India’s tribal cultural heritage – Arunachal Pradesh

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The Inheritance of Words: Writings from Arunachal Pradesh edited by Mamang Dai
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Arunachal Pradesh, recognized as one of the hotspots of biodiversity is home to a range of economically important plants. Some of these plant species have found use in the preparation of natural dyes. Natural dyes are colourants having several applications in textiles, inks, cosmetics, etc. Nature has gifted us more than 500 dye-yielding plant species. […]

Arunachal Pradesh has 25 major tribes and 125 sub-tribes broadly belonging to the Indo-Mongoloid racial stock, with varied composition of cultural diversity. The major tribes are Adi, Aka, Apatani, Bangni, Hill Miri, Idu, Khawa, Khamba, Khamti, Lisu or Yobin, Memba, Miji, Mishimi, Monpa, Nah, Nocte, Nyishi, Sherdukpen, Singpho, Sulung, Tagin, Tangsa and Wancho. The ethnic groups inhabiting different areas of the state have indigenous knowledge systems and have evolved methods for utilizing the vast plant resources available. Floral diversity is the main source of raw materials being used traditionally by the indigenous people of the north-eastern states as food supplement, for fodder, fibres, construction, handicrafts, beverages, colouring agents (dyes) and more importantly, in health care practices. Their knowledge in utilizing these resources is characteristic and differs from tribe to tribe. Earliest evidence for the use of natural dyes dates back to more than 5000 years, with Madder (Rubia cordifolia) dyed cloth found in the Indus river valley at Mohenjodaro. India is endowed with a wealth of natural flora and fauna, which provide the basic resources for a rainbow of natural dyes. Natural dyes are environment friendly; for example, turmeric, the brightest of naturally occurring yellow dyes is a powerful antiseptic and revitalizes the skin, while indigo yields a cooling sensation. Research has shown that synthetic dyes are suspected to release harmful chemicals that are allergic, carcinogenic and detrimental to human health. Ironically, Germany that discovered azo dyes, became the first country to bancertain azo dyes in 1996. The aim of the present study has been to investigate the availability of natural dye-yielding plant species in Arunachal Pradesh and gather information on traditional knowledge system associated with extraction and use of natural dyes by the tribal population. Organic dyeing not only helps preserve the traditional art of weaving and design, but also provides employment and yields economic and ecological benefits. […]

Source: “Natural dye-yielding plants and indigenous knowledge on dye preparation in Arunachal Pradesh, Northeast India” by Debajit Mahanta & Saurabh Tiwari in Current science (Research Communications, 2005)
Date Visited: 26 October 2021

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Hambreelmai’s Loom: A story retold by Mamang Dai >>

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“If we take action, the right action – as the report [on Biological Diversity] proposes – we can transition to a sustainable planet.” […] Many good things are happening around the world and these should be celebrated and encouraged […] We have to act now. It is not too late. Otherwise, our children and grandchildren will curse us because we will leave behind a polluted, degraded and unhealthy planet.” – Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary, UN Convention on Biological Diversity – “Extinction: Urgent change needed to save species, says UN”, BBC News, 15 September 2020 >>

“Extinction: Urgent change needed to save species, says UN”
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“Once, I was walking with this young tribal girl through the forest and we stumbled upon a tuber. She plucked it, cut the eye of the tuber and buried it in the mud before taking it to be cooked. I asked her why she did so and she replied ‘If I don’t put it back, how will it grow again?’ and that moment made me realise how sensitive tribals are towards environment and nature. For them, putting back what they take is inherent in their culture and lifestyle.” – Mari Marcel Thekaekara (writer and Co-Founder of ACCORD-Nilgiris) | Learn more >>

“Jungle is a living entity and it also communicates, provided we have the ability to listen to it. […] The three essential components—forests, tribal forest dwellers and life forms living in forests—complement one another and are not rivals.” – Former environment minister A.M. Dave >>

Dr. Rashneh Pardiwala © Alexis Agliano Sanborn/Asia Society >>

“The recent trend is to use exotic species for manicured lawns and gardens. This means indigenous species are losing even more space, and our local species decline with them. New lifestyle patterns are also changing things. For example, India’s urban sparrow population has dipped. Even growing up, sparrows were as common as a crow or a pigeon. But now they’ve almost disappeared. Why? For one thing, our architecture is changing, and building facades no longer offer nesting sites. Even the old grain shops, which used to have grain strewn in the road, have turned into packaged super markets. Suddenly, you have an entire species disappearing because you’ve taken away its food source, habitat, and flight path.” – Rashneh Pardiwala, Centre for Environmental Research and Education (CERE) in Mumbai (Asia Blog, 27 July 2015)

Search tips: for up-to-date reports about this region’s cultural heritage, combine the name of any state with that of some of its communities or languages; or with any topic of special interest to you: e.g. “Arunachala Pradesh weaving”, “Manipur tattoo”, “Meghalaya poetry”, “Sikkim biodiversity”, “Mizoram education”, “Sikkim music” etc.

“The uniqueness of northeast states of India lies in their cultures” | Learn more >>

In Marginalised but not Defeated, Tarun Kanti Bose (a seasoned public interest journalist) “talks about the Khasis, Nagas, Karbis, Garos, Rabhas, Misings, Daflas, Bodos, Akas and others in the North-east. […] The mainstream development paradigm is being questioned and new rainbows of collective, community reassertions are happening across the tribal belt in India. More so, in most cases, led by brave, empowered and resilient women.” | Learn more: >>

Learn more about India’s eight North Eastern states: The “Seven Sister States” & Sikkim

  1. Arunachal Pradesh
  2. Assam
  3. Manipur
  4. Meghalaya
  5. Mizoram
  6. Nagaland
  7. Tripura
  8. Sikkim

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Search tips: in the search field seen below, combine the name of any particular state, language or region with that of any tribal (Adivasi) community; add keywords of special interest (health, nutrition endangered language, illegal mining, sacred grove); learn about the rights of Scheduled Tribes such as the Forest Rights Act (FRA); and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, women’s rights, and children’s right to education; specify any other issue or news item you want to learn more about (biodiversity, climate change, ecology, economic development, ethnobotany, ethnomedicine, global warming, effective measures to prevent rural poverty, bonded labour, and human trafficking).

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There are over 700 tribes (with overlapping communities in more than one State) which have been notified under Article 342 of the Constitution of India, spread over different States and Union Territories of the country. The largest number of main tribal communities (62) has been specified in relation to the State of Orissa. The Scheduled Tribes have been specified in relation to all the States and Union Territories except Haryana, Punjab, Chandigarh, Delhi, and Pondicherry.

Source: National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST), Government of India, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, FAQ accessed on 14 September 2021

Up-to-date information on India’s Zonal Cultural Centers | Government website

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