The Mishmi or Deng people of Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh are an ethnic group comprising mainly three tribes: Idu Mishmi (Idu Lhoba); Digaro tribe (Taraon, Darang Deng), and Miju Mishmi (Kaman Deng). The Mishmis occupy the northeastern tip of the central Arunachal Pradesh in Upper and Lower Dibang Valley, Lohit and Anjaw Districts. The three sub-divisions of the tribe emerged due to the geographical distribution, but racially all the three groups are of the same stock. The Idu are also known as Yidu Lhoba in Tibet and often referred as Chulikatas in Assam. The Idus are primarily concentrated in the Upper Dibang Valley and Lower Dibang Valley district and parts of the northern part of Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh in India.
The Idu’s are called “Kera” in the local dialect. The Idu Mishmi community is divided in a number of clans, they are viz. Pulu, Lingi, Mena, Mega, Menda, Mimi, Michichi, etc. Interestingly, the Idu Mishmis living along the banks of river Dibang and its major tributaries are identified separately by the name of the rivers on the bank of which they stay. Thus some are called Midris, meaning the group is staying on the bank of the Dri river; the other group is called Mithun suggesting that the group chooses their habitat on the riverbank of the Ithun. Likewise, another group is known as the Mi-mathun. Mathun is the name of a river. The prefix ‘mi’ simply means ‘Man’ in the Idu language.
The Idu‘s believes that Rukmini, Chief Consort of Lord Krishna, belonged to their tribe. The plays and dances on ‘Rukmini haran’ are common. There is a legend that Lord Krishna asked the Mishmi people to cut their hair as a form of punishment for not allowing him to marry Rukmini. Due to this Idu-Mishmi people are also called “chulikata” (chuli-hair, kata- cut). Most of these are considered to be a fabrication. Historians point to the creation of these legends to the Neo-Vaishnava movement of the 15th and 16th centuries around Sadiya which influenced the regional identity of the place. The Mishmis began to identity with the legendary Vaishnava characters created during this period which led to the formation of a alternate identity.
According to the Idu Mishmi mythology, gods and women appeared first on the earth and lived together. Once, the Amaya Khinu (wild god) entered the womb of a woman which resulted in the birth of a male child. This child later became the father of the Idus (Baruah,1960).
About the original home of the Mishmis, there are different opinions. According to J.P.Mills, (1952), the Idu Mishmis were the first to come across the Patkai Hills from Myanmar. The legend and the folk tales current among the Idu Mishmis tell us that they have migrated from the north. In the Idu mythology, it is said that ‘Athopopu’ is the place of their origin; geographically this is located in the northern boundary of the Dibang valley, bordering China near the ‘Keya ’ pass. While describing the route of the migration of the Idus, the Idu priest called as ‘Igu‘ claim that the northern hill was their original homeland from where they have come down and gradually scattered over a wide area.
The most important points of migration, as assigned by the ancestors during this journey of migration were:
⦁ ANDIKU – the direction towards the Northern star.
⦁ ASE-ALE – the banks of the Lohit River.
⦁ INNI LON PON – the area where the first rays of the sun falls.
There were about 73 clans that migrated. In today’s date, some clans can count their ancestry up to 28 generations back.
It is also said that a section of the Idus shares close affinity with a Tibetan tribe called ‘Tamri‘ in the local dialect. The majority of the Idu Mishmi clan names begin with the word, ‘mi’ or ‘me’ which means ‘life’. There is another clan called Mega; in the Tibetan spoken at the northern fringes of the Lohit Division, ‘me’ means ‘man’ and ‘ga’ means ‘low land’. From the genealogical legend current among them, one may visualize how thousand years back the Idus had migrated to this tract from different regions like Myanmar, Tibet, and China and all located in the present Mishmi Hill area of Arunachal Pradesh.
Among themselves the Mishmis speak in their own languages; they have no script but have a common oral tradition. The Mishmi language falls under the North Assam branch of the Tibeto-Burman language group. The three dialects of the Mishmis, viz, the Idu Mishmi, the Digaru Mishmi, and the Miju Mishmi came under the division Eastern Group of Language. Culturally all the Mishmis fall under one generic group, but each one of the three groups mentioned above maintains its own identity through dialectical variations and differences in costumes. But in respect of ritual practices, they maintain a common tradition.
Idu mishmi is the language spoken by the Idu’s. The Idu Mishmi people did not usually have a script of their own. When needed Idu Mishmis tended to use the Tibetan script. Currently the Idu Mishmi have developed a script known as “Idu Azobra“.
The Idu Mishmi language is often referred to as:
- Sulikata by the indigenous Assamese people of the Assam Plains.
- Idu in general.
- Yidu may be used in China.
- Midu, Mindri and Mithu (also called Bebejias by the indigenous Assamese ethnicities) are subclassifications within the Idu tribe based on the pitch and pronunciation of certain words. However, Idu people prefer the ethnonym “Kera-Ah” (children of Kera)
The Mishmi society is patrilineal and counts their descent from paternal line. Traditionally the general tendency was for polygamy however, the current trend is towards monogamy. The father plays the role of the head of the family, and the descent is patrilineal. The smallest unit of the society is the family consisting of the father, mother, and children, normally the right of inheritance of property devolves through male members of the family.
Among the Mishmis the son inherits the father’s property. If a man dies without any son, his property usually passes on to his brothers. If there is no brother, the property usually goes to the nearest agnate. If a man dies leaving minor sons, his brother takes care of the property till the minor grows up. The wife of the deceased cannot inherit, nor can the daughters. The daughters are, however, entitled to receive from the family ornaments, clothes, and presents at the time of marriage. Among the Idu Mishmis, the inheritance of property by a rightful heir is conditional upon his performance of the rites connected with the death of the father.
The Mishmi society is organized on the basis of clan and the social relations are determined by kinship and locality. The Mishmi tribe is endogamous and is divided into several clans which are exogamous, that is to say, marriage is legitimate within the tribe but not within the clan. The clan is a very important element in the organization of the tribal society, and a breach of clan rule is a serious offense. It also plays a very important role in regulating marriages. Marriage within a clan or sub-clan is strictly prohibited and anybody violating this rule is never allowed to go without punishment. It has been observed that clans are mostly named after places, but some clans appear to have derived their names from the river along which they are settled. Usually, the pattern of village settlement is based on the distribution of the clans but the tradition of one clan one village system is not always operative. The Mishmis for instance, are migratory in their habit. With the growth of population, a section of the population may migrate to a region where cultivable land is available. Persons from other clans may also join them, and thus form a new village of different clans.
The Mishmis, in general, lacked in political organization. Traditionally, there is no system of chieftainship to maintain the law and order in the society which is natural in such an individualistic free-minded society of the Mishmi. However, the Idu Mishmi society has a form of tribal council
to settle the civil and criminal cases. The tribal council is comprised of the elderly people of the village, who have soundness of judgment, wisdom
etc. The tribal council that functions in the Idu Mishmi village is called ‘Abbala’.
When a man places a complaint to the Abbala, the members first hear him and after a few days, go to the house of the accused. Witnesses are summoned to give evidence and their statements along with those of the accused are patiently heard. The villagers who are not immediately concerned with the case may attend the case.
The members of ‘Abbala’ have a great responsibility because they are supposed to scrutinize the claims of both the parties and then come to a provisional decision. They have a hard task in persuading the parties about the justness of their decision and to bring about a settlement. It naturally entails long discussion and endless coming and going to the houses or the plaintiff and the defendant, till at length the decision is accepted by both the parties. The members of ‘Abbala’ are entitled to a portion of the compensation demanded from the accused, and they get remuneration from the complainant for their service.
Idus are expert in handicraft and weaving. The man makes basketry items out of cane, bamboo for household. The women weaves cloth with different design on both ETONWE (coat) & THUNWE (shirt).
The Idu Mishmi Textile has received its GI tag on 27th August 2019.
Many Idus purchase tractors and other machinery equipment for cultivation of cash crops like ginger, mustard seed and other cultivation of fruits (orange, pineapple, pears etc.), tea and paddy etc. The Idu-Mishmi practice both terrace and wet rice cultivation. Rice, Maize and Millet are the staple food of the Idu–Mishmis. Sweet potato and different kinds of Arum and vegetable are the usual crops.
The Idus, like the other sections of the Mishmis, were also interesting traders. It has been gathered that a large number of Idus regularly visited Tibet for trade. They even sent their wives if they could not go themselves. On the eve of their journey to Tibet, they moved from village to village in their area collecting from the villagers the articles like skins of animals, hides, Mishmi-teeta, musk, and roots for dyes and drugs on the promise of repayment by barter. From Tibet, they would bring home woolen goods, raw wools brass gongs, beaded ornaments, etc. Sometimes money was also used as a medium of exchange. Coins from Tibet were bought and used for further trade or ornaments. Reciprocally the Tibetans also regularly visited the villages of the Idus for procuring necessary items.
The Mishmis are good crafts men. Weaving and cane-bamboo works are the other economic activities. They used to produce textile items for their own consumption, as a result they need not procure it on barter or spending money. Similarly they were self sufficient in preparing all kinds of day to day items like baskets, mats, utensils etc. Thus the handicraft activities of the Mishmis contribute in a big way in their economy.
Traditionally, Idus believe in animism. They worship several benevolent and malevolent spirits. Nani-Intaya and Masello Zino are worshipped as creators of mankind and universe as a whole. Mythological characters like SINE-RU a first IGU (Idu Priest) still holds high place and reverence in the minds of the people. The prints of his palm on the huge rocks at Athu Popu near Keyala Pass in Dibang Valley district on China border, is supreme and holy shrine. They believe that the supreme God is beyond all human propitiations, and therefore, no sacrifices or offerings are made for him, but his name is invariably invoked on all sacrificial and ritualistic occasions.
The Mishmis have other gods also who control the sun, the moon and the stars, the rain, fire and the wind, etc. these gods are worshipped and
appeased so that they may evade their wrath, which manifests itself in natural calamities such as earthquakes, fire, epidemics, storms, crop failure, etc. the extension of their religious belief is expressed in the form of natural worship as well.
Reh — 1st February
- Ada: This is the first part of Reh. While celebrating the Reh puja one has to perform Ada. The practice is as follows:
People offer loans in cash and in-kind to the person called Mengga who is performing the Reh. The loan may be in the form of cash or in the form of pig, mithun, dry fish, dry rat, rice, or other necessary articles. This loan is offered to Mengga during the Reh puja. An account of the items of loan is maintained by the Mengga as he will have to repay the same loan at the time when the person who offered the loan will perform his own Reh puja.
Hathru : If one decides to perform the Reh within a year then he makes a declaration by performing the ritual Hathru where at least a mithun is sacrificed and feasted.
- The next stage is called Mrano-che. The person who is going to perform the Reh will start cleaning the jungle for cultivation. The crop of this cultivation is exclusively utilized during the Reh. The neighbouring people of the village will come toward to help him in the cultivation.
- The next stage is to give the contract to a priest or Igu to perform the Reh. The system of selecting an Igu is called as Regu-si.
- The subsequent stage is called Hawe-anji – the occasion for husking paddy, grinding rice, and millet for preparation of food stock.
- Next, comes Yu-phi which is an important ritual when different items of Yu (local rice beer) are prepared. The different rice beers are Yu-nyi, Yu-nu, Yu-yu, Yu-andro, etc. Mithun and pig are sacrificed on this occasion to entertain the villagers.
- Next, the invitation of Reh is sent to all his relatives and also those persons whom the Mengga has given ada through a tayi i.e. a rope of rubber tree bark, having several knots depending on the number of days fixed for the purpose. As the count down starts one knot is cut off on each day.
- Then comes the occasion of the construction of the Chung, the raised house in front of his own house. This is called an adaso. All the invitees are received at the Chung and their gifts are accepted and recorded.
Thus, after making all the preparation, ultimately the Reh puja starts on the scheduled date.
- The first day of the Reh is called Andropu. On this day the Igu or the priest arrives and starts the rituals for the well being of all guests called Meye-aji. On the arrival of the guests the host and the villagers greet them by shouting Meye-bo in chorus for 2-3 times. As soon as the guests step on the chung they are offered with yu in bamboo container. During this time, presents either in cash or in kind as Agite from female relatives are received. Some guests return their dues and yet some offer loan to the Mengga
- Eyanli– the second day of the celebration is known as Eyanli. It is also called Sa- che-machinyi the day of the sacrifice of animals. The Igu purifies the animals with tothro, the bamboo twigs. The ritual is called Sa-acha. On this day the Mengga offers live pigs to his maternal uncles, brothers and in laws and father in-law. The fee of Igu in the form of live pig is also given on this day. After this Mengga will continue giving presents to all the relatives of the wife and maternal uncles in cash which is called Emeta.
- Iyili– the third day of the celebration is called Iyili and is significant for sacrifice of the pigs. The Mengga will distribute all the heads of the sacrificed pigs among the cousins. There is a practice of giving and receiving presents in the celebration.
- Ilirumunyi -this is the fourth day of the festival. Most of the guests of distant places depart on this day. During evening a ritual called Apesa-adegi is performed where two males are dressed like a couple and demonstrate mock sexual act in the presence of the gathering causing a lot of entertainment and laughter. A black paste made out of charcoal is applied to all the members present, by the couple. This ceremony is performed to appease the Goddess Apesa to be blessed with prosperity and bumper crops.
- Aru-Go is the fifth day, when the remaining food and drinks are prepared and gifted to co-villagers.
- Etonu-che is the concluding day of the festival. The Igu departs early in the morning and virtually that indicates that the festival has concluded. Fowls are sacrificed for appeasing the Goddess Apesa-aduya for a big crop. Blood-smeared seeds are sown in the fields and rice beer is poured at the trunk of the stump for the goddess of the household. After the completion of Reh, the Mengga and his family observe 5 to 10 days taboo.
Ke-meh-ha — 24th September
Ke-Meh-Ha festival is celebrated by Idu-Mishmi community of Arunachal Pradesh annually on 24th September to mark the harvesting of paddy & other agricultural crops.
Worshiping of deity goddess of “APEH-MILLI” and “APEH-GONLO” is the philosophy and mythology associated with observance of this festival for bumper harvest. The day-long colorful celebration is marked with traditional rituals, folk dances, and community feast which brings lure, unity and gaiety, brotherhood among the entire community.
The meaning of Ke-meh-ha aka Kema-ha in Idu dialect is “eating the first crop of paddy”. The first crop of paddy is harvested and brought home, then it is fried and dried, then by pounding rice is extracted. A small quantity of the paddy is burnt and offered to the Apesa-aduya’ for a better crop. On this day the male members of the family will go fishing and hunting. This practice is called Ampi-ji. After coming from hunting and fishing a grand feast is organized within the family members of the house.
On this day, offerings are given to gods for the good yield of harvest. The day-long colourful celebration is embroidered with traditional folk dances, rituals, and community feasts. The preparation for Keh-Meh-Ha begins with the family preparing for the occasion. The females of the house begin preparing rice beer (Yu) in two separate vessels. The process of preparing the rice beer is known as the YUH-TOMBO-KOH. It means “brewing rice beer for tree stump“, as it is believed that the spirit of Apeh Milli of Apesha, dwells in trees. The female preparing the offering has to follow different taboos strictly. The rice beer prepared in the second vessel is meant for human consumption.
Originally the Kema-ha was observed individually by the Idus, but since 2002 it has been observed as a community festival and a great response has been seen among the Idus to celebrate it on a community basis.
The Idus, among other tribal groups of Arunachal Pradesh, are distinctive because of their typical hairstyle, distinctive costumes, and artistic patterns embedded on their clothes. The Idus are expert craftsman while Idu women, in particular, are very good weavers who use different designs on both Etonwe (coat) & Thunwe (shirt). Their great aesthetic sense is well reflected in the exquisite designs created on the clothes produced on handlooms.
The Idu men in the tribe are known to wear a waistcloth called Kathu/Lawe (loincloth) that covers their legs and hangs down like a flap in the front. On the top, they wear etoyo or etokojo (a sleeveless black jacket) that reaches half their thighs and is embroidered intricately on the lower half. These clothes are woven in an ordinary Indonesian tension loom. They wear the apatolo(a cane cap) as the headdress.
The women wear a long black skirt that reaches the ankles, the edges are embroidered. Atopolo or atowo-ragi, which is heavily embroidered, is worn as a bodice. A dark shoulder is then thrown around the shoulders and thin silver head plates are worn as a headdress. They wear large earplugs and several hoops around the neck. Anatubu is a heavily emroidered coat, worn by both men and women.
The house of the Mishmis is a flimsy hut, made of bamboo, cane, leaf, leafy rope, and thatch. They actually take advantage of the slant of the hill as a protective measure. Such houses accommodates a whole family. But the distinctiveness of the homestead plan of Mishmi is evidenced in a large rectangular enclosed room that looks like a corridor train. Such house accommodated all the members of the family consisting of husband, wife, at times more than one wife, husband’s parents the children, husband’s brother and sister. Family members may range from ten to sixty.
In the case of the plan of a house belonging to a rich family, it is usually a long one, extending to 30 meters in length and 5 meters in width, with a
passage running from one end to another end along one side in the interior. At times a number of compartments in that structure as rooms are seen, dividing it into different quarters. Mishmi room, whether big or small has a hearth made of clay, square in shape at the center of the room. At the front of the house, there is a porch having a semi-circular roof. Next to the porch, there is a common room, where the guests are accommodated. The next room in the row is usually meant for the owner of the house. The third and fourth rooms are for the wives and children. A notched timber and ladder are fixed with the front porch for entrance.
The main posts of the house are made from Kane and Ngero trees which are durable and not easily decayed or spoiled. Floor walls and rafters are obtained from a large stemmed bamboo (abato). Beams are made from fir trees (thombo). Roof is made by elephant grass (ako). Ropes are made from ‘abato’ bamboo. Tying things are made from young bamboos particularly from abato. The strips are dried over the fire and at the time of construction taken out and soaked in water for 3-4 days.
The roof is usually thatched with palm or ‘jengu ’(calamus erectus) which are abundantly available. The layer of thatch is fastened to stripes of bamboo matting; the framework is secured and strengthened with cane strings. The floor is made of split bamboo. The side walls are either made of split bamboo or of wooden planks. The entire house is constructed on several wooden and bamboo pillars. The house is always raised from the ground for about four to five feet, and that is why it is commonly called ‘chang ghar’, which actually means that the house is on a raised platform.
There is no definite myth about the origin of this ritual dance. According to local tradition, the first priest who officiated in a funeral ceremony was Chineuhu and his brother Ahihiuh, was the first priest who officiated in the other three ceremonies in which this dance forms a part. This dance is associated with the priestly office. Besides the priest, there are three or four other dancers who are selected from amongst the spectators. In addition, it is the usual dress which consists of a loin-cloth, a short-sleeved coat, and a sword slung on the right side, a leather bag slung on the left side and a few bead-necklaces, the priest wears a few other articles. These articles are an apron with particular designs, a headband decorated with two or three rows of cowries, a necklace studded with the teeth of tiger and bear, and a few metal bells. A priestess wears these special articles in addition to the usual Mishmi woman’s dress of a skirt, a long-sleeved coat, and bead-necklaces. The priestess is generally accompanied by female dancers. The accompanying dancers wear the usual dress.
The dancers stand in a line, the priest is second either from the right or left. During the dance, one dancer standing at one end of the line plays a small drum slung from his neck. The priest and the other two dancers play a very small semi-globular single-membrane drum, striking it with a bamboo stick which is kept tied to the drum with a string. The fifth dancer, if any, plays a horn bugle. When there are five dancers, the priest stands in the middle of the line. He sings a line of invocatory song while all the others play the musical instruments, flex the knees bobbing up and down and alternately raise the right and left heels and stamp these on the ground in time to the drum-beats. When the priest finishes singing the line, others repeat it in chorus. Again the priest sings another line of the song which the others repeat in chorus and thus it goes on.
After a prelude of flexing of knees and stamping of heels, they place one foot forward and immediately bring the other up beside it. If in the first step, the right foot is taken forward, then in the next step it is the left one. After each step, they flex the knees. Thus, they dance forward to the accompaniment of drumbeats and invocatory song. When they have danced forward for some distance, they dance backward with the same movement. Thus they dance moving forward and backward.
Sometimes they break away from the line formation and the four dancers standing in the four corners sing an invocatory song, play the musical instruments and dance flexing the knees and raising the right and left heel alternately and stamping these on the ground. Now and then they change positions dancing all the time but facing inward. Sometimes they dance in a circle following one another with tripping steps.
In another movement, they dance sideways either in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. They stand in a semi-circle and in the anti-clockwise movement, they take one step with the right foot to the right and immediately bring the left foot beside the right one. Thus they dance in a circle, flexing the knees after each step.
The priest does not demand any money for his priestly services, but the performer usually remunerates him according to his ability. The remuneration may also be paid in kind, e.g. with handloom coat, brass utensils, or pigs.
In the morning the food is prepared. Rice or ‘kado’ (millet) and some boiled green leaves (lai patta) seasoned with chillies and salt. After cooking the grain the water is not thrown, it is covered tightly with leaf and taken with the meal. Leaves of some other varieties are also taken by the Mishmis in large quantities. A favourite relish is the young bamboo shoot called ‘Apachu‘ It is pounded first, and then stored for about ten days in bamboo tubes for fermentation. ‘Apachu’ is sometimes prepared dry. In that case, the shoots are cut into small pieces, kept in large baskets covered on all sides, and then allowed to dry in the sunshine for three to four months in the time of scarcity or famine; the Mishmis usually depend on the roots of palm trees, maize, different kinds of arums, and sweet potatoes. Tobacco is grown in this area and when required for smoking, the piled-up leaves are kept for fermentation; then they are cut into pieces and dried in the sunshine, about a month after it becomes ready for use.
Yu or rice beer is the common drink. It is prepared from rice or millet.
- “Ethno archaeological study of the Mishmi tribe in Arunachal Pradesh and its exposition through ethnographic museum” – Malik, Basudeb (2007) : Calcutta University
- “The Anthropology of North-East India” – Ghosh, G. C., Subba, T. B. (2003) : Orient BlackSwan.