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Myth Associated With the Apatani Textile Culture

Takhe Kani


An Apatani mother-child

The Apatanis of Arunachal are not only famous for their remarkable achievement of permanent terrace-wet-rice cultivation perfected by the indigenous irrigation system and fish-cum-paddy culture but also for their handicraft and handloom works. Their products, exuberant in colour, play a significant role in the socio-economic and socio-religious development of the Apatani society.



The finished product of the textile works of the Apatani are all classified into sacred and secular dress according to their uses. The sacred dresses are the dresses of the priests and ceremonial dresses of the woman. These robes are never used, other than during religious occasions. The ordinary or secular dresses are for protection against the climatic change and also to cover themselves.

The priest called nyibu, in Apatani, brings life and prosperity to man through his spiritual knowledge. In order to mediate in a befitting manner, the nyibu requires a set of dresses and ornaments, when recognised as a confident priest in his society.

The significance of the dresses and ornament of the priest is more concerned with religious traits. It is believed that they impart more spiritual knowledge, wisdom and supernatural powers to him. If the priest leaves out any of the items during his prayer it will adversely affect him as well as the solemniser.

The dress of the priest consists of zillang, a piece of shawl used during celebration of the socio-religious ceremonies like myoko, murung and subu; zibo (zigziro). Shawls are used only by the village council who lead the community feast, during myoko ceremony abyo, a small robe used during the prayer-time of myoko or murung or subu ceremony; zikhe tarii, a type of jacket richly designed in black and white in general. This is used with abyo; jilya, an Assamese cloth known as ari sador with or without design. This cloth is wrapped inside the zillang; milo-sampo, male beads of Tibeto-China origin; dinko, a copper or metal skewer which is put on hair-knot horizontally through the knot; dinko-ranyi, a ring chain made originally of gold, silver or bronze and is of Tibeto-China origin (this is put on both the ends of the skewer at the time of ceremony prayer); rarang, a big ear-ring of Tibeto-China origin; yaru-lachang, a small ear-ring also of Tibeto-China origin; kobyang, bangle originally imported from Tibet and China through neighbouring tribes; liiring, chain which is put on the hinges of the legs. Originally, it was made of gold or silver or bronze, and is of Tibeto-China origin; tarin is a cane knit ring attached with liiring; chiri, Tibeto-China sword with its scabber which is put on the body (the hanger of its scabber is decorated with cowry shell with sliced cane); miiyo-piilye, a bundle of peacock, hornbill and domestic cock feathers with handle made from cane knit bowl (used in the murung and subu ceremonies); pinta-yaju, a sacred vessel where laddle is made of a bottle-gourd; duting, a wooden plate with a small design on which the priest sits at the time of prayer; byoda, a piece of animal skin on which dunting is put; chibba, a small basket made of cane and knitted beautifully (may not be used in certain ceremonies, can be used when people go away to forests); alyi-lyikho, a bow without its string (used in the myoko ceremony only).

The aforesaid ornaments were mostly made of gold, silver bronze, copper and metal and were imported from Tibet and China through northern Nishis and Hill Miris people in exchange of mithun, cow and rice. After discovering the trade routes towards the Assam Valley during middle of the 19th century, they obtained enough ornaments as well as agricultural tools from the plains people.

Without knowing the myths and tradition we cannot understand the meaning and concepts of the tribal culture and religion, because these are always associated with their life. Indeed, the myths, traditions and the sacred literatures throw a significant light on all aspects of tribal life, e.g. the origin, migration and cultural and religious identities of the tribes.

The sacred myths of the Apatanis reveal that Aba Donii-Hema Donii was the poorest among the poors in the society. priests performed ceremonies in order to bring him joy and prosperity. But by doing so, they too became poor till left with one boar and a mithun. Iipyo Nibo performed the murung ceremony in his house sacrificing one boar and mithun called Lyiyang Lyipo and Siyang Subu with the advice of Iipyo Popi, the supreme adviser of mankind. This ceremony was performed by Aba Nibo with full dress according to the advice of the Iipyo Popi. After this ceremony, Hema Donii became the richest of the rich along with his wife and children.

The female ceremonial costumes of the Apatanis are different from that of the male. The female costumes are classified into two, in accordance with their use : sacred and secular costumes. The sacred robes are used only in ceremonial occasions like murung, subu and myoko festivals. The secular or ordinary skirts are used as everyday dress. The ordinary garment, which are good-looking, are put on when the women are away from home. The ceremonial female costumes consist of billang abbi, a sacred skirt, tipya tari, a sacred jacket, pyami pulye, a piece of cloth for both men and women used on important occassions, and bisibilyee, a red skirt reserved only for ceremonial occasions,

Cotton was not cultivated by the Apatanis. This they got from the Nishis and the Hill Miris by exchanging rice and other household articles. Now, the yarns are available in the market. The women purchase the yarn and weave beautiful clothes in traditional pattern and designs. Weaving, ginning, spinning and other textile works are confined to women.

The designs of shawls and jackets of the priest as well as skirts of the woman signify Apatani's, religious belief. The sacred literature reveal that these designs belong to the goddess Chrung Yarmii Bunyi, and god Iiji Loma.

It is also noted that the dresses and ornaments of the priest are never buried with them, when they die. It is believed that if these are buried, their descendents would not become priests in future. If he has no son, he gives his dresses to the nearest cousin-brother. Therefore, their dresses and ornaments are preserved through the ages.

There are myths, legends and other stories associated with the dyeing, weaving, creating fibres, and knitting. The ceremonial dresses and ornament of the priest and women were considered as belongings of gods. So, both the layman and the priest never wore these other than on religious occasions. But the designed shawls, and scarlet skirts are now worn even by the school children. Those shawls, and skirts are very popular at the local marts and markets through local textile units and government emporiums.


Mithur Mithun

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