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Apa-Tanis People of The Dawn-Lit Mountains

The Apatanis believe they are the descendants of the primeval man on earth. Worshipping the sun and the moon, they pray for better yields of their crops. Their prayers seem to have been answered for they are skilled farmers who have made prayers seem to have been answered for they are skilled farmers who have made their lush green valley famous for wet rice cultivation.

Flanked by the Daffla and Mikis hills, the exotic land of Lower Subansiri lies at the bottom of a basin covered with perennial green forest in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. The inhabitants of this region, one of the major twenty tribes of the state, are known as Apatanis, because of which the area is popularly called the ‘Apatani Valley’. Through this valley flows the Subansiri river, a tributary of the mighty Brahmaputra of Tsang-po coming all the way from Tibet.

The valley, located in the tropical rain forest region, receives plenty of rainfall throughout the year, making it highly fertile. It is also the second largest populated district of the state, the township of ziro being its headquarters.

Undulating roads, serpentine alleys and narrow lanes crisscross this densely inhabited town where about a thousand houses huddle around a central market place. Being secluded by mountainous terrain and dense forest, the heart beat of ziro pulsates at a relaxed and tranquil rhythm. Few vehicles are seen on the road as petrol is scarce. The market square is a kaleidoscope of various tribal people visiting from far away places, wearing colourful dresses and speaking different dialects. Mixed in the crowd one may find a hunter of the Nisi tribe wearing porcupine quills on the forelock and puffing at his bamboo pipe; he has for sale a full bear skin with the head and claws intact. Sitting nearby, his wife sells medicinal herbs that would cure almost any ailment. Elsewhere a street juggler in a black cloak and feather cap performs astounding tricks keeping the spectators spellbound. But the face in the crowd that attracts one’s attention is that of a stylish tribal chief in a leopard skin jacket. He carries a vintage sword in a leather sheath fastened to his belt and his cane woven cap displays the feathers and beaks of a hornbill.

The Apatanis believe that they are the descendants of Abo-Tani the primeval man on earth. Their religion is called Donyi-Polo( the sun and the moon ) which are their main deities.

Skilled farmers, they have made the lush green Apatani valley famous for successful wet rice cultivation that gives the district a stable economy for successful wet rice cultivation that gives the district a stable economy. In fact the Subansiri region is also the principal rice bowl of the state. Like the hill women elsewhere, Apatani women too are very hard working and do agricultural in addition to the daily domestic chores. Thus in their society the women hold positions of authority and respect. Almost every village home has a weaver’s loom where the women work in their spare time. The rich colours of the region are reflected in the woven fabrics-shawls, carpets and dress materials made of cotton r wool.

Apatanis are fond of bright colourful dresses and ornaments. Elderly women wear tattoo marks on the nose and the chin; silvers of cane, usually coloured black, are pierced through the nostrils giving them a rather queer appearance. It is a tradition dating back to the olden days of tribal feuds and skirmishes when abducting a beautiful Apatani damsel was considered an act of valour. A disfigured beauty was less likely to attract the captor, so the young girls used to camouflage their graceful looks in this fashion. However, the practice has since become obsolete and modern girls no longer observe this custom. Smartly dressed in a blouse and skiri, they loam about freely, like colourful butterflies. Expert in farming, the Apatanis are also skilled pisciculturists and cattle breeders. Fish are bred in the paddy fields hich remain water logged for several months. Some variety of fast rowing fish freely develop in such shallow water. Cattle stock includes the Mithun or bos frontalis – a cross bred animal between the yak and cow, which exists both in the wild and semi- domesticated forms. This animal has a religious significance for the people. Traditionally, the Mthun was considered a symbol of wealth and was allowed to roam freely in the jungles till it was used either for barter or for food.

The villagers live in dainty cottages made of wood and bamboo which grows in abundance. On both sides of the straight village roads are slanting thatched bamboo roofs, all similar in style and design. Cement, steel, screws and nails are rare and expensive so cane is extensively used for binding the wooden planks and bamboos together. The ground floors of these double storeyed houses are used for cattle, poultry and piggery while the first floors are used as the residences.

Spring is the most enchanting season in the Subansiri valley. Flowers blossom in every tree and nature is in all her colourful splendour. It is the festive time when the Apatanis celebarate the ten days of Myoko, their favourite festival heralding the advent of spring. The days festivity are decided by the village priest in accordance with a particular conjunction of the sun and the moon (Donyipolo).

During the festival days, every house is cleaned and decorated. The alleys are adorned with decorative lanterns and wooden platforms are erected on the central square of the village as well as at other prominent places. Clad in his most impressive robes, the village priest sits on the platform and performs the impressive robes, the village priest sits on the platform and performs the religious rites. Holding burning incense in his hand, he chants the prayers, invoking the gods. He seeks the blessings of Dnyi-Polo for the wellbeing and

Happiness of the devotees, for a better yield of crops and protection animals from natural calamities animals from natural calamities. The sacred offering which includes potfuls of apong( rice beer) and rice flour are kept nearby. A garlanded bullock or Mithun is kept tied to the altar to be sacrificed at the end of the several days of festivity.

The religious offerings are distributed among relatives, friends and neighbours by elderly women wearing traditional dresses and ornaments. In the evening, lanterns are lit and men, women and children in clourful attires throng the streets and balconies of their bamboo houses. People visit each other exchanging greetings and pleasantries.

Apong is served and taken with boiled eggs and black rock salt. Throughout the night the surrounding hills resound with their laughter, songs and merry making until the next day dawns and the sun god once again peeps over, the land of the dawn-lit mountains- abode of the Abo-Tanis.