The Apatani are not nomadic like some other tribes and are known for their knowledge of agriculture, specifically rice cultivation, for which they use a particularly sophisticated, unique irrigation system.
Like other tribes in Arunachal Pradesh, the Apatani practice a religion called Donyi-Polo, worshipping the sun and the moon.
Every house has a totem to honor the spirits, and animal sacrifices are regularly practiced for luck by the shamans.
As there is no written record of the Apatani tribe’s history, in order to know more about its past, researchers rely on stories that are transmitted orally from one generation to the next. However, it is thought that the Apatani migrated from Mongolia and Tibet.
The ‘old Apatani’ women are probably the most fascinating and well-known members of the tribe. It is said that they were considered to be the most beautiful women of Arunachal Pradesh and that men from neighboring tribes came to steal them.
In order to disfigure the women to protect them from these men from outside the tribe, their faces were covered in tattoos and nose plugs were placed in their nostrils.
This practice then became a rite of passage for women at the time of their first menstruation and marked their entry into adulthood.
‘My mother demanded to get tattooed; she felt it would be easier for her to find a husband that way,’ explains a younger Apatani woman, with no tattoos or nose plugs.
Another tradition that was commonly practiced was the forceful abduction of women and girls by men who wanted to wed them.
Once the woman was kidnapped, a shaman would practice a series of rituals to determine the couple’s compatibility. If the signs were positive, the liver of a sacrificed chicken would be shown to the woman’s family as proof that the marriage was a good idea.
These traditions, however, have not been practiced since the 1970s, and tattoos and nose plugs are only visible on older women.
Things changed in 1975 when Apatani society was forced to modernize and the younger generations began attending universities and looking for jobs outside of the community. Practices like child marriage, popular in the past, have also ended.