Ethnic group

Tanii, Apa Tani
popplace=Arunachal Pradesh, India:
langs=Apatani (Tanii), English, Hindi
rels=Donyi-Polo, Hinduism, Christianity (Baptist, other)
related=Nishi, Adi
The Apatani, or Tanii, are a tribal group of about 26,000 (approximately) in Ziro in the Apatani plateau in the Lower Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh India. However more Apatanis live outside this plateau, making the total population to approximately 60,000 all over the state. Their language belongs to the Sino-Tibetan family (see Tani languages).


There are no known written records of the history of the Apatani tribe, but throughout their history the Apatani have had a democratic system of running the society. The village council is known as the Bulyang.

One of their oral accounts speaks of their migration from the extreme north of Subansiri and Siang areas following the rivers of Kurung and Kiimey. These oral accounts are usually presented in the form of folk tales such as the "miji" and "migung". These accounts on many occasions are supported by landmarks which still exist on the migratory paths of the Apatanis. At the small village of Yangte in Kurung Kumey district, for example, is a stone beside which the Apatanis held a high-jump competition on their way to the present habitat. Therefore, these oral accounts have substance but need corroboration by anthropological and scientific evidence.

The "miji" is a collection of religious chants performed by priests who preside over the sacrifices of mithuns, cows, chickens and pigs during various rituals. A religious song, which may be sung from ten minutes to twelve hours, accompanies all these ritual performances which describes the previous interactions with the spirits or gods, locally known as "wui", the content of which explains the origin of the myths among others. The "migung" is more realistic; it is narrated in prose, and the stories within it explain the origins of the Apatani people.

These folk tales include legendary places as well as recent events, such as the downfall of a 19th-century ne'er-do-well. In these two folk tales, both the ritual chants and the prose narrations speak of Abotani, who is reputed to be the original ancestor of the Apatani and the other tribes in central Arunachal Pradesh. These tribes encompass the Tani group, comprising of the Apatanis, Nyishis, Sulungs or Puroiks, Hill Miris, Tagins, Adis and Mishmis.

The first contact with the Europeans occurred in 1897, when British officials came to stay in the valley for two days; six similar brief visits were later held between the 1920s and 1930s. In 1944, after a temporary government outpost was set up by an anthropologist-administrator, the Apatani came in contact with minimal government presence for the first time. When a second, permanent outpost was constructed by the Assam Rifles in 1948, stationed there to protect the land, the Apatanis attacked. The officer in charge retaliated by burning two of their villages.


Most Apatanis are loyal followers of the Danyi-Piilo faith, who pray to the Sun ("Ayo Danyii") and the Moon ("Atoh Piilo"). Abotani is revered as the sole ancestor of all Apatani and other tribes in the surrounding regions. When a misfortune occurs, they believe that it is caused by certain evil spirits, and thus they make appeasement by sacrificing chickens, cows and other domestic animals. Myoko, the festival of friendship and prosperity, is celebrated in a grand manner lasting for all of March each year. Dree, celebrated in July, is the main agricultural festival of the Apatanis.


The dress of the Apatanis is elaborate and colorful, yet simple in style. Tattooing and the stuffing of large nose plugs ("yaping hullo") were once popular among the women, although this practice has gradually fallen into decline in recent years. This practice is believed to have started because the women wanted to look unattractive to males from neighboring tribes. Apatani women were considered to be the most beautiful ones among all the Arunachal tribes. Younger members of this community have stopped this traditional practice.

Traditionally, the men tie their hair in a knot just above the forehead (locally called "piiding") using a brass rod ("piiding khotu") measuring 12 inches, placed horizontally. Strips of fine cane belt painted in red ("yari") and bent into the shape of a horse-collar with an elongated end were also worn. These strips of cane are loosely fastened together, with the loop of the horse-collar being tied round the waist. The men also tattoo ("tiippe") their chin in the shape of a 'T' under the lower lip. The women tattoo themselves with broad blue lines from the forehead to the tip of the nose and five vertical stripes under the lower lip in the chin. The women bundle up their tresses, which are rolled into a ball ("dilling") on the top of the head. A brass skewer ("ading akh") may then be inserted horizontally.

Customs and lifestyle

Apatanis trace their descent patrilineally. While the status of men is considered higher than that of women, the sexes share responsibilities in the house and the family.

Apatani women carry out the household chores of gathering both wild and kitchen garden vegetables, cooking, fetching water, pounding rice, cleaning houses, washing clothes and utensils, nursing, looking after infants and children, ginning (clothes) and spinning of cotton, and other jobs associated with the household. In the field, the Apatani woman carries out the tasks that include gardening, seeding, transplanting of paddy and millet, padding, weeding of fields, and other activities. At home, the internal family income is controlled by a woman. But the man also has his part of duty in looking after cultivation activities, and acts as the head of family in society.

Their wet rice cultivation system and their agriculture system are extensive even without the use of any farm animals or machines. So is their sustainable social forestry system. UNESCO is considering naming the Apatani valley a World Heritage Site for its "extremely high productivity" and "unique" way of preserving the ecology. [ [http://www.telegraphindia.com/1050617/asp/northeast/story_4877612.asp "Unique Apatani impresses Unesco"] , Rajeev Bhattacharyya, The Telegraph, 17 June 2005. URL last accessed 21 October 2006.] In July, the agricultural festival of Dree is celebrated with prayers for a bumper harvest and prosperity of all humankind. Pakhu-Itu, Daminda, Pree dance, etc. are the main cultural programmes performed in the Dree festival. [ [http://www.nezccindia.org/arunachalpradesh/StateFestival.asp?State=Arunachal NEZCC - North East Zone Cultural Centre ] ]


Bulyang is the traditional council of the Apatanis. There are three categories of Bulyang: Akha Bulyang, Yapa Bulyang, and Ajang Bulyang. The institution still exists, but its functions have been diluted by other similar institutions like Gaon Buras and Panchayati Raj.


The Apatanis are known for the meticulous care they take of their agricultural fields. In fact, it is often said they take too much care of the fields. After transplantation of paddy saplings, for example, they have to repeat three cycles of weeding before the paddy is harvested. It ensures that the fields are always clean. Paddy-cum-fish culture is a unique practice that enhances ecological sustainability.

The Apatanis, who inhabit Ziro valley, are the only tribe who practice wet rice cultivation. The tribes in the surrounding areas - the Nyishis, Hills Miris, Tagins and Adis - practice shifting cultivation. It is a different matter that the agricultural practices are changing fast today [http://friends-of-ziro.blogspot.com] .

The Apatani today

Much of the information regarding the Apatani tribe currently available in books or on the Internet is known to be fairly outdated. It is generally based on observations made by Professor Christopher von Furer-Haimendorf in the 1940s.

The Apatani have incorporated many ways of the modern world, but the traditional culture and customs still retain their significance. Many of them are high-level government employees, doctors, and engineers and are working far away from their native villages around Ziro. Even so, they make it a point to return to their villages during important festivals, notable among which are Myoko in March and Murung in January every year. Dree, another important festival of the Apatanis are celebrated in all the major towns in Arunachal Pradesh and in some cities outside the state. As in any other developing countries, teenagers have been influenced by Western culture, but the traditional lifestyles are still maintained.


External links

* http://savetanii.blogspot.com
* [http://tribaltransitions.soas.ac.uk/publications/sblackburn1.pdf Colonia contact in the "hidden land"]
* http://www.pcedindia.com/peoplescomm/tribes_10b.htm
* [http://www.digitalhimalaya.com/collections/haimendorf/apatani.php Fürer-Haimendorf's Apa Tani films]
* [http://tribaltransitions.soas.ac.uk/publications/home.html Anthropological articles of the Apa Tani]
* [http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=apt Ethnologue profile]
* [http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full6.asp?foldername=20050115&filename=news&sec_id=50&sid=13 "Illicit Staple"]

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