BASAR CONFLUENCE – TRIBES, COMMUNITY & TRADITIONS IN ARUNACHAL PRADESH
Set in the gorgeous backdrop of the confluence of Hie and Kidi rivers in Arunachal Pradesh, Basar Confluence 3.0 was a unique celebration by the Galo tribes of the district. A 3-day festival (from 19th-21st November 2018) organized entirely by the local villagers in association with the local NGO, Gumin Rego Kilaju (GRK). Showcasing the diverse culture and folk traditions of North Eastern India with cultural performances from various parts of the region.
I started my journey from Guwahati to Silapathar (in Assam), the nearest railhead to Basar (about 87 KMs). At Silapathar, I got on the local bus that plies regularly to the town. The roads were yet to be constructed properly. But the scenic views kept me excited and eager to explore the many offbeat and unexplored destinations that the region has to offer.
On my arrival, I was taken to the venue grounds where preparations were going on in full swing. The pathway leading to it was a beautiful road through the golden paddy fields, the green hills, and the pristine Kidi river. The entire event is organized by the villages of Basar, planned to be plastic-free with no disposable plates/glasses/bottles to be sold at the stalls. Each stall represented by a village. The stalls/stage were completely constructed by the villagers using natural resources like bamboo, cane and wild leaves which are found in abundance in the area.
Basar is home to the native Galo Tribe. A major tribe among the 26 tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. They call themselves to be the descendants of Abo Tani. Believed to be the first man among humans (an equivalent of Adam in Christianity and Manu in Hinduism). Known for their strong sense of hospitality, they made us feel at home during our week-long stay to experience the best of the village and Basar Confluence.
Experiencing Basar, Arunachal Pradesh
We had arrived a few days prior to the festival to explore this little-known hill hamlet. Each day was spent on immersive experiences, be it exploring a new place or learning about the way of living of the locals.
Tapen Penru or Bat Cave
Tapen Penru translates to Bat Cave in Galo language. Our first expedition navigating through a muddy trail and numerous ladders to reach the Bat cave in Padi village (20 KMs from the township). The cave full of bats is about half an hour trek from the highway near Padi village. The pathway leading to it got treacherous with mud due to the rains in the morning. At the same time, it was completely waste-free and beautiful with numerous waterfalls and traditional staircases which we often had to cross over.
My heart was in my mouth every time we had to cross a waterfall or climb up a muddy slope. I managed to go all the way with the help of a local guide, who was quite an expert in maneuvering them. Upon our return, we were served traditional lunch (on leaves) with Poka (the local rice beer) in the community hall of Padi village, while we were drying out our wet shoes by the fire.
Our guides also informed us about another Tapen Penru near Degom, Tirbin (about 30 KMs away) which is known to have an interesting depth inside the cave.
Nestled in the hills with beautiful streams, this district has numerous waterfalls. The most famous being the HidoHidi waterfall in Nguda Pokcho. The 70-meter deep waterfall can be reached by trekking through various routes. One from Piri village, another from Sago village and the third one from Pagi-Disi village. Other better-known waterfalls are Diime Dite waterfalls in Pagi village and Bumchi waterfalls under Bam area.
Diime Dite Waterfalls
I visited the Diime Dite Waterfalls with one of the local guides. It was around 5 KMs from the event site. Luckily the roads were good. There were some stairs leading down to the road heading to the waterfalls. It was not a concrete road. But it was so much easier than the road to the Bat Cave. After walking through a distance, we could hear the splash of a waterfall and were anxious to see it. There was a small stream which flowed all the way with clear waters. We could see fishes swimming in it. Finally, we arrived at the stairs that led directly to the Diime Dite waterfalls.
The view of the waterfall was amazing. The icing on the cake was the rainbow that could be seen within the waters of the waterfall. There were some seating arrangements below the falls and a few groups had gathered to picnic by the waterfall. We walked down and sat with the group for a while. Even though they did not know us, they shared their food with us, which they were preparing on the spot.
Joli – The Haunted Place of Basar
Joli is a deep gorge forest near Gori Village through which the Hie river passes. It is believed to be the abode of Yapoms (some kind of spirit). A treacherous climb down a hill and a walk through the Hie river. The stones inside the river were slippery, thankfully, each of us was aided by local volunteers. After walking through a distance, we came across a small pool with turquoise water. But to view Joli, one has to climb up a huge boulder and walk across a narrow path. There is a beautiful waterfall at the other end. And also a stone with a huge footprint.
A local guide informed us that the Yapoms of Joli considers the Ango people of Gori village as their relatives. They do not harm anyone who has matrimonial relations with the Ango people. However, they would throw wet pebbles at people trespassing through this gorge to indicate that something bad would happen to the person or his family.
With the consistent efforts of GRK and support from the community, this place boasts of many beautiful, clean and plastic-free villages. One such was Sago village, an hour’s drive from the town, completely plastic-free. The villagers involved in keeping it clean. We reached late at night and yet the villagers were waiting to welcome us to the house that we would be staying in. It was a traditional house, made of wood and bamboo, with 2 fireplaces in the community room.
The village folks told us about their traditions, customs and entertained us with traditional songs. We also learned how the last syllable of the father’s name is used as the first syllable of the child’s name. This helped in remembering their origins and clan since the community have no script of their own. Our local guide told me how he can trace his entire lineage to Tani through the names of his forefathers. For example, the name Marto is the conjunction of Mar and To. So, his son will be named as Toli and his grandson will be named as Likar and so on. This patrilineal system of naming applies to the children of the opposite sex as well.
All these discussions happened while huddled over the fireplace, sipping black tea, traditionally steamed Pitha (made of rice flour) and Poka. It was cold, but we were warmed by the hospitality and love that we got from the simple village folks at Sago. They made arrangements for mattresses and blankets so that we could sleep comfortably in the community room around the fire.
It was raining all night and the daring ones amongst us went off to climb the steep Oduputu hill – famed for panoramic views of the entire valley amidst the clouds. Others decided to stay back and explored the village. We got amazing insights about the way of life of the tribe. In the afternoon, the villagers had arranged a picnic for us, near a small stream. Food (for vegetarians as well as non-vegetarians) was being smoked in bamboo over the fire. Fresh Poka was filtered from the fermented rice. The villagers even showed us the traditional way of fishing in their little stream.
When it was time for us to return, the ladies gathered together to perform a farewell dance for us, where we joined in too. It was a singularly unique day in each of our lives. I am sure it was equally hard for us to bid goodbye to Sago, the village that stole our hearts.
Experiencing Basar Confluence 3.0
It was an exceptional celebration of art, music, and culture of the tribes of North East India. Hosted by the Galo tribes each year in association with GRK. The motive of the festival is to give something back to society. While showcasing the tradition and culture of the people to the outside world. The 3-day festival was jam-packed with various cultural performances by participants from different parts of Basar and rest of North East India. Along with showcasing traditional ways of life of the Galo tribe.
Even though fishing is banned here to protect the ecosystem, the festival allowed a particular region (Gori-II village) to demonstrate how the traditional fishing was done by men and women of the Galo tribes.
The process began with barricading the river at various distances. To trap the fishes swimming down-shore, stones were filled in to trap the fishes. The bark of a wild tree, which grows in the region is gathered, pounded and mixed in the river water. Due to the psychotropic properties of the bark, fishes get intoxicated and get trapped in between the stones. The women use Vbar (a bamboo conical structure) to fill in the small fishes flowing down in shallow waters while filtering the water. The little stones are separated by hand. On the other hand, men use a harpoon to catch bigger fishes in deeper waters.
Everyone was excited to catch the fish. Especially the children who were as excited as having a new pet. It was interesting to see and understand the traditional ways of fishing, using natural resources. They don’t harm the environment or the ecosystem.
Traditional Sports at Basar Confluence
Traditional sports like Nyarka Hinam (wrestling), GeppeAbnam (archery), Tug of War, etc were played between villages to showcase the sports of the Galo tribe. As well as to promote community building. It was exciting to see how the participants from each village came together to win a game for their village.
Dapo Nyarka Sunam was basically a wrestling game between two villagers using a bamboo pole. A small circle encompassing the participants was drawn on the ground. The one who gets out or gets thrown out of the circle loses the match. Wrestlers are not allowed to touch each other during the course of the match.
Live storytelling session had village elders telling folk stories and legends to the younger generation. Since the Galo tribe had no written scriptures, this was the usual method of passing down information, tradition, and customs to the next generation.
We had the chance to visit Bam Village as a part of the tour. Even though it was night, we could see how beautiful and clean it was. It made us realize how a simple act on the part of the villagers can keep their area pristine and clean. At the house of Marjum Bam, we got to know the story of how Abo Tani married Donyi Mumsi, the daughter of Sun God and started the human race.
We were told the story behind the architecture of the traditional houses of the Galo Tribe. It was one of the criteria set by the Sun God if Tani wants to marry his daughter? Hence every traditional Galo house has different entry/exit for men and women. Two places for cooking. Separate housings for animal husbandry. Just like Abo Tani made to woo DonyiMumsi.
Our host had introduced two of his wives. It piqued our curiosity about the system of matrimony in Galo tribe. He informed us that polygamy is not a usual practice among the community. But is not frowned upon either. Often, it is practiced by affluent people to show off their wealth and prestige. Done with the permission of their previous wives. Marjum also told us about a unique practice of the marriage known as Nyida (Togu Panam). In which the groom’s parents have to give gifts to the bride’s parent as a Bride price. This is in sharp contrast to the usual norm of dowry.
The amount of bride price differs according to the social status of the person. It is in the form of a bovine. A semi-domesticated animal called Mithun found in Arunachal Pradesh which also happens to be the state animal.
The bridegroom’s side must give at least two Mithun’s to the bride’s parents. Or as decided prior to the wedding. The entire community is involved in the wedding festivities which lasts for 3 days. During this wedding ceremony, locally made wine (Apong) is served to everyone, irrespective of their age.
The horns of the Mithun’s sacrificed are showcased in every household. Along with other ancestral items like heads of wild boars, Mithun’s horns, headgears, etc. which have been passed down through the generations.
A traditional Galo house was built with the original architectural design and objects to exhibit the way of life of the Galo people. Demonstrations were given to explain the purpose behind the structure or furniture inside a Galo home. For instance, men and women use separate staircases while entering a Galo house.
Artist Residency Programme
One of the highlights is the Artist Residency a one-month program. A handful of artists (musicians/artists/photographers/writers/film-makers) from all over the country are selected to experience the rustic life of the Galo people. The artists work on a collaborative basis. The only brief they are given is to draw inspiration from their surroundings. And give back something to the community at the end of their stay.
This year saw a New Medium artist from Assam, a musician from Kerala, a painter from Assam, a writer from Arunachal Pradesh. A film-maker from Bihar and a photographer from Bangladesh. All of them created wonderful pieces of work which were exhibited at the event grounds.
A section on Agri Tourism showcased the agrarian society of the Galo tribe. It provided everyone the opportunity to try their hands in harvesting rice from the paddy fields to pounding them to making the local rice beer. A graceful Aayo (grandmother in Galo language) invited us inside her kitchen and entertained us with merry songs and dance while roasting the husk of rice used for making Poka, the local rice beer.
Poka, the local beverage
Made from the fermentation of the local variety of rice. The husk of the rice is roasted and mixed with the rice. Yeast is also added to the mixture and stored in a cane basket covered with leaves. The rice can be fermented for a month or more to acquire a sweet taste. When it is time to be served, the mixture is kept over a funnel-like cane basket and warm water is poured over it. The filtered liquid is then served to family members or guests during festivals and celebrations.
The delicious Poka was an absolute treat for us at the end of a tiring day. While we learned more about the culture and traditions of Galo people sitting around the fire that warmed us in the cold nights.
Handicrafts & Weaving
Being a self-sufficient community, the Galo people are excellent handicrafts and weaving craftsmen. Exhibition stalls were set up to showcase their craftsmanship like the handicrafts items made of bamboo and cane. The guides in these stalls explained in detail the use of each item. Villagers demonstrated how they weave the cane baskets. Handicraft items were also on sale.
Weaving was demonstrated by womenfolk while selling beautiful Gale (the traditional skirt), jackets and traditional accessories. There was also a photo-booth where one could dress up in traditional attires and take photos.
Folk Songs & Dances at Basar Confluence
The highlights of the confluence were when all the villages came together to showcase the myriad folk songs and dances of the Galo tribe. The huge festival ground was filled up with rhythmic, melodious sounds accompanied by a large group of artists. They regaled everyone with their stellar performances in the evening. There were also performances by other tribes from North East India. Like the Bihu from Assam, Memba Dance from Arunachal Pradesh, a folk song band from Manipur, etc.
The stage was also graced by famous folk artists like legendary Guru Rewben Mashangva, Omak Komut Collective, and Barmer Boys. All the performances were conducted keeping in mind the main motive of the festival. To promote the rich culture of North East India.
Through the cultural performances, we got to know and see the various folk dances performed during traditional festivals. One such major festival of the Galo tribe is the Mopin festival. It is held in the Galo months of ‘Lumi’ and ‘Luki’. Corresponding to March–April. It signifies the New Year for the Galo tribe. 5-days of religious celebrations which commemorates the cultivation of Earth and its richness.
The Goddess Mopin Ane (an equivalent of Goddess Lakshmi in Hindu Mythology) along with her daughters are worshipped with great devotion during the festival. They are believed to have taught the people everything about agriculture. The folk dance, known as Popir, in white traditional attires, is performed by young men and women on this auspicious day with their cheeks smeared with rice paste.
GRK & their Work in Basar
Gumin Rego Kilaju (GRK) is an apolitical and non-profit making organization. Founded by Government employees (both retired and serving) of the district in Arunachal Pradesh. The sole intention of the NGO is to unify the community for conservation efforts. By using traditional practices with modern interventions. The organization has been instrumental in involving the community to make the region open defecation free. And encourage them to abide by the restrictions on hunting and fishing.
This has greatly helped in bringing a balance to the depleting ecosystem. And brought about the growth of biodiversity in the area. Among many other progressive efforts, GRK is also working on creating awareness so that the community can shift from Jhum cultivation to an eco-friendlier version.
The Confluence is one of the efforts of GRK to unleash the tourism potential of the district. While the entire community works together as one unit to organize the festival that attracts people from near and far. The proceeds from the event are shared amongst the stakeholders. Like it is invested in the community and villages for their upliftment activities.
Basar Confluence traveler information
How to reach?
It is accessible via road from Silapathar. The nearest railhead which is 87 KMs away. Regular bus services & light vehicle passenger services are available from Silapathar to Basar.
The nearest airport is at Mohanbari in Dibrugarh, Assam. It is 50 KMs from Silapathar. About 135 Km from Basarvia Bogibeel bridge. There are regular commercial flights on a daily basis from Mohanbari to most major cities of India. From Silapathar, one can get the local vehicles plying between the two States.
Where to stay
Homestay facilities have not started yet. But there are sufficient hotels with basic amenities in the town. Including the Circuit House and the ICAR Guest House.
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