Sunday, July 6, 2008

Apatani weapons of olden days - 4 : shields

The shield (siitin) is the only defensive weapon of the Taniis. It is rectangular in shape, traditionally made of several layers of mithun or buffalo hide. After being well tanned the skins are stretched together over a bamboo framework and tied with cane. By their form as well as the materials used, Tanii shields differ from both Tibetan shields (which were invariably round) and the Indo-Persian circular convex shields (circular with four domed bosses) commonly found in the Brahmaputra Valley. They share more affinities with shields found for eg. in Nagaland and Mizoram. Unlike Naga and Mizo shields however, shields made of strong bamboo matting seem to be absent, as well as ornamentations such as brass discs or tufts of animal's hair.

A strap made of plaited cane is fixed in the back, as also a cane hand-grip set in the upper right corner.

The strap is looped over the right shoulder and the shield hands at the body left side, covering and protecting it. The hand-grip located in the upper right corner allow the left hand to hold the shield firmly, while the right hand is free and can hold a spear or a sword.

Today shields are occasionally used in several rituals related to war. The presence of one siitin in the house is also said to represent the menfolk of the household.


popisarmi said...

Hi pb,
A great work again! I think siitin, a defensive as well as ceremonial shield originally used to be made from one or more layers of bear skin/hide.The name 'siitin' itself might have come from the name bear as Apatani name for animal bear is siitin.The skin of the bear was considered the thickest and the strongest by the taniis. When bear became extinct from apatani country, they started using multiple layers of mithun/buffalo hides.
Bear skin along with its long hairs are also used in LECHA used as traditional war dress and in ceremonies.

PB said...

Hi Popisarmi,
Thanks for this insightful comment. I was also puzzled by the resemblance between siitin (shield) and siitin (bear). As for the coating used in lecha, however, I'm still wondering. In one previous post (Tanii Aju-1, section Art & artifacts) Buru has suggested that it is made of the fiber of some giant fern called "Tama amu" (amu = body hair = fiber on the trunk of this tree ?). The question is still open.

popisarmi said...

Yes PB,Here I might be wrong. It was my own opinion.The body parts of rare and ferocious animals were considered symbol of manhood and courage,hence was used in ceremonial war dresses.When these animals/birds like tigers,leopards,eagles,bears etc. became rare or extinct, they might have started to use these alternatives? I am not very sure,please let me know the facts.Waiting.....

Kanno said...

The coating used in lecha is indeed fibers of some tree - it is not animal origin. I too discovered this some days back. How little we know about ourselves!

PB said...

Thanks for this confirmation. "How little we know about ourselves!" Well, maybe altogether we can fill the void ;)

popisarmi said...

Thanks,PB & Kanno

Buru said...

"The question is still open."

closed ;)

I have seen 'Lecha'used by Nyishis, Tagins and Galos--its the same. There is no bearskin used--since its prime purpose is waterproofing and war protection just a bonus animal skins are not used.All use the fibres of a mountain palm--some day I may post a picture.

Also the shields of all Tanis are very similar-- though the Eastern Tanis( eg Padams/Minyongs) also use cane-lattice shields in contradistiction to Western Tanis.

Shields reflect the offensive weapons and tactics of the society.
Tani groups extensively used, in addition to swords, arrows and to a lesser aspect spears.Hence the Tani shields are all broad and rectangular to shield from arrows.My parents tell me that the good warrior used to time the arrival of the enemys arrow from the twang of the bowstring and deflect it away with a slight twist rather than block it head on. Blocking had the risk of being pierced, esp by metal arrowheads, and apparently half-a-dozen arrows hanging on to your shield would tire out even strong warriors by their sheer weight at an odd angle!
Nagas almost exclusively used spears in place of arrows, so their shields are long and narrow.
Plainsmen used mostly curved short swords and bowmen were rare--so their shield were small and rounded--for parrying blows than for blocking missiles.(the Ahom kings used Nyishi mercenary bowmen with great success--against even Moguls and Manipuris)

PB said...

@ Buru,
Thanks, this is quite informative.

yasiyalow said...

Hi buru

Very gud insight into our defensive methoad. Frankly speaking I hardly have knowledge about all these things.

Millo Tago said...

Here, I would like to make some clarification that hairy/fibrous material used in the constructio of "Lecha" is not either of the Himalayan Black Bear skin or the Sloth Bear Skin. Hair formations/topographies of Himalayan Black Bear and Sloth Bear are totally different and distinct. It is my opinion and experiences from my association with wildlife during my professional life.