their most distinguishing feature is the ingenious care
they have placed in transforming their entire valley into
a veritable garden; every piece of land is beautifully used.
Their rice fields, which are irrigated by a system of channels
and ducts, produce a two-fold crop. Terraced rice fields
are also located along the sides of the valleys. The terraces
are all dug by hand, without the aid of animals or plows.
Apatani have been secluded from the outside world by both
natural barriers and warrior neighbors. Nevertheless, their
rapid material, social, and educational development over
the last 40 years has been phenomenal. Their educational
progress, due to the strategically located high school near
their region, has led them to positions of influence in
What are their
Land is the source of life for the Apatani, giving them
a sense of stability, solidarity, prestige, and value as
a people. All of the cultivated land is privately owned
property. All of the Apataniexcept for slaves and
a few poor menown their own land. Those who own little
or no land earn a living by working for their more prosperous
neighbors. Their primary crops are rice, millet, and maize.
After harvesting their crops, the farmers plant bamboo and
pine for the future generations.
specializing in agriculture, the Apatani are also skilled
craftsmen and merchants. They frequently trade rice with
the neighboring tribes in exchange for animals, cotton,
and iron. Apatani blacksmiths use the iron to make knives
and spears, and the women spin the cotton to make their
Apatani have always had an orderly society. Within their
village government, there were never any chiefs or headmen.
Rather, the council of elders acted in accordance with public
opinion. Today, Indian officials administer law and order
in the Apatani villages; however, their culture has remained
intact under the limited authority of the elders.
Among the Apatani, there are two distinct
social classes: the aristocrats, who own most of the land
and hold political power; and the commoners, who are the
descendants of slaves. The Apatani are allowed to marry
outside their clans, and have complete freedom of choice
for their partners. However, marriage between aristocrats
and commoners is forbidden. Promiscuous relationships are
permitted from the time a child is eight years old until
he reaches his late teens or early twenties. When a couple
decides to wed, there is no bride price, no engagement,
and no wedding feast; the two simply move into the home
of one set of parents. Although polygamy (having multiple
wives) is permitted, only a few of the wealthier men can
afford to have more than one wife.
Apatani tribe prides itself in solidarity and unity. Their
villages are divided into wards containing several clans.
Clans range in size from 160 to 1,000 one-room houses, crowded
eave to eave in long narrow lanes. The houses are situated
at elevations reaching about 1,500 meters. The homes are
built on wooden piles consisting mainly of bamboo. New roofs
are made of thin planks rather than the traditional thatch.