The Mioko Festival of the Apatanis of Arunachal Pradesh is dedicated to prayer. Appeasing all the spirits, good and bad, the mortals strive to ensure a happy and prosperous life
Oh! Egg, of mighty egg
indicate to us the omen
so that we may celebrate Mioko
let us know
do let us
know if you are happy.
Holding thus an egg or a small fowl, the priest, called the nyibu, examines it for the right omens. Hours may pass; days may pass, but the omens appear only when they choose to. With the right omens appearing, there is great rejoicement in the village. The Apatani people are all set to celebrate their annual festival, Mioko. This is a festival that is celebrated only to offer prayers to all the spirits, good and bad, that surround the people of this tribe of Arunachal Pradesh.
Over the hills and into the jungles go the Apatanis to find the right omens. They are on a hunt for a red monkey. The nyibu goes with them chanting rhythmically:
The chant is actually a warding away of the bad spirits. Praying to the good spirits, the nyibu says: Bad spirits should not come our way for then we would not get the monkey we need for our festival and, therefore, we would not be able to celebrate Mioko.
It is great rejoicement and exhilaration when the red monkey has been killed. The respected old people of the village get to taste the monkey meat, while the hunters are treated like heroes. Apong, the local brew, flows like water; meat and rice are served in plenty as all the villagers sit together and as night falls, talk of their heroic deeds in the jungle. For during the festival, nobody is expected to work. It is time for merry-making and relaxation.
It takes one month to complete all the rituals and preparations for Mioko. One of the major activities is to share. Groups hunt together and gift the head of the animal they have hunted to the neighbouring tribe which helps them if they are in trouble. Meat is sent to neighbouring villages and to friends. Generally, the spirit is one of caring and sharing. Finally, one day the priest in his regalia emerges from his house chanting:
Yato diwoo ka sakhri
mi kra samami panyo bilike
(Now the people have started celebrating Mioko
Oh deities, come and accept their offering).
Generally timed at the beginning of the cultivation season, the deities invited are the entire pantheon with special emphasis on Kiriliyari, the deity associated with the earth. The women of the house bring apong to the nyibu as well as rice powder. He distributes them to those who come for the festivities. Rice powder symbolises fertility. In it are contained prayers for a good crop, for many children and for a prosperous life hereafter.
The festival is flagged off by a particular family. On the evening of the first day, the priest sits in a corner of the house of that family and begins his chants. The prayers continue till late into the night. A fire is lit with split bamboos and this fire burns as long as the Mioko is celebrated. The rice cooked here is distributed to the entire village. And it is this that decides which family flags off the festival: Financial capability. All other members of the village sit around and hear the chanting.
On the second day, villagers go to the neighbouring villages and invite friends and relatives to their village to celebrate. There is dance and merry-making while the priest chants and satisfies the spirits. Sacrifices are made for the past month now. A crescendo is reached. As joy turns everybody heady, the priest offers yet another fervent prayer: Rilang, talila zila kezu kazu lo
(We are going to enjoy the occasion. May God bless and make our grand merry-making a success)
And every year year after year God hears their prayers.