A Brief Report of the the Seminar on Tribal Art and Culture

To commemorate the 10th martyrdom of Late Smt. Indira Gandhi, a Seminar entitled ‘ANADI’ (Tribal Art and Culture) was organised at Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh from 19th to 21st November, 1995 in collaboration with the Arunachal University. This occasion was also marked by the opening of an exhibition of tribal art at the Jawaharlal Nehru Museum. At the outset floral tributes were offered at the site where the “Rudraksha” tree was planted by late Smt. Indira Gandhi at the time of opening the Arunachal University in 1984 at Rono Hills, Daimukh by the Governor and Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh and Academic Director, IGNCA. The Seminar started with an elaborate inaugural programme presided over by Dr. (Mrs.) Kapila Vatsyayan. The Chief Guest of the ceremony was his Excellency the Governor of Arunachal Pradesh, Shri Mata Prasad. Shri Gegong Apang, the Honourable Chief Minister and Shri Lijum Ronyo, the education Minister of Arunachal Pradesh graced the occasion as Guest of Honour. Prof. Annada Bhagawati, Vice-Chancellor, Arunachal University welcomed the participants with his brief address. Prof. B.N. Saraswati, UNESCO Professor, IGNCA delivered introductory address, and gave the details of the concept of ‘Anadi’ and its preamble. Shri Mata Prasad, Honourable Governor, in his inaugural speech elaborated on the multiple aspects of art and culture. He also gave an ethnographic account of the tribal population and hoped that the participants at the seminar would deliberate on all the relevant points concerning the preservation and revival of tribal art and culture. In the course of his speech he thanked Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan for her sincere effort in the preservation and revival of tribal art and culture and her continuous work through IGNCA. He hoped that Arunachal Pradesh would immensely benefit from her affection and continued academic support. The Education Minister, in his speech said, that he was glad that such a galaxy of scholars have come to participate in the Seminar, and thanked Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, for her dedication towards the cause of preservation and restoration of tribal art and culture.

The first paper of the Session was presented by Prof. Tamo Maibang of Arunachal University. His paper, “Some Art Forms of Adis”, discussed the importance of bamboo in the material culture of the Adis. He also described various household objects used by the Adis, which are part of their life-style. He spoke about pottery making by the female-folk, and informed that this art has almost disappreared from Adi villages because of the introduction of consumer goods. He also referred to the art of weaving as well as the songs and dances. He felt that the young people were no longer attracted towards the traditional things. Finally he suggested that some awareness should be created among the young men with the help of the government as well as private patronage for initiating various educational programmes. The paper entitled “Myths Associated with Apatani Textiles”, by Shri Kani, discussed the details of the various textiles of the Apatani as well as other dresses and apparels used by the priest. He briefly touched the myths and legends connected with textile. Both the papers raised a few questions, about the imposition of modern ideas in the arena of art and craft in the tribal areas specially in Arunachal Pradesh.

Tombi Singh in his paper, “The Aesthetic Aspects of Manipuri Tribal Art” spoke about the various forms of art prevalent among the twenty nine – odd tribes of Manipur Hills. Starting from the house-types, wood-carving, textiles, bamboo craft, jewelleries, etc. as the material manifestation, he also concentrated on the spiritual expressions of the tribal art. In the paper entitled “Decontextualized Tribal Art Forms : Some Comments with Reference To Naga Tribes”, T. Longkumar gave an insiders, views about the state of tribal art in a changing situation with special reference to Nagaland. He raised several pertinent issues such as the impact of Christianity, the changing situation due to contact with modern culture and commercialization of art forms. He also raised his doubt about romanticising the tribal culture as the harmonious relationship of man with nature, in view of harsh realities. According to Longkumar the question of decontextualization is not to be viewed in conflict with culture but as a process of synthesis. “Dance and Drama of the Garos” by Caroline Marak, focused on the myths and oral traditions which relate to the genesis of the Wangla festival as well as dance and music of the Garos of Meghalaya. She elaborated on the different types of drums and the significance of drum beating and then proceeded to discuss modes and forms of dances in Wangla festival and its ritual contents. Towards the end of the Session Prof. S.C. Malik took the floor to present his paper entitled “Tribal Art: A Universal Creative Act”. His emphasis was on man as the universal being. He views the art in any of its manifestation as not disassociated from life but integral to it. Experience and creativity is central to the art as an integrated whole. Since quick change is penetrating in the North-East due to modernization, it is high time to document and preserve the traditional way of life. Effort should be made to acquire video films, photographs, slides, and audio cassettes. The second session of the seminar was chaired by Prof. B.N. Saraswati, who stated that there were two components in the understanding of art first, art as a manifestation of culture and second, art as a concept. Within this parameter it was aimed to look into the state of affairs in the North-Eastern India. The paper entitled “Ponung : The Vehicle of Oral Literature and Philosopy” by Obang Tyeng of Arunachal Pradesh, dealt with the ‘Ponung’ a form of dance of the Adis of Arunachal Pradesh, discussed the genesis of Ponung while referring to the myths at the beginning and then spoke about the nature and tradition of dance and the role of ‘Miri’ (priest).

The paper “The Impact of Urbanization and Modernization of Tribal Art and Culture of Manipur”, by Jaichandra Singh discussed the social life, religion, material culture and cultural change due to urbanization and conversion and the ultimate impact on the traditional art. This paper was followed by, “Nongkrem Dance : Some Pattern” in which Prabodh Jhingan discussed the details of the calender of the festival, and actual performance of Ka sand Nongkrem dance. He described the pattern of the dance-the outer circles and the inner circles. This was followed by the paper on ‘Puruik’ by B.B. Pandey. He gave an ethnographic account of the ‘Puruik’ and discussed their problem.

Shri Dera Natung, Minister for Information and Research, expressed his concern about the preservation and conservation of art and crafts of Arunachal Pradesh. He requested for help for the Regional Research Centre which he thought should be immediately established in the North-East. Traditional art forms should be preserved inspite of the change which is inevitable. One should evolve common strategy as to how tribal art and craft could be revived.

Dr. Sachidanand emphasised that tribal art was highly socialised, it was very much a down to earth mundane affair. He added that the tribal art, at times dealt with magico-religious values. In tribal art the reflection of social reality in terms of tribal society is also evident. The emotional and intellectual organisation of the artist’s personality is inherent in the art.

This seminar was considered very successful because of the participation of the tribal scholars from various States of North-Eastern India. This is the first time that tribal scholars have expressed their own view-point about their art and culture. Dr. Vatsyayan felt that a new model for research has emerged due to these deliberations.

Finally, in her presidential address she summed up the various points raised by different speakers. In the course of her speech, she expressed great concern about the gradual disappearance of arts and crafts and traditional practices due to the onslought of time. She spoke about the very idea of the Seminar which coincided with the death anniversary of Late Smt. Indira Gandhi, and that this would be held every year in different parts of the country. About the concept of the seminar she said that it was important to know the insiders view-point. “So far we were acquainted with the Western view-points, we must understand our culture with in our own model. In the IGNCA it is our objective to develop the indigenous model of research for understanding culture in all its dimension. In this seminar it would be our objective to know the view-point of tribal people about their own culture and tradition”. Dr. Vatsyayan thanked the Honourable Governor, the Chief Minister and other distinguished participants for an enlightening seminar.

A.K. Das



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