On A Tribal Trail

, Breathe

‘Arunachal Pradesh is a land inhabited by as many as 26 major and about a 100 subtribes’

Landing in Guwahati and hitting the road for Itanagar was a perfect prelude to the land of surreal natural beauty and diverse landscapes, Arunachal Pradesh. The largest of the Northeastern states, Arunachal is a picturesque state with almost 82 per cent of its area being covered with evergreen forests. Matching its unique biodiversity is interestingly, the ethnic and cultural multiplicity of the state, given the fact that it is a land inhabited by as many as 26 major and about a 100 sub tribes. Each tribe is highly individualistic and all of them cherish their unique customs and rituals.


The first stop on our tribal trail was the quaint village of Chullyu about 85 km from Itanagar. Largely inhabited by the Nyishis, this village is famous for its organic farming practices. Nyishis are the most populous tribe in the state and are known for their physical prowess and sturdy body structure. Polygyny was a common practice during the yesteryears within this tribe.

The men wear a cane helmet, which is adorned on top by the horn of the great Indian hornbill. However, strict wildlife protection laws make it tough to procure these beaks now. Women folk are also known for their elaborate jewellery. Nyishis celebrate festivals like NyokumYullo, Boori Yullo and Longte Yullo, all of which perpetuate worshipping the Gods for protection against evil spirits and for the well-being of the community.


About 50 kms from Chullyu lies the famed Ziro Valley, which is the land of the Apatanis and a proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site. These tribals are known for their ingenious and innovative agricultural practices, which includes cultivating rice along with rearing fish. A major ethnic tribe of the state, Apatanishave a vast knowledge when it comes to ecological preservation and conservation of natural resources.

The large nose plugs and facial tattoos, which are a characteristic trait of Apatani women, has a unique back story too. It is said that Apatani women were very beautiful and hence were often abducted by the men of neighbouring tribes. In order to stop this, the elder Apatani men forced young girls to wear nose plugs and tattoos to make them look less appealing.The ‘shaman’ or the priest of the Apatani tribe is a key member and is known to prescribe ‘remedies’ for the problems of the Apatanis who consult him. He is believed to have intuitive powers and is able to ‘visualise solutions’ by slicing an egg into two using the hair of a wild boar. Like other tribes, Apatanis also have their own traditional attires, song and dance. Their main festivals include Dree (also spelt Drii) and Myoko, both of which are celebrated for welfare, fertility and prosperity and are associated with animal sacrifice.

Travelling close to 200 kms from Ziro to Bora Rupak village in Upper Subansiri district took us to the land of the Galos who are mainly into rice cultivation though hunting was a traditional occupation during the yesteryears. A striking feature of a Galo home are the hunting spoils in the form of wild boar teeth, skulls, horns etc. Do not miss the bevy of handmade baskets in a Galo home, which serve a wide variety of purposes, right from sheltering livestock to harvesting rice. Mopin is a major festival celebrated for the welfare of the community and falls annually in April. Women dressed up in traditional attire with rice flour smeared over their faces is a common sight during the festivities.


The little village of Jamlo Mongku, about 150 kms from Bora Rupak, is home to the Adi tribe. Yet another major tribe, the Adis are mainly found in the hilly areas of districts like East Siang, Upper Siang, Lohit and Namsai. Women wear traditional, colourful skirts known as Gale that they weave themselves. Locally brewed rice beer called Apong is a favourite and the tribe has a rich culture of song and dance. Solung, a harvest festival celebrated in September, as well as the Tapo aka war dance performed by the tribe are some highlights that are truly fascinating.

Tai Khamti Dance

The Tai Khamti dance “Ka Poong Tai” is one of the main dramatic art form of the Tai Khamtis. Unlike many forms of traditional Arunachali dance, the Khamti dance is a dance drama, expressively and elegantly reflect the rich culture of the Khamti Buddhist here.

Words: Rashmi Gopal Rao

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