Tanw Dree – the story of human struggle

[ Dani Sulu ]

There is an old and wise Tanw saying “Migung byasa, Miji byasa, Hirung byasa, Milo Byasa” which can loosely be translated that there are different approaches to the life and its story, and such differing versions and approaches should be mutually regarded and respected. So also, there are different versions to the origin of Dree ritual of Tanw Society. The Dree ritual is agriculture related ritual to ward off pests and crop damaging diseases, storms, hailstones and excessive rains which may harm the agriculture crops. In the olden days, the taboo period that followed Dree ritual, when everyone was restricted from practicing agriculture activities or go to forests, was spent in dance, song and sports competition in a traditional way. This taboo period which was observed in different days by different Tanw villages was unified and has been celebrated as Dree Festival since 1967. The first Dree Festival was celebrated on 23rd June 1967. The date was later deferred to 4th, 5th and 6th July of every year from 1968.

The story of Dree is a story of human struggle to overcome the poverty and natural adversaries in its long story to a settled lifestyle by cultivating crops and taming the wild animals to ensure food security. There are many variants to the story of origin of Dree ritual. The story I am relating is only one of the many versions on the origin of Dree ritual. As with every other aspect of stories of different Abotani tribes, the story of Tanw Dree also revolves around our forefather Abo Tani.

After lots of trials and tribulations, Abotani was leading a normal life engaging in farming and hunting. Previously, Abotani had wandered far and wide, experimented with lots of ups and downs in his attempt to find meaning to his life. He had tried to marry and settle down with every living and non-living things that caught his eyes. He had married the sticks and woods, the stones and stream, the insects, the birds and animals and human beings. He rode the waves of fame and prosperity at times, and passed through phases of shame, despair and poverty at other times. His humbleness, sincerity and hard work would take him to a prosperous and comfortable life. And then he would be blinded by his richness and arrogance would take over his life and plunge him to the life of hunger, poverty and sufferings. Even after so much of trial and tribulation, he did not stop seeking meaning to his life. The child of destiny as he was, the noble spirits blessed him and saved him from the brink of utter destruction and death time and again.

The men folk of Tanw tribe take pride in the manly skill of hunting and trappings of wild birds and animals. They would go deep into the jungle on hunting expeditions for days together. In such cases, they would carry with them dwmi (tiffin) to the jungle and eat and sleep in Morey Lampii which was below a protective big tree or cave or under a huge rock. So, our forefather Abo Tani also took pride in such manly activities.

In one such expedition, when Abotani came back to Lampii for lunch, he found that a hot and delicious food was cooked and kept ready for him to feast. He was surprised, enjoyed the food and went on with his hunting and trappings without much ado.

This happened the next day and also days that followed. Abotani started wondering who it could be.  One fine day, he pretended to leave for hunting trek, made a roundabout and hid behind a bush. After sometime, a beautiful young lady came out from nowhere and started to prepare the delicacies. Abotani watched for some sometime and then caught and inquired about her.  The young lady replied that she was  Pyodu Yayi, the sister of Pyodu Tamang. Abotani proposed her for marriage to which she refused. She pleaded that she is the daughter of Pyodu Au and sister of Pyodu Tamang, who is considered as Dree – Dwmey Uwyi (the spirit of poverty, famine and scarcity) and it will be calamitous for Abotani to marry her. Nevertheless, Abotani force married her.  The couple prospered beyond imagination under the skillful and gifted hands of Pyodu Yayi. Pyodu Yayi is also referred to as Doji Yayi by many scholars.

As prosperity caught up with Abotani, the pride and arrogance also caught up with him. He proposed to invite his Pyodu in laws and relatives to which his wife vehemently opposed. She pleaded that her family members are the Dree – Dwmey Uwyi -spirit of poverty, scarcity and hunger. They will finish off every eatable thing that come within their sight and bring nothing but hunger and sufferings to the human beings. Arrogant as he had become, Abotani did not heed to his wife’s pleadings and invited Pyodu people by saying that he was so rich and prosperous that nothing on earth could finish his food and make him poor. True to the words of his wife, the Pyodu family came and immediately finished every eatable things from his house, granary, field including the left over husks of rice under the stilt house which was not considered fit even for the pigs to feed. With the coming of Dree Uwyi and Dwmey uwyi, the human race was in the grip of Dree – Dwmey – famine, scarcity, hunger and sufferings. The Abotani household also became poor and started acutely suffering from hunger, deprivation and cold.

After causing famine and scarcity, the Pyodu family started preparing to leave earth for their netherworld.  Abotani realized belatedly his misadventure and finding nothing to eat or drink, he begged the Pyodu Au to take him and his family to their netherworld.

As the family  members of Abotani and himself was getting ready to depart for the  world of eternal famine, hunger and suffering, the Ayo Dani (Goddess Sun) took pity on Abotani and decided to bless and save him from eternal suffering. The benevolent Ayo Dani caused the tender tendrils of cucumber and pumpkin and the young stems of maize (taaku riila-epe riila, tanyi apu) to beg Abotani to stay back and eat them to fill his stomach till the next crops of paddy can be harvested. Hearing their plea, Abotani asked his ato ayo, kwyi –kwtw (in laws and relatives from wife’s side) how should he survive as they had finished all his food. Pyodu Au, the Dree Spirit took out his bow and arrow and shot at tiibey sanw (bread tree) and asked him to eat the  Tiibey Sanw (Bread Tree) whenever Abotani had nothing else to eat.

So, by the blessing of Ayo Dani, Abotani survived the famine. Henceforth, Abotani and his descendants started performing many rituals to prevent Dree Uwyi from afflicting human race. The Dree Uyi (rituals) comprising of the Tamù, Met, Medvr, Mepiñ  is performed to keep away the Dree Spirit (spirit of scarcity, famine and hunger) from the society and Ayo Dani (Sun Goddess) is propitiated.

The lean month of June-July, when the harvested rice of previous autumn is finished, then people feed on tibbey sanw, taku, tanyi , a-pay, hamang sanw (feed on the barks of bread tree, cucumber, pumpkin, maize and other green leafy vegetables.)

The message from the story of origin of Dree rituals and the festival that followed is that human beings must be humble, sincere and hardworking to keep away the poverty and lead a happy and contented life. It teaches us to be frugal and parsimonious with our belongings. It also teaches us that  “by careless expenditure in a spendthrift manner even the richest people become poor and  bring their own poverty, humiliation and  sufferings, whereas, by practicing thriftiness,  people build a happy and contented life even from nothingness. “

This year also Dree will be celebrated by Tanw people, all over the world, wherever they may be living. Many will learn from trials and tribulations of our forefather and mend their ways towards more prosperous and peaceful life. This Dree, may you be protected from Dree Uyi, the spirit of famine, hunger and sufferings and be blessed by Ayo Dani with a happy, contented, prosperous and peaceful life. (The writer is secretary to government of Arunachal Pradesh)