Culture

The Apatani At Ground Ziro

A look at the signature practices of construction, agriculture and cuisine of Apatani, a prominent tribe of Ziro valley in Arunachal Pradesh.

The Apatani at ground Ziro. Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri/PARI

The Apatani at ground Ziro. Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri/PARI

The Apatani of Ziro valley in Arunachal Pradesh – one of 26 major tribes in the region – are a remarkably distinctive group. Their traditions of architecture, agriculture, body decorations, food and oral history are all signature practices.

At an altitude of 1,500-plus metres, Ziro town, around 150 kilometres from Itanagar, is the headquarters of Lower Subansiri district. Around 26,000 Apatani live in the region, estimates an official of Ngunu Ziro, a local non-governmental organisation.

In January, I stayed for a few days with an Apatani family in Hong basti (village) in Ziro.

A Hong home of bamboos, built on wooden stilts.

A Hong home of bamboos, built on wooden stilts. Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri/PARI

Hibyu Era, around 90, of Hong village, with the traditional tattoo marks of the Apatani tribe on her nose, forehead and chin. Women of the Apatani tribe wear distinctive nose plugs called yapping hurlo – these are a rite of passage marking an advent into adulthood. The practice, along with their dark facial tattoos, says Narang Yamang, an Apatani community worker, originated as a deterrent – during raids by rival tribes, women were kidnapped and never seen again. The nose rings and the tattoos, says Narang, were meant “to make us look less appealing (to the raiders).” These body alterations are a fading ritual that has not been practiced since 1970.

Hibyu Era, around 90, of Hong village, with the traditional tattoo marks of the Apatani tribe on her nose, forehead and chin. Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri/PARI

Women of the Apatani tribe wear distinctive nose plugs called yapping hurlo – these are a rite of passage marking an advent into adulthood. The practice, along with their dark facial tattoos, says Narang Yamang, an Apatani community worker, originated as a deterrent – during raids by rival tribes, women were kidnapped and never seen again. The nose rings and the tattoos, says Yamang, were meant “to make us look less appealing [to the raiders].” These body alterations are a fading ritual that has not been practiced since 1970.

Hibyu Tag, 90-plus, probably the oldest woman (ane in Apatani) in the community, lives in this basic bamboo hut in Hong. Most of the houses here are similar, traditional structures built on top of vertical stilts.

Hibyu Tag, 90-plus, probably the oldest woman (ane in Apatani) in the community, lives in this basic bamboo hut in Hong. Most of the houses here are similar, traditional structures built on top of vertical stilts. Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri/PARI

Tallo Tani displays a traditional sword, carried by every male of the Apatani community. Each family has 8-10 such swords, which are given to their sons-in-law as dowry.

Tallo Tani displays a traditional sword, carried by every male of the Apatani community. Each family has eight to ten such swords, which are given to their sons-in-law as dowry. Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri/PARI

Tallo, an Apatani hunter, with a gun. Hunting is a cultural practice, and the Apatani hunt various wild animals including barking deer, wild pigs and birds - for subsistence, commercial purposes and medicine, according to a 2013 study. But this has by now endangered the survival of some of these species.

Tallo, an Apatani hunter, with a gun. Hunting is a cultural practice, and the Apatani hunt various wild animals including barking deer, wild pigs and birds – for subsistence, commercial purposes and medicine, according to a 2013 study. But this has by now endangered the survival of some of these species. Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri/PARI

Takelimu, a nine year old old Apatani girl (in blue jacket) playing inside a broken auto in Hong village.

Takelimu, a nine year old old Apatani girl (in blue jacket) playing inside a broken auto in Hong village. Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri/PARI

Hibyu Ayum cultivates rice according to traditional processes from June to September. Due to the Apatani’s unique fish farming and sustainable agricultural techniques, Ziro was nominated as a UNESCO world heritage site in April 2014.

Hibyu Ayum cultivates rice according to traditional processes from June to September. Due to the Apatani’s unique fish farming and sustainable agricultural techniques, Ziro was nominated as a UNESCO world heritage site in April 2014. Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri/PARI

Traditional cultivation starts in June every year

Traditional cultivation starts in June every year. Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri/PARI

Narang Tam and Yamang’s house – I stayed here for two nights, and they served traditional Apatani food – rice is the main item in their meals, and is usually accompanied by meat (pork, chicken, rat) and other delicacies.

Narang Tam and Yamang’s house – I stayed here for two nights, and they served traditional Apatani food – rice is the main item in their meals, and is usually accompanied by meat (pork, chicken, rat) and other delicacies. Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri/PARI

The Apatani usually greet guests with traditional homemade rice beer along with a special salt called tapyo, which is made at home with the ashes of indigenous plants

The Apatani usually greet guests with traditional homemade rice beer along with a special salt called tapyo, which is made at home with the ashes of indigenous plants. Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri/PARI

Rats are commonly consumed by the Apatani, and are sold at Rs. 250 a kilo in the local market

Rats are commonly consumed by the Apatani, and are sold at Rs 250 a kilo in the local market. Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri/PARI

Narang Yamang, the community worker (gamburi in the Apatani language), wears strings of traditional beads around her neck

Narang Yamang, the community worker (gamburi in the Apatani language), wears strings of traditional beads around her neck. Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri/PARI

Forested areas around the paddy fields of Hong

Forested areas around the paddy fields of Hong. Credit: Tanmoy Bhaduri/PARI

Tanmoy Bhaduri is a Kolkata-based independent photojournalist who focuses on social, cultural and environmental issues.

This article was originally published in the  People’s Archive of Rural India on February 13, 2017.