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.


Pritesh Pathak said...

God!!! You are doing some really serious stuff here. I really appreciate it, we have to come forward and save the heritage we have been inherited by our forefathers.

Good going man.

God bless you and take care.

Pritesh Pathak

PB said...

Thanks Pritesh for your encouragements. Much more has yet to be documented about the history and culture of this region. Keep visiting for more information.

Buru said...

" Hair-tuft decorations, which are a common feature of Naga ceremonial spears, are unseen among them"

I see . But tribes like Minyongs, Padams and Galos have always a tuft of red-dyed Yak tail hair at the base of the metal head--very similar to the chinese war spears.The purpose is purportedly to prevent the blood from spraying the bearer, and to prevent the blood from flowing back along the shaft which would make it slippery to hold;And also some religious connotation.Nobody really knows. Also the manufacture of spears among these seem much more sophisticated than Taniis.The head is kept in place by a transverse metal nail--so it never detaches during use.A per as history goes, they were almost always a thrusting-and-parrying weapon and thrown only as a matter of oppurtunity.

PB said...

Your comment suggest that ornamentations are often, as the technique itself, motivated by pragmatic ideas. Another difference (if I'm not mistaking) is that Padam and Minyong spears have iron butts.

PB said...

Hi Buru,
Transversal wooden "nails" i.e. small sticks which are inserted to secure a metal tool into a wooden handle such as spade, etc. do exist among Taniis. They are called menanii (me = to join, to connect; -nanii = nominalizer which can been roughly translated as 'tool' or 'device'). But I haven't seen them on spears.

Buru said...

I see.
You can start another thread on booby traps.
Also the knife on Dao thread is not identified or described.

PB said...

Yes, that's a good idea. Unfortunately I did not take any pictures of Tanii traps during my recent visit to Ziro... Maybe our Tanii readers can help here. If someone has got one or two pictures, at least we can start the thread and discuss various types and uses among W & E Tanis.

Plasticviking said...

i have done safe fighting with spears for 25 years in europe and collect information about it. it is fascinating and very important that any documentation of how spears are used is saved. your whole blog is wonderful. do you have any more about fighting techniques and practices ?
any info appeciated. chris at
netvike at hot mail dot com.
i wish your projet success.