Where we love is home; home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.
Wakro, in Arunachal, is inhabited primarily by the Mishmis. Mishmis are one of the many tribes that belong to Arunachal Pradesh. Divided into three sub-tribes namely Miju, Digaru and Idu, Mishmis are well-known for their expertise in weaving and handicrafts. One of our ‘not-to-be-missed activities’ during our stay in Wakro was to visit an authentic Mishmi bamboo long house.
The ‘other activities’ that we had planned were not less invigorating either. We were woken up everyday, before 4.30 am, by the cacophony of birds and the hoots and calls of the endangered Hoolock gibbons, the only ape species found in India. As dusk descends early in these parts, by 4.30 pm it’s dark. With no TV, phone calls or internet to pester you, it’s always library time. After an early dinner it’s time for bed. Sleep came easy and why not? We had plenty of things to do between dawn and dusk.
called up one of his students, Rubilu, who was glad enough to show us her bamboo home. We headed to Medo village, 20 km from Wakro, to meet Rubi and her family.
We first went to meet Rubi’s aunt, Bihem, a government school teacher, who is also an organic farmer and a very strong crusader against the usage of opium. Opium smoking is an integral part of Mishmi culture and many of their ceremonies require its use.
Bamboo houses are built long and rectangular in size and are raised about 2 to 4 feet from the ground. The houses are supported by wooden or bamboo posts. Beneath the house, domestic animals like pigs, poultry and goats are reared and sheltered.
The Mishmi bamboo homes may not be lavish, but are cosy and exude warmth. Life is simple in these places, without ostentation, but the culture and traditions are rich.
Rubi’s father, the village headman and known in these places as the ‘Gaon Burah’, was having a meeting with a few gentlemen in the living room. Without disturbing the men we moved through the long corridor. The corridor opened on the right side into many other rooms.
The kitchen was at the end of the corridor, and we smelt it before we entered it. Rubi’s mom had already placed a kettle on the fire and was preparing tea for us. On top of the fire, was a rectangular wooden frame that lay suspended from the ceiling. This was used to smoke meat, corn and or even dry fire wood. We sat around the fire and drank the sweet and spicy black tea. The floor of the kitchen was made of thin reed planks and the waste water could be discarded through the floor. Even the vegetable waste was deposited beneath the house where the pigs and other animals lived.
Rubi’s mother looked different from the chubby Mishmi ladies we had seen around. She had high cheek bones and a leaner figure. Later we learnt that she belonged to a different tribe, the Khamti tribe.
Inside the kitchen
The kitchen was devoid of any hi-tech gadgets but what caught our eyes were the rows of colorful bottles that lined the window sills. Pickled bamboo shoots, Bhoot jhalokia chillies and many other pickled edible fruits, roots and shoots filled the bottles.
Her small but modest kitchen garden had all kinds of medicinal herbs, edible plants and fruit trees. The granary, toilet and washroom were built away from the main house.
Inside the living room, the walls were not only adorned with lovely portraits of smiling and chubby Mishmi babies, but also with what looked like the remains of a kill. Seeing my aghast expression, Rubi’s father explained that the skeletal remains of Mithun heads, Gaur heads and other animals were not to showcase the fighting skills of the valiant Mishmi men but were only the skulls of the animals that were sacrificed by the family.
He also said that even in these modern days, people here prefer to live in their bamboo houses not only because of the fact that bamboo is plentiful here, but it also gave them a sense of pride and togetherness. Though a lot of modern concrete homes have come up in Arunachal, the common practice is to build a part of the home, mostly the kitchen and dining area, in bamboo and the rest of the rooms in concrete. It did remind me of the many ancestral homes in Kerala, where some of the rooms, mostly the bathrooms and kitchen, are modernized leaving the inner courtyard or ‘nadumittam’ intact.
Even as we made our way back to Wakro, we could feel the sweet spicy flavor of the black tea and the warmth of that humble bamboo home.
Thank you Rubi for taking us into your home.
[Here is a story written by Rubi that was published in Children’s World, May 2011.]
– Rubilu Dellang,
cl. VII, APNE Library volunteer
As soon as I was born, I was looked upon with great pride by my mother. I have also realized that my greatest supporter in life is my mother. I am very thankful to my maternal grandparents for giving me such an adorable mom. Let me tell her story…… My mother belongs to the Khamti society of Chongkham in Arunachal Pradesh, but my father is of Mishmi tribe. At the age of seven or eight, my mother started going to the fields to help her father (my grandfather), even though she was put in a school. When the school bell rang, she would rush to the nearby stream, wash her legs and hands and would run home. She would eat her breakfast quickly, dress up and would rush to her school. She failed in her class III exams three times, but she also enjoyed studying with her juniors! Actually my mom was very talented, because, even though she did not go to school daily, she learnt how to read and write well. In those days, studying was not so important for Arunachali girls, as it is today. My grandparents did not encourage their children going to school, as they gave more importance to working in the rice fields. So my mother gave up studies when she was in class eight. When my mother was fifteen, she fell in love with a handsome youth. Most girls and boys in the Khamti society find their own partners for marriage. It is a common custom even today. After she left school, her parents moved to an interior part of Chongkham, to a village named Manmao. From that time, my mother found it easier to meet my father. When she was twenty, she got married to my dad and they moved to a Mishmi village called ‘Hooking’. My mother told me that in his youth, father was very arrogant. But, after he was chosen as the ‘gaon burah’ (village chief ), he became quite friendly to all. After marriage, my mom did not get much importance at her new home, when compared to my aunts and uncles. My paternal grandparents did not like my mother very much, as they liked my aunts and uncles. This was because she was not from Mishmi society. But at home, we and father love her very much. My mom and dad work very hard for us.
[Rubilu is a reader activist and library volunteer at the APNE library, Wakro. A bright student, she loves to write stories about her childhood and her village. She is now a Class X student in Government Higher Secondary School, Tezu.]