The Apatanis constitute a tribal group of 60,000 in Ziro in the Lower Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh, India. They communicate in a Sino-Tibetan language.The Apatanis follow an efficient agriculture system without animals or machines.The origin and migration of the Apatanis have no written records.The archaeological evidences are too few.But the tribe has well-preserved oral literature, myths and traditions. Today modern Apatani work outside their region. They return home during celebrations to practice traditional ways. The Apatanis practice a form of shamanism, but many have turned to Christianity recently.
Oral History of Apatanis
According to oral history, the Apatani have followed a democratic system of the society. They call their village council the Bulyang. Oral accounts relate that they migrated from the north of Subansiri and Siang areas. The folk tales miji and migung carry the Apatani history. The oral accounts find validity with anthropological evidence. The miji or religious chants is performed by priests during ritual sacrifices of mithuns and cows. The religious song describes the previous interactions with the spirits. Migung is narrated in prose. It reveals the mythological origins of the Apatani people.
The Apatani Myths
Many ancient myths of the Apatanis deal with the origin of the Universe. The popular myths are the Kolyung, Kolo, Wachi and Lipyo. According to the Apatani myths, the three forefathers of the tribe originated at Mudo Suppung, the present day Tibet. The Apatanis migrated to their present habitat at different times. The priests chant about the mythical migration routes of the Apatanis during prayer times.
The religion of the Apatanis
The Apatani sacrifice animals and perform special rites to honour the death of near ones. They follow the Danyi-Piilo faith, and pray to the Sun (AyoDanyii) and the Moon (AtohPiilo). The Apatanis revere Abotani as the founder of their people. They celebrate Myoko, the festival of friendship and prosperity, in March each year. The tribe celebrate Dree in July. It is the main agricultural festival of the Apatani. At present, about 1,000 Apatanis have converted to Christianity. The Danyii Piillo Meder Nello organization, at HariLemba, Ziro, tries to protect the locals against unquestioned and thoughtless conversion to foreign religions.
Tattoos and Apatanis
The Apatani women wear large nose plugs and have tattoos on their faces. The tribe carves tattoos as disfigurement. They use tattoos to protect them from rival tribes. Today the women believe the tattoos and the nose plugs define them as an Apatani women. In the earlier days, the elder women of the tribe carved tattoos on an Apatani girl when she turned 10. The ink for tattoos was made up of pig’s fat which was mixed with soot from the fireplace.
The Apatani women wear a thick straight line tattoo from the forehead to the tip of the nose and five straight lines on the chin. The Apatani men also have a small T shape tattoo on their chins. The government banned tattoos in the 1970’s.