The “Puroik” is one of the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, to whom; so far, the larger community used to call as “Sulung”. The former one is an official term, while the later one is perceived as derogatory in nature which denotes a slave or the social group of servitude tasks. The Puroik is an aboriginal sub-tribe of Tani group (Animist) which now centrally inhabited in two districts of the state viz. East Kameng & Kurung Kumey. They are also found in some pockets of Upper Subansiri, Lower Subansiri and PapumPare districts along the upper reaches of the Par River.
According to 2011 census, the total population of the Puroik was roughly estimated to be 7000, but as per the latest report their total population is 4,554 out of which male comprises 2,373 while women has 2,181, (Statistical Profile of Scheduled Tribes in India, 2013). They are generally known by their age-old occupation of producing flour from sago palm trees.
The Puroik tribe is one of the most educationally and economically backward “scheduled tribes” of the hill tracts of Arunachal Pradesh. Economically, they are at a transitional stage between a hunter-gatherer and agricultural lifestyle. They claim their kinship with the Khoa or Bugun tribe.
The Puroik tribe is a classic example of a tradition-bound innocent tribe which has been under the serfdom and servitude of stronger tribes in the region like Bangnis, Mejis, and Nyishis for centuries. The Puroiks are also known as Sulungs, (a Bangni term which means “slaves”). The Puroiks have been virtual slaves of the larger tribes who have kept them under ransom and trapped them in dire poverty for generations.
The mythology of the Puroik says that they descended from heaven. Their tradition claim that they migrated with the Kliowas (Buguns) at the present Tenga valley in West Kameng district. And interestingly, the folk stories of the Apatanis reveals that the Puroiks were their elder brothers.
As per the earlier censuses, they were recorded as ‘Salung’ and were called ‘Sulung’ by the Mijis and Nyishis, which means ‘Slave’. But the tribe has coined ‘Puroik’ as their tribe name in 1976, which had remained unpopular for a long time, with which they are establishing their own identity in the society.
While tracing the origin and migration of the Puroiks, one Puroik legend can be referred to as follows:
The tribe originated from a supernatural being called ‘Khyongkiya’ and ‘Breilo-ahei’, their ancestors from heaven. Originally, both of them lived in Chemchunewe, a place near present-day Saria village under Khenewa circle in East Kameng district. Breilo-ahei, the woman, gave birth to their two sons, ‘Do‘ and ‘Solo’ in Plojaria, a place near present-day Plossang in Sarli Circle of Kurung Kumey district. Later Do and Solo got married to ‘Seda’ and ‘Sela‘ respectively. After their marriages, they got back to their original place, Chemchunewe. From here, they were ordered to scatter on the surface of the Earth. The Puroiks are the offspring of Do and Solo.
Though there are many Sulung and Bangni legends no one precisely knows how the indebtedness and slavery began. The Sulungs say hundreds of years ago when the Bangnis first entered their territory they brought along gifts of salt, mithuns, skins and beads. Since the Sulungs had nothing to give in return they have been working for the Bangnis ever since.
The Puroik language, sometimes known as Sulung, is a language spoken by the Puroik people of Arunachal Pradesh in India.
Lieberherr (2015) considers Puroik to be a dialect chain where geographically distant dialects are mutually unintelligible, whereas dialects located close to each other are mutually intelligible. The internal diversity of Puroik is about equal to that of the Western Kho-Bwa branch. Lieberherr (2015) and Lieberherr & Bodt (2017) list the following dialects of Puroik, provided herein geographical order from east to west.
- Kurung-Kumey dialect: spoken in Kurung Kumey district, which is located to the east of Chayangtajo. May be most similar to the Puroik dialect described in Li Daqin (2004) and other Chinese sources.
- Chayangtajo dialect: spoken in Sanchu and neighboring villages of Chayangtajo circle, East Kameng district, Arunachal Pradesh, India by a few hundred speakers.
- Lasumpatte dialect: spoken in Lasumpatte village in Seijosa near the Assam border. Most inhabitants have recently migrated from the Chayangtajo area.
- Sario-Saria dialect: spoken in three villages by a few hundred speakers.
- Rawa dialect: spoken in several villages in and around Rawa by a few hundred speakers (located between Chayangtajo and Kojo-Rojo). Also includes Poube village.
- Kojo-Rojo dialect: spoken in the villages of Kojo and Rojo, and possibly also in Jarkam village (mutually intelligible with the Puroik dialect spoken in other villages in Lada circle).
- Bulu dialect: spoken only in Bulu village by 7–20 speakers.
It is interesting to note that the Puroiks habitual behaviours are akin to that of the Nyishis and Mijis of the State. They can be distinguished by their dialect, which is of a very unique kind. They were earlier called as ‘Sulung‘, which is a derogatory term in common perception and indirectly means slave, as addressed by their erstwhile masters, the Nyishis and Mijis. They were considered the bonded labourers of the Nyishis and Mijis for quite a long time, though they are also their immediate neighbours.
Earlier most of them were identified to some master households, where they were to work for their masters, mostly in the field. On the other hand, they do live separately in their own dwellings and have some kind of a proto-society.
They are a compact social group. Infiltration of any kind from the outside is not liked by them. They prefer tribe endogamy for ensuring the solidarity of the tribe. Marrying within their own tribal group is very popular although deviation from the preference will not involve any kind of punishment or social boycott. They, however, assume that any violation of the rule and traditional practice would attract curses from their forefathers.
No restriction in matters of ritual performances is bestowed on women; they can take part in religious rites equally. On such occasions, the women take an active part along with their male counterparts without any social discrimination. Women are equally allowed to move and talk freely even with the outsiders. They also keep pace with their husbands in their economic pursuit and are consulted invariably in all matters of family importance. Women are also allowed to attend village meetings.
Polygyny is a socially approved practice, but prior consent of the first wife is required to be obtained by the husband. Polygyny, however, does not affect a women’s position in the society. Divorce by either of the partners is allowed.
The Puroik has its own traditional administrative system in the form of a village council called Mololure and is headed by a chief popularly known as Kabua-Atok. The settlement in such a system is usually through amicable means and based on majority decisions.
The traditional occupations of the Puroiks have been forest-centric only. Of the various other practices, their main occupations were:
- Sago making/producing
- Hunting, trapping, and fishing.
These two are very prominent in the community because they are well known to have equipped the skills, expertise, and knowledge about them. As per their mythology, this kind of practice has been their tradition. More than occupation it is their identity. In fact, no other tribal community of Arunachal Pradesh has sago making as a traditional occupation.
The Puroiks (sulungs) are believers of the indigenous Donyi-Polo religion. Many or all the outward observances of religion are admitted to have been borrowed from the Bangnis (nyishis), and when a ritual is involved, a Nyishi priest is called in. The normal sacrificial animal is the domestic fowl as the traditional Mithun is usually too costly for most Puroiks.
Gumkum Gumpa — Apr 19-25
Pham-Kho (a harvesting festival) is a popular festival of the Bugun people which is now celebrated on 10 September every year. Pham Kho Sowai literally means “mountain” (Pham) and “river” or “water” (kho), which are considered as an important element because mountain, river and water is necessary element which plays a crucial and vital role in human lives and also for human survival.
The compassionate god is believed to be visible in the form of mountain, river, and the environment itself giving life to the people. Therefore, the Pham-Kho festival is a harvesting festival celebrated by Bugun (Khowa) community of Arunachal Pradesh.
A coarse loincloth which is tightly fastened at the waist with a finely woven cane bell sets up a Puroik man’s dress. The loincloth so used would be about a meter in length and about six inches in breadth. Another coarse cloth woven out of the fiber of a shrubby plant is also worn over the body from arms to the knee. This cloth is about two and a half meters in length and one and a half meters in breadth.
The locally-made coarse, as well as the mill-made clothes, are held in the front reaching halfway to the thighs and the ends pass below the armpits, are received crosswise over both the shoulders and fastened together in front of the chest with the help of a bamboo pin or an iron pin or sometimes it is tied as a knot. Some of them also wear a kind of rough leather belt over the coarse cloth at their waist. A coil of hair string is worn on the left-hand wrist band to protect the wrist while arrow shooting, but the other wrist is decorated with a number of bangles. The legs are often fastened tightly by several rounds with a thread just over the calves below the knees.
Helmet, made of cane, is a noticeable headdress of a Puroik man. The helmet is decorated with the beak of a hornbill. The hair knot is decorated either with a bear’s hair wig or with feathers of hornbill. The claws of a hawk may also be fastened beneath the tip of the beak as an additional piece but the use of such a piece is very rare. Apart from that one or two hairpins are pierced across the hair knot horizontally at the point where the hair knot is tightly fastened with some rounds by a thread. The hairpins are usually made up of bamboo, brass, aluminum, and iron. The names vary according to the materials with which it is made. A thin band of woven cane studded with small metal discs is worn around the head. Such bands are usually purchased from their Nyishi neighbors.
The women’s dress consists of a locally woven coarse cloth called Kameyit. It is worn around the body end the ends are tied over the right shoulder with a bamboo pin and the left shoulder is left uncovered. The cloth is generally woven without any design although a few have black and red borders woven in a stripe pattern. The women also wear an ankle band of cotton thread. Though they do not have any organized traditional ceremonial dress, on festive occasions they put on their best clothes to mark the day.
Both the Puroik men and women wear various types of ornaments made of brass, silver, nickel, aluminum, and Copper. The following are the ornaments that are commonly adorned by a Puroik:
- Gabung —
A chain made of brass, worn by the women as a necklace
- Kali —
A flat bangle made of brass worn by the women folks only
- Kopium —
A solid bangle made of brass worn by the women only
- Kotak —
A bracelet made of brass worn by the women only. It has three to four ridges on the dorsal side i.e., on the backside
- Lakchi —
A ring made of nickel worn by both men and women folks
- Lanai —
A chain made of nickel, worn as ear ornaments by both men and women
- Raje —
A ring made either of copper or aluminum wire and worn by the women only as ear-ring
- Rongrung —
A silver ear ornament worn by both
- Tak —
A flat bangle made of brass worn by both
- Takbung —
A bangle made of nickel. Men wear it on the right hand but the women wear it on both hands.
- Gabung —
Food is generally prepared and served by the female members of the family. Usually, all the family members sit together and take food at the same time around the fireplace. The husband and the wife with their minor children take food together from a common dish.
Rangbang is the staple food of the Puroik’s. For Rangbang preparation, water is boiled first. Then the vessel is removed from the hearth and a handful of wild sago flour is put into it and is stirred constantly with a cane stick until it solidifies into a rubbery pancake. Wild sago can also be prepared like the flour of wheat with oil or ghee. The addition of little sugar makes the preparation tastier and can be preserved for a week. It is also taken directly by roasting on the fire.
Two kinds of indigenous beers called Puriyang and Puriya are prepared by them from ingredients like rice, millet, buckwheat, and maize.
- “A Study on the Puroiks of Arunachal Pradesh”- Tame Ramjuk -RGU – ISSN: 2349-5138
- “The Sulung Tribe of the Assam Himalayas” – C. R. Stonor 1952 – ISSN: 02579774
- “Sulungs of Arunachal Pradesh” – Shekhar Gupta – IndiaToday
- “The Puroiks of Arunachal Pradesh” – David Pertin, 2010 – RGU