The animistic peoples of Arunachal profess elaborate feasting practices, mostly connected with the agricultural cycle and indefinitely diverse in their ways of expressing the peoples’ urge for appeasement of the deities and assurance of the ever-present spirits’ benevolence. Age-old beliefs in the possibility of attaining and directing fertility to the fields and the people are interwoven with methods of strengthening family, clan and inter-village ties. One of the most impressive of these feasts is Myoko, the biggest festival of the Apa Tani. It commences in March and lasts an entire month. So elaborate and expensive is Myoko that associated villages take turns in hosting it every three years (2005 it took place in Hari and Bula). Its metaphysical aim is to appease the spirits and request them to take care of the well-being of the people. At the same time it has a strong social function. Through visits and re-visits, communal eating and drinking and meticulously defined rules of ritually given presents, it strengthens the ties between families and clans and, on a broad level, even villages.
To be precise, Myoko already starts with the end of the preceding year’s harvest when each of the performing clans under the direction of their priests hunts and kills a monkey. Its meat is distributed among all male clan members, the skull, however, is kept by the priest. The ritual huts (nago) located next to the lapangs, the communities’ sitting platforms, are repaired and adorned.
Before the festival actually starts bobos are erected, up to 15 m high ritual poles signifying fertility to which cane ropes are tied on which the Apa Tanis perform acrobatics, “causing the pole to swing. People get themselves propelled high up into the air and the sport is popular among the young people of both sexes, though even older men and women sometimes show their skill.” (Pandey, p. 48)
Myoko coincides with the flowering of a plum-tree (Takung). The festival cannot be started before the flowering of this tree which grows on the ritual ground (Yugyang) of Myoko. Normally it flowers in mid-March. Therefore Myoko ceremonies start between 17th to 20th March. (cf. Takhe Kani, p. 204) During the entire festival time all fieldwork is genna (taboo) for the performing clans. Shortly before the festival starts willow branches are hung above the entrances of each house to appease the house-spirits. They shall not get angry over the many guests coming and going within the next month disturbing the quietness of the house.
From the first day to the end of the second day, a period called O Tantii Du, the men of the guest villages for all full day and night are entertained with drinks of rice/millet beer (O = rice/millet beer). On the afternoon of the third day (Tapar Liidu) the actual ceremonies start (Tapar = cane leaves, Liidu = procession). The male villagers assemble and walk in a procession around the village to the clan’s nago, singing and swinging their cane leaf brushes. In the meantime the priest has entered the shrine with the monkey skull, an egg and a bamboo leaf. He sacrifices the egg and through song and prayer invites Myoko Wee, i.e. God Siki and the divine couple Kiri (god) and Kilo (goddess) to move into the nago for the festival’s duration. A brush of cane leaves is placed into the monkey skull’s nostrils. Next to the nago another priest prays and sacrifices a pig. As the men approach the shrine with their cane leaf brushes they commence a loud chanting of ”Hoo Hoo Hoo”. But they have to wait. Only when the cane leaves in the monkey skull’s nose start trembling can they be sure that the god has moved into the nago. The skull is then hung on a stick and remains there till the end of the festival, while the men turbulently and under loud shouting fix their brushes on the hut’s roof, thus offering them to God Siki. Then they return to their houses where meat, eggs and salt extracted from plants and much rice/millet beer are consumed. The festival has begun.
The next day is the day of the great pig sacrifices Yuging Todu. It is believed that on this day the gods and goddesses will bless the place. On the eve the pigs to be sacrificed are caught, tied up and their feet are washed. At 2 o’clock they are brought to the sacrificial place (Yugiing) where a ritual shrine has been erected. From 4 o’clock onwards the priest starts reciting prayers which last for many hours. With the sunrise the freshly married women appear in their festive attire and sprinkle rice flour and rice beer over the dozens of pigs lying on the ground. At the same time the assistant priest sacrifices chickens on an altar on the sacred ground. These chickens have been brought by those villagers who cannot afford to sacrifice a pig. After the main Myoko priest has been chanting his prayers for several hours, selected pigs receive special rituals in which the priest’s assistant cuts open their bellies and rips their hearts out. The other pigs are carried back to the houses where their owners have to wait till the priest visits them. This he does the whole day long, performing the necessary rituals and then slaughtering the pigs the same way as described above. For his ”service” the priest receives the pigs’ hearts, which only he is entitled to consume, and carries them home in a special basket.
The distribution of the meat follows fixed rules: The lower jaw is reserved for members of the lower class, the upper jaw and the rest of the head are given to the elder brother of the house-owner. Special importance is attributed to the bacon rind. Two big pieces are reserved for the maternal uncles of husband and wife, respectively. One small strip was originally given to the slaves. Since slavery does not exist anymore it remains with the family. Another small strip is given to the punyan, a ”hereditary friend” often from another village many times these friendships have been hereditary for generations (It is even common to reserve some portion for people who have traditionally been enemies in order to secure their friendship (Pandey 1981)). Liver and fat are for the wife’s mother. The backbone is divided vertically and along with one rib each goes to husband´s and wife’s eldest sister. The pig’s blood is kept for three days. Boiled and mixed with rice it is then distributed among the villagers and eaten.
After the pig sacrifices the priest has to fast for two months (no meat and taboo of certain vegetables). But also one of the marriage partners who have sacrificed a pig have to fast for one month. This is determined by egg oracle. The decision may already be seen on the morning of the pig sacrifice. If it is the husband the pig carries a cane strip around its belly. The end of the fasting is marked by the ritual consumption of a piece of dried squirrel meat. Only after that may all food be taken again.
On the successive two days relatives and friends from neighbouring villages come and visit their associates in the hosting village and eat, drink and sing together. There used to be true singing and dancing competitions which lasted for seven days (Pandey 1981). As a farewell gift the guests receive strips of bacon rind, salt and rice beer which they carry home in their baskets.
The fifteenth day of the festival is again dedicated to the priests performing chicken sacrifices in the homes of those who have already sacrificed a pig. On the 25th day the young men of the village gather in designated houses. The men of the lower class bring the bones of the pigs´ jaws they had received as gifts and these are hung to the house walls. On this day upper and lower class of the village (app. 70% vs. 30%) feast together for the first time in Myoko and thus even the strict ritual division between the two classes who have to have their own Myoko-altars each are lifted . (Except during Myoko, there is no difference between these two classes, neither political nor economic or cultural or religious. (cf Takhe Kani) On the last day of the festival the Apa Tanis head out to the fields with bamboo stakes and drive them into the soil. This day marks the beginning of the cultivation period.
(Translation by P.v. Ham)