Monday, June 30, 2008

Apatani weapons of olden days - 3 : bow and arrows

Along with spears, bows constitute the only projectile weapons traditionally used by Taniis, as guns were unknown in this part of the Himalayas prior to the advent of the Indian administration.

Tanii bows are plain bamboo bows, with no stock. The whole bow is called
alyi; the string is called lyiha (from alyi, bow, and aha, string). Whether there is a specific word in Tanii to denote the stave is not known, nor is known which bamboo variety is considered most suitable for making staves. The stave is a simple bamboo section, the inside of the bamboo making the convex side. Two notches are made at the ends to receive the string. Strings are ostensibly made of twisted cane fibre, although this has yet to be confirmed. The string is attached to the two ends of the bow stave by a knot.

Arrows (apii/apu) are of 2 types :

  • - bamboo-tipped arrow, unbarbed. It consists of a rounded shaft with a pointed tip, having no separate head.
  • - iron-headed bamboo arrow. The head has a barbed iron point (apu-putu). Plant fibers (pyarmo) are used to fasten the iron tip onto the shaft. Possibly these are identical to fibers known as tama-amu used for making waterproof coatings.

All arrows are feathered with finely cut leaf fletches (murto) for regulating their direction. Again, it is still unclear which of these two plant species, tama amu or pyarmo, is used for making fletches, but pyarmo fibers are used to tie the fletches onto the arrow shaft. At the end of the shaft butt a notch is made to receive the bow string. The iron heads are sometimes poisoned with aconite (iimyo, Aconitum ferox). The plant is made into a paste which is applied on arrow tips.

The arrows are carried in a quiver (age) made of a hollow bamboo, suspended over the right shoulder by a sling of plaited cane. The quiver is fitted with a cane lid also attached to the sling by means of plaited cane (left).

In shooting, the stave is gripped by the left hand and held in an oblique manner, and the quiver hangs under the left shoulder so that arrows can be picked up easily with the right hand. The usual mode for shooting an arrow is to allow it to run between the first and second fingers, while the butt end of the arrow is held betwen the thumb and first finger. Tanii archers use cane rings known as lake or lyiha-lako covering all four fingers of the hand. According to Pura Tado*, this helps grip the arrow tightly. Possibly it may also function as a kind of trigger, as well as a protection for fingers. The left wrist is protected from being hurt by the bow string by means of a wristband (lahii). According to the author it is traditionally made of long human hair which are collected and made into yarn by spinning, then "artistically made into a thick rope with some symetrical designs" (2006 : 223).

In olden days bows and arrows were used both for war and for hunting. It seems that they were also employed in inter village disputes among Taniis, including those gyambo sonii or 'demonstrations of war', by which two clans or villages could challenge each other openly in a conventional manner. However, according to Fürer-Haimendorf, as a rule they were confined to long-distance arrow shooting, as was also bamboo spear throwing. The same author also reports that it was an arrow who killed the victim of the last Apatani gyambo sonii having opposed Tajang and Reru in 1972 (some information on this event can be found here).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Apatani weapons of olden days - 2 : spears

Along with the dao (or sword) and the bow, the spear (adan/iidan) was the chief weapon of offence of Taniis in the old days. The shaft is made of a long whittled pole of a dry and hard wood called tailan (a species yet to be identified). Some are quite short, only around 1,5 meter long, but other are said to be as long as 2.30 meters. Longer types are called iidan-danso ('long spear') or simply danso. Shafts are kept over the hearth for several months before being assembled. Tanii spears are found with plain shafts only. Hair-tuft decorations, which are a common feature of Naga ceremonial spears, are unseen among them. Iron butt caps also seem to be absent.

The Tanii spear head is leaf-shaped socketed iron head, without barbs. The blade ends in a long tang into which the shaft is inserted. It is made out of a single piece of iron whose shape resembles an isocele triangle. The 2 lower ends are simply folded and rounded up whereas the top part is left flattened (see picture). This way a socket is shaped to receive the shaft which is fitted into it. Whether a glue or lac is inserted into it before the head is rammed down onto the shaft is not known.

Tanii spears were always carried to war. They could be either thrown or be used as defensive weapons in close combat, but it is still unclear whether hurling or thrusting was the commonest mode of use. Pura Tado* mentions a special type, punyan, also made of the same wood, which according to him was used to skewer enemies through walls or fortifications.

A special type of bamboo spear (hulyu) was used in intervillage disputes only, as such spears were less likely to inflict serious wounds to opponents. According to Pura Tado* during combats children and women brought them to the men who hurled them towards their enemies.

a Tanii veteran demonstrating spear handling technique. Photo source unknown

*Pura Tado, "War Dresses and Weapons of the Apa Taniis", in S. Dutta and B. Tripathy, Martial Traditions of North East India, New Delhi : Concept Pub., 2006, pp.220-227.

Apatani weapons of olden days - 1 : daos and swords

Wars and feuds among Taniis, or between Taniis and their neighbours, seem to be a thing of the past. However, old weapons and war dresses are still found in many homes, not only as relics of the past but also as items used during certain rituals and collective ceremonies. Among those are cutting blade weapons, i.e. daos and swords.

Common dao : The Tanii ordinary machete (ilyo) is not a weapon proper, although it could be carried to war or serve as a defensive weapon. This multi-purpose dao is mostly used in daily life. The blade is straight, widens from the hilt to the tip, has a square end, and a single sharpened edge. The blade is fitted into a simple wooden handle (lyoli, kortu) which is tightly bound with cane (today more often white plastic threads). This handle is without a hand guard. Scabbards (hubyu) can be :
  1. - closed scabbards, made from two wooden strips that are bound together with cane. The most usual binding is thin plaited cane strips (tarin) at intervals along the sheath.
  2. - open-faced scabbards, locally called takhe hubyu. They are made of a long, flat piece of carved wood which is hollowed out on one face for the blade. Here, the blade is held in place only by the cane bands.
A strap (aha) made of plaited cane is attached to the scabbard.

An ordinary ilyo and its closed scabbard. On this picture, the single edged blade
is illustrated edge up. A knife and sheath of similar workmanship are also visible

Ilyo is used for every kind of work : cutting and slicing bamboos, cutting up meat, chopping firewood, building houses, reconstructing lapang, ... Iron used to be imported from Assam, and forged by local blacksmiths. In olden days, according to Fürer-Haimendorf locally produced daos and knives "were also articles of trade, and on their trading visits to villages of Nyishis and Miris Apa Tanis usually carried with them dao and knives to be used as exchange goods" (1980 : 62). Ilyo were mostly bartered for agricultural products, cane, or domestic animals. Pura Tado* mentions a better quality type of ilyo known as pare sala, which is said to be much costlier and is rarely seen nowadays.
Using ilyo for making altar ornaments (some, or jompu)

Ceremonial sword : A longer, slimmer sword version known as chiri seems to have been used in olden days for combat. It was originally imported from Tibet, not directly but through barter with neighbouring Nyishis, some of whom were in direct contact with Tibetans. Those located in the Sarli and Damin area of the upper belt of Kurung Kumey District know several passes to cross the Himalayan barrier and were in the habit of trading regularly with the Tibetans. Among the most sought for artifacts of such barter deals were Tibetan swords, whom the Nyishi of this area call sala.

Size and shape differences between ilyo (left) and chiri (right)

Apart from being more elongated and usually lighter, the blade also bears distinctive stripes lengthwise. These are quite similar to stripes found on Tibetan swords. Scabbards can be of both types, open and closed Nyishi scabbards which are commonly covered with monkey furs (the skin of the caped langur is said to be prized for that), scabbards of Tanii chiri are usually plain. Unlike Tibetan, Nyishi and Adi swords also, Tanii swords don't have any hand guard.

The end of a
chiri handle is ordinarily capped with a square-shaped piece of metal
Handle differences between ilyo (left) and chiri (right)

Cane straps of the most expensive chiri are covered with cowries (tahin). Interestingly, this highly valued shell, so commonly found on traditional cloths and ornaments in the highlands of North East India, is used among Taniis for this unique purpose of decorating chiri belts

Source : Ahin Sajain

A feline lower jawbone (ahi hipin) is often attached to the straps of ceremonial swords. This is a feature not only shared by various cultures of Arunachal Pradesh, but also those of Nagaland and northern Burma (2 examples are visible from this link)

Apparently this sword was carried to war, but it has always been a ceremonial as well as a practical weapon. Nyibus are invariably seen carrying a chiri during important rituals. Veteran warriors used to jump brandishing their chiri around the clan altar (nago) into which the monkey skull was kept during Myoko, and today's perfomers continue to do so. Participants to ropi ritual performed after the hunting of some big cat (formerly also after the killing of enemies and culprits) also carry their chiri. Most importantly, chiri were, and are still considered today as precious items. As such, they play a key role in the customary settlement of disputes where they, along with mithuns, serve as compensations for offenses and prejudices. Chiri is also among those valuables destroyed in front of the opponent's house during that form of contest known as yalu, or yalu lisunii, by which individuals may seek to resolve unsettled disputes. Pura Tado* reports 3 types of chiri, viz. hulu, sha and pinji, the two latter being more costly than the first type.

*Pura Tado, "War Dresses and Weapons of the Apa Taniis", in S. Dutta and B. Tripathy, Martial Traditions of North East India, New Delhi : Concept Pub., 2006, pp.220-227.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Personal pronouns in Tanii

Pronouns are words which can be used in the place of nouns, and personal pronouns refer more specifically to persons : I, you, he, she, it, we, they, me, us, them, mine, yours, theirs, etc.
However, personal pronouns do not replace only personal nouns. In English for example, the pronoun 'it' is commonly used to denote non humans, or inanimate beings. In this language, personal pronouns occur widely and are mostly used to prevent repetition of the nouns in a sentence.

How is it in Tanii ? Below are 5 basic features of Tanii personal pronouns :

Three forms exist for each person : singular, dual and plural

we two, both of us
you (sg.)
you two, both of you
you (pl.)
mo anyi
they two, both of them

2. As in English, personal pronouns change their form depending on their function in the sentence structure. In English, the 1st person pronoun is "I" when appearing as subject of the verb, but "me" when appearing as object of the verb. Similarly "he" changes for "him", "we" for "us" and "they" for "them. Thus, except for "you", each personal pronoun in the subject form has a corresponding distinct object form.
In Tanii similar changes exist, but they are limited to the 1st and 2nd person singular pronouns : ngo => ngii (1st), and no => nii (2nd). The use of one or the other will also depend on its grammatical role, or "case", in a sentence.
  • Ngo and no are used :
    • in the nominative (or subjective) case, i.e. when they are subjects of the verb :
No biilyo chatii koda ayatiido, ngo silo Itanagar tochi
You should have come yesterday, today I am going to Itanagar.
    • in the instrumental case
Kago no lo school ingiikochi ludo.
Kago insisted on being taken to school by you.
  • Ngii and nii are used for all other cases
    • accusative
Ngiimi helo pe !
Please pardon me !

Ngo nii mi kapalala ano hempyodo
I am very glad to see you
    • genitive/possessive
Ngii ka ane (Ngiika ane).
my mother (literally 'mother of me').

Siika kheta atan si nii kii (niikii).
These books are yours (literally 'these books are of you').
    • dative
Molu ngiiyi mi tiiko bihii.
They gave money to both of us.
    • purposive
Mo ka ate ngii pa siti tahe khebiitii.
His elder brother wrote a letter for me.

3. Tanii pronouns primarily refer to human beings. However, mo or molu may sometimes be used to refer to animals, if the animal(s) is/are known to the speaker or writer. But there is no equivalent to English 'it'. In most cases, the name of the animal or object is simply repeated over several sentences.

4. Possessive pronouns are formed by adding kii to the personal pronoun :

Si ngii ka ude = siika ude si ngii kii (ngiikii)
This is my house = this house is mine

Siika kheta atan si nii kii (niikii)
These books are yours


*Note that for 1st and 2nd singular persons, -kii is added to the object form (ngii, nii), not to the subject form.

5. Reflexive pronouns (myself, yourself, etc.) are formed by adjunction of another pronoun, ato (self), usually placed after the personal pronoun or before the verb.

Mo ato purisiido
He studies himself

For the sake of emphasize, a verbal suffix, -su, can be added.

Mo inkii so ato chasukendo.
He will climb there himself

Ato miisuto !
Do yourself !

This verbal suffix -su sometimes occurs alone, with the same meaning.

Mo ka miigo mi ato miisukiineto !
Let him do his work by himself

Speaker A : Miitope !
Please help me !
Speaker B : Miisuto !
Do [it] yourself !

Miisuyato !
Keep doing by yourself !


Friday, June 6, 2008

Demonstratives in Tanii : THIS and THAT

All languages have demonstratives that can be used to point at objects. Unlike English which has only 2 for near and far objects (THIS and THAT), Tanii shows several additional variants.
Here are a few examples :
Example 1 : "This house"
The speaker is standing close to the object.

Example 2 : "This is a house"
Here SIIKA SI is used in place of SIIKA...

Example 2 : "That house"
A boy and a girl are talking together.
The boy is showing a house which is located at some distance :
INKA is used.

Example 3 : "That house"
The boy is showing a distant house to the girl who is standing nearby;
HIIKA is used in place of INKA

Example 4 : "That house"
The boy is on the phone, talking to the girl about his house in which is he is not.
In this example, both speaker and addressee are distant from the object,
as well as from each other.
HIIKA is appropriate here, but not INKA

Example 5 : "That house"
The boy is showing a house located far away from him.
is used here in place of INKA.

Example 6 : "That house"
Both the boy and the girl are pointing at the same distant tree grove. But the boy wants to specify only the bigger trees (kahe bo sanii), whereas the girl is specifying the smaller ones (atu bo sanii). INKA or HIIKA can be used indiscriminately here.

Quite puzzling, isn't it ? Well, let's leave that to the sagacity of our readers ...
What kind of rules do you think can be deduced from the above examples regarding the use of SIKA, SIIKA, INKA, HIIKA, INTODAKA ?