Saturday, July 26, 2008

Basic colours in Tanii

Every language has its own way of defining and classifying colours, whose number can vary widely. But every language has got between 2 and 12 terms which are considered 'basic' or 'elementary'.
  • English language has 11 : yellow, green, blue, brown, purple, red, pink, orange, black, white, and grey.
  • Tanii seems to have 8 : yellow (pilan), green (salyi) grue (jiji), red (lanchan), pink (lamu-layu), orange (pyamin/tormin), white (pulu), black (ji) and grey (mubu).
Different variations or shades of the same colour are distinguished for some of them, especially by means of compound words. Thus lanchan-lankho for red or vermillon (lit. 'intense, very red'), lanchan koman for crimson or carmine red (lit. 'dark red'), salyi koman for dark green, pilan-pisan for yellowish, etc. Among other words used for expressing shades of yellow colour are pilan kamo (lit. 'dark yellow', possibly yellow-earth) and pilan-lanku-lamu (meaning unknown)
Below are displayed the various colours and shades in Tanii according to our present knowledge :

  • Mubu is a descriptive colour words, it is primarily used to refer to ashes from fire, but secondarily used to denote ashy colour, or grey. This is a feature shared by many Asian languages such as, for eg., Japanese.
  • Jiji has a meaning that covers both blue and green, depending on the situation. Compare for eg. :

yapun hii jijido => the sky is blue.

anii hii jijido
=> the leaf is green.

anii hii salyido => the leaf is green.

In this context, both the sky and tree leaves are jiji, although Tanii language does have separate terms for blue and green, jiji and salyi. This is also a typical feature of many East and Southeast Asian languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, etc. and, of course languages of the Tani family (Tanii, Adi, Nyishi, Tagin, Miri, Mishing, etc.). Linguists have coined the specific term “grue” (from "blue" and "green"), to describe the range of colours covered by such terms. Thus, jiji would be more accurately referred as "grue" color, not only blue.

Specific colours, or hues, are reserved for animals, such as dorlan (from dor, classifier for quadrupeds and lan, red) which denotes a brown, reddish hue for animal furs, sii talan (apparently a brownish-orange hue for cows), tapu (white, fair color), or tagyo (spotted ?). Human complexions also bear specific names, such as for eg. piikhe for dark complexion. There must be specific colours for certain textiles, dyes, beads... For eg. we don't know the name of this turquoise blue found on some beads which were originally brought from Tibet.

Do you know other color names which are not listed here ? Please help us to collect them all.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Apatani war dresses of olden days - 2 : headgears

The Apatanis used helmet-like caps called byopa that fitted close onto the head and protected it during combat. These are made of cane and have a bowl shape, except for a protruding appendice rolled at the back of the cap. According to Pura Tado*, this part is said to imitate the shape of an ear of a siidin (barking deer, Muntiacus muntjac).

A Tanii byopa

used by Taniis are very similar to cane headgears worn neighbouring Nyishis and Miris, and it is still unclear whether Taniis used to make their own caps or simply bartered them from their neighbours as they did for many other products. Fürer-Haimendorf (1980 : 62) reports that the Apatanis were in the habit of exchanging cloths and daos for cane belts, cane hats and fibre rain-cloaks. Probably this was because cane was more easily accessible to Nyishis and Miris than it was to Taniis.

As a matter of fact, only minor differences are found between Tanii byopa and Nyishi bopa :
  • * Both are decorated with a twisted cane rope running lengthwise in the middle part. For the Nyishi bopa it ends in a loop at the front side, and this loop is inserted in the hair-knot (podum) or over it, so that it holds firmly onto the head. Sometimes also the front part of the hat becomes encapsulated into the knot. Tanii hair-knots (piidin) being usually smaller they are inadequate for this purpose, and the cane rope is attached to the cap as a mere decoration (see above picture).

Nyishi bopa attached to podum.
Source : Verrier Elwin photo collection
  • * Both are trimmed with bird tail feathers set up horizontally at the top of the cap towards the back. Favourite species among Taniis are eagles, buzzards and hawks [pamu, pari, still unidentified but possibly Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus), Indian Black Eagle (Ictinaetus malayensis) or shikra (accipiter badius)]. Also red jungle fowl (parii-parsin, gallus gallus) and racket-tailed drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus, Dicrurus remifer) whose beautiful pairs of tail feathers embellish the cap. A distinctive ornament much prized by Nyishis is the upper beak of hornbill species (Buceros bicornis, Aceros nipalensis), often red-dyed, which is fastened in the front side of the cap. It is not unknown among Taniis, but they use them only occasionally. The reason of this difference lies in the sociological meaning of this ornament, which is different for each society. Hornbill regalia seems to be a sign of higher status among Nyishis - but not among Taniis - and for that reason some of the beaks found on Nyishi hats are conspicuously decorated.

Red-dyed hornbill beak decorating a Nyishi bopa

Ornamented hornbill beak protruding over the cap (Nyishi)

  • Tail feathers of the Greater racket-tailed drongo (Dicrurus paradiseus) hanging from a Nyishi bopa.

  • * Both Tanii and Nyishi headgears are often trimmed with the talon of a bird of prey, probably obtained from the same above mentioned species.

Talon of a bird of prey trimmed on the back portion of cane hats from Nyishi (left) and Tanii (right)

A special version of the Tanii cane headgear is rendered waterproof by adjunction of tama amu (see previous post). Tufts of the outer bark of this plant are incorporated into the basketry, which for that purpose is made coarser. Today, Tanii byopa have ceased to be used for hunting, but are still occasionally worn during war related rituals such as ropi.

*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.


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. Fürer-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.

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.