Nested in the Himalayan foothills, almost untouched by my world that is desperately seeking answers to its energy crisis, its financial crisis fuelled by ‘more & more’ & ‘growth’, and its societal crisis caused by the breakdown of tested social models, are the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh living in harmony with nature and with each other. Just as their ancestors did.
Arunachal is home to 26 major and numerous minor tribes with rich cultural traditions.
There are three kinds of religions practised here.
Monpas and Sherdak Pens in Kameng and Tawang district who came in contact with Tibetan in the north, adopted Lamaism of the Buddhist faith, while the Khamptis in Lohit district practice Mahayana Buddhism.
The second group, Noctes and Wanchos in Tirap district, whose long association with the Assamese in the south, converted them to Hinduism.
The third group comprises of Adi, Abas, Apatanis, Tagin, Nyishi, etc. – a large majority of the total population, who maintain their ancient belief and indigenous concepts of nature and worship the Donyi-Polo (The Sun & Moon).
It is hard to describe their lives. Pure. Rustic. Simple. In harmony with the universe. Frugal. Bare. Primitive – not in the sense of ‘backward’ but in the sense of living along ‘first principles’. As humans within an ecological system – not humans trying to control everything they see, as individuals within a harmonious society, not as individuals where each one lives for himself alone.
People in different spots live in mindsets that may take a few centuries to converge. Depending on a point of reference, the ‘other’ mindset might seem backward or evolved. In a prima facie view from my point of reference,the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh appeared to live an unevolved life. But the more I soaked myself into my fortnight spent among the Noctes, the Galo, the Nyishi, the Tagin and the Apatani people, the more I was convinced that these people are way more evolved than I can ever hope to be in my lifetime, in many ways. That for me and others like me in my world, the way to move forward to the future is to move back to the basic living standards of the past. To move back to the future.
An example : One of my guides mentioned the singular difference that makes these people so special: that the tribal people judge each other based on how nice they are and how accomplished they are, on their behavior and on their actions. The worldly possessions and the things they own make no difference to an individual’s reputation or to the his personal power in the equations within a group. Backward thinking or evolved?
Another example: When a man needs to build a home, he acquires the material from the forest, gets help from the other villagers and they build it together. Zero material cost. Zero Labour cost. Zero interest. And a house is built. Primitive idea or evolved?
They eat what they harvest and hunt and they wear what they weave. The new sunrise does not bring a fresh chase for an unknown utopia. With each new tomorrow they just go on as before. Their future is their past.
And there is contentment in the people.
They have the luxury of time. And it has not been traded for the ‘luxuries’ such as Ferrari, Rolex or Prada.
Looking back on the journey I realise that the experiences of visiting people living in their daily settings are subtle – the visuals and the sounds do not jump out at the viewer from a premeditated platform like they do in an organised festival. Therefore it is extremely easy to miss seeing and noticing unique elements of life. Having the luxury of time to go slow and observe details alertly was essential. Secondly the fact that the entire 2000 km stretch was almost entirely a tribal belt helped to remain soaked in the rustic experience without any interruption from urban distractions. In earlier experiences in other places I have stayed in the city and visited tribes on day trips but the impact of those is not as strong as when an extended period is spent only in the villages. The journey is done, but it feels incomplete – it feels like much more is left to be seen and explored and that I must return someday soon.
More about the 2000 km road journey in the Himalayan foothills in the following travelogues soon…