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Folksongs of the Siang valley.

The Adis belong to the Siang valley of Arunachal Pradesh. They are well known as gifted singers and dancers and the Siang valley is in fact known as the land of song and dance. The origins of Adi culture are connected in legend with the Siang river which is called the Tsangpo in Tibet and Brahmaputra in Assam.

Traditionally, the mighty Siang river is epitomized as Siang Aane, the rich, gracious, and eternal lady, who is dignified by valuable beads, ornaments, and necklaces. According to Adi tradition, the god of sky had a flute and a Jew's harp. One day, he suddenly dropped these to earth. They were picked up by Irki-Leni Tabe, (1) the goddess of song and music, as they were rare instruments. In course of time, on a lofty hillock near Siang, she died holding the flute in one hand and the harp in the other. Two women, Doni Yasi and Liko Yaman, rushed to the dead body and performed the funeral rites. Liko Yaman then took the flute to the left bank of the Siang river and taught the people melodious songs called Solung Ponung, which later came to be known as Aabang, relating to the origin of the cosmos, which are sung during the Solung festival. Doni Yasi took the harp to the right bank of the river and from the outburst of her melody flowed the hymns of Ayit Min, (2) and Bari. The latter is a song on the origin of the house and the mithun (Bos fivntalis), which is sung during the Unying Aran festival and at a house-warming ceremony. The two women Doni Yasi and Liko Yaman are thus the givers of hymns and songs, and succeeding generations of Adis inherited these. Two groups of Adis--Minyong and Padam--became experts in Miri-Bari and festival songs. They narrate the origin of the universe, describe animals and plants, and the human struggle for survival. Their songs reflect the close linkages that they have with nature. On festive occasions, men and women dressed in traditional attire dance together to these beautiful and captivating songs composed by their forefathers and orally passed down the generations.

In Adi folksongs, there is mention of a prosperous land with a flourishing civilization. This was the land of Engo Takar, inhabited by the first human beings on earth. It is addressed thus:
engo Kojume Koje
takar kojume koje,
engo kojume didume
takar kojume didume.
takar Kosame Luntonge,
Sili Angure Potunge me,
kile bile bilangala;
mejer pityange ponpin kai. (3)

(Kojum Koje, the land of the first human beings on this earth, the land of peace and prosperity, the cradle of human civilization; but the killing of Biri Angur Potung, the son of the river god Ladang Layo, by Kosam Luntong and his men precipitated a conflict which led to its destruction.)

The civilization of Kojum Koje was destroyed by floods and vanished without a trace. It is said that when the floods receded, the heads of the people sprang up as various types of trees and bamboos, and their hearts became ginger and onions, making the land once again suitable and fertile for human habitation. It is likely that this tale of Kojum Koje could have been a narrative gleaned from memory, of the calamities faced by forefathers of the community. Here, the flood is equated with the fury of the water god.

The Acti tolksongs have a characteristic peculiarity: their singing is led by a miri, a singer expert in Solung Aabang, classical folksong, who sings a line solo, which is picked up by the group of men and women in chorus, adding gravity to the song. The themes of the songs are meaningful, depicting events of Adi history and their effects.

In a society where the written word has not made much headway, oral tradition continues to hold the key in preserving their rich heritage. In Adi society it is this oral folklore that preserves the past, linking it to the present. The Aabangs of the Adis, rhapsodies in archaic language, sung during the Solung festival, narrate the mythology of the creation of the universe and evolution of mankind. They are the medium through which the people have educated themselves and their children for generations; even educated Adis continue to use this medium to learn about and to respect their own heritage. The Solung, one of the major festivals, is celebrated during the first week of September every year for bumper crops, healthy livestock, peace and prosperity. During the festival, the Solung Aabang is sung by the miri continuously for three nights (in some villages, four nights) while a group of young girls with traditional colourful dress and ornaments perform the dance and support him in chorus. Meanwhile the community elders sit around a bonfire and enjoy the performance.

The song has a long prelude, narrating the various stages of evolution of the universe. First there is keyum or nothingness; then kasi, the first light; siang, the rays of light; aabo, layers of smoke; bomuk, cloud formation; then mukseng, solid formation, and so on. The singer begins the song slowly:
keyum sedi naanede
kero melo baabude;
konno takoge batgok lendo dem
kone ko jogi tonai ke,
delo keyum sepi yokmo bulu
kori kullung kutlang,
kotyang garonge gaatula;
konno belie pirob bomkai,
ski beli em pirob bomkai,
keyum sedi naane tesi
diine tile bayi lenkai,
diine nyoboe oling kope
keyum kongki babu me,
kero komang naane me
aji dibi e dilen pa.

(Keyum Sedi, the Mother, and Kero Melo, the Father, emerged, covered with dirt. Keyum Sepi Yokmo and Melo Segan Yokmo, the other gods, collected the dirt and out of it they created the land and the sky with other celestial bodies. Thus the earth and sky came into existence. The sacred part of Keyum Sedi expanded, and she gave birth to Kongki Komang, the first living soul.) This is the first stanza of the song in which God is addressed as creator and man as maker of his own destiny (Pertin: 1).

During the celebration of the Unying-Aran festival in the first week of March, and sometimes during a house-warming ceremony, the Adis sing bari, the classical rhapsody which deals with Nanyi Mete and Kojum Koje. Nanyi Mete was an exquisitely beautiful angel who stepped down from the heavens to earth and brought the Unying-Aran festival to humanity. She is addressed as the harbinger of spring; a virgin adorned with new attire who steps in as a cynosure of attraction. Interestingly, the Adis address winter as an old lady with a flowering face.

When a new house is constructed in the village, members of the clan and other relatives gather in the evening for a house warming ceremony. Here the expert singer narrates the story of the origin of the house; how man struggled to surmount trials and tribulations for survival and gave shape to his own shelter: the house. He sings the ban in solo and is supported by chorus members sitting around the fireplace sipping local beer:
e.e.e.e.e ...
pide gable dondin dunem
myodange tapinge reyom dunem,
pideme belie piman tungku,
aii e nilume moman bidakku,
olo e arane ranman bidakku
pide me leyinge gogi molape,
myodame liaise gonger molape;
allo ... lo ... e. e. e. (4)

(Friends, the old is gone and the new is born today. On this occasion, let us celebrate the joy of life; let us extend our warm wishes to this new one and its family members for a happy and prosperous life. Come, come, let us join them this evening. Let us sing and enjoy together.) This is sung without the support of any musical instruments, but as the singers warm up, the song charges the emotions of the people as if a new life has really come into existence in their midst. The more the voices of the chorus are raised, the clearer and more intense becomes the voice of the solo singer. On Kojum Koje, he continues:
goiye neneme nenem
nenem nenem nenem,
reloname nenem nenem,
hello name nenem nenem;
donie nenem --- donie nenem,
giidie nenem --- giidie nenem,
giiname nenem --- giiname nenem,
sikome nenem --- sikome nenem,
kojume nenem --- kojume nenem,
giidie nenem --- giidie nenem,
giitunge nenem --- giitunge nenem,
konnoke nenem --- konnoke nenem,
goiye neneme nenem;
nenem nenem nenem. (5)

(Friends, we are celebrating a festival this evening, We have inherited this from our ancient civilization, Kojum Kobe. Our ancestors started the celebration of this festival so it comes to us annually. Let us enjoy with song and dance. We shall preserve it. and continue to celebrate for years to come).

This song is sung exclusively by menfolk. Sometimes, there are variations in the tune, depending on the occasion. The performance takes hours, particularly when there is a competition between two singers who argue with each other in code language in the course of narration. They question each other and the one who eventually fails to answer and counter-question, accepts defeat.

In the early days, when the world was still young, humans held conversations with animals, birds, reptiles, fishes, trees, fruits, gorges, and mountains. We now simply imagine how beautiful the world was. The monkey is one of the rare species on this planet whose abode is in the branches of tall trees in the jungle, is very intelligent, and often behaves like a human being. Here is the song of monkeys called Beesung Nayi. An elderly person leads the song, imitating the posture of monkeys, and is accompanied by a chorus:
beesung nayi e ngode
he nadeng,
nadenge ngode nenem.
beesung amik ge sina
go mikkong,
mikkong e sina nenem.

(I am the monkey. I am also like you human beings. But I live on a tree, play on its branches. I have hands like you, but my eyes are peculiar. Look at me.) This song is popular and sung for hours inside the house or village council hall during winter. Myths about the monkeys' origin, physical forms, characteristics, and activities are also narrated.

According to one folktale, man and monkey came from the same mother--Pedong Naane, actually the mother of all creatures. Ninur Lomang (6) was the eldest son who became a famous blacksmith. He made all the valuable metal plates which are still coveted and considered an important part of the Adi cultural heritage. As a blacksmith, he engaged his monkey brothers and they worked hard day and night. But in the long run, they were deceived by their human brother. They were not given anything for their toil and sweat, and this enraged them. They conspired against him and one day, they shot him down with sharp arrows. With the death of Ninur Lomang, the art of manufacture of metal plates came to an end, and since then men have chased the monkeys and attempted many a time to capture or eliminate them. After Ninur Lomang's death, all the monkeys were killed except for a female named Bene Yadeng who escaped. Lonely, she loitered in the jungle in search of companions. One day she was lying on the branch of a bamboo facing the open sky and looking at the chirping birds, dancing green leaves, and bright flowers, when suddenly a bamboo leaf fell and pierced her sacred part. Within a few days, she became pregnant and a male child was born. He was her sole companion for many years; they became wife and husband to propagate a new generation of monkeys.

Another song of the monkey is Beyum, which is sung by children of the village. It is a single-line song, beyum, beyum, beyum, repeated by the participants in chorus. They imitate the antics of young monkeys, and sing and dance in line touching each other's waists and buttocks like a group of young monkeys at play.

The unusual song of the eagle called Peming Nobo is rarely sung. An expert sings it during the month of March, but generally no one else volunteers as it is believed that if the singer deviates from the natural sequence of the narration, he might meet with sudden premature death. Youngsters are forbidden to sing this song, and under these circumstances, the song is fast losing its place in the tradition. In Adi belief the eagle is the embodiment or descendant of an evil spirit, a bloodthirsty giant called Banji-Banmang who flies high above, looking down for prey--birds, chickens, rats, and piglets and other young animals, sometimes even human babies. In this song, the life of an eagle, its activities, and its flight paths are narrated by the singer as if it were flying before his very eyes. The Adis' creative imagination has led to the belief that once upon a time the eagle itself sang this song and danced while flying over the mountains, breathing the purest of pure air, the elixir of life. Here is the song:
go peming ...
peming leleiyang;
go miiling, ngo kiki,
ngo banji,
ngo nobo,
ngo labbung,
go tayur,
ngo yinggong,
ngo nasi,
go peming;
peming leleiyang. (7)

(I am the eagle, the powerful bird. I have different names such as miiling, kiki, nobo, banji, and with these names, I assume different forms off and on. Human beings cannot catch me so easily. I am from the land of Banji-Banmang. I have my strong wings and claws. I fly and fly in the high sky as if the clouds are my abode. I catch my prey with my claws and beak.)

In truth the eagle is rarely sighted. Its numbers have probably decreased due to low fertility. It builds its nest in high places beyond man's reach and is therefore rarely killed by man. When a hunter kills it by chance, its wings are dried and then made into a beautiful fan to use during summer.

Another heartrending song is about the squirrel. It is called Reesing Liibo. Liibo or lipo is a special variety of squirrel found in the mountainous areas. Its tail is red and its voice amazing: tak-tak-tak, karr, karr. ... It lives on fruits and is not easy to trap or even shoot with arrows. It is considered sacred by the Adis and given as a marriage gift to the bride's family. The underlying message is that the bride-to-be should be as beautiful and smart as the sacred squirrel. A few lines of the song are as follows:
ge reesing bege liibo
deloro delong,
ngo keyume bege reesing;
deloro delong,
ngo kebo bege moko,
ngo reesing bege kelling,
ngo liibo bege moko,
ngo bisi bege rumbang,
deloro delong;
ge reesing bege liibo;

(I am Reesing Liibo, my name is Reesing Kebo. Please call me what you like. I am from the land of Reesing, the high and sacred mountains beyond the reach of others. I am a perfect male with hairy and colourful tail. I am handsome and attractive. I sing my song and dance). People appreciate the squirrel's beauty and give it a special place in their marriage rituals as well as during festivals as a symbol of welcome to benevolent gods and goddesses (Rukbo: 18).

Autumn days and nights are quiet and calm and a full moon night is considered ideal for romance, even for aged people. In the night, standing on the porch and looking at the twinkling stars in the clear sky, one may notice two lines of thin clouds. The Adis view this as indicating the meeting point of autumn and winter. In poetic language, a middle-aged man sings a solo on it called Digin Diyu Risi Telo, meaning at the confluence of seasons. He imagines the presence of a barking deer on the horizon:
digin diyu risi telo
gayenge gayeng
dumbo ko soli sotok dak nem
gayenge gayeng,
mile kaji yokmo detok
gayenge gayeng,
bompit lili saato name
gayenge gayeng,
kok yompok gedam kai
gayenge gayeng,
sirki-gooyie rikme telo
gayenge gayeng,
edung kola porung yamang
gayenge gayeng,
etkam kola panat yamang
gayenge gayeng,
supir pakkome mandak ku
gayenge gayeng.

(At the meeting point of autumn and winter, a barking deer was standing, looking up and down as if smelling the presence of a human being. It was just what I was looking for, wonderful and beautiful! I took out my arrow to strike the deer. It fell down then jumped over the roof of the house. I tried to catch it by the leg, but could not. Oh! in our agricultural field at sirki-gooyie rikrne [an imaginary world], I could not collect bamboo to make a bamboo tube and also etkam leaf (8) earlier, to prepare and wrap delicious meat. In the meantime, supir pakkome [a species of bird] and beetles started singing. The deer ran away.) Thus the man shot the deer but could not catch the trophy. This implies that whatever one does, it should be in a planned manner to reap the harvest (Tayeng: 10).

A young girl carrying her younger sibling on her back is a common sight in Adi villages. The child generally keeps quiet but if it starts crying, the elder sister sways her body rhythmically to rock the child, and sings a lullaby called Yoyo Gaga in slow tempo. The tune is simple but catchy and effective in keeping the child quiet and putting him or her to sleep. To cite a few lines:
yoyo lo, gaga lo oi
yoyo lo gaga lo oi
yummi dumi lo
yummi taapi em
yuptap dumi lo
yuptap talap em
bombi yeku oi
yoyo lo gaga lo oi.

(Be quiet and calm; be quiet and calm. If you are feeling sleepy, I shall bring you taapi. If you are feeling sleepy, I shall bring you talap.) (9) This song almost hypnotizes little ones into happiness and comfort.

To conclude, it is tacitly clear that much of a community's history is told through its folksongs and music. These influence the thought processes of mankind for generations and hold special importance in safeguarding tribal culture. It is imperative to initiate new efforts to collect and preserve Adi folksongs in their authentic style and local variations in this fast-changing world. If not, they will vanish with the tides of time and the cultural identity of a community could be lost in the years to come.


(1) According to Adi belief, Irki-Leni Tabe was the goddess who blessed humans with the language of priests and singers. In their hymns, there is mention of a land called "Irki Mendong Among", the land of orchestra in the high sky. One who enters this land in a dream becomes a priest or singer.

(2) Ayit Miri is the priest, a physician in his/her own right, who cures physical ailments using spiritual powers by singing hymns throughout the night. He/she occupies a special position in society.

(3) This is a simple verse of bari, the classical rhapsody that traces the history of human civilization. Sometimes it is found in the hymns of priests (mini) as well.

(4) This shows the tune and style of singing. The singer begins in a low tone and then steadily raises the voice to capture the attention of the audience sitting around, who then sing in chorus. All India Radio, Pasighat, has recorded the ban sung by the late Takar Mibang of Mirem village who was an expert in this.

(5) This is part of a ban sung to introduce the festive mood in the house. Kojum Koje is praised as the giver of prosperity to humanity.

(6) In the Adi tradition, Ninur Lomang is a legendary figure who lived somewhere in the southern part of Tibet contiguous to present-day Arunachal Pradesh.

(7) The song Peming Nobo is associated with social taboos and is believed to cast bad omens in the journey of human life.

(8) Etkam is a wild plant whose leaf is broad, and is used for packing rice, vegetables, meat and for covering the prepared rice to assist in the fermentation of local beer. It is used on all occasions.

(9) Taapi is a bush found in the jungle, its tender shoot is given to a child to make him smile and be happy. Talap is a small variety of onion cultivated in jhum fields. When it is given to a child, its smell makes him sleepy.


Mibang, T. Adi Dooying, Adi Agom Kebang. Adi Agom Kebang (Adi Sahitya Sabha), Pasighat, 1995.

Mibang, T and P.T. Abraham. Indian Folk Titles of North East. Farsight Publisher & Distributor, Delhi, 2002.

Pertin, B. Sedi Melo Kebang among Taleng: Aabang. ACLS, Pasighat, 1970.

Rukbo, T. Folksongs of SiangValley. AAK, Pasighat, 1991.

Tayeng, A. Adi Folksongs. Directorate of Research, Government of Arunachal Pradesh, Itanagar, 1990.
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Title Annotation:FOCUS
Author:Mibang, Tamo
Publication:Marg, A Magazine of the Arts
Date:Jun 1, 2012
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