Sunday, August 31, 2008

Tanii beads-1 : sampu or chank shell beads

Among the Tanii's most valued ornaments are chank shell beads, also inaccurately called "conch shell" beads. The Indian chank shell is a large gastropod shell (Turbinella pyrum) found along the coast of India and Pakistan. It has been used as ornament in the Indian subcontinent for 4000 years and is regarded as sacred by both Hindus and Buddhists. Tanii chank shell beads seem to have reached the Subansiri area via Tibet. In the Himalayas and Tibet the shell has numerous sacred associations : symbol of purity, source of benevolent forces, etc.

Turbinella pyrum

The Taniis use the chank shell only as beads or necklace fasteners, not as rituals objects as in Tibet. At the same time it is the only shell used by them as body ornament. Cowrie shells (Moneta moneta) which are sought after for decorating the cane straps of Tibetan swords (chiri) do not serve for making beads nor any necklace part.

1. Beads
Sampu (or sampo) is the generic name for chank shell bead. A single strand of 70 to 80 of such beads makes one typical necklace known simply as sampu tasan.

3 types are distinguished :
  • * sampu/sampo (proper) : these are large, chunky or discoid white beads which make up the middle and lower section of the necklace.

  • * sanje sampu : these are smaller, more cylindrical in shape, and usually flatter; they are positioned at the upper section of the necklace.

  • * hiiku : the biggest ones, hand carved so as to give the beads a helicoidal shape, they are also one of the most valuable ornaments of the Taniis. One single bead can cost upto 15000-20000 Rps. Usually found by pairs, they occupy the lowermost section of the sampu tasan.

Some necklaces are fastened under a chank shell button (sango tape) which is worn on the nape of the neck. They are circular, square or oblong in shape. Square fasteners have rounded corners.

Long oblong chank shell used as fastener for sampo tasan

Round and square sango tape on various necklaces

The fondness of many Himalayan people for marine shells has lead some scholars to speculate erroneously that the historical cradle of those populations is located near the sea. Although this "sea origin hypothesis" is not backed by any archeological nor historical evidence, it periodically resurfaces (you can find one example here). As a matter of fact the reality appears to be just the opposite. Marine beads fetched high prices in the Himalayas not because they would have always been in possession of the Himalayan peoples, but because they were not, and because they constituted a rarity in the region that could be only acquired by purchase or heritage. It is a well known fact to anthropologists that even in the Pacific islands were marine shells are abundant everywhere, those who are the most sought after and fetch the highest prices are never the ones found locally, but always those coming from distant places, often through complex trade routes.
(Special thanks to Nanku Hage for having
helped me to collect the above pictures at Ziro)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tanii beads-Introduction

Jewelry in the form of necklaces and beads has always been of great importance among the Himalayan people, and the Taniis are no exception. They cherish beads as family heirlooms, especially those they assume to be of Tibetan origin, some of them being enormously valued. Necklaces made with those beads are not only objects of pride for their owners, but also objects of public display : on festive days Tanii women wear up to 7 heavy necklaces of different compositions and sizes. Although originally acquired through barter or trade, necklaces were (and still are) normally passed down from mother to daughters, therefore some of the beads may be quite old. Necklaces are occasionally made for family and friends but generally not for business, although beads coming from Assam, Nagaland or Delhi can be bought from a few commercial stands at Hapoli market.

Most valued beads are thought to have originally come from Tibet. But the Tibetans were involved in the trade, not the manufacture of beads, and in most cases the ultimate origin of those little glass, stone, porcelain or even metal products is quite remote from the Himalayan region. The production centre for carnelian beads has been Gujarat since Harappan times (Kanungo, 2006). Glass beads originated from China (especially the so-called "padre", "Peking" or "melon" beads), or Europe (esp. Venetia). Conch and cawrie shells came from the Indian Ocean, either the Gujarat coast or the Bay of Bengal... Indian and European beads usually crossed first the Himalayas northwards from Western India, Nepal or Bhutan, where they entered Tibet. After that they could be traded or bartered back to the Himalayan southern slopes through transactions with the Tibetans, as were also Chinese beads.

One of the trading points for West Arunachal, through which undirectly a great quantity of Tanii beads and other precious items must have been acquired prior to 1959, was Taksing in Upper Subansiri District. For once every 12 years, the Tibetans and the Monpas of this area used to undertake a great pilgrimage around the Takpa Siri mountain, a near to 6,000 meter sacred peak in the Tsari district of Southeastern Tibet. The pilgrim route known as the 'great ravine circuit' (Rongkor Chenmo) started from Chosam in Tibet, entered the Indian territory at Maja, followed the Tsari Chu valley (an tributary of the Subansiri) then the Subansiri river valley upto Taksing. The whole pilgrimage lasted 3 months, during which around 20,000 Tibetan pilgrims circled the mountain. For 10 to 15 days, in the southern tip of their circuit, they had to cross the territory inhabited by the Tagins. A safe passage and some assistance had to be negotiated from them by agents of the Tibetan central Government which was directly supporting the pilgrimage (Huber, 1999). The agreement to proceeed was obtained through a formal peace treaty and the Tagins were paid yearly tributes of food and various semi-precious goods. In addition, swords, tibetan bells and beads could be acquired through barter from Tibetan pilgrims along the way. From the Tagins the beads passed to the Nyishis, who in turn bartered them to the Taniis.

Today the Taniis possess a wide array of beads, each of which is described by a separate term and often has a story or belief attached to it. In coming posts I will try my best to describe them one by one in a very succinct way, according to the information collected during my recent visit to Ziro. Keep visiting.

References :
- Huber, T., The Cult of Pure Crystal Mountain. Popular Pilgrimage & Visionary Landscape in South East Tibet, New York, Oxford university press, 1999.
- Kanungo, A.K., 2006, "Indian Ocean and the Naga Ornaments", Bulletin of Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association 26 (2006), pp. 154-162. (text in Pdf)


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Ziro from another angle

Click on picture to enlarge

We are all too familiar with GoogleEarth or Yahoo Maps.... A recent release from the Department of Geography at California State University provides another view of the plateau, showing the way Ziro is enclosed in its green mountainous setting and separated from the Brahmaputra valley. Just imagine when people had to travel sometimes down to the plain on foot in search for salt or iron blades...The original picture is larger, and part of a photographic collection entitled Himalaya Atlas of Aerial Panoramas - Vol I. The series offers some fantastic views of the Himalayan barrier from Uttar Pradesh to the Lohit Valley in Arunachal Pradesh. They are not aerial photos in the true sense, but a photorealistic work obtained from computer mapping. One can only regret, perhaps, some of their denominations such as 'Dafla hills' or Miri Hills' which are outdated... Anyway, hats off !

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The imperative mood in Tanii

Understanding the grammar of an oral language such as Tanii is an essential step in order to preserve it in a accurate written form. In this post I have tried my best to introduce one basic point of Tanii grammar in a clear, though non-academic way. This point - the imperative mood - has already been addressed by scholars, both Taniis and non-Taniis: two "Apatani grammars" have been published (Abraham, 1985, Takhe, 1994), and one linguist (Shingo, 2003) deals with Apatani imperative in one chapter of his PhD thesis. The problem is that...the three authors often disagree. So I decided to enquire by myself with NPR and a couple of Tanii friends. Below are the results of our preliminary conversations. But the discussion is still open, and if as a Tanii speaker you find that any correction or addition should be made, please feel free to drop your comment. In particular there may be some dialectical variations of which I am unaware.

The imperative is a mood which is used to express commands, requests or prohibitions. The Tanii imperative is formed by adding a suffix to a verb root.

1. Command
  • a) The most common imperative suffix in Tanii is -to.
No barito !
Stand up !

Diipyokunii atan so linto !
Those who have taken their meals, come here !

  • b) To express politeness, the adverb iche (a little) is added before the verb.
Iche tanto !
Please drink !
  • c) When the speaker commands the addressee to move away from the speaker (for eg. to go and do something), -nge or -he are used instead of -to.
Inka ball mi tunge !
Go and kick that ball !

Harnge !
Run (away) !

  • According to linguist Shingo Imai (2003: 121), -nge is attached to verbal roots having one syllable, whereas -he is attached to verbal roots having 2 or more syllables.

Sukun hokii yasi hange !
(Go and) fetch water from the well !

Dunge !
(Go and) sit there !

Barihe !

Go [there] and stand up !

Gaihe !
(Go and) sing !

The use of -to vs -nge/-he depends on the motion of the adressee in relation to the speaker : -to is used when the addressee's position remains unchanged (1), or when the addressee is moving towards the speaker (2). -Nge or -he is used when the adressee is moving away from the speaker (3).
Note that the distinction between -to and -nge only applies to the motion of the addressee, not to the motion of an object. For example , if one wants to tell someone : "Throw this ball there !", one will have to use the imperative in -to, not in-nge. For in this case only the ball -not the addressee- is moving away from the speaker.

Siika ball mi inso ripato !
Throw this ball there !
  • d) Immediate imperative is formed by adding the suffix -ku (perfective aspect marker) to the imperative form.
Diito !

Diitoku !
Eat right now !
  • e) When the command affects or benefits to the speaker, the verbal root is suffixed by -pe instead of -to.

  • Mo mi tasan soye mi bito !
    Give one necklace to him !

    Ngii mi tasan soye mi bipe !
    Give me one necklace !
  • Abraham (1985 : 102) argues that if the speaker (or the place of action) is remote from the addressee, -yupe is used in place of -pe. Our own data does not confirm this. At least in Bulla speech, to request someone to give something located in a place remote from the speaker (or to send it) is expressed by adding the suffixes -tula, -tupe, or -liipe to the verb root.
bitula/bitupe/biliipe !
give/send [it to me] !

2. Prohibition
  • Negative imperative, or prohibitive mood, is formed by adding -yo to the verb root :
Diiyo !
Don't eat !
  • It's often followed by the particle -ka, which functions here as an emphatic marker.
Luyoka !
Don't speak !
3. Request
  • Suggesting an action to be done collectivley alongwith the addressee is formed with the suffix -sa :
Ngunu ka Ziro mi kapyodopa busa !
Let us keep our Ziro beautiful !

4. Permission
  • It's a little more complicated matter here. The permissive imperative (used to signal permission) is formed :
    • a) When the permission is given to the addressee, with the suffix -ngetiika. The negative form is -lakema.
    • No lungetiika
      You can speak (you are allowed to speak)

      No lulakema
      You cannot speak (you are not permitted to speak)
    • b) When the permission is given to a third person, with the suffix -kenento (or -kenanto or -kiinento depending on the dialect spoken). The negative form is obtained by replacing -to with -yo (=> -kenenyo)

    • Mo mi lukenento
      Let him speak
    • Mo mi lukenenyo
      Don't let him speak
    • c) When the permission is sought for the speaker, -pe takes the place of -to, => -kenempe (the transformation of n into m before p letter corresponds to the actual pronounciation which is nasalized before m, b, p letters, as in English).

    • Ngii mi (iche) inkenempe
    • (Please) let me go
    • - Abraham, P. T., 1985, Apatani grammar, Mysore, Central Institute of Indian Languages.
    • - Takhe K., 1994, The Apatani Grammar, Itanagar, Frontier Publisher & Distributor.
    • - Shingo I., 2003, Spatial deixis, PhD thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the State University of New York for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Linguistics
    • PB