Some time back there were news reports about how the Great Indian Hornbill birds were facing extinction because of rampant hunting of the bird by the Nyishi tribe from Arunachal Pradesh, who hunted the bird to adorn their specially designed bamboo hat, Bopiya with the beak of the hornbill,you can say , as a part of their tradition . Activists rallied against it, lots were written and then one fine day the news item flashed, wherein it was mentioned that Hornbills now were out of danger from the Nyishis. The hunters had become the protectors and instead they had joined in a programme with the Govt. forest officials and Nature Conservation foundation to kickstart what will be now known as Hornbill nest adoption programme. Hunting had altogether stopped after they realised the importance of preserving this endangered species,shifting to fibre glass hornbill beaks instead and now they were trying to reign in deforestation as well as that too posed a threat to the hornbills. The Nyishis had cooperated in a major way to bring this positive change.
Again sometime back they were in spotlight for the face off with Times of India for an article filed by their reporter about a negative remark about the Nyishis and there was much hulla ballo over the matter. It seemed to appear to us that the Nyishis were being focused all for the wrong reasons and that was when we decided to find out the right reasons, which were still hidden from the world.
Coming back to the Nyishis, we were quite intrigued by the tribe and decided to delve deeper for our search for the right reasons, where our source Lovely Arunachal from facebook helped us a lot. And we were pleasantly surprised to learn some really heart warming facts about the Nyishis. What makes them stand out is their positive approach and adaptation for progress without compromising on the traditional aspect. They, unlike the bias by the general populace, are a tribe who do not hesitate to take the middle path for the benefit of the society if required as can be seen by the Hornbill issue.
When you mention Arunachal Pradesh, the tribes that comes to one’s mind foremost are the Adis, Apatanis and also Monpas and Khamtis. Only at times have the Nyishis come to the forefront, which is surprising as they the largest tribes in Arunachal Pradesh inhabiting areas of Papum Pare, East Kameng, Lower Subansiri and parts of Subansiri in Arunachal Pradesh. Primarily farmers, they used to love hunting and fishing, but this tribe has now settled into a life of agriculture in the plains sometime after they crossed over the mountains from the Chinese side long long back, even before the advent of Buddhism in China . Life has not been easy for the Nyishis, who are said to be of Indo mongoloid origins. It hardly is for the Hill people as their name suggests. After a period of time, when they began to face the problem of scarcity of arable land, (as they were into shifting cultivation in the mountains) they adapted to wet cultivation and settled down by the river Pakke. Unfortunately the Pakke river flooded in 2004 resulting in great loss of assets and call it a positive approach or never say die attitude,they resurrected to start afresh. Life is surely not easy because of unemployment and lack of infrastructure, but their enthusiasm towards life hasn’t paled.
Once known for their highly traditional values which is apparent from their attire all abloom and resplendent with a splendid headgear and ornaments, and also their elaborate rituals, they have set forth towards becoming a society of progressive thinkers as can be seen by their lifestyle changes, adaptation, including education and participation in community and state development programme. You will find it interesting to know that they have a Nyishi Elite Society or NES, who are a group of dedicated and educated Nyishi people who are very much into all round development as well as education of the tribe. But whatever change they have incorporated, it has not come at the cost of traditions as is the rule . They still maintain their traditions religiously and to give you an example we would like to share with you something we read, about the time how the village headmen had attended an official meeting with the Govt. Officials and NCF regarding the hornbill nest adoption programme attired in their traditional finery of dresses and headgear all complete with pipe and even daos (a type of dagger). After all intentions if well meant and firm can never be hampered by traditions and customs.
Life surely is full of contrasts. There are so much contrasts and diversity in their way of life .
Mithuns, an animal used to be an important asset for the Nyishis and sacred too and is as important as gold is to us. They were the yardstick for economic transactions and also social status.The financial stability and social standing used to be ascertained by the number of Mithuns they used to possess. And if that gave you the impression of being caught in a time warp, then you will be surprised furthermore to know that they are considered experts in indigenous herbs and so knowledgeable are they about the significance of plant extracts and individual properties that it was written about elaborately in R P Srivastava’s article Srivastava’s traditional knowledge of Nyishi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh.
Animist in faith, they believe themselves to be descendants of Abo Tani and hence are said to be of Tani tribe. They are known for their celebrations and festivities, Nyokum yullo being the most important. Nyokum , a festival for harvest, has been celebrated every year without fail from 24th to 26th February since 1967 – 68 in Jorum in Lower Subansiri.
Nyishis without the mention of apo and its importance in their life will render the article incomplete. Apo is a local brew, made from either rice or millet and are used in all social gatherings and important events of lifetime.
Women hold an important position in the household and society. Nyishis consider their women as source of peace, progress and prosperity and hold a key status in decision making of the house.
They have a clan system or phratry system rather than a caste or class system not ascertained by birth or occupation but based on a lineage or descent and is in no way politically or socially divisible but is present more for cooperative and cumulative social functioning .
Interestingly they have a politico cum judicial system called Nyele to settle disputes and listen to grievances. The place where the Nyele operates is called Nyele Miram or arekh merem.
The most heartening part is the news of the Nyishis developing their own script and language and a primer to that effect being already worked out as per last reports in their website www.nyishielitesociety.org
The Nyishis are an open minded, frank and friendly tribe and you can visit them without any fear or inhibition for a more closer look into their society , culture and of course the beautiful and scenic landscapes of the land they live in.
We surely have found the right reasons that we were looking for. We hope you have found too.
Source and pictures- Lovely Arunachal
Srivastava’s – Traditional knowledge of the Nyishis
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