DREE- A Festival of Arunachal Pradesh’s Apatanis

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Young  Apatani girls dressed in their traditional attireDREE- Festival of Arunachal Pradesh’s Apatanis

Arunachal Pradesh, the last Shangri-La on Earth is recognised as a calendar of a long procession of festivals. The festivals here are not only characterised by color, jollity, fervor, feasts and an assortment of prayers and rituals but also bear testimony to its rich cultural heritage. Agriculture being the main occupation of the state, the festivals celebrated by the inhabitants of the state are in a close relation with their occupation.

Apatanis, one of the major tribes of the state are inhabitants of Lower Subansiri district. Anthropologists who have carried out research on the birth and origin of Apatanis inferred that they have descended from a ‘legendary ancestor, Abotani‘. The Apatani, or Tanii, are a tribal group of about 26,000 (approximately) in Ziro valley in the Lower Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh, India. However, more Apatanis live outside this valley, taking the total population to approximately 60,000 all over the state. Festivals are truly believed to be the mirror of the cultural aspect of any state and so, as it is done every year, the Apatani tribe this year too in the month of July is prepared to celebrate the Dree with full gusto.

Dree - Apatani Festival

The Apatani tribe has a long cycle of agricultural rites and festivals. The agricultural rites or festivals of the tribe begin by sacrificing domestic fowls, animals and eggs at different times, starting from the sowing to the harvesting periods to ensure a bumper yield of crops in the year. Some of the rites and festivals are Dree, Tamu, Metri, Chandii and Yahung etc. Chandii Tamu rite is performed during the sowing period, Dree during every growing period of crops and Yahung just before the harvest.

Ladies performing the most popular folk dance, Daminda.The literary meaning of ‘Dree’ is one who borrows or purchases food grains from others in order to meet the shortage by addition to one’s old and new stock of food grains. There are many myths and legends related to the celebration of the Dree festival. During the Dree festival, a few rites are performed to worship and appease Gods and Goddesses who protect the crops and ensure the well-being of human beings. The divinities associated with Dree are collectively knows as ‘Dree or Dri Wuhi’ (Gods).

From each clan of the village, one or two persons known as Dree Kholi or Dree Gora are appointed permanently or temporarily to conduct the ritual of Dree. They collect a small quantity of rice or millet from each individual in the village in order to meet the expenditure of the ceremony. When the time of festival approaches, the two appointed people prepare rice beer and collect the sacrificial animals and eggs. On completion of these preparations they inform the villagers about the date of performance so that they can store the required food grains and fire wood etc for the taboo period observed after the festival. On the appointed day, after being dressed up as warriors, the priest along with his assistant recite incantations called Dree Barni for a day sitting on the oldest clan community platform made of wood which is erected in every village known as ‘Lapang’. Lapang has both social and religious significance as people discuss social issues on it besides conducting important festivals. After the completion of the recital of the incantation, the priest goes round all the clans’ lapang along with sacrificial animals, fowls and eggs and the sacrificial structure (Yuygyang) which is generally located near the river of Apatani valley. The sacrificial structure or Yuygyang is cut into pieces and thrown into the river signifying the destroying of crop pests and insects that are to be flooded out from the agricultural fields.

On the festive occasion of Dree, as a symbol of love and affection, women from every household present a vessel of rice beer prepared traditionally at home to their elder brother, sister, son-in-law, guest etc. In turn, the recipient offers them a piece of bacon or roasted meat. In the festivals and other joyful fetes, dancing and musical songs play an important role. In fact the Apatani tribes perform many conventional dances, amongst which dances like Daminda and Pakhu Ittu are very popular. ’Daminda’ the most popular traditional & folk song of the tribe is associated with the Dree festival and is sung by the women folk and the children of the community. The traditional song Daminda describes the greatness of Apatanis of the past and present, sketches the geographical location of the Apatanis and their neighboring tribes, and recalls beautiful memories of love affairs of man and woman exemplifying their ancestors.

Fusing past and present

Now-a-days, with the popularity of the festival, the tribe does not strictly follow the religious taboos of Dree. It is celebrated as a seasonal festival of joy and glee when the plantation of all crops is over, for the well being of the seasonal crops like paddy, millet etc. Otherwise, for many centuries, a seven day taboo period was strictly observed in every village with effect from the date of the festival of Dree. During this period, people are not allowed to work in the fields or gardens nor can they gather green vegetables or fire wood from the forest. It is believed that if the observance of these taboos is violated, the performance at the time of the festival may not be successful.

The Dree festival has been modernised with increasing popularity all over the state as well as outside. One of the most important changes of the Dree celebration is the singing of ’Dree Flag song’ in the inaugural A woman dressed in  traditional attirefunction at the altar of Dree. The tribe not only introduced folk-song and dance competition, but also introduced various games and sports for everyone in the community.

The main highlights of the present day Dree celebration are the inauguration of the festival by a chief guest, the hoisting of the Dree flag, rituals and presentation of cultural activities. Cucumber, symbolising the sacredness of vegetables, is distributed to guests and participants. Games and sports, community feast, and entertainment also form an integral part of the celebration. The importance of this festival is that it is observed with a lot of enthusiasm amongst the Apatani tribes, thus ensuring better cultivation, preservation of the grains from various ill effects like storms, hailstone, insects and wild animals. Every year, the date of celebration of the festival has been fixed from 4th to 7th July.

Apatanis of today

Apatanis have now got along with the modern world. Though not widespread, a significant number get good education and people do also travel and settle in other parts of India and also abroad. They don’t get tattoos or wear nose plugs like their ancestors. They also encourage inter clan marriage which was not in practice. Many Apatanis make it a practice to get back to their native place during festival times especially during Dree, Murung and Myoko. Though they have started adopting modern lifestyles, there are people who still maintain their traditional lifestyles as well.


Chow Bilaseng Namchoom