ZIRO: Being one of the few places in Arunachal Pradesh where intensive wet rice cultivation is practised as a tradition, Ziro Valley is unique to the Himalayan state in every sense.
Narang Tam, an agriculturist and a local historian, says, "Every member of the Apatani tribe practices agriculture on small holdings. Apatanis live in nuclear families and everyone owns a house, a granary, a paddy field, a pine garden, a bamboo grove and a kitchen garden which are a prerequisite for solemnising a marriage.
"As per tradition, the ancestral land is inherited by the eldest son of the family. After the marriage of the eldest son, the father moves out and builds another house for the family," adds Tam.
Though women can inherit land in the absence of a male child, the tradition has changed over time. Many parents have started giving a share of their land holding to girl children. They also include women in decision-making.
Paddy cultivation in the Ziro valley is unique. Says Narang Tam: "We rear common carp in the paddy fields and practise organic farming. We manage the water by constructing extensive channels to ensure that water does not go waste and is equally distributed."
Since their migration from the Huang Ho basin in China centuries ago, the Apatani sow paddy for only one season every year. Sowing is done in January, transplantation in April and reaping in September. Since migrating to Ziro Valley, the Apatanis live in seven villages, namely Hong, Hari, Kallung-Reru-Tajang, Hija, Duta, Baming Michi and Modang Tage.
"Our earliest variety of rice was 'pyare mi pya'. But we abandoned it as it was the favourite food of small birds. Now the major paddy varieties we grow are 'pyate mi pya' and 'pulu mi pya'. There are also medium-quality paddy varieties such as 'pya pin' and 'emmo'," said local farmer Punyo Tagyung.
The tribal custom of organic farming prevents cultivators in Ziro from adopting pest control techniques. "We conduct a festival called Dri in July to pray to our gods for a bumper harvest and to protect our harvest from pests," said another local farmer Hano Stephen.
The Apatani don't sell their rice outside the valley. They consume it locally. They share extra produce with other members of the tribe. In ancient times, rice was given as wages to labourers.
The Apatani are also trying to make a script in Latin alphabet and call it 'Tani Lipi'.
How the Apatani came to Ziro
Legend has it that the Apatani accidentally discovered Ziro Valley while migrating from the Huang Ho basin to the plains of Assam.
"The Miris and Mishings of upper Assam are our ethnic kin. Legend has it that Miris and Mishings were clearing bamboo groves while making their way to the Assam plains while the Apatani were following them. However, when the Apatani saw that bamboo stems had grown again over the hacked plants in Ziro Valley, they feared that the Mishings and Miris have moved way ahead and decided to settle down in the valley itself," says Teling Tatung of Hong village.