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The Land of Biodivinity

Arunachal Pradesh, in north-eastern India, is home to many indigenous communities. The state is endowed with rich natural and cultural heritage embedded in the centuries old traditions of the ethnic peoples, which uniquely connect their lifestyles and spirituality with nature.

Rural demography of Akas

Adi women presenting their traditional dance

Rural demography of Apatanis

Wetland cultivation of Apatanis

The beautiful Chillipam Monastery

Beauty of Lower Subansiri

The Habitat
These communities live in difficult terrains of five prominent river basins - Lohit, Dibang, Siang, Subansiri, Kameng. Their way of life is integrally linked to the dense forest cover of the state, the rivers, and the local biodiversity. They are completely dependent on the natural resources, and thus venerate nature.
This co-existence with nature manifests in their architecture, food, dress, faith, rituals, and festivals. They nurture the richness of their natural habitats, and conserve and protect nature through their indigenous knowledge and spiritual wisdom of Bio-divinity.

Baskrty of Galos

Preparation of rice by Galos

Idu women sitting around a central hearth

Khampti man barbequing river fish

Ritualistic procession of Khamptis

Miji women in their traditional attire

The architecture of the indigenous peoples of Arunachal is diverse and unique to a region. Most communities have the knowledge and skills of construction using local bamboo, wood, and leaves that are collected from the forest and processed over a period of time. All the communities carry an enormous ancestral understanding of different plant species, natural ways of processing those for durability and strength.
The Miju Mishmi community traditionally live in joint families inside long houses . They have multiple fire hearths for cooking, separating each household living there. However, it is a dying tradition today.
Another unique case of traditional architecture is that of the Apatanis. They are well-known for the architecture and design of their villages which are considered most sustainable. A traditional Apatani village is always surrounded by agricultural lands, forests, and mountains, making their village the core of the ecosystem. The Apatani community's granaries encircle their village houses. Along with these storehouses there are thickets of culturally valued plant species and bamboo groves. These are called the 'sacred groves', and are revered and preserved by them, through generations.
Since the age-old times the Apatanis have continued their practice of systematic land use, indigenous wet rice cultivation and pisciculture in the same fields, and conservation of natural resources.

Traditional Adi house

Traditional house of Galos

Traditional hose of Tai-Khampti community

Traditional Miji house

Traditional house of Monpas

Use of Bamboo and Cane
Bamboo, of various species is the most used natural resource by all the ethnic communities of Arunachal. This is owing to the abundance of bamboo trees in its forests. An iconic element of Apatani architecture is their typical bamboo fencing used in village houses. All communities make their regular utilities out of bamboo and cane including baskets, fishing nets and different types of containers.

They even cook with bamboo tubes. Seen here is a Tangsa man preparing their traditional food including rice, meat, fish, all being cooked inside fresh bamboo tubes directly placed on fire. They boil rice inside bamboo tube and cut into pieces for consumption. All communities have their unique cuisine which mostly involves boiling, smoking, roasting. The diet of the ethnic communities consists of different types of local vegetables which are either cultivated or collected from the forests consisted of various roots and plant materials along with meat and fish.
Meat of Mithun, a semi-domesticated cattle of this region, is a favourite!
Liquor, locally called 'Apong', is loved and consumed daily, made from fermented rice or millet.
The traditional cooking hearths of the indigenous communities are found in the centre of their living rooms. These fire hearths are always alive keeping the household warm. The hearth is also the place around which the family members gather to chat, eat, and relax. Although these communities have modern kitchens and gadgets now, they maintain their traditional fire hearth in every house, which is intrinsic to their culture and way of life.

Traditional Aka food platter

Galo traditional food platter

Memba food platter

Miji smoking meat over naked flame

Sherdukpen traditional food platter

Tagin traditional food

Specialities in Food
Some communities such as the Tangsas and Singphos are indigenous bamboo tea makers. It is one of the most fascinating practices that they actively continue till date.
The Singphos are the original tea-makers in India, who introduced it to the British. Like smoked bamboo tea, there are other specialities in food that are found only in Arunachal in India.

Apatani women have their indigenous salt wrapped in leaves, which they have been making from a local wild grass for generations.
The Khampti community has a traditional fresh fish soup called 'Paa Sa'. It is a special dish, and a unique example of slow cooking and sustainable food.

The Memba community has a unique hand operated technology of making their own noodles from a local grain, which is a delicacy.
‘Rangbang’ is a very important dish and a staple diet of the Puroik community. It is made from the Sago palm trees that grow abundantly in the forests. Food is prepared by adding hot water to the flour and stirring it vigorously until the mixture coagulates to form a thick paste. It is popularly known as a famine food as it helps communities survive when bad weather or disasters isolate the communities from supply chains.
‘Churpi’ or home-made cheese from Yak's milk, seen here, is a regular item in Monpa cuisine. They get the Yak milk products like butter, and cheese, from the Brokpa community which breeds Yaks in high altitudes.

All the ethnic people have rich traditions of loin loom or back-strap loom weaving. Every community has distinctive designs, patterns and colour schemes that are unique to their cultural and social identities.

Backstrap loom of Adis

Backstrap loom of Akas

Traditional white jacket of Bugun women embroidered with colorful motifs

Colorful textile of Idu Mishmis

Colorful geometrical design cloth of Sherdukpens

Backstrap loom of Tagins

Indigenous Technology
Similar to the ingenious traditional technologies of noodle-making, or loin looms, some of the communities are known for their age-old knowledge and use of simple water wheels to generate hydro energy mainly for agrarian work.
Monpas use 'Chuskor', a traditional grinding mill for maize, millet etc. They are constructed near or above a water source. Water is led from the source via a channel extending towards the mill house through a hollow tree trunk called 'Chor' or 'Chorong'.

Faith and Rituals
Evidently, the deep interdependency of man and nature in these cultures has found expressions in their faith and rituals. They are animists and worship nature spirits of mountains, rivers, forests, the sun and the moon. The Shaman or the priest plays a major role in the community and is the most respected person. He is believed to have the power to connect with, and appease spirits, both benevolent and malevolent for maintaining peace and well-being of the villagers. The Shaman of Idu Mishmi community known as 'Igu'. Family members also join the rituals. Every musical instrument has its own significance in the ritual.
Along with Shamanism, many communities have adopted Buddhism since ages. Owing to the historical connects of Arunachal Pradesh with its bordering countries of Myanmar, China, Bhutan, via trade routes, a strong cultural diffusion is found in their practices of faith and worship.

Adi woman serving drink to guest

Aka Priest

Khampti men and women performing during Sangken festival

Tagin man playing in the monastery

Nature Conservancy
In more recent times, there has been amazing initiatives of the community to actively protect and conserve their unique biodiversity. The Buguns are the foremost people to establish a community led biodiversity reserve in their own land which is home to various kinds of wildlife such as the Asian Elephants, Red Pandas, Himalayan black Bear, different small cat species, snakes, and more than 450 species of birds.
Among those the most important discovery was the rare Bugun Liocichla bird - a critically endangered species found only in this part of the World, and named after the community.

Safeguarding of the Living Cultures
All the communities value their traditions and intangible cultural heritage and try to conserve and continue their cultural and social practices. One of the ways in which they ensure participation of young people in celebrating their own heritage is through annual festivals.

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