|Ecosystem Type||Forest, Grasslands, Others → Mountain Ecosystem, Cultivated lands|
|Number of households||-|
|Number of people||-|
The Apatani valley (or the Apatani plateau), bifurcated by the river Kele, is located in Arunachal’s Lower Subansiri District (93°57’E to 94°12’E and 27°30’N to 27°40’N). The plateau is bowl-shaped surrounded by high hills and interspersed with paddy fields and bamboo–pine groves. Nearly 52 sq km in area, the valley lies at an altitude of 1524 m with temperatures on the cooler side.
The valley lies between the river valleys of Kamla and Khru on the north and Palin on the south. All these rivers eventually drain into the Subansiri river, a tributary of the Brahmaputra. The villages are situated at the periphery of the circular valley with tropical evergreen, sub-tropical grassland formation, and sub-tropical evergreen forests.
The area witnesses copious rainfall throughout the year at an average of 3000 mm. High precipitation and fertile soils have helped in the growth of luxuriant vegetation. The forest types broadly are of sub-tropical broad-leaved, temperate broad-leaved, and temperate conifer types, depending on altitude. In several places, forests are dense with a profuse growth of epiphytes (mainly orchids and ferns). The hilly terrain in the valley is covered with forests and bamboo-pine groves, while the flat valley is used for paddy cultivation and pisciculture.
The higher altitudes have vegetation like east Indian almond, dhale katus, siriasing, amari, chaplash, kanak champa, sal and hirda, ferns, orchids and araceous species. Red silk cotton tree, screw-pine and the rare species Hyptianthera stricta occur along the banks of the river and along the streams. Apatanis have extensively planted rawami and bamboo in the surrounding hillocks as sources of material for construction of houses and household articles. The occurrence of Himalayan white pine is shrouded in mystery as it does not grow anywhere else in this area.
The fauna comprises the tiger, golden cat, large Indian civet, spotted linsang, common palm civet, Himalayan palm civet, jackal, Indian elephant, sambar, barking deer, gaur, Indian wild boar, Assamese macaque and capped langur.
The community inhabiting the Apatani valley in Arunachal Pradesh is somewhat unique in its traditional wisdom and practices. Furer Heimendorf in his earlier writings in the mid-1940s mentions seven Apatani villages. Recent articles put the number of villages in the valley at around twenty. The population continues to be confined to the central regions of the Apatani plateau around the old Ziro or Hapoli township, former headquarters of the district.
Inhabitants of this valley are named variously—Onka Miri, Ankas, Apa Tanang, etc.—collectively called as the Apatani (Apa means regard and Tani means human race). Apatanis, cohabit with other tribal groups called Nishis and Hill Miris; but unlike them, they live in nuclear families. They are divided into a number of clans and each clan lives in a clearly defined part of the village. They worship the sun (Donyi) and the moon (Polo) and there are several fascinating myths attached to their deities and their origin which serves to reinforce their uniqueness as compared to the neighbouring communities. Almost all their festivals are even today connected to nature conservation and community welfare.
|Year of Formation||-|
|Motivations||Livelihood, Ecological functions, Natural habitat and species conservation, Wild biodiversity conservation, Agricultural and livestock diversity conservation, Response to external threat|
The Apatanis have carried out their conservation and agricultural practices, which are closely linked to their social systems of taboos, truces, and festivals, since time immemorial. This has led to the establishment of an elaborate indigenous and scientific system of agriculture and conservation.
The ancestral lands of the Apatanis were declared reserved forests by the government in 1976. Tale Valley Sanctuary was declared in 1995 in a part of the reserved forest, parts of which include the traditional lands of the Apatani. The local people disagree strongly with these arbitrary declarations. In 1993, the Apatanis formed village forest protection committees, with the involvement of the youth to combat the rampant destruction of forests.
A large focus of the Apatanis' conservation practices is highly sustainable forms of agriculture, including growing paddy, millets, and kitchen gardens; pisciculture; and rearing pigs and chickens. The establishment and ecologically sound management of these resources ensures that the Apatanis have enough food to feed themselves and surplus to barter with neighbouring communities.
The Apatani also believe that there is no life without bamboo. They build their huts solely of bamboo and pinewood. Therefore, an integral feature of their villages is well stocked and carefully tended bamboo and pine groves. Many varieties of wild bamboo grow in the surrounding hills. However, in their individually owned groves, they grow a variety that is locally known as bije or Japanese timber bamboo (Phyllostachys bambusoides). This species of bamboo stands up to cold winters with seasonal frost and occasional snow. This species is only found in this valley and nowhere else in the region. The blue pine (Pinus wallichiana) is also a characteristic of this area and is not found anywhere else in the region. The old blue pine trees worshipped by the Apatanis are called Khoda Satnii in the local dialect.
Further, the resource management system of the Apatanis also grew out of political motives of dipute management. Dapos originated as symbolic peace treaties during the settlement of the plateau. Surrounded (geographically) by hostile Nishi tribesmen, the Apatanis wanted to keep inter-village and inter-tribal disputes to a minimum and formal treaties of friendship between villages formed a fundamental part of their political system. In the likelihood of disputes arising over boundaries of forest lands (irrespective of ownership), three poles of (usually) bamboo about 3–4 feet long are erected in a vertical criss-cross manner to depict a dapo at negotiated boundaries of such areas. The dapo still has relevance today, with an added element of threat as resource crunches become more prevalent.
Similarly, the practice of buning or the making of ceremonial friends also helped diffuse inter and intravillage tensions. Bunings were normally from other clans and tribes. Buning can be inherited: they are made after long periods of friendship and the relationship is accorded formal status by inviting bunings to feast at the Mloko festival. Relations are considered severed if a buning is not invited to a feast.
Some dispute settlement mechanisms in the past, which have continued till recent times, include systems of oaths and ordeals. To a great extent, these systems kept crime and disputes within the community to a minimum, as ordeals were generally severe. If the village authorities were unable to resolve disputes by negotiations and mediation, the practice of ordeals was resorted to. Several taboos are associated with felling of certain trees and animals. There is a need to document these practices.
|Collective of CCAs||-|
|Decision Making Body||Resource users , Youth committee , Others → Forest protection committee , Forest department|
|Rules and Regulations||Formal|
|Community activities through the year||Regulation of harvest, Plantations and restoration activities, Soil and water conservation|
The local communities residing in the valley are responsible for carrying out the elaborate and intricate indigenous conservation practices in the Apatani valley. In the face of assertions of ownership of forestlands by the Forest Department, the Apatani community has started erecting boards in their forests with a warning statement saying that a fine will be levied in case of violation of local rules and stealing of their resources.
In 1993, the Apatanis formed village forest protection committees, with the involvement of the youth. According to the community members the idea about forming this committee came after a realisation that outside influences and cultural factors such as diminishing effects of taboos and social restrictions following modern education were causing rampant destruction of forests.
In addition to the dispute settlement mechanisms of dapos, bunings, and oaths and ordeals, other social practices of the Apatani also lead to conservation. During festivals and religious ceremonies, entry into forests for cutting firewood or extraction of other resources is not permitted. During special ceremonies held at home, members of the family are not allowed to leave the premises of the house for a period of up to seven days. Violation of these norms is considered taboo. The Apatanis perform a seasonal rite in July/August in the name of Yapun, god of thunder. The performance of this rite is believed to ward off the danger of damaging the crop from hailstorms. No villager is allowed to go beyond the cultivated areas—i.e., to the forests—during the ten days following the performance of these rites. Breach of these rules could lead to hailstorms damaging the crops. These rites and restrictions are followed till date.
The Apatanis also ensure the effective utilisation of every inch of cultivable space. The typical land use pattern is in concentric circles, with privately owned land as the epicenter followed by clan land in the middle and common village land at the periphery.
Clan lands are usually not concentrated in one place but are dispersed over many hills. Clan members can indulge in trapping on such lands, but other Apatanis are also allowed to hunt, earlier with bows and arrows only, but more recently with firearms too. Since hunting by traps can be dangerous for others using the forest, within a clan forest, specific areas are assigned to individual families so that they can each lay their traps with the knowledge of others. Community hunting for festivals is conducted only in village forests.
Individual families are assigned areas within clan forests for extraction of cane. Individuals can sell their rights to hunt, trap and extract cane to other members of the clan owning the forest. Fishing rights depend on the type of ownership of the forest through which the stream or river flows. Clan land consists of sites for public assembly platforms called lapangs, meadowland for pasture and burial grounds, and forests for clan owners to hunt and trap animals.
Pinus wallichiana is also planted in clan forests, but these trees are then considered to be the individual’s property and not clan property. Anyone felling these trees (other than the owner) is fined one cow.
Some salient features of their agricultural methods, which ensure sustainability, are:
• The laying out of fields on the hill slopes in such a way that the water flowing down the hill can be channelled inside the fields using an intricate design of contour bunds that divide the plots.
• Prudent use of water emerging from forest water sources and ground water, which erupts through springs, to cultivate paddy twice a year (one ripening early and the other late in the year). One set is permanently inundated under water; the other dries out and hardens after the harvest is over.
• Use of human faecal matter and pig and fowl droppings and decomposed stubble of the last harvest to act as a fertiliser for their crops.
• The practice of aquaculture by digging a vertical pit in the centre of the paddy field and introducing fingerlings a month after paddy transplantation is yet another unique Apatani practice. During August and September, the water is drained out and the fish is harvested.
• The cultivation of two varieties of millet, one on the bunds of the paddy fields and the other in open dry fields is a peculiarity of the Apatanis.
The only inputs to the agricultural system are human labour and organic wastes generated by the community, as a result of which the energy efficiency of the system is very high.
Further, almost every household in the Apatani valley maintains a kitchen garden where beans, chillies, tobacco, cucumber, taro, ginger, potato, tomato and coarse type of spinach are grown. The Apatani households also rear semi-domesticated mithun, pigs and fowls, which provide them with an essential protein supplement. Pigs are considered as a very necessary sanitary institution, as they feed on human faecal matter.
|Legal Status||Protected Areas under WLPA → Wildlife sanctuary, Forest Area under IFA → Reserve forest, Forest Area under IFA → Unclassed forest|
|Community Forest Resource Rights (CFR)||-|
|Date of filing CFR claim||-|
|Level of CFR claim||-|
|Date of recognition of CFR claim||-|
|Management plan status||-|
|Other Recognised Status||-|
|Impact on Livelihoods and Subsistence||Grazing, Non-timber forest produce, Timber, Fish, Paddy, millets|
|Ecological Impact||Natural habitat preservation, Good diversity and population of wildlife, Good diversity of crops, livestock, fish, Improved/sustained ecological services|
|Internal Threats and Challenges||-|
|External Threats and Challenges||Restrictive laws and policies , Invasive or non-native species, Socio-cultural changes (such as changes in the taboo system), monetisation of the area’s economy, and the commodification of forest resources (especially timber and cane)|
Over many generations Apatanis have evolved an intricate system of natural resource management for the sustainable use of bio-resources which is based entirely on their indigenous knowledge and innovations. These include efficient forestry and agricultural skills. There is a strong sense of belonging even today because of the critical cultural, religious and biomass dependence on the ecosystem.
A study of the agricultural system followed by the Apatanis reveals an indigenous and scientific system which provides them with surplus paddy to be bartered with the neighbouring communities.
Tree groves close to villages contain a variety of fruit trees and other trees that are considered sacred, such as the thakum, a plum tree with white flowers. The groves running up the hill slopes have pine and fruit trees interspersed with a few other trees, whose wood is used for hut building. The lush pine groves on hillsides surrounding the valley are the evidence of the remarkable forestry skills of the Apatani.
The above mentioned social / political practices of dapos, bunings, and oaths and ordeals have supported conservation.
The elders of the village (gaon buras) express concern over the changing trends in the valley, which include:
• Introduction of exotic varieties of rice at subsidised rates by the government. This has led to decrease in growth of local varieties. The elders feel that these imported varieties were not suited to their soil.
• The village forests have had the legal status of unclassed state forests. In Arunachal, most unclassed forests have disputed claims: while some consider these to be government lands, local people consider these as community owned lands. The state government is increasingly bringing more unclassed forests under their Aanchal Forest scheme, under which the management of the forest rests with the forest department and the revenue is shared between the Department and the community. The Apatanis do not see any reason why they should share the revenue from what has been their land since times immemorial.
• The local people are upset about the fact that their ancestral lands were declared reserved forests by the government in 1976. The villagers had no information about this. According to them no process of settlement of rights was undertaken. In fact, one clan in the valley has filed a case in Guwahati High Court against the government, claiming that these lands have belonged to the clan for generations.
• Tale Valley Sanctuary was declared in 1995 in a part of the reserved forest. The villagers claim that parts of the sanctuary include their traditional lands. The local people are extremely upset about the fact that first the reserved forest and then the wildlife sanctuary were declared without any consultations with the local communities.
• The formation of village forest protection committees in 1993 was prompted by the realisation that outside influences and cultural factors such as diminishing effects of taboos and social restrictions following modern education were causing rampant destruction of forests.
Also, the monetisation of the area’s economy and the commodification of forest resources (especially timber and cane), have caused conflicts of land ownership to arise.
|Data Source||From publicly available sources|
|Year of Study||1999|
|License||CC BY Attribution|