Folklore is significant to explain and understand societies in the context of preserving cultural diversity and protecting minority cultures, especially those of indigenous peoples and marginalized social groups. Folklore, also, contrary to popular belief, is a living and still developing tradition, rather than just a memory of the past, and, as such, is still significant to us today.
The Spirit’s Wife
This folktale, from the Idu Mishmi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh, narrates the story behind the Idu tradition of naming new-born babies within five days of their birth. If not followed, it is believed that a khinu (Eng: spirit) will name the baby and take it away.
One upon a time, a beautiful daughter was born to a married couple who lived in the hills of Dibang Valley. Even after five days of being born, the parents had not decided upon her name, and that’s when they heard a bird sing anchi-anchi. They liked the bird’s song and named their daughter Anchi.
Years passed by. Anchi reached her adolescent years and got engaged to a young man who was from the village of Angolin. Life went well for Anchi, until one day, when she was on her way to her husband’s home, a khinu (spirit) caught her. A struggle ensued between the spirit and Anchi’s companions, with both sides trying their best to not let go. Anchi was in terrible pain as she was being pulled in opposite directions. Not able to withstand, she requested her companions to let go of her. Immediately, a thundering voice was heard and Anchi disappeared into thin air. Her companions hurried back to the village and narrated the odd occurrence to their Igu (Eng: Priest). With his wisdom and insight, the Igu found out that Anchi was the name suggested by the spirit and therefore she now belonged to him.
Many years later, Anchi somehow managed to return to her parents. People witnessed extraordinary things when she was around. One day, she brought her parents a red cloth and a cock. She told them that as long as she was alive, the cock would crow and the cloth would grow. For five years, villagers saw the cloth spread out during the sunny days on a distant hill and heard the sound of a cock’s crow. Finally, a day arrived when nothing could be heard or seen. All were then convinced that Anchi has left for her heavenly abode.
The hill came to be known as ‘Nani Anchi Allomi Ako’ and is today located between the villages of Angolin and Apruli in middle Dibang Valley.
How the World Came into Being
Here’s a tale that deals with the creation of the world and has its origins in the Riu-Subansiri area of Arunachal Pradesh. It is a folktale from the Apatani tribe.
Before the world existed, kujum-chantu, the earth, was a human-being just like us. She had arms, legs, a head and a giant fat belly where human-beings originally lived. Until one faithful day, kujum-chantu realized that if she ever got up and tried to walk, the whole of mankind would fall off and die. This prompted her to make a great sacrifice; she took her own life to save humanity. Her head became the snow-clad mountains, the bones on her back turned into small hills; her neck became the North Country where the fearless Tagins lived, and her chest—the valley where—the Apatanis lived. Her buttocks turned into the plains of Assam; just as there is much fat in the buttocks, Assam too is nourished by its fertile soil. Her mysterious eyes became the sun and moon, and from her mouth, was born kujum-popi, who sent the sun and moon to shine in the sky.
Words: Meeta Deka and Vaibhav Todi
Photos: Arif Siddiqui
The article was first published in Eclectic Northeast (November 2015) issue