[ Tongam Rina ]
The Arunachal Pradesh government has approved creation of Department of Indigenous Faith & Cultural Affairs to “preserve and promote culture and faiths of the indigenous communities of the state.”
Chief Minister PemaKhandu’s cabinet noted that “due to globalization, exposure and external influences, the indigenous communities of the state are fast getting disconnected from rich culture and languages and therefore at the risk of disappearing into oblivion”.
Strong and alarming yet soothing words for the people of a state where Hindi and English languages have replaced our languages, where newer religions have replaced the traditional practices and indigenous knowledge.
So much so that even the devotional songs of Donyi Polo and Rang Frah religions are a poor imitation of Christian hymns and the accompanying rituals are copied unabashedly from Hindu religion. Changing times perhaps calls for changing practices, even if dilution in the name of religion makes it appear very alien to most of us who grew up at a time, when indigenous practices were still part of our lives although many traditional practices made us cringe.
Those were the time, when the traditional priests made prophecies, based on shape of the chicken liver or the egg and dreams. Today, these practices are gone but newer ones have taken over most homes.
A huge dot using black kohl is applied on the forehead of children to ward away evil spirits, which is a classic example of Hinduisation of indigenous practice while the Christian version is not drinking locally brewed beers but acceptance of foreign liquors.
Indigenous culture and practices are prone to changes with changing times, and it’s an individual choice but we still have some time to save our languages from perishing. While the state has not done much to save the languages, there have been efforts by some of the larger communities to document it, as well as come up with scripts that are scientific. But at the same time, in an effort to give a common language, many other languages will die eventually, because it does not fit into the larger identity politics that has gripped the state.
If we are not proud of our languages, the repository of our identity and indigenous knowledge, we have no right to speak about saving indigenous faith and culture, as it is all interlinked.
The coming days will tell us the relevance of the department announced by the government. To start with, the languages in Arunachal need scripts. It is for the younger generation to decide if they want to speak their native languages, while they master foreign languages in order to climb the social ladder. But we can make a start by giving them a platform to learn the languages. We owe it to our children.
The VIPs have already taken over our festivals from our priests and priestess as power and money lure us. The thought itself is agonizing but time is not far, when the traditional chants will be played from mobile phones because there will be no one left to sing the songs and the hymns.
[ Tongam Rina ]