4/24/2009 to 4/28/2009 | Arunachal Pradesh , India

Hanging with the Apatani in Ziro

We only spent a night in the characterless capital of Itanagar, arranging a shared jeep to the Ziro Valley home to the Apatani people. The Apatani women were a historically famed for there beauty, unfortunately this made them prized brides, consenting or not. Reputedly the neighboring tribes would raid the Apatani villages for their women. In order to make there women less desirable to the neighboring tribes a system of mandatory facial mutilation was introduced. The women were force to get face tattoos and nose plugs called “dat,” disk shaped inserts placed in pierced nostrils. The disk size would be expanded as the size of the piercing grew. This practice continued remarkably late into the 19th century and many of the middle aged and all of the older women still bear the radical face alterations.

We arrived in the height of rice planting season with nearly everyone out in the fields by day armed with a thermos of tea and a few bottles of home-brewed rice beer to get them through the day. While some of the women were understandably camera shy most were quite friendly and joking constantly as long as you took the time to engage them. Foreigners who stay longer than a half day, on a whirl wind jeep tour are still relatively rare. Usually the amount of joking was in some proportion of the amount of rice beer they had been drinking. We spent our days wandering through the rice patties and villages having tea and rice beer with the Apatani women and taking a more than a few photos in the process. I even tried my hand at a bit of rice planting myself, to the great amusement of the local women, who no doubt wondered how anyone could be that inept at a task as simple as planting rice. If the locals had planted rice at my pace they wouldn’t finish planting a single patty before the harvest. It was all in good fun and I gain a new found respect for the back braking work of rice cultivation. That evening when I had rice and pork curry for dinner I made sure I didn’t waste a grain. Apatani cuisine like most tribal fare is heavy on the boiled meat, and rice, which along with fermented bamboo shoots mark the three staple ingredients of the cuisine. The bamboo shoots take a bit of getting used to but I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to get pork.

After four days of hanging out in the rice patties drinking rice beer and taking a large number of photographs, over 500 on my part and I’m sure even more for May, we reluctantly decided to move on and see what else the state of Arunachal had in store.

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