Nyishi

by Sep 4, 2021Demographics, Tribes0 comments

Nyishi Demographic Map

Nyishi Demographic Map – representational

The Nyishi community is the largest ethnic group in Arunachal Pradesh. In Nyishi, their traditional language, Nyi refers to “a human” and the word shi denotes “a being”, which combined refers to a human being. 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 Kessang district. The Kurung Kumey and Kra Daadi districts have the largest concentration of Nyishi population who are generally referred to as “Aya Nyasang“. The Nyishis also live in the Sonitpur and North Lakhimpur districts of Assam.

History

The oral sources aptly mention that the Nyishis had migrated from the north. They referred the crossing of a mighty river named Supung, which probably might be a river Tsangpo in China. Oral sources mentions that they left the place and migrated towards present territory before the advent of Buddhism in China and Tibet. After crossing the high ridges corresponding to the international boundary, they moved towards different directions in batches or small groups precisely on the basis of lineage and clan.

The Nyishi believes that they are the descendants of Abo Tani. That is why Nyishi, Adi, Gallo, Tagin, Apatani, of state and Mishings of Assam call themselves as Tani Group of Tribes.

According to Nyishi lore, In the beginning, out of nothingness the universe was created by Jingbu Pabu Abu (Almighty). It is believed that, Jingbu-Pabu Abu invoked the power through different supernatural means to create and evolve the present-day universe. All living creatures including man were created and the Abo Tani was the progeny of the first human being on the earth. After the completion of the process of creation of universe and its different components, Jingbu-Pabu Abu the creator disappeared from the scene.

The Nyishi were named as the Daflas by the Ahom King/Raja. The first mention of the Daflas in the Ahom Buranji is found in 1562, it stated about the raids and plunders made by the Daflas, who had first come into conflict with the Ahom Kings in 1614. To check and avert the raids and plunders of the Dafla, the Ahom King Pratap Singha (1603-41) constructed a huge fort call Dafla Ghar (Royal Fortification). The Ahom Raja, Pratap Singha in order to establish continued peace with the Daflas, formally granted a Posa right to the Daflas along with a few hill tribes. The British government that had come to power in Assam in 1826 A.D. also came into conflict with Daflas, the Government paid the Posa in monetary terms.

The Government of Arunachal Pradesh had been recommending for long that the name “Nyishi” be substituted in place of “Dafla” in the Scheduled Tribes list of the State since “Dafla” is a derogatory term and was given to the “Nyishi” community by outsiders. The Parliament of India enacted the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (amendment) Act, in 2008, with the intention of changing the name Dafla to Nyishi. From 19th March, 2008 onwards the Daflas officially came to be known as the Nyishi.

Language

Nyishi (also known as Nishi, Nisi, Nishang, Nissi, Nyising, Leil, Aya, Akang, Bangni-Bangru, Solung) is a Sino-Tibetan language of the Tani branch. Though there are plenty of variations across regions, the dialects of Nishi, such as Akang, Aya, Nyishi (raga), Mishing, Tagin are easily mutually intelligible. With the exception of the rather small in population Bangni-Bangru and Solung Dialects being very different from the formers. ‘Nisi‘ is sometimes used as a cover term for western Tani languages.

Nishi is a subject–object–verb language.

Culture

The Nyishi are the largest ethnic group in Arunachal Pradesh. They have a very rich cultural heritage.

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. Polyandry marriage practices have been customarily strictly prohibited since time immemorial among the Nyishi.

Society

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. 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.

Traditional Legal System of Nyishi Community

Nyishis follow 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.

There are other mechanisms like oaths and ordeals. Dingdung and Sudung enam (boil water ordeal). There are also omen examinations like Peepchenam (boil egg examination) Pachu Kuknam/RuksingKanam (chicken liver examination), Reksing Kanam /keenam (pig liver examination). The rituals play vital role in the Nyishi life. There are several rituals for separate and specific purpose

Economy

The Nyishi are agriculturalists who practice jhum, known as rët rung-o in Nishi, which is a form of shifting cultivation. The principal crops raised include paddy (rice), top (maize), mekung (cucumber), tak-yi (ginger), aeng (yams) and temi (millet). Rice is the staple food of the people, supplemented by fish, meat of various animals, edible tubers and leafy vegetables. Before a Western market economic system arrived, they used a barter system. They greatly valued the generalized reciprocity and also balance reciprocity in their economic system. A locally-made drink known as upo (the two types of upo: pone, made of rice, and polin which is made of millet) is served at every social gatherings and important events. The Nyishis are typically fond of it. Traditional ways of preparing them include fermentation, steaming, roasting and smoking. Recently they have been forced to move towards a market based exchange economy.

Religion

Like most other Himalayan tribes of Arunachal, the Nyishi also are believers of the indigenous Donyi-Polo religion. It is focused around the worship of Donyi (the Sun) and Polo (the moon) Ane Donyi (Mother Sun) and Abo Polo (Father Moon) are the earthly representations or visible forms of the supreme Gods, Bo and Bomong. Dony-polo temples (Nyeder Namlo – The Home of Pure) have come into existence to regenerate and protect the ancient culture and religion. Nyedar Namlo follows the tradition of Sunday worships just like a church. Models 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.

Their religion believes in spirits associated with nature. According to them, nature includes human as well as spirits and plays a vital role in maintaining a balance in nature.Donyi-Polo believers support the faith that offenders are punished and the righteous are rewarded by nature. Truth is the principle of Donyi-Polo belief. To them, the truth is everywhere and always wins. They say, “Donyi-Polo e lenduku” – truth prevails upon ultimately.

Festivals

Nyokum Yullo — 26th Feb

Nyokum is a festival celebrated by the Nyishi tribe of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. The Word Nyokum has been derived from the combination of two words – Nyok means land (earth) and Kum means collectiveness or togetherness. Therefore, the Nyokum festival may very well be interpreted as inviting all the Gods and Goddesses of the universe, with the Nyokum Goddess as the principal deity, to a particular venue at a particular time. The festival is commonly celebrated by the people from all class and walk of life for better productivity, prosperity and happiness of all human beings on earth.

Significance —
The festival has a close link with cultivation. The Nyokum goddess, the goddess of prosperity is invoked for her blessings so that there may be more and more production of food-grains in the next harvesting season, that the visit of famine may be warded off, and that drought or flood may not hamper cultivation, nor should any insect or animal destroy plants and crops. The Goddess is invoked so that the human race may be strengthened and regenerated. All should be free from unnatural death due to accident, war and epidemic.

Ui or Oram Nyoko is the place meant for the life after death. It is also believed that there are numerous deities and spirits on earth. These are the deities and spirits of mountains, rivers, forest, animals crops, household and so on and so forth. Some of the spirits are benevolent and others are malevolent. The Nyishi believe that human being’s can live a life of peace and prosperity on this earth only when a perfect harmony is maintained between man, God and nature. They also believe that prosperity and happiness can come to a man when God and nature are pleased. Misery, hardship and natural calamities like famine, flood, drought, earthquake, epidemic, warfare, accidental death and such unwanted incidents occur due to the displeasure and wrath of the God and Goddess of nature. It is, therefore, the Nyishi worship to propitiate the benevolent Gods and Goddess to protect and bring prosperity to them and to ward off the malevolent spirits from disturbing the peace and tranquility in their life, Nyokum Yullow is one of such propitiation.

Rituals —
The main prayer structure of the Nyishi is made of bamboo, called the yugang. Alongside the yugang sacrificial animals are tethered. Like cows, mithuns, and goats. Often one finds small chickens hung from bamboo poles of the yugang. The nyobu or the traditional priest specifies the number and kinds of animals for sacrifice, or any other offering to be made. There are no idols in this worship. Neither is there any permanent structure. Besides the animal sacrifice, beer made from millet seeds and rice paste is used.

People turn up wearing their traditional clothes during this time. The men dress in a cotton eri robe draped from the shoulder and reaching the thighs. From their neck hangs a variety of bead jewellery necklaces. Often semi precious stones like turquoise adorn these necklaces. The men’s attire is topped by a bamboo woven cap on the head. This cap is decorated with feathers or furs of wild animals. The beak of the hornbill is a favorite ornament for the traditional cap. The women also dress in their finery of par ej, earrings bead necklaces, topped with a headdress made of finely scaped bamboo.

There is singing and dancing before the head priest or nyubh comes with his attendants to perform the main ritual. Guests are welcomed with rice paste powder, and opo or millet seed beer which is scooped in dried gourd ladles. The song and dance are performed in a group. Usually men and women hold hands in a circular form and sing and dance these lines Nyokum bo tapa debe. And sometimes men dance mock fights with dao (short sword) and shield made of animal hide.

Longte — 8th April

Literally, Longte-Yullo means a large wooden barricade/fence which is erected on community basis in the belief that this demarcates the domain of humans and spirits from ill-intended trespass. This festival is celebrated on the advent of spring season in the month of April (Lachar-Polu). It’s a week long celebration..

Before, during and after the course of the celebration of Longte Festival, the stakeholder’s are expected to observe certain taboos or restrictions which are as follows:-
a) Any kind of sacrifices which involve bloodshed of animals or birds are strictly prohibited just before, during and after the celebration of the festival.
b) Dances/Circular movement around the fence is not done except placing or erecting their respective decorated bamboo poles in it and shouting/yelling of hymn called Gugrey with rhythmic.
c) Giving of domesticated animals like mithun, pig, goats etc. to others are not done for some days after the celebration of the festival.
d) After the closer of the path with Longte-Lungriap/barricade/fencing neither the stakeholders themselves nor other people are allowed to cross the fencing for at least seven days or less.
e) Rice powder in paste form is not smeared to people as practiced in some communities. But rice powder is thrown on the sacred fencing and bamboo poles.
f) There used to be heavy exchange of edible items like Oppo (Local brew) and addin (meat) and also male members used to visit each other’s house while females remain in their respective house to receive the guests and to offer them meats & drinks.

The Nyishis believe that these formalities are observed to strengthen the demarcation of domain of humans and spirits and to free from the influences of ill intended trespasses of destructive or harmful forces. In brief, Longte is a customary practice to emphasize the efforts and endurance of humankind to block outside evils like epidemics, diseases and ill influences so that health, wealth and prosperity are maintained.

It has close link with agricultural activities of the people. During Longte, the benevolent spirits are invoked for their blessings, so that there may be bumper production of food-grains and the occurrence of famines, damage by pests and rodents, drought, landslide, flood, etc does not hamper cultivation. The festival also emphasizes on the fertility and multiplication of animal husbandry and human beings for centuries to come. On the whole, Longte is connected with the invocation of benevolent spirits for peace, prosperity and wellbeing of humankind.

The popular Longte chanting goes as such…

SIILU-GE ATTU-GUNGTE–GE, AYU GAMRU-GE, GINDU ALUSO, ABU NYIA KU-NGAM RICHI-KIMU-AM, DINTE-SUBU-AM, TACHANG-TABIGH-AM HUGAR MUDUBE, SIIKYI-DOLYIG-YE PYANGMA DEBE, DIIRAGH YARRANG-NGE RANGMA DEBE, NU KYILLUNG KYIPPE JIPPI-KA, HAGLO HAGPE JIPPIKA…ATTU-GUNGTE NU, AYU GAMRU NU……

This means……

On this auspicious occasion of Longte Festival (Migration day), May Atu-Gungte, Ayu-Gamru, shower blessings to each one of us with health, wealth, peace and prosperity. And also may they (Atu-Gungte and Ayu-Gamru) protect us from all evils like diseases, epidemics, droughts, famine, accidents, flood, landslide etc. in the years to come (Pingkap, 2012).

Boori-Boot — 2nd-6th Feb

Boori Boot Yullo is celebrated in the first Nyishi month of ‘Rajo Pol’ (February) by the Nyishi community of Kamle district. It is believed that in the month of ‘Rajo Pol’ the gods and goddesses are in their warmest disposition towards mankind. Boori Boot Yullo is not only celebrated to worship the almighty for peace, prosperity and happiness of all human beings, it is also a symbol of unity and equality. It provides an opportunity to improve oneself to be a better human being.

Dress

Nyishi men wear cotton sleeveless shirts with the mantle of cotton locked around the throat and shoulders. They normally tie their hair with a Tibetan thread just at the forehead with a brass skewer permeating through the tied hair in a horizontal fashion. Men wear cane rings around the waist, arms and legs.

Carrying dao (uriuk, chiighee) which is a short sword and a knife (ryukchak) in a bamboo sheath is an essential feature of men’s traditional attire. Traditional adornings also include a spear (nangkio) with an iron head, a large sword, and a bow with arrows (murto); tipped with poison (umiyu) on it. They usually carry a backpack called nara. During the fight, the back and front are protected with the sabbe buffalo hide and over it, black cloak (tassh nara) made of the indigenous fiber sago palm.

Sharp pointed bamboo stick (domkiyo) and head helmet made of animal skin or cane (bopiya) together make their traditional headgear (podum). Bopiya is decorated with The Great Indian Hornbill’s (Buceros bicornis) feathers and topped with the Hornbill’s ivory (casque) and beak (paga hebung). Eagle’s feather (kakam ganglang), the tail of dronngo birds (nangnee ganglang), Eagle’s claw (kokam kheeley) and animal skin are also used as adornments.

Tough wildlife protection laws have discouraged the hunting of Hornbill making the bird as a protected species. We saw the exact replicas made from wood and fiberglass on stalls which certainly indicate the reformed practices of the hunter tribe. Due to Nyishis hunting practices, Hornbills were on a verge to become extinct. The tribe has now transformed into the guardians of nature and animals and their conservation efforts under the Hornbill Nest Adoption Program are quite evident.

Nyishi women drape a cotton mantle (Par ij) around the body and tie one portion at right shoulder and keep open the left shoulder. They tie a red ribbon around the waist and wear waistband with metal disks (hupiya) and cane garters. Hair is parted in the middle and tied in a bun (dumpuye) just above the neck. Jewelry includes metal bells (maji), multicolored (mostly blue and red) beads (tasang/muni) neckpieces called seetir, bangles (cojii), bamboo slid (roonos), brass or silver earrings (ringbings/belling) and metal bracelets. Women look lovely in elaborate attire.

You’ll see most of the Nyishi women carrying a basket(egin) on their back to pick firewood or grains from the fields. They look like the princess as the metal crown with blue beads (dumping) adorn their heads.

There’s a huge change in the dressing style of the young Nyishi generation and they have embraced the modern or urban dressing style while preserving their culture and traditions.

House

The Nyishi traditional longhouses are called Namlo. They are made from the 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.

Nyishi Namlo

Dance

Rikham Pada
Rikham Pada is a traditional folk dance of 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.


Buya
Buya Dance is performed in every important occasion of the Nyishi community like Marriages, House warming etc. The orator, through its chanting, narrates the geneology, migration of the clan and put forward it’s point for the other party to reply by buya.

References :