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India’s Tribal Communities- The Nyishi Tribe of Arunachal Pradesh

The Nyishi community is the largest ethnic group in Arunachal Pradesh in north-eastern India.  In Nyishi, their traditional language, Nyi refers to “a human” and the word shi denotes “a  being”, which combined together refers to a human being.

  • The Nyishi language belongs to the Sino-Tibetan family, however, the origin is disputed
  • Polygyny is prevalent among the Nyishi.
  • It signifies one’s social status and economical stability and also proves handy during hard times like clan wars or social huntings and various other social activities.
  • This practice, however, is diminishing especially with the modernization and also with the spread of Christianity.
  • They trace their descent patrilineally and are divided into several clans

NYISHI TRIBE OF ARUNACHAL PRADESH 

POPULATION

Their population of around 300,000 makes them the most populous tribe of  Arunachal Pradesh, closely followed by the tribes of the Adi according to 2001 census.

LANGUAGE: 

Nyishis speak the Tibeto-Burman language of the Sino-Tibetan family. There’s no script yet. Like many other tribes, they have a rich oral tradition of folklore, tribal history, and folk wisdom. Whatever is known of them is passed from generation to generation through oral traditions.

RELIGION: 

Most Nyishis have been converted to Christianity by Christian missionaries in the  1970s, particularly in the Papum Pare region, and Christianity is the major religion among the  Nyishis. Some still follow the ancient indigenous Donyi Poloism.

LOCATION: 

They are spread across eight districts of Arunachal Pradesh: Kra Daadi, Kurung  Kumey, East Kameng, West Kameng, Papum Pare, parts of Lower Subansiri, Kamle and Pakke  Kesang district.

LIVELIHOOD: 

  • Their tribal longhouses called Namlo are ecologically sustainable as they are made from locally grown material like cane, bamboo, and mud.
  • The houses are raised from the ground on bamboo and wooden pilings to protect the floor of the house from the dampness of the soil below.
  • The floors and walls are made using split bamboo.

CULTURE: 

  • Nyishis follow the clan-based system of family relations.
  • They are divided into three clans majorly – Dopum, Dodum and Dollu.
  • The family system is patriarchal and patrilocal.
  • As in all patriarchal joint families, authority remains with the eldest member of the family.
  • Nyishis are open-minded and progressive people.
  • Thus, women have been given equal status in the Nyishi community.
  • They consider women a vital source of peace and prosperity.
  • Men always consult their women counterparts before making important decisions.
  • Women are involved in every kind of work from clearing the fields to harvesting.
  • Lineage is tracked along paternal lines to the first ancestor (Father – Abotani) and 30-70
  • people of single ancestry live in a longhouse without partitions with a separate fireplace for each connubial family i.e. the complete family stays under one roof, but each wife gets her own hearth.
  • Members of the clan are considered brothers and sisters and are known by their surnames.

MARRIAGE:

  • Exogamous (marriage outside a social group) marriages are the rule.
  • Polygamy still remains common among them.
  • Their bond with their culture and rituals is amazing.
  • They follow their rituals religiously. Nyishis believe that if rituals aren’t done  properly it can bring trouble.
  • The Shaman consults the liver of a freshly killed chicken that foretells the offering or sacrifice to appease the spirits during occasions and festivals. o Groom pays the bride price to the bride’s family during the marriage; usually,  Mithun (traditional cattle) is given to the bride’s family.
  • It normally depends upon the status of the groom’s family or bride’s education.
  • They believe that the exchange of gifts and money ensures the bride’s happiness in her new house.
  • Most marital and neighbourly relationships are cemented through the medium of  Mithun.
  • Other marriage rituals include the invocation of God, Goddess, and Nature to  witness the wedding and seek their blessings
  • Purification process because the cleansing of one’s soul and mind before any occasion is a vital ritual and thanksgiving ceremony which includes exchanging gifts and jewellery for the future wellbeing of the couple.

RELIGIOUS IDEOLOGIES AND BELIEFS 

  • They follow the animistic, shamanic religion called Donyi-Polo which is centred around  the worship of Donyi (the Sun) and Polo (the moon.) Ane Donyi (Mother Sun) and Abo  Polo (Father Moon) are the corporeal depictions or visible forms of the supreme Gods, Bo and Bomong.
  • Their religion believes in spirits associated with nature. According to them, nature includes humans as well as spirits and it is vital maintaining a balance in nature. Life on the other side of death is what they perceive and along these lines they worship spirits.
  • Nyishi people practice what can be called almost pagan or pre-Aryan beliefs, which is quite evident from their worship of trees, rocks, and plants amongst other things.
  • Like other tribes, they too sacrifice animals to appease spirits and deities.
  • Followers of Donyi-Polo religion believe that they all are descendants of Abo-Tani. The religion has no written scriptures and has been orally passed down from one generation to another. The religion strongly believes in the oneness of all the living creatures, from the teeny weeny creature to the powerful creature.
  • Donyi-Polo believers uphold the faith that wrongdoers are punished and the righteous are rewarded by nature.
  • Truth is the essence of Donyi-Polo ideology. To them, the truth is everywhere and always wins. They say, “Donyi-Polo e lenduku” – truth prevails upon ultimately.
  • Donyi-Polo temples (Nyeder Namlo – The Home of Pure) have come into existence to revitalize and protect the ancient culture and religion. Nyedar Namlo follows the tradition of Sunday worships just like a church. Replicas of Donyi and Polo are kept on a  raised platform inside the prayer house where devotees offer flowers, and light candles or incense sticks; Priest (Nyibu) recites hymns and sprinkles sacred water.

OCCUPATION: 

  • The Nyishi economy depends upon livestock breeding, animal husbandry, and agriculture. Nyishis love hunting, and fighting.
  • Slash-and-burn agriculture (Jhoom cultivation) and fishing are their major professions.
  • The major crops include paddy (rice), maize (tapio), ginger (takie), yams (aange) and  millet (temi).
  • Basketry and weaving are some popular handicraft professions adopted by the tribe.

LEGAL SYSTEM: 

  • Nyishis follow a politico cum judicial legal institution called nyelee (formal gathering of people) to settle disputes (yallung) and listening to the grievances.
  • The place where the disputes are resolved is called nyele miram or arekh merem.
  • The disputes are resolved by elderly persons (nyagam aabhu/nyub aabhu) who are experts in the traditions and customary laws of the community.
  • PESA: The Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 or  PESA is a law enacted by the Government of India for ensuring self-governance through traditional Gram Sabhas for people living in the Scheduled Areas of India.

FOOD AND DRINKS 

∙ APONG: 
  • Apong is made by fermenting millet or rice with yeast. Millet or rice is soaked or boiled and then spread to cool. Dry yeast (oppop) is mixed with the millet at the desired temperature. The blend is kept in a clean and dried container with a lid. It is left undisturbed for a few days and then distilled. It takes a month or more to get it ready.
  • The entire process includes drying, smoking, fermenting, and filtering. The brew  is served in a bamboo glass or bamboo shoot at room temperature, and it’s malty, sweet, and quite strong
  • You aren’t offered tea or coffee but the local brew apong as a welcome drink when you visit Nyishi’s home.
  • Nyishis food choices revolve around their agricultural produce viz. rice, millet, maize,  and yams.
  • Rice is the staple food that is supplemented by meat and vegetables. They consume boiled food mostly.
  • The meat is boiled with a little salt in it.
  • No oil or spices are used.
  • It’s garnished with leafy vegetables and grated ginger.
  • Sometimes, the meat is roasted or smoke-dried and kept in bamboo baskets to preserve it for future use.
  • Bamboo shoots are used to add flavour to the food.
  • They are particularly fond of smoked meat. You can always find Mithun meat in a  bamboo hollow kept above the heart for drying and smoking. That’s how the Nyishi tribe likes its preferred food.

ART, DANCE ANF FESTIVALS: 

  • Festivals purely mean social rituals for Nyishis.
  • Celebrations are closely integrated into the lives of Nyishi people. Their major festivals  are Nyokum Yullo, BooriBoot Yullo, and Longte Yullo
  • Nyokum is a festival of life
  • Is celebrated for 4 days
  • Nyko means Earth and kum means People
  • All of these festivals are celebrated in the month of February.
  • Rikham Pada is a traditional folk dance of the Nyishi Tribe. The men, Rikham Bo Pada, and the women, Reeyam Bo Yam express their joy saying let us sing and dance without any fear like a beautiful bird called tacha.

NATURE AND WILDLIFE 

  • Bamboo plays an important role:
  • Is used in making houses
  • Is used for making tools
  • Is used as utensils
  • And also in bridges and other useful things

IMPACT OF MODERN WORLD 

  • Wear modern clothes nowadays
  • Have education, govt. jobs and facilities.
  • Have accepted Panchayati raj system
  • Follow modernization closely
  • Change food habits