Sunday, July 13, 2008

Apatani war dresses of olden days - 1 : body armours

Altogether with shields, war dresses contitute defensive weapons aimed at preventing warriors from being injured by daos, arrows or spears. A distinctive feature of Tanii war dresses is the fact that they are mostly made of plants. Four accessories are considered here. Headgears will be treated in a separate post.

1. Lecha is a kind of body protection of cane matting worn in the back like a haversack. The cane basketry is mounted with fur-like substance derived from a particular tree, known as tama amu. This yet unidentified plant species resembles a palm tree or a giant fern and is found in the sub-montane forest zone. The fibers or 'hair' (amu) are probably extracted from the outer bark of the tree. Tulfts are incorporated one by one into the basketry during the manufacturing process, making this back protection look like a black cloak.

Tanii lecha. Source Ahin Sajain on Flickr

In olden days l
were used not only for war but also for hunting, as the fibre coating makes them waterproof. By covering the back of the body they offered a complementary protection to the shield during combat. According to one previous comment from Buru "a sword cut to the back is harmlessly absorbed, though less so for a spear and no protection from an arrow."

Lecha worn by Tanii are very similar to those of Nyishis (left), and it is still unclear whether they were self-made or simply bartered from their neighbours. F├╝rer-Haimendorf reports that the Apatanis were in the habit of exchanging locally produced daos and cloths for fibre rain-cloaks from Nyishis and Miris (1980 : 62).
Nowadays lecha are rarely seen being used as rain shields during jungle trips, but they continue to serve during war-related rituals such as for eg. ropi.

Nyishi cloak (for comparison). Source : Verrier Elwin digitalized collection, Smithsonian Institute

2. Tanned mithun or buffalo hides were fastened around the chest and offered an efficient protection from the armpit to the groin known as hupo. Similar artifacts were used by Nyishis.

3. A large cane belt or cane matted ring (hurin), designed to protect the viscera, was put on the waist and offered additional protection. The use of this accessory has been totally abandoned nowadays, although very similar cane rings are still occasionally worn by Nyishi or Miri elderly men.

Source : Verrier Elwin digitalized collection, Smithsonian Institute

4. The so-called "tails" (ahu), which attracted much attention from the first outsiders in the late 19th century, may also have had a practical function in protecting the genital organs during combat. They consist of strands of cane strips dyed in red, loosely fastened together and bent into a loop. This "tail" was set on a loin-belt (yari) that was fastened around the waist. Nowadays ahu-yari are only occasionally worn by performers during certain important rituals.

Source : Christa Neuenhofer's photobase

In addition, Pura Tado* mentions the use of two textiles as body protections which I am unable to confirm. One is a muffler (lampru) made of Tibetan wool designed for protecting the neck. Another is jilya pulye, a coarse silk coat which, according to the author, was "so strong that the pointed or sharp-edged weapons hardly penetrate it".

*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.


popisarmi said...

Hi PB,
Thanks for enlightening me again . We thought we knew and did not realize how much we know, thats what made me visit your blogs. Congrats and keep up your good work.

PB said...

@ Popisarmi
Thanks, I'm glad that you guys find it informative. We'll try to post more with NPR on similar topics, though she's a bit busy right now. Keep visiting and leaving your comments.

Buru said...

[ According to one previous comment from Buru "a sword cut to the back is harmlessly absorbed, though less so for a spear and no protection from an arrow."]

It was apparently used as an emergency shield at times:))

One of my ancestors, 5-6 generations back, while on a recce in enemy territory, unexpectedly met an enemy warrior. My ancestor was armed with, of all things, a tin or aluminium shield( a useless novelty) plus sword & armour, and the enemy only sword & lesser armour.So the enemy fellow immed removed his "Lecha" and held it in left hand as shield while slashing in combat with my ancestor.Both warriors "shields" were apparently chopped-up shortly and both had minor cuts, and the enemy being a superior fighter, my ancestor had to call out to other warriors who chased away the enemy!
One of the helping warriors used a sword-shaped warclub(Chokpey)to hit the enemy. Did Taniis use any non-edged weapon?

PB said...

Regarding Taniis I have never come across such a thing in the published literature, but who knows ?