Taraon (Digaru Mishmi)

by Sep 28, 2021Demographics, Tribes0 comments

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 Taraon, which was also known as Digaru-Mishmi, have settled down mostly in the valley of Lohit and its major tributary, the Digaru.

The community is divided into a number of clans and sub-clans. Some of the important clans are Tayang, Chibo,Tindo, Billi, Tegga, Marah, Kathak, Dyaji, Boo, and Moro.

History

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. After the Idu Mishmis, the next to come over this region were the Digaru Mishmis (Taraon). From the close study, it appears that they had come across the passes following the course of the Lohit river from the north in small batches. They preferred the lower region along the bank of the Lohit and Digaru rivers, as their habitat.

Language

Digaru alphabet chart

Digaru or Tawra alphabet chart

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.

Digaro, also Taraon, Tawra, or Darang, is the language spoken by the Taraons (Digaru Mishmi).

Culture

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.

Society

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 Taraon society has formed a form of tribal council to settle the civil and criminal cases called Kabeya.

Kabeya

Kabeya is a sort of village or inter-village council in which, besides the gaonburah, who is a government representative, neutral members, and affected parties attend to resolve certain disputes or enter into some agreement. Usually, all concerned parties follow the council’s decision. However, in cases of serious allegations or charges of wrongdoings by a person, people also resort to ordeals employing pouring of molten iron or scalding hot water, etc. to prove the truth. The Taraons call it Pasei whereas the Kamans call it Mashai.

Economy

Mishmi Teeta

Mishmi Teeta (Coptis teeta)

Mishmis are said to be keen traders, they used to regularly visit the nearby market centers in Assam and bartered musk pods, musk deer skins, honey, medicinal herb known as Mishmi Teeta or Coptis teeta which contains valuable alkaloid berberine, a kind of poison which had a great demand for its pleasant smell, and in exchange, they used to take salt, metal tools, utensils made of brass and copper, cigarette, bidi, glass beads and beads of semiprecious stone.

The Taraon Mishmis inhabited the hills near the Brahmakund, as far as eastern regions of the district bordering Tibet, and traded with the bordering areas of Tibet. Their merchandise was the same as that of the Kamans. The Kamans and the Taraons went across the Indo-Tibetan border in groups from time to time. The goods they carried were musk pods, aconite, skins of animals, Mishmi coat and loincloths, various kinds of barks, and roots for dyes or drugs such as ‘gotheon‘(an odoriferous root) manject (madder), and Mishmi teeta. In exchange, they brought from Tibet cattle, brass pipes, gongs, woolen goods, copper vessels, and beads.

Reference of regular trading activities between the Taraon Mishmis and the Burmese people took place through Hkamti Long in Myanmar.

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.

The highly valued medicinal plant coptis teeta (Mishmi teeta) is grown on a considerable scale which has a good market as commercial item. Timber trade of the Mishmi gave great boost to improve economy of the area.

 

Religion

The concept of high impersonal God among the Mishmis who they regard as the supreme creator embodying the highest ethical principle of justice is based upon beliefs in the spiritual qualities of natural phenomena, good or evil, as caused by an agent who in their mind is a spirit. They believe in numerous such spirits having great powers to rule over human beings. According to these beliefs, there are mainly two kinds of spirits; one brings happiness and prosperity and the other distress and misery. The Mishmi have, therefore, evolved a system of magi co-religious rites and practices to dispel the evil spirits by appeasement. The relation of the spirits with the high god is not well defined, but they are thought to be subservient to him. Propitiation of the spirits who dominate the world of man is the most significant aspect of the Mishmi religion.

By an extension of the religious beliefs in the spirits, the Mishmis have conceptualized a supreme God, the creator of the world, who is infinitely more powerful than the spirits and mortals. The Taraons address him as Jab Malu. 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. Some of the deities and spirits are as follows:

  • Breing or Broingyet is the sun god who watches over the doing of man. Benevolent and kind he gives fortune, wealth, and prosperity to human beings.
  • Bruiya is the deity who protects man from accidents. It is believed that he comes for the rescue of men who invokes him in danger. He also prevents the evil spirits from doing harm to man. But he destroys human property and livestock when neglected.
  • Cuta is a deity of the forest to whom offerings are made for successful hunting.
  • Dappa is a deity who controls birth. If neglected, he may cause a miscarriage or cause harm to the newborn child.
  • Cwpe is an evil spirit of gigantic stature like a palm tree. When he clutches a man in a lonely place, he may either carry him to the jungle to make him insane or kill him.
  • Kapa Baru is a spirit who lives in big trees. If anybody cuts a tree where he lives, he would get leprosy
  • Achva is a spirit who is responsible for causing stomach trouble to the children.
  • Maiei is an evil spirit who brings dysentery and other epidemic diseases to a village.
  • Nya Along is a spirit that causes continuous fever. He is offered a live fish for the cure.
  • KukKau is a spirit who is held to be responsible for the serious illness of human beings.
  • Bra is a spirit that also causes serious illness. A man loses his hair due to the evil intentions of this spirit.

The priests play the most important role in the Mishmi society. They perform all the rites and rituals in society. A priest is called as GOAK by the Taraons.

Festivals

Tamladu — 15th February
The most important and popular religious festival is Tamla-du, for the Taraon Mishmi. The same occasion is called as Takku by the Kamans. This ritual is performed to please the protector spirit of the village. It is believed that every village is guarded by a spirit, who protects it from epidemics and ravages of the wild animals. The ceremony is held every year with all the villagers participating in it. On this occasion, a treetop is planted at the entrance of the village, and the blood of a sacrificed fowl is sprinkled over its branches. A small basket with the dead fowl in it is kept hanging from a branch of the tree. The ceremony is followed by amusements held at the village entrance. On the next day, the villagers do not go out of their doors nor do they allow any outsider to enter the village as a taboo.

Di-batai —

Di-batai is the main festival of the Taraon or the Digaru Mishmis in the Lohit District. The festival continues for six or seven days. About two or three months before this festival, each householder arranges the food and then sends for the goak (priest). The goak fixes the date of the festival by tying knots on strings and those strings are sent to relatives and friends in other villages as an invitation to the festival.

Before the goak (priest) comes, persons related as son-in-law brings roasted pork, chicken, dried fish, and other foodstuffs. All the people of the village also assemble there. After the visitors are entertained with drinks, young men and women spend the night singing and dancing. It is observed as a day of fast when people cannot take any cooked food.

On the second day of the festival, the goak (priest) enters the house for the ritual performance. In the evening visitors from outside and within the village assemble. Then the feast starts and everybody enjoys to their heart’s content. After that, the singing and dancing starts.

On the third day, the mithuns are slaughtered in the morning and all young men and women are required to carve the meat. All male folks are entertained with the sacrificial meat, but for the women all meat is taboo. The feasting continues on the fourth and fifth days.

On the sixth day, the festival comes to an end and all visitors bode farewell with presents of meat, dried fish, etc. The son-in-law receives presents in cash from the visitors and relatives and the goak (priest) has to be given his fees for performing the puja. On the sixth day of the festival, a fire is lit outside every house with offerings of food for the spirits of the dead, because it is believed that departed soul also comes for this festival, enjoy themselves and bless the village and other visitors to be prosperous in wealth, children and crops.

Dress

The Taraon males wear a ‘ding’ (black or maroon sleeveless coat with ornamental borders), ‘athu’ (loincloth), and ‘Kahang ’(white or black turban). They also put on a beautifully woven cane hat. The women wear a ‘dinga  (blouse with coloured stripes), an embroidered bodice, a skirt, and a ‘Kajunging’ (shawl). A colourful piece of cloth is worn over the skirt. They are fond of silver ornaments with attractive designs, which include a thin band of silver, earrings, and necklaces made of beads and decorated with silver coins.

House

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.

Taraon Hut

Taraon Hut

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.

Dance

Buiya

The Buiya dance has two types of movements and it is performed for entertainment while the Nuiya is a ritual dance performed by a priest.

Buiya dance is performed on any festive occasion like the Duiya, Tazampu, and Tanuya festivals which are performed for the prosperity and good health of the performer and his household. This dance may also be performed after a feast arranged by a family to entertain the fellow villagers who co-operate with it opening a new field. The dance is performed in the passage which runs along one side of the house from the front to the rear. Men and women take part in this dance. There is no limit to the age of the dancers although generally children and old persons do not take an active part in the dance itself but merely sit by, as spectators. There is no special costume for this dance, so they perform this dance wearing their usual dress. The male dancer wears a loin-cloth a sleeveless jacket, a turban, and earrings. The female dancer wears a blouse, a long skirt reaching down to the ankle with a short one wrapped over it, and a side bag on the left side. They wear necklaces, large silver-ear-plugs, and a silver fillet with its strap studded with coins or cowries.

The dancers stand in a line, one behind the other, in the passage. One of the dancers plays a drum while another plays a gong. Cymbals are played, if available, by another dancer. Keeping time to the beats of the drum, gong, and cymbals, the dancers take one step forward with the right foot, then gently bring the left foot up to the heel of the left one flexing the knees as before. They dance forward repeating this sequence of movements till they reach the rear of the passage with the same sequence of movements. Thus they dance up and down the passage of the house. They may or may not sing to the accompaniment of the dance. When they sing a song, it may be solo or in chorus.

There is another movement when they dance with skipping steps but with no accompanying song. The skipping steps of the female dancers are lower and graceful while those of the male dancers are higher and more vigorous.

The dancers get no remuneration. There is no formal training but they learn the dance movements by imitating those of the elders.

Nuiya

Nuiva is a ritual dance relating to funeral ceremonies. The dance is performed by the priest who sings a chant to the accompaniment of drum and gong played by two other persons.

Food

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.

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