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. F├╝rer-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.



popisarmi said...

Good work again!

PB said...

Thanks Popisarmi.

Buru said...

"fitted close onto the head and protected it during combat"
Just a small anecdote in support of above:
Nearly a decade back, in a remote village near Daporijo, a psychopathic villager butchered about a dozen kids when all their parents had gone off to the fields.He boobytrapped the field paths with panji spikes to injure parents attempting to return for pursuit.Armed with a spear and dao he disappeared into the depths of the jungle. The police reached late, were scared shit of going after him and escaped after a day or two. The angry villagers had no option but to form teams to track him down themselves--to prevent repeats and for revenge.Once they met him in the forest and shot him with a shotgun--but the pellets hardly penetrated his multiple layers of cloths.He dropped the spear and disappeared. After several days he was tracked to a cave; when the villagers entered quietly he rushed them and chopped at the foremost warriors head.This fellow was wearing the Tagin cane warhat(Bo-lup),which though split absorbed most of the blow.The warrior behind shot the fugitive with a shotgun--thereafter he was made mincemeat.