Saturday, 28 February 2009

Now…that’s something to blog about

I met a granny in the village Bomdo this time who has walked to Tibet! She along with another fifteen people walked for 12 days to reach what they call ‘Mimet’ around the year 1950. The walk was mainly for bringing back salt although various other barters would take place, I have listed here few…rice and rice beer were exchanged for wheat powder or salt. The exchange rate was pretty simple; 1 cup rice beer fetches one fist amount of wheat powder or a cup of salt. Various other things that were exchanged were bamboo combs and other artefacts and ginger for Dao (a knife), wool and certain fruits. Granny very enthusiastically brought this spin that’s at least 60 years old and posed for the picture to depict how they extract thread to make clothes.

Other interesting facts were that people with heavy bags were invited to rich homes whereas people with light bags were invited to poor homes. Naturally people carried a lot of weight and granny told me people would carry about 50 – 60 kilos! The other strange thing about the trip is that people who die on the way are not brought back. And whatever happens on the way the group is all the time happily singing and walking.
So, basically people from Bomdo village were walking at least a distance of 150 km and more through tough terrain full of forests and snow near the Indo-Tibet border to bring back salt and knives. I already knew that Adi people are physically tough but now I just think they are from the planet Kryptos!

Headhunters’ ball – Reyee Gaye

The ‘Aran’ puja was on this time when I reached Ramsing village. Reyee Gaye dance was the feature that interested me; I reached the place outside the Naamghar (a large hall in the village where all group activities take place) in the evening where the young as well as old experienced men would do the war-dance, a practice continuing for hundreds of years. Bit of background…Adis were headhunters even just a century back, intense conflicts amongst sub-tribes of Adis existed although they are all at peace now. The headhunters would all gather in the Naamghar with their sheaths and knives and leave for the war
As good rock shows and concerts, folks did come out late and the light was low, but I got few pictures; because of the low light it seems like the men are shaking vigorously but they really are on a slow four-by-four beat with “huh huh huh huh” while heavily thumping the ground. You really have to be there to know that this indeed is ‘war’ dance; the air is full of dominance and a display of strength. Notice the camouflage with leaves and bamboo, the knife carried is called Yoxa and the sheath is called Tamkum, though it looks a bit weak, it’s made of bamboo and reinforced with cane knittings and a knife cannot make through it with one stroke. The Yoxa that one of the men carried while dancing was the actual one used many decades back for head-hunting. Now, of course the dance is a cultural event every year and the practice of headhunting has phased out.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Itanagar meet and buy wild meat market

This I had to post sometime, it’s been on the back of my mind. About 2 km from the Forest Department office in the State capital Itanagar is the meat market where I have had more sightings of mammals than in my field site. Here I saw my first ever Binturong. The other species I have come across; giant squirrels, giant flying squirrels, crestless porcupine, macaque (either Assamese or Rhesus, can’t make out from the lump of meat), muntjacs, civets and once even a wreathed hornbill.

Some may call it hunting for subsistence, who has the right to stop them from hunting in their own community-forests, don’t they have the right to eat meat, etc. But damn it, I think the rarer species have to be just not hunted; binturongs, hornbills and few other species, I don’t know hunting of which species is justified but definitely here it’s not for subsistence, I think there should be a clear distinction between hunting for the pot and hunting for the money pot. Well, each time I walk out of this market having seen some species being sold like I did today after seeing the crestless porcupine I wonder what ever could be a solution to this. I don’t feel this bad when I see a species being brought back in village I stay in for my field work where certainly not a gram of the meat is sold, its distributed amongst the clan and family members.

I am now thinking hunting has at least three tiers to it. 1) hunting for consumption, 2) hunting for selling the meat like mentioned in the earlier para, 3) hunting for fur /skin/ bone trade. I think the last form of hunting is least justified in comparison to the first. Comments, debates, opinions, anyone?

I managed to take a pic of the porcupine yesterday, but I wonder if anyone could take pics all the time in the market and keep interviewing the people without getting hit. I always leave the meat market quite morose.

PS: The local newspapers covered this issue well and the Forest Department raided the market too. It seems like the issue is being taken up more seriously these days (May 2012).

Friday, 6 February 2009

How the tangkum lost its tail…

The rufous-throated partridge here is called the Tangkum by the Adis. It has a very interesting call Whee-Wooo with an ascending tone according to Grimmett’s bird book. We hear it in the forests here every other day. So one day, the partridge went Whee-Wooo and a squirrel dropped a fruit it was eating. A barking deer got alarmed when the fruit fell on him and scooted and thereby caused almost a landslide. A crab in the river was peacefully basking down below in the river when a pebble hit its eye and the crab lost its eye.

So here in Adi community, for any justice they have a formal meeting called Kebang. So the forest organised a Kebang and the Kebang’s verdict was to fine the stone. But the stone said, this dumb barking deer slid over me and therefore I rolled, mine not to reason why. Hmm said the council, call that deer, let’s fine him and get this over with, we got other work to do. The barking deer barked that he was only doing his morning foraging duties when he was alarmed by this seed that fell off the sky. The seed was summoned, the seed said, I was only hoping my fruit is eaten and I get dispersed peacefully somewhere till the rains when this silly squirrel dropped me half-eaten, mine not to reason why. “Summon that squirrel”, council said. Squirrel bickered that he also as the deer was doing his early morning feeding when he heard the Tangkum call and don’t know why today the ascending tone was really at an ascent.

“Get tangkum here, double quick”. Tangkum came Whee-Whooing and quickly figured there was no way out, although he begged the council’s mercy that early morning is the time he calls for a pretty girl tangkum and really it wasn’t his fault. Yet, he had to give up something, causing this whole ruckus. “Take my tail with twelve beautiful feathers”. And that’s how the tangkum lost its tail, a fine Adi story.

The boys of the village also trapped one today with a sling-trap, this is the picture of the beautiful bird, no tail as per the tale.

The walk to the village by the river

Having spent three peaceful days discussing my plant work and visiting clearings from Ramsing Inspection Bungalow, I headed this morning to Bomdo village to carry on birding work. So early morning we woke like good birds do for worms and got to the bus stop; this is any arbitrary place where you find a stone to park your arse and where the respective driver can see that you have been waiting long. So I waited, long (from 630 to 830) then I found a tipper truck and got myself and my two bags beautifully cemented, but the trip only lasted halfway. I was headed 25 km from Ramsing to Bomdo whereas the tipper tipped me off to a place called Hawa camp, only 9 km from Ramsing. So I park my butt again and wait for more helpful wheels. Two hours later, I decided to come up with a one-liner and start walking towards the village: ‘The main difference between an opportunity and a difficulty is the one to be ignored!’

One may wonder why I didn’t walk to the village since morning because most wildlifers will agree that 25 km is walkable in four-five hours. The only thing, things actually, were my two bags in front and back of me, don’t they look heavy…

About six km later I saw a beautiful stream and someone had left a mug for me to drink, so I drank from the cup of life!

Birds on the way many; golden bush robin, sibias, unidentified harrier, etc. The reason I kept walking was hoping that some vehicle will give me a drop of at least ten of the remaining 15 km.  that didn’t happen at all. The usual Border Road Organisation vehicles were not dropping many civilians because one of their tippers had dropped from the road until the Siang river and four civilians were killed. So for the next two weeks at least, I think no long-lifts for civilians by BRO.

The only other thing that happened was that at some point after climbing a short cut for half an hour or so I realised I had dropped my binoculars cover. So I cached my two bags in the forest somewhere and literally ran back more than a kilometre to retrieve it. I am a good retriever usually, my old Jawa I took back from a mechanic after keeping it with him for a year, I retrieved my job at Greenpeace, my drum kit which I am yet to retrieve from a friend (which I am sure I will) and certain other examples. In fact the only thing that I wanted to for sometime to retrieve but I couldn’t and now don’t care to try is my ex-girlfriend!

Well, I puffed and panted and couldn’t find this stupid bag, well I need to buy this sometime when I go to a town like Guwahati. Anyway, that was another significant thing during the walk. Then when I came back out of the shortcut to the tarred road, I met this old lady from Bomdo who keeps sending vegetables for me at the place I stay, very sweet lady. So I walked with her a km, she kept talking and I kept saying things in the bits of Adi I have picked up. Later I figured that for a large part of the conversation she was telling me which all veggies were available at her home in Bomdo which I can gladly go and pick! Then she took a detour to collect fire wood, I kept walking.

Then, the last significant incident, on another shortcut to the village I saw this 50+ year old woman and her family walking in front of me. Here it’s a custom to greet people and generally ask them if the day is tiring, whether they went very far or that you are tired or that you have come from very far, etc, etc. So I asked her how she is and she gave me a surprised look, I thought she had seen me coming because for almost twenty minutes I was trailing them. When I looked closely I figured she was taking a standing pee. When I was young and in fact even now, I thought women can’t pee when they are standing! But this lady just stood-at-ease with her legs about 1-m from each other and peed!!!

I reached the IB…somewhere during the journey I’d realised that I hadn’t brought sambar powder, the ultimate mom-made panacea for flavouring food. But when I reached my camp, the Bomdo inspection bungalow, I had stashed some from my last visit in November and this will be more than enough for the next ten days. And then there was rice, dal, salt, oil, batteries, etc, etc. nice…very nice.

In the meanwhile a kid came to the IB with a basket full of veggies the old woman had sent! I think the first thing she did after she returned home dispatched some with her grandson, so my first meal here was sambar-rice, ghee and some lovely powder (for you Andhrites reading this, Putnalu podi)  we eat with rice from Andhra. And I was thinking a walk may be uneventful!

By the way, the house-Mithun of Dungé Yalik is home again after last May, when I was here in the village too! They only come around once/twice a year in this village it seems, these are some real feral cattle they have here.

A village gets connected to the world

Its just another Sunday morning, things are easy and slow; a bit laidback, a bit purposeful and a bit hungry. So, I got my bike out, eat a ...