She was waiting for the wings,
to soar the sky,
to explore the lands unknown.
Only seldom do I meet someone who inspires me with their wanderlust. The odds of such meeting in a village in Arunachal Pradesh were zilch.
Sitting in my room on the 22nd floor of a swanky hotel in Kuala Lumpur, when I look out into space, I sense that visiting Lida (a small village in Daporijo district) was destined to happen. I had no idea when I was desperately looking to get an insight into the culture of Tagin Tribe of Arunachal Pradesh that the experience will leave me stimulated by the unflagging wanderlust of a Tagin girl.
Photo Credits: Aditi Mittal
My interest in the so-called intrepid tribe which is slowly diminishing brought me to Daporijo. The town is predominantly a Tagin territory, but Nyishi and Galo also exist in traces. To be honest, the place didn’t impress me at first sight. It is an entrepôt where I saw people from the other states more than the locals. After spending three days in Ziro Valley amidst the ubiquitous Apatani culture, I was hoping to get the similar kind of experience.
I asked here and there from the locals about the tribe which disappointed me even more because everyone I spoke to was a Tagin but just didn’t look like one. Yes! I was expecting them to be roaming around in their traditional outfit and enchanting me with their folklore. Sadly, none of it happened. I lost half a day in finding someone interesting to talk. After enough fretting and calling unknown people, I found a contact in Lida village who was a Tagin family and invited me home.
The family’s prized possession – a hundred years old artefact of Tagen tribe
Photo Credits: Aditi Mittal
The village was a quick auto rickshaw ride from the town. I saw some odd-20 bamboo stilt houses marked by the sacred symbols which explained their animist belief. I was told to come to the only Namlo (their place of worship) in the village. A lovely woman in her mid-40s greeted me and took me to her house where her two daughters, son and daughter-in-law were waiting for me with a basket of oranges plucked fresh from their orchard. My stomach growled at the sight of oranges; I had enough of it on this whole trip. I timidly picked one. The family had a relatively modern lifestyle and so looked puzzled with my idea of cultural immersion. Then, one of the daughters, Jason – who ultimately became my guide for the whole day – said: “I know what you are looking for.”
She decided to take me to her kin’s home, a traditional Tagin family. As we walked, I got to know that she completed her studies in Guwahati and now lived in Itanagar with her sister. She was visiting her family for a few days.
We climbed the rickety bamboo shaft to enter the house. The living area of the house was like any other traditional house that I had seen in past few days – with the hearth in the centre and a platform suspended on top of it to keep meat or rice for drying, and the floor with bamboo matting was good enough for sleeping. Apart from this, not a single piece of furniture was visible. The old lady of the house didn’t speak Hindi, but her son was exulting in pride “Tagin tribe is feisty of all. We don’t fear anyone.”
One thing that caught my eye was the display of horns of Mithuns (a close relative of a cow) and jaws of pigs. “This is the real deal for every Tagin. The horns and jaws are gifts which bride brings to her new house. The more, the merrier.” he chuckled. “We take them out only during special occasions and drink Apong in it or use it in Puja.”
After spending some time in that house, we left for Jason’s home. She enlightened me with the interesting facts about the tribe for instance polygamy is real in this tribe.
“I love Arunachal. Every tribe is different and has its culture. It is like mini India.” Jason said with the sparkling eyes. She also expressed her concern on Tagin not being the resourceful of the lot – “Tagin may be the fearless tribe of all, but we are very frivolous when it comes to money. Of all the tribes, Apatanis know the best how to preserve culture and tradition, and they are also making money out if it. We don’t value our heritage and so, not a very prosperous tribe. Now, slowly people are waking up to it and realising the worth of their culture.”
There is, for sure, some truth to that.
After this excursion, the time was for another. We came back to Jason’s home where her mother was waiting with her traditional ensemble – brightly coloured, handcrafted cloth called Gale, accessorised with traditional beads and belt known as Dingse. Women of the house were brimming with joy with the idea of dressing me up. I didn’t let them down a bit.
Soon, it was eventide. Jason’s mother offered her homemade Apong. One thing I reckoned from my Arunachal trip is that there is never a right time or a good reason to drink Apong. You can never say no to it. It is an essential part of their culture.
As we sat around the bonfire, Jason shared “I have friends all over Arunachal, and when I was in college, I would pack my bag and take off. I love travelling.” I felt as if I was talking to myself. She exuberantly described her adventures to the lesser known parts of Arunachal and meeting several beautiful tribes en route. I saw the wanderlust soul in her who is but stuck here to serve the needs of her family. She yearned to travel to the other parts of India.
Jason’s mother making Apong for usPhoto Credits: Aditi Mittal
An Assamese man who worked as a labourer nearby joined the mirth. Believe me or not, he bore an uncanny resemblance to Michael Jackson. It was tough to guess if his hair turned grey naturally or resulted from the years of hard work.
He recalled how it had been more than 20 years for him having fled his home. Since then he has worked in different parts of Arunachal. “I like this way of living, I don’t miss home,” he said in his exceptional poise.
In that perfect setting, these abstract words resonated aptly with the thoughts of all the wanderers sitting there in a tiny village in Arunachal.
Photo Credits: Aditi Mittal