By - Dr. Modang Reena
LOCATION AND EXTENT
Longding district is the 17th administrative district of Arunachal Pradesh. The total geographical extension of the district is 1192 sqkm. The latitudinal extension of the district is 93°57’- 95°23’ E and longitudinal extension of 27°69-29°27 N. Altitude is 886 mtrs above the sea level. Being situated in the sub-Patkai region the whole area is hilly and undulating. The hills have been denudated due to jhum cultivation except few foothills area adjoining the Assam plains. Situated in the eastern part of Arunachal Pradesh it is surrounded by Tirap District in the east, Mon district of Nagaland in the west, Sivasagar district of Assam in the north and Myanmar in south.
The Patkai hills in the south of the study area forms the international boundary between India and Myanmar. The hills in the region are the branches of Patkai range and from a distance they look like successive spurs. The tribes inhabiting the district are known as “Wancho” who were once known for the practice of fierce head hunting.
The total geographical extension of the study area is 1192 sqkm. According to Census operation A.P, the total population of the district is 56,953 out of which 28710 are males and 28243 are females.
Longding district was created by bifurcating erstwhile Tirap district of Arunachal Pradesh on 26th September 2011 by Arunachal Assembly. The district was formally inaugurated on 19th March 2012 and it became the 17th administrative district of Arunachal Pradesh.
There are six administrative circles in Longding district. They are -
1. Kanubari 2. Lawnu.
3. Longding. 4. Pumao.
5. Pongchau. 6. Wakka.
THE SOCIAL PRACTICES OF THE WANCHOS
THE SOCIAL SYSTEM
The Wancho society is divided into two important social divisions, Wangham, the chief and Wangpan, the commoner. The division dates back to the days of the first creation of a Wancho village and there is no tradition or folklore to determine the exact time of this division. As is customary and usual in a society with a chief, a Wancho chief is entitled to marry several girls from the commoner class. The marriage of the Wangham with Wangpan girl has given birth to two intermediate social classes, Wangsa and Wangsu. A chief is sacred and so is his blood. So his son born out of a Wangpan wife can never be Wangham because there is Wangpan blood in him, nor can he be a Wangpan because Wangham blood is also in him. Thus, all the children of Wangham from his Wangpan wife or wives are assigned to an intermediate class of Wangsa, just a rank lower than the Wangham. Below Wangsa there is another class, the Wangsu i.e. son of Wangsa father and Wangpan mother. Four social classes have thus been created. On the highest rank of the social hierarchy is the Wangham with all his glory enjoying special facilities and honour in every sphere of life. Next to him is the Wangsa, Wangsu goes a step further down and does not give rise to any other class. On the last and the lowest in the social strata is the Wangpan with no royal blood in him. All these four social classes have various social responsibilities and obligations, rights and duties and interpersonal relationship.
Social distinction between the classes is is very scrupulously observed in every sphere of life. As for example, in the village festivals the Wangpans are not allowed to sit and take meal in the same row with the Wanghams. They are also not allowed to marry a Wangcha girl from Wangham’s family although there is no restriction on the part of the Wangham to marry a Wangpan girl.
The Wangham is the head of the village as well as of the society. The head of the village has got to be Wangham and since the post of Wangham is hereditary, a Wangham has to produce a Wangham son. For this he has to marry the daughter of a Wangham born of a Wangcha wife. Such a daughter is known as “Wangcha.” If a Wangham doesnot have son from any of the Wangcha wife, the office of the chief, on his death goes to his nearest kin, his brother’s son given the first preference. But if it so happens that his brother also donot have sons born out of their Wangcha wives he asks the Chief of his parent village to send to his village one of his younger son to succeed him. This arrangement is also followed when the Chief of the parent or the paramount villge has no son, or other eligible heir. He then asks the Chief of the village which branched off from it to send his eldest son, who then shifts to the parent village and inherits the office of the paramount chief on his death. But in no case, a Wangsa becomes a chief. Since the office of the chief is sacred, the holder has to be sacred and one can only be sacred if one is born of a Wangcha mother.
Wangsa is a status only for one generation given to the Chief’s children by a Wangpan wife, known as Wangnu. So long such a child survives he remains a Wangsa, his children are downgraded to a still lower status of Wangsu. This helps in the reducing the number of Wangsa in the village. If the Wangsa were made into a permanent class it could create problems for the society by becoming a potential rival to the heirs of the chief. If Wangsa were allowed to increases their number, one day they would become very powerful in the village and could pose a threat to the chief’s authority. Numerical strength has always been considered as main source of power in the Wancho villages, and villages with considerable population have always dominated smaller ones and subjected them to their authority by sheer threat of annihilation. A Wangsu is the descendent of Wangsa. This class is permanent and more stable.
A Wangsu is the descendent of the Wangsa; this class is permanent and more stable by virtue of having the chief’s blood in them. They are considered a little superior to the Wangpan but are not entitled to much social prestige.
A Wangpan remains a Wangpan for all time. There is no change in their social status. His marriage relation with a higher class female does not enable him to rise in social scale. He can marry a daughter of a Wangham, other than a Wangcha that means the daughter of Wangpan wife. A Wangpan cannot marry a Wangcha but can marry Wangham’s daughter who is born out of Wangpan mother. There is no restriction on the part of a Wangham to marry a Wangpan girl. The Wanghams, Wangsas and Wangsus practically controls the affairs of the village. As they have royal blood in their veins they are entitled to take important part in social function and important portfolios such as looking after the chief bachelor dormitory called “Paa.”
Family consists of father, mother and their children. This group forms the household which transform to an extended family. Eldest son who by custom live in the parental house has the responsibility of looking after the family and aged parents. Other son(s) has to establish individual household after marriage. All the family members of the family take their meal from the common kitchen. But in case of Chief it is different. Chief marries a Wangpan girl from the same village especially to cook for him. She is called “sha chonnu.” “Sha means food “chonnu” means one who serves. In other words, she can be called royal cook. Other wife cooks their food themselves. Other wives of Chief apart from Wanghcha doesn’t enjoy special privileges, they cook their own food, goes to the field, work and raise crops like others. Each wife has a separate room called “noi.
Clan exogamy is strictly prohibited in the society. It is the fundamental rule of the marriage. Intra clan marriage is looked upon as incest and never allowed. Violation of this rule ends in excommunication and even in capital punishment in extreme cases. In case of arranged marriage, marriage is formally negotiated and settled by the parents but the preferences of the young are always considered.
SONG AND DANCES
Songs are called “ tsai” in Wancho. There are numerous songs which are sung on all sorts of occasions such as while pounding rice, harvesting of crops, while cleaning jungle in the agricultural fields. Each song has its own name.
Lai lung: Lailung is a love song of the Wanchos. It has sweet and soft melody, rich in thoughts and beautiful ideas. The songs are characterized by their rich poetic imagination. Usually the boy first sing a song to the girl he fancy, expressing his love and yearning for her and a girl who receives his attention, gives an appropriate reply through her melodious song. The Wancho love songs are marked by definite air of dignity as their singing is mostly confined to the bachelor dormitory. It is against the social norms to sing a love song publicly or in presence of the elders. It is also not sung between members of the same clan group.
Most of the dances of the Wanchos are performed in groups. The beauty of the dances is raised by the colourful costume. The folk dances of Wanchos are performed by men and women in a synchronized manner. Dances are generally performed in religious and festive occasions. The dances donot differ much in styles and manner. For festival dances, the dancers put on their traditional dress and ornaments. Flexing of knees at equal interval and the stepping in time with the beats of the drum provide the rhythm of the dance. Girls participate in the dances of festivals only, never in war and funeral dances. Men perform the war dances. This dance is a martial and athletic style. It involves a great deal of expertise as the performers go through dangerous war motion. Even a little bit of carelessness can prove highly fatal. The dancers wear colourful and graceful dresses which add more charm to the dances. The dresses of the dancer resemble the costume of the warrior.
There are dances of peaceful social occasions also such as marriage, building of house, death of chief etc. ‘Ojii’ is the only agricultural festival when they dance for two consecutive days. The first day is called bonu and second day is called bosa.
ARTS AND CRAFTS
Wanchos have their own distinct cultural and traditional identities and are displayed through various forms of art prevalent in the form of weaving, basketery, beadwork, wood carving etc. These forms of arts have a great potential in the international market because of its beautiful vibrant colour combination and sensibility and authenticity. The Wanchos are the expert craftsmen.
WEAVING: Earlier weaving among the Wanchos was a traditional occupation of the chief’s family only and they are expert in this art. Why the craft was confined to the women of the chief’s family is difficult to say because of the restriction of art to the women of the chiefs family only weaving has not become a general occupation of all the Wancho women. But this perception is gradually changing with the coming of modern education. Many women are taking weaving as a means of earning livelihood irrespective of the clan.
The designed weaved is generally of arrangement of bands and lines sometimes making them into elaborate pattern of diamond.
BEADWORK: Like weaving, beadwork is also confined to the women. Earlier it was confined among the chief”s families only. Today it is not like that, every Wancho women knows how to do bead work. It is a glassbead locally called ‘lik’ which is generally procured from the plains of Assam. Women make very attractive ornaments of coloured beads for personal decoration. One can easily identify the class whether one is from the chiefs family or from the family of commoner i.e. Wangpan by just looking at the ornament he or she wears. Some ornaments which are worn by the chief families are not entitled to be worn by the commoner. For example, if a girl wears a head gear studded with coins, it represent that she belongs to chiefs family.
Wancho women are very expert in the making of beads ornament. Bead making is a very tedious process. It needs days of needling small coloured beads into intricate design, combining various strands of the threads according to the breadth. They weave variety of designs like diamond, human figures etc. Of late, Wancho beads are gaining much popularity in the outside world, because of its beautiful design and vibrancy. It demands is globally increasing. In late 70s, a Wancho woman received the national award from then Prime Minister late Indira Gandhi, for her outstanding work in the field of beads making.
The beads generally used for plaited work are glass beads and the colours choosen are mainly red, blue, green, yellow and white. Bead work is highly complicated and time consuming.
WOOD CARVING: Wood carving is a specialized craft of the Wanchos. There are experts in almost all the Wancho villages who can carve on wood. They carve different figures like tigers, snake, human etc.
Nowadays, however, this craft is assuming an almost commercial character. The objects of carving and conventional types and designs, wood carvings dolls are much in demand in the marke. It is commercially viable and has been found to be more beneficial economically.
Decorated pillars of carvings in house of the chiefs house are invariably found in almost all the the Wancho villages. In the chiefs house one can find various pattern of wood decorated with carvings of the various human and animals figure.
The Wanchos donot have sophisticated tools and implements for wood carving. The wood generally used for carving is locally called Pomo. It is a kind of soft wood. This particular species of tree is locally available.
Although there is no special status for the wood carver yet they are respected by the people as their services are inevitable in the socio-cultural life of the people. There is no separate class of people for the art. Anybody having interest in the art can become a wood carver. He may learn the art by association with the expert. Woodcarving is however confined to menfolk only. It is not done by women.
BACHELOR DORMITORY OR PAA
The Wancho have well institutionalized bachelors’ dormitory system which is called ‘Paa’. But this institutionalized system is declining and almost become non-functional. In the good old days bachelor dormitory system was part of life. The bachelor dormitory was an important educational institution for the youth of the village. The custom and tradition have been transmitted from generation to generation through folk music and dance, folk tales and oral tradition, carving of figure on wood. It was also called as a guardhouse during times of war.
The bachelor dormitory is decorated with wood carvings and skull of buffaloes and other animals sacrificed on various occasion.
There is a qualification for admission to Paa. Generally children do not stay in the Morung as member though they may enter it. But females of any age are prohibited from entering it. Only on the day of construction of ‘Paa’ young girls and women may serve food in the feast given on that day.
Each Paa has a big long log drum called ‘Kham’. Different rhythm produced by log drum beating indicates different meaning. These are known and people on hearing the rhythm or sound act according to the message conveyed.
Like the boys dormitory, the girls dormitory was also prevalent among the Wachoos. They were known as ‘Noi’ where the girls would stay in the dormitory after attaining puberty till they choose their life partner and settle in the family life. During her stay in the dormitory she would learn weaving, cooking etc. Apart from this, she would get lessons about manner, morality, and ethical code of conduct. But, unlike Paa the males are allowed to enter into the ‘Noi’. But strict exogamy is maintained. The boys and girls of same clan cannot enter or stay in the dormitory of the same clan.
In dormitory, they not only learn cultural values and warfare techniques but also provided the structure for working principle of the village council. In short it is the fulcrum of democracy.
Dutta Parul (1990),The Wanchos, Director of Research, Govt of Arunachal Pradesh, Itanagar
Rolongham, Manlong (2004), study of the Marriage system of the Wancho tribe, Reflection from the Tribal Societies of Arunachal Pradesh, Mittal Publications.
(The author of this article is serving as an Asstt. Professsor of Geography in Wangcha Rajkumar Govt College, Deomali,Arunachal Pradesh and can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>)