Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
Arunachal Pradesh landscapes comprise the foothills of the Himalayas and is inhabited mainly by tribes.The hills are dotted with tribal villages all across its 85000 sq km expanse.
Hills and Tribal Villages
The village structures are constructed from forest output and they merge in seamlessly with their surroundings.
All houses are on stilts and have thatched roofs. There is one large hall at the center of which is the 3-tier hearth. This hall is the main room and is used for cooking, eating and spending family time. Women do their weaving here in their free time. One or two rooms may surround the hall.
Features of the House Structure
Unique Elements of Arunachal Tribal Living – The Morung:
The youth dorm or the “Morung” is an interesting social concept that is an integral part of the lifestyle of many hilltribes, not only in Arunachal Pradesh but also the general geographical region.
A Morung is a community hall where the young – post puberty – spend the night, after living and working with their parental families throughout the day. Young boys and girls mingle and learn social norms and spend time pursuing life skills training together. Understanding develops between boys and girls and courtship followed by marriage is the result. The Morung , also called the Longshim is often located near the chief’s house.
Unique Elements of Arunachal Tribal Living – The Boys Room:
Unique Elements of Arunachal Tribal Living – The Granary Complex:
The family homes made of cane and other highly inflammable materials are at the risk of major fires that burn down the entire house – especially with the fire based cooking that takes place on the floor of the house. I was told that every year at least one house burns down in every village. To minimise the loss of wealth – which is held mainly as food stores harvested fro the year – the family constructs a granary in a separate part of the village. The paddy harvest and other valuables are stocked there. Each family has their own granary unit.
Given the materials being used for construction, a sealed unit is not possible. As stored paddy attracts rats that could consume the entire stock in no time, innovative methods were required to prevent their access to the grain.
Stilts are no deterrents to rats who can race up vertical bamboos with ease.
And so they came up with a device that is fitted at the top of the stilts – a disc that is concave.
Once he reaches the top of the stilt, the rat has no choice but to traverse the concave disc whose outer edges are lower than the inner edges. In doing so, the rat must hang upside down, and the angle of the concavity makes it worse. He falls. Every single time. And is unable to reach the grain stored in the room above these discs.
No need for poisons or any other forms of rat deterrents. Just a simple structural device – no repeated costs and no damage to nature.
Innovation at its best!
Further these stores of wealth are completely unguarded …. this is unimaginable and completely impossible in my urban context. This again goes to prove that these tribes are way more evolved in their living than any other group of people I have met in.
Unique Elements of Arunachal Tribal Living – The unique 3 – tiered kitchen hearth:
As temperatures in the hills are low, it is important to utilise every little bit of heat that is available. The fire that is used to cook the food also gives off heat in other directions that is generally un-used and wasted. But in the tribal homes, the kitchen structure is designed to use as much as possible.
Woven Bainth mats are hung above the fireplace in 2 additional layers. The heat from the fire and the pots rises up to heat and dry grain and smoke meats to preserve them for long term use. Tribes all across – Galo, Apatani and others all have this innovation in their kitchens that adds to the energy efficiency.
Building a House
To build a house, one needs land, raw materials, equipment and labour.
The land is community land alloted to the village and no one needs to buy a piece of land. It may be used as long as one is living. The raw materials come from the forest. The only equipment they use is the Dho – the mulitpurpose weapon. And the labour is themselves and their community.
The financial cost is rupees is Zero.
People cooperate and collaborate with others and build villages together – literally.
The people live in harmony with nature and with each other. So many examples of creative and innovative solutions to solve their problems are seen in their lifestyles – not only in their housing. A very poignant example of creativity – is the custom in Apatani tribe : to prevent their beautiful women from getting kidnapped by the neighbouring tribe – they tattooed the faces of the women! This radically creative solution is covered in the article on Apatani face tattoos linked below: