> Society > Traditional life  
Amar Sangno
Date of Publish: 2015-11-12

Ripples of change…then and now

 

(Modernity and religious conversions are taking a toll on the Mijis, a small tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. A reflection of it was how their annual Chindang festival was celebrated recently in Tippi.)

 

Nestled in the West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh, Tippi is a little but well-known village, particularly popular for its Orchid Sanctuary, perhaps the second largest in Asia. Recently, Tippi saw a crowd which was more than their usual share. Hundreds swarmed it from across the State to join its celebration of Chindang, an agro-based festival of the Sajolang (Miji) community which populates the village and its surrounding areas.

There was pomp and gaiety on the festival ground adorned with a stage which looked more like a gaudy marriage pandal. Alongside the crowd were a set of curious media persons invited from different parts of the State by the festival organisers, and also a few VIPs including the Minister of State for Home and a Lok Sabha MP from the state, Kiren Rijiju. An announcer was heard translating the programme chart in broken Hindi, punctuated with the Miji dialect. A group of women dressed in their traditional attire sung the welcome song:

“Oh, Changhibiitey Daikom Chii Aado

Riihe Biitey Daikom Chii Aado"

Shenjhang Noi Peh Kelom Chew Aado

Zhemiyong Noi Peh Keluchew Aado…”

The song composer and writer, Ashan Sangchoju, translated its meaning for the crowd coming from outside the region saying it was an open invitation to all to be part of the joyful celebration.

Chindang, marked every October 15, is considered themain festival of the Mijis, a small tribe that inhabit the Lada circle of the East Kameng district and the Nafra Sub-Division of the West Kameng district with a few of them also found in the Assam-Arunachal border towns of Sessa and Bhalukpong who settled down there some time ago because of better access to facilities. Culturally and linguistically, the Miji and Hrusso Akas form a cognate group.  Their ancestors are called Bor(Robo),or the brother of Tanis, like the Nyishis, Apatanis, Tagins, Galos and the Adis which share common features but are also distinct in themselves.

Traditionally, Chindang is a week-long festival celebrated just after the harvesting season. Like the agro-based festivals of other communities in Arunachal Pradesh, Chindang is also associated with a deity. The village headmen and elders gather before the commencement of the festival to choose a priest as per a prophecy and the chicken liver sign. Though earlier it was celebrated in the Miji villages on different dates, some years ago, they decided to do it on a fixed date.

A ritualistic sacrifice is an important part of the annual festival. On the day of sacrifice, people from one village are not allowed to visit another and whoever violates the custom knowingly or unknowingly are imposed a penalty by the villagers. Men and women gather in traditional attire including the warrior dress on that day and the local brew Chang made of maize is exchanged among the men and women. The people  observe Sulunku  (a restriction period) on the next day and no villager is allowed to go outside their village. The day after that is the hunting day for the community, an occasion for every Mijiman to try his skill at it.

However, with the passage of time, the festival has more or less lost its traditional character. Today, it is like any other occasion for festivity on a huge open field with a congregation of people. The present edition in Tippi was typically bereft of a tribal touch except for a sacrificial altar (Dhapogan in Miji) erected in the middle of the ground. The colourful traditional attire of the Mijis though made up for it to an extent. The old and the young men proudly wore their head crown Dampen while the women flaunted their intricately hand-weaved jackets embellished with traditional beads and lined up on both sides of the entrance to welcome the VIPs. 

As per the custom, there was a priest at the Tippi festival but he was not chanting any hymn or engaging in any traditional ritual as it used to be once. No rice flour (Ngammoh) was sprayed at the sacrificial altar which was a part of the rituals. While select guests were served Chang along with the traditional spicy bean and ginger salad wrapped in Akam leaves, the small commercial stalls around the festival ground were stuffed with pricy IMFL beverages.

“People prefer foreign wine, so we stock as per demand,” said one such stall owner, Pretty Miji.

This walk of their traditional festivity towards modernity had not gone down well with all community members though. Kaley Rijiju, a local songwriter and activist, expressed that sentiment, “To gel with modernity, we have forfeited our original culture and tradition.”

Along with the advent of modernity, Taluk Miji Sanchoju, an educationist, blamed rampant religious conversion among the Mijis for Chindang seeing a change.“The festival is losing its real colour as our people have embraced other religions and abstain from taking part in it.”

It is commonly believed that 90 percent of the community members have now converted to Christianity while someothers have become Buddhist, leaving a very few to follow their traditional religion animism.The Chindang Festival Celebration Committee Chairman Aju Khonjuju highlighted the fact, “Most of my community members are now Christians which makes it difficult for the traditional ritual of animal sacrifice and other rituals.” Khonjuju though mentioned, “The original form of Chindang is celebrated with sacrifice and rituals in Nafra.”

The population of the Mijis is approximately 11,000. An added worry of their loss of traditional customs due to religious conversion is also the gradual loss of their dialect. The Miji dialect is already enlisted as one of the most critically endangered languages among the ethnic groups of Arunachal Pradesh by UNESCO. 

The manner the festival was organised and the worries that some members of the community expressed during it have made it apparent that the uniqueness of this small tribe is gradually getting lost to the insidious impact of modernity and conversion of its members to other religions. The onus is now on the young Mijis to decide how they want to take their community forward.

Amar Sangno

( The writer is a sub-editor with The Arunachal Times and can be reached at amarsangno@gmail.com )

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