home and with family affairs. Apatani woman have traditionally gathered both wild and kitchen garden vegetables, cooked, fetched water, pounded rice, cleaned the house, washed clothes and utensils, nursed and looked after infants and children, preparation of rice beer, ginning and spinning of cotton and other jobs associated with the house hold. In the fields, Apatani women carries out tasks like seedling growing, transplanting of rice and millet, weeding of fields and or the activities. In a home the family income is controlled by a woman. Men have traditionally hunted, plowed the fields and done the harvesting and now are expected to earn some income. [Source: Encyclopaedia of Scheduled Tribes in India: Five Volume by P. K. Mohanty, 2006, webindia123.com +/]

Slavery has traditionally been practiced by the Apatani but the Apatani were known for being generous towards their slaves. Rich men used to purchase slaves from neighboring tribes as well as their tribe for his security as well as help growing crops. He preferred slaves from his own tribe as it was more difficult for them to run away. Their masters provided them with some distant agriculture plots as well as a house and granary sites and even bore the cost of marriage ceremony, if they were faithful. But if the slaves were unfaithful or made trouble they were often sold to other masters. The children of slaves were attached to their master's house until they attained they grew up. Faithful child-slaves were nurtured like own children. +/

Apatani Traditions and Their Agricultural Society

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The traditional customs and practices of the Apatanis are crucial for maintaining sustainable system that exists today. The established system to approach any important issue of the society as voluntary groups is the foundation of these practices. This arrangement ensures participation of each member in community works and fosters strong sense of ownership. At a time when the world of social science is struggling with ways to mobilize community involvement in developmental works, the system followed at Ziro Valley has immense universal value.

“Practices of agro-forestry in Ziro valley with definite areas as grazing ground, sacred groves, plantations areas, etc. has helped optimal utilization of limited land to produce various resources while sustaining agriculture with improved yields. Such traditional ecological knowledge has special value in today’s world.

“Availability of irrigation water, making wet rice cultivation possible at Ziro, is due to efficient conservation of the forests around the valley, which forms the crucial watershed for the streamlets flowing down the fields. This is possible due to strict customary laws governing utilization of forest resource and hunting practices. Traditional reverence for nature play significant roles. Such practices are of immense value in a world where blatant exploitation of nature is a major concern.

“The traditional relations with fellow tribesmen of other villages (biiniiñ ajiñ) and with other neighboring tribes (manyañ) are unique among the Apatanis. Duties towards such relations are considered sacred. At a time when the world is seen to be falling apart and individualism threatens to break the fabric of the society, such veneration of human relations is of universal value.

Apatani Houses and Food

Apatani houses are constructed during the months of August to December with the help of clan members. Construction of a house begins with a feast of rice beer, meat and rice offered by the house owner. Then the building materials are procured. Usually wood is used. The height of a house is the house is four meters from the floor and the house itself and about two thirds of a meter off the ground. Houses are closely situated and often their roofs touch each other. The floor and walls are made of beaten bamboo tied with split cane. The house is usually completed within two days. After finishing the construction of the house, two minor rites involving the offerings of chickens is performed. These rites are performed to appease the god of house so that the house lasts a long time and the residents enjoy the prosperity and blessing of the gods. [Source: Encyclopaedia of Scheduled Tribes in India: Five Volume by P. K. Mohanty, 2006, webindia123.com]

Diets also vary in different localities. Staple foods are dumplings made of maize or millet flour, rice or buckwheat. In places near Tibetan communities people have zamba, potatoes, buttered tea and spicy food. People in the Talle Wildlife Sanctuary drink Talle Valley tea, made with black tea and dark rum, and Talle Valley chicken stomach mixed with egg and cooked in bamboo. The also eat banana tree blossoms. Apatani are especially fond of eating rats and squirrels and drinking rice beer. See Hunting Below

Michael Snyder wrote in the Washington Post: “Small freshwater fish... are either dried and fermented for chutneys or steamed in a hollow stalk of bamboo sealed with leaves and placed in the hot coals of an open fire. This preparation, called sudu, is also commonly used for chicken, liver, eggs and rice. Canny guides like Tajo and Koj — all highly attuned to global trends — will make a point of telling you that the food here is entirely local and organic, an understatement if ever I’ve heard one.” [Source: Michael Snyder, Washington Post November 14, 2013]

Apatani Settlements and Land Use

Michael Snyder wrote in the Washington Post: Unlike neighboring tribes that have long practiced a nomadic style of shifting cultivation (called jhum), the Apatani have been settled in the valley since their prehistoric migration from the north, giving them the opportunity to develop uniquely sophisticated agricultural and craft techniques. The wet paddies that line the valley floor, for instance, double as fisheries. [Source: Michael Snyder, Washington Post November 14, 2013]

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The Apatanis are known for their judicious utilization of limited land area that evolved out of century old experimentation. There are separate areas for human settlement, wet rice cultivation, dry cultivation, community burial grounds, pine and bamboo gardens, private plantations and community forests. It is an example of highly successful human adaptation mechanism to the rigor and constraints of upland regions and so of outstanding universal value. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“Traditional practices of harvesting forest resources of the tribal people, well known for its sustainability but fast dwindling in other parts of the world, are still seen among the Apatanis. Continued existence of strong customary laws and spiritual beliefs has kept these practices alive. While even stringent regulations often fail to enforce such practices, the Apatani traditions have not only helped man optimally harvest the resources in the forest, but also have helped their effective conservation. They are of universal value as they set examples of sustainable management of natural resources.

“The wet rice cultivation system at Ziro Valley is extensive, especially when compared to the surrounding tribal regions, where shifting cultivation is practiced. In spite of limited water resources the entire expanse of the cultivated area in the valley is well watered by a network of meticulously engineered irrigation channels. Such an ingenious traditional system sets valuable example, especially in the face of impending global warming and threats of water scarcity all over the world.

As a living cultural landscape, the Apatani civilization has proved itself capable of sustaining its core values even in the face of external influences in the past few decades. With increasing population, some satellite villages have come up. However, the overall landscape seen a century back is still maintained. Canopy cover of the mountain ridges around the valley has increased. The paddy fields are as placid as it was and so are the bamboo gardens. In addition to widening of traditional narrow streets, the old charm of the villages is intact. Characteristic socio-religious structures like lapañ, nago and babo are still the centers around which life revolves. Wherever there are adequate numbers of people from a particular clan, these structures are constructed even in newer villages.

“The traditional sustainable farming methods of the Apatanis are not only continued, but actually being strengthened. Use of animals or machines for farming elsewhere has not influenced the traditional manual farming. Bamboo and wooden agricultural implements are still used even while incorporating some metallic implements. Fertility of the soil is maintained by time-tested traditional methods without yielding to the temptations of trying chemical fertilizers. The needs for indigenously produced food grains in most customary practices and religious rituals have ensured continuation of traditional wet rice cultivation.

Apatani Marriage Process

Apatanis generally practice monogamy. Polygamy has traditionally been practiced when a man has no male child or his wife is barren or he is wealthy enough to provide sufficient food and shelter for all his wives and children and has the consent of the first wife. Polyandry system is totally unknown. The cross cousin marriage are discouraged. The Apatanis treat the wife of the elder brother as a second mother and the wife of the younger brother as their own sister. There are no age limits on Apatani marriages. Marriage is socially approved within the seven main Apatani villages according to class and economic status. Apatanis approve the remarriage of both widows and widowers. [Source: Encyclopaedia of Scheduled Tribes in India: Five Volume by P. K. Mohanty, 2006, webindia123.com +/]

Apatani marriages may be arranged by negotiations or occur by elopement or by capturing. Before the marriage negotiations, the boy's side must secretly check a chicken liver for omens before making any decision. The chicken omen is examined to see of the woman lead a fruitful life with children and prosperity. If the omen is favorable, two cousin brothers of the boy known as Gyunta go to the house of the girl's parents taking the favorable omen. The omen of the boy is carefully scrutinized by the parents of the girl who also examine a chicken liver for omens. If this omen is also favorable, the girl's parents arrange for a formal engagement.

After the preparation of rice beer and meat, the girl's parents inform the parents of the boy of the engagement. On this occasion, the boy along with his Gyunta go to the girl's house and the boy gives a Tibetan sword known as Chiri to the parents of the girl. This present represents a kind of betrothal in which he promises that she is his legal wife from that day forward. The girl's side gives a present of a locally produced cloth known as Mabo-pulye to the boy along with a feast and rice beer. After these formalities, if both the parents wish they may decide for the exchange of rice and mithun, a religious ritual known as Rutu Pini. The boy's side presents a half grown mithun (sido) to the parents of the girl. In return, the boy brings 70 to100 baskets of rice from the brides parent's and this rice is known as Arirutu.

The next day, there is a ceremony called Pyali Banii. On this occasion, the sisters of the bride bring small baskets containing varieties of rice for the bride and the groom. If the groom's parents wish, some small rites called Amohini are performed in the house of the groom. During that ceremony, pig a and fowls are sacrificed to the god and goddesses who bring life and prosperity to the bride-groom.

Apatani Hunting

Although the Apatani have traditionally been farmers they like to hunt in the forest and catch small game with traps, bows and slingshots. They don't like to spend the night in the forest because they are afraid of spirits called bhoots. [Source: Jesse Oak Taylor-Ide, National Geographic, September 2000]

Apatani are especially fond of eating rats and squirrels. Mountain rats are fat and big, and have fine and tasteful meat; therefore, they are regarded as a good dish to serve on important occasions such as a wedding ceremony. There are various ways of catching mountain rats: slate crashing, crossbow shooting, and trapping. Sometimes, a family has its own exclusive region for rats hunting. They burn the hair of the rats caught, and cook them for a meal. If there are too many rats, they dry them, store them and eat them later. ~

The rats are skewered on bamboo slivers and cooked over an open fire. The hair burns and the skin bubbles. The skin is carved off and served. The meat reportedly has a gamely flavor that taste somewhat like squirrel but varies depending on what the rats eat. One man told National Geographic, "When the old people eat rats they leave nothing. Rats like these are not found outside Talle. People walk for days just to eat them. For me, I prefer not to eat the skull, but its brain I do take."

The Apatani used to hunt tigers and leopards with spears made of poisonous bamboo but stopped doing so in 1975 out of respect to the cats. One Apatani told National Geographic, "The tiger is the brother of the human being. To kill a tiger is equal to murder...to kill any cats is a serious offense. The Apatani always cut the head off a snake they kill and bury it. If they don’t they believe the snake will come back and get them.”

Mishmi Tribe

The Mishmi are a tribal people related to—or possible the same as—the Deng in Tibet. They are also related to the Apatani. The Mishmi live mainly in the hilly districts on northeastern side of central Arunachal Pradesh mostly in the Lohit, Upper Dibang Valley and Lower Dibang Valley districts. The Mishmi can be broadly divided into three major groups based on their geographical location: 1) the Idus or Chulikatas, 2) Digarus or Taroan and 3) Mijus or Kaman. [Source: indianetzone.com, November 4, 2014 ***]

The Idu Mishmi tribes are, in the first place, mainly found in the Upper Dibang Valley district and also in few parts of the northern parts of Lohit district of Arunachal. Taraon, as known as Digaru Mishmi amongst the localites, are dispersed in the mountains. A few Idu Mishmi tribes are also found in the foothills provinces situated in between Digaru and the Lohit rivers. Kamans, better known as the Miju Mishmi, reside in the foothill region between the Lohit and the Kambang rivers. In the Mishmi Hills, Idu Mishmi tribes are found on both sides of the Lohit River, stretching up to the Rima frontiers. ***

Most Mishmi are farmers. In the past and some degree today they practiced shifting slash-and-burn agriculture. Mishmi women are known for their expertise in weaving, making excellent coats and blouses. Several Mishmi tribes have achieved success in the timber trading. In the past they were known as hunters and traders of products such as 'deer -musk', 'wild medicinal plants', 'animal skins' and 'Mishimi - tita'. ***

The Miju Mishmi tribes are believed to be one of the last group of the emigrants to settle in the area where they live today.. The Miju Mishmis practice a shamanistic tribal religion. They enjoy music and dance and have numerous festivals and fairs. Different tribal group have adopted their own individual style of clothes. Amongst their festivals, the Reh festival is the most important one, which is aimed at appeasing heavenly gods and goddesses in charge of the peace and prosperity of the people of Earth. Different types of funeral ceremonies are conducted depending on the group and social status of the decease but generally includes an Igu priest who recites lamenting songs in memory of the dead person. ***

Idu Mishmi Ritual Dance

The Idu Mishmis have a ritual-dance and a fertility-dance performed by male and female priest-shaman during the Ai-ah, Ai-him, Mesalah and Rren ceremonies. The fertility-dance is performed on the last day of the Rren ceremony. There is no definite myth about the origin these dances. According to local tradition they were first performed at a funeral ceremony by a priest-shaman named Chineuhu and his brother Ahihiuh. The priest generally does not demand any money for his services, but the person who hires him usually remunerates him according to his ability. The remuneration may be paid the form of a handloom coat, brass utensils or pigs. [Source: Encyclopaedia of Scheduled Tribes in India: Five Volume by P. K. Mohanty, 2006, webindia123.com +/]

In addition to the priest, there are three or four other dancers who are selected from amongst the spectators. The usual of the priest dress consists of a loin-cloth, a short-sleeved coat, a sword slung on the right side, a leather bag slung on the left side, and a few bead-necklaces and special articles such as an apron with particular designs, a head-band decorated with two or three rows of cowries, a necklace studded with the teeth of tigers and bears and a few metal bells. A priestess wears the same special articles in addition to the usual Mishmi woman's dress of a skirt, a long sleeved coat and bead-necklaces. The priestess is generally accompanied by female dancers. The accompanying dancers wear usual clothes. +/

The dancers stand in a line, the priest is second either from the right or left. During the dance, one dancer standing at one end of the line plays a small drum slung from his neck. The priest and the other two dancers play a very small semi-globular single-membrane drum, striking it with a bamboo-stick which is kept tied to the drum with a string. The fifth dancer, if any, plays a horn. When there are five dancers, the priest stands in the middle of the line. He sings a line of an invocation song while the others play the musical instruments, flexing their knees, bobbing up and down and alternately raising their right and left heels and stamping them on the ground in time to the drum-beats. When the priest finishes singing the line, others repeat it in chorus. Again the priest sings another line of the song which the others repeat in chorus and thus it goes on. +/

After a prelude of flexing the knees and stamping the heels, the dancers place one foot forward and immediately bring the other up beside it. After each step, they flex their knees. Thus, they dance forward to the accompaniment of drumbeats and the invocation song. When they have danced forward for some distance, they dance backward with the same movement. Thus they dance moving forward and backward. Sometimes they break away from the line formation and the four dancers standing in the four corners sing an invocation song, play their musical instruments and dance flexing the knees and raising the right and left heel alternately and stamping these on the ground. Now and then they change positions dancing all the time but facing inward. Sometimes they dance in a circle following one another with tripping steps. In another movement, they dance sideways either in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. They stand in a semi-circle and in the anti-clockwise movement, they take one step with the right foot to the right and immediately bring the left foot beside the right one. Thus they dance in a circle, flexing the knees after each step. +/

Tourism in the Ziro Valley

Michael Snyder wrote in the Washington Post: ““In the last weeks of September, the monsoon rains had largely receded, but elephantine clouds continued to pour over the hillsides, drifting close overhead and dropping dramatic shadows across the golden paddies carpeting the valley floor. Cupped like so much still water in the upraised hands of the Himalayas, the Ziro Valley had returned, once again, to its customary quiet. [Source: Michael Snyder, Washington Post November 14, 2013]

“Over the previous three days, the second Ziro Festival of Music — one of the newest additions to India’s rapidly expanding festival circuit — had brought some 1,200 people to the valley. They’d traveled from across the neighboring Seven Sister states of the remote northeast, and from India’s big cities, to Arunachal Pradesh, the sparsely populated hill state that bursts from the plains and tea plantations of Assam and rises toward the Tibetan plateau.

“I arrived by road from Guwahati, the nearest major city with an airport. The drive — I would describe it as harrowing, but that seems like an exaggeration, albeit a mild one — took 18 hours, beginning along the flat banks of the Brahmaputra River and continuing, in its final 60 miles, along pockmarked switchbacks that hugged the contours of the hillsides as they rose through subtropical jungle toward the gentle alpine hills that enclose Ziro.

“In about four hours, you can walk the road that loops between the villages skirting the edge of the valley floor, and in a day or so you can complete the trail through the dense forest just above. You can linger in the villages themselves, walking beneath the tall ceremonial wooden masts known as babos left from the myoko festival held every March — part of the prevailing sun-and-moon worship tradition — and past old women sifting millet and rice on their front porches. In all this you’ll find no “must-sees” or “must-dos”; Ziro resists imperatives.

“At the Government Craft Emporium, housed in a creaky colonial bungalow in the village of Salang, craftspeople from the surrounding region receive stipends to come here and improve their skills, weaving the traditional geometric shawls and gales (a type of sarong) of the Apatani, Nyishi and Adi tribes. Wander through the compound, and you’ll see a woman from the Buddhist Monpa tribe in the state’s northwest tying small woolen carpets, a blacksmith crafting tribal machetes and a carpenter fashioning all manner of objects out of bamboo. Some of these craftsmen stay permanently at the center, while others return to their home villages to pass the skill along. At the Emporium store, the final products are sold at shockingly low prices, as little as 450 rupees (about $7) for a handwoven gale.

“On my last evening, after a brief sunset hike into the forest between Hong and Hari villages, Tajo and I stopped at a house to sample another brew of rice beer and a potent (though barely potable) distilled rice liquor. We ate skewers of beef taken straight from the smoking rack and thrown into the coals.”

Hanging with the Apatani in the Ziro Valley

Michael Snyder wrote in the Washington Post: “Shri Buga Bullo and his wife, Yagyang, live in a village called Hong. Inside their home, the tightly woven bamboo walls blocked out the brilliant sun that had warmed the Ziro Valley to an unusually hot 90 degrees. Like all traditional houses here, the Bullos’s home centers on a communal fireplace and a hanging three-tiered rack that held skewers of drying meat, firewood and, on top, a massive sheet of fat and skin from a pig, petrified and preserved over decades (literally) by the constant smoke from the fire below. Like the dozens of horned mithun skulls stacked in the corner (mithun is an indigenous, semi-domesticated bull), collected from ceremonial sacrifices performed over many years, the slab of fat is a sign of prosperity. [Source: Michael Snyder, Washington Post November 14, 2013]

“Buga crouched on one side of the fire with a century-old silver pipe clamped between his withered lips and chatted in the local Apatani dialect with Tajo Michi, who has led tours around the northeast for the past nine years. (He goes by Christopher for the convenience of foreign tourists, and for the past two years has run his own agency, Northeast Holiday Tour & Travels.) On the far side of the fire, Yagyang prepared a metal pitcher of rice beer, a milky, sweet-sour drink brewed in nearly every house in the valley.

“As Tajo, Koj and I drank our rice beer, Buga stood — bent forward nearly 90 degrees, his topknot held at his forehead by a long reed — to retrieve a jar of Apatani salt for us to eat along with the drink. The fine black powder is made from the evaporated liquids pressed out of a locally grown grass. It’s vegetal, briny flavor, infused with the metallic tang of iodine, gives the final kick to a local delicacy known as pike pilla, a simple stew made from smoked pork or mithun skin...At another house, we ate fish sudu and hot chutneys, and at the end of the night, we returned to my own home-stay in a traditional bamboo house back in Hong... I fell fast asleep on a stiff bamboo pallet to the conspicuous sound of absolutely nothing.

Raga: Home of the Nyishi Tribe

Michael Snyder wrote in the Washington Post: “Follow the single road that heads north out of Ziro, first climbing through pine forest before dropping suddenly into a deeper valley lush with bananas and primeval fern trees, and you enter an entirely different tribal zone, with different styles of housing, different festivals, a different language. “There’s nothing to see here,” Tajo Nido (another Tajo) told me a day later. We sat on the porch of his aunt’s bamboo hut, built on stilts on a forested hillside looking out over the crests of the surrounding mountains and the sparse wooden and bamboo houses that make up the village of Raga. Home makes us blind. [Source: Michael Snyder, Washington Post November 14, 2013]

“But then, of course, Tajo is right to some extent: There really isn’t anything to see in Raga, if we’re using “see” to mean “do.” Two hours north of Ziro, Raga sits at a lower elevation, but from its hilltop perch, it overlooks the surrounding range of mountains, the kind that hint at higher ones just over the next ragged line embossed upon the sky. The few visitors who pass through here usually do so en route to the town of Daporijo, in the neighboring district of Upper Subansiri. I myself came here for no particular reason, save for the fact that I didn’t have quite enough time to go anywhere else and wanted, after five days in Ziro, to see something of Arunachal’s diversity.

“The Nyishi tribe living just outside Ziro bears certain similarities to the Apatani: Both tribes, like many in Arunachal’s central swath, are still primarily animist (although the recent arrival of missionaries from the evangelical state of Mizoram to the south has begun to change that); both tribes subsist almost entirely on agriculture; both tribes prepare food using similar ingredients, though the Nyishi make greater use of tropical plants such as banana flower and lack ingredients such as Apatani salt. Yet the structure of the place, the style of the houses, the character of the people and, of course, the landscape, lends Raga an entirely different personality.

“If Ziro has minimal infrastructure for visitors, then Raga has none. The people who took me around did so out of generosity, a special trait that, throughout the largely unvisited northeast, remains remarkably untainted by the cynicism that can at times make traveling in other parts of India so frustrating.

“I spent my first evening in Raga at Tajo’s home near the market in the town center, where the next day I would sample another homemade rice brew in a ramshackle house near a mechanic’s garage. At the family home, Tajo’s stepmother poured us fresh millet wine, sweet and warm and only beginning its fermentation. I used a machete to help Tajo gut the small fish that had come in that day from Ziro, and narrowly avoided losing my left hand.

“The next evening, Topu Banor, the 19-year-old son of a local folk musician, took me on a short walk from the Circuit House (a simple government accommodation opened only on days when visitors come through, and usually reserved for local dignitaries) to the top of the hill overlooking the town. We walked in the waning afternoon along a muddy road built a couple of years earlier with government funds, Topu told me, but neither completed nor put into use.

“It’s a typical story of negligence that reflects Arunachal’s ongoing battle against its almost impossible topography and immense distance from India’s centers of power. It also reflects the sense of alienation that remains, also kind of miraculously, tempered by the delirious optimism that has become India’s trademark in the 21st century. “In five years, Raga will be a developed town,” Topu boasted. Perhaps. Time, too, tends to be flexible out here.

“As we neared the top of the hill, the clouds and mist so typical in the Land of Dawn-Lit Mountains (the almost too poetic translation of Arunachal Pradesh) had lowered over the faces of the hills, like the cataracts beginning to creep over Buga Bullo’s ageless eyes. Drops of water left the tall grasses along the roadside wet as Topu led me toward a small field on the final rise, stubbled with corn stalks. “You haven’t been here, no?” he asked. “No,” I said, as he pushed forward through the damp grass. In the previous days, I had seen places and views that were more perfect, more calming in their pastoral beauty, yet looking out again over a hallucinogenic swirl of hills and clouds and forest, fading through gray toward purple-black night, I couldn’t dispute what he said next as he led the way forward with a small, bashful laugh: “Come. I will show you heaven.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website (incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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