Worshipping the Nature; Nyokum Yullo, A Tribal Fest of Arunachal Pradesh

Worshipping the Nature; Nyokum Yullo, A Tribal Fest of Arunachal Pradesh


“The narrow winding lanes of Yazali were decked up with the bamboo poles, and they called it ‘Tori’ engraved with simple yet artistic designs. Traditionally dressed men and women were lined up for the procession. While the women hung the ‘Tokris’ (a bamboo basket), the men carried the ‘Toris’ with a chicken tied to them. The Nyokum songs were played at the highest volume today but the thumping sound of the gong overpowered the music played on the modern technology. The women and men of the Nyishi Tribe walked in two parallel lines clapping and altering their dance moves with each musical note, singing “Nyokum Bo Taba Debe”. The rain god also joined the celebration by showering the watery arrows on the Nyishi land..


Nyishi Tribe Attire Arunachal IndiaSuddenly, the hooting of a group of men was heard, we could see them chasing away a man clad in black by shooting arrows and other weapons at him. He was painted as dark and horrific as an evil. While the people in their off-white dress painted the town in the colors of happiness, this man was like an evil tainting the positivity of the auspicious event. Yes, that is what he was! A representation of the negativity and evil spirit.

The Nyishi men dramatically warded off the evil spirit from their region and danced their way to the festival ground. The women too joined the ever-expanding dance circles holding hands of the others. They drank and offered ‘Apong’, a fermented drink or the red millet wine and danced on the beats of the drums. The animals tied in the center, on an altar, were curiously observing the rituals and probably hearing the ancient mantras chanted by the shamans asking for forgiveness as the animals were being sacrificed for the betterment of all. The extravaganza of the Nyokum Yullo Festival was at its peak when a Nyishi Man came forward with a chiseled axe. Hooting and dancing suddenly picked up and reached the zenith of the rhythm.


The bison’s head was slayed off his body; his guts were taken out for the rituals and then went off his horns. Surprisingly, it didn’t move even a bit before the first slash of the sword, denoting a good omen for the future of the tribe. The blood and the white rice flour were sprinkled on the dancing crowd; as if sprinkling the blessings in the form of some holy sprinkles. The goat and a number of hens tied with the bamboo poles were followed in the process of sacrifice. Tribal dances continued in order to celebrate the occasion while the shamans continued his chanting all through the day praying for the peace of the sacrificed soul and the prevention of any natural calamity in the succeeding monsoon that can harm their agricultural produce.

Nyokum Yullo Nyishi Tribal Festival Arunachal India


A Nyishi Lady is serving an Ooju (a ladle) of Apong (Millet wine)

The main rituals of the grand Nyokum Yullo Festival were over; the men and women prayed for the fertile land and an immense production. Apong (the local wine) consumption was at its peak now, almost hundreds of barrels were consumed. The happy souls sang and danced forgetting all their tensions of the future year. And were enjoying being in the harmony with the Mother Nature’s happiness that was going to flourish their lands with an abundance of produce.”


Witness the flamboyant Spirit of the Nyishis in this video.

Also Read: The Tryst with Nature; A Tribal Fashion Fiesta in Arunachal Pradesh 

A long- tiring journey from the west-end of Indian subcontinent brought me to this least explored tribal land where I would be left awestruck by the culture of a few of the oldest tribes of the Himalayas. The topsy-turvy roads in the eastern-most state of India kept us entertained with its scenic frames moving in slow-motion along with us. The huts, hills, the river, and the sunny sky made it look like a fairyland. And finally, the Sun had left us turning off the visuals playing around us. But, the music of nature kept playing throughout the night. A simple but comforting hut right at the riverbank ensured that the swooshing Panyor and the rustle of the tall bamboo tree leaves lulled us to sleep.

The next day started with a breakfast in a Nyishi House that had invited the participants who were qualified for the dance performances and the sports events of the Nyokum Yullo festival for the meals. The rehearsals suggested that it was going to be a grand and a joyous meeting of the Nyishis from all the villages and all the other tribes of Arunachal.


The Ceremonial Extravaganza of the Nyokum Yullo Festival

Nyokum Yullo, that literally means ‘coming together to celebrate’ is a pre-cultivation festival of the Nyishi Tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. The chanting of the Mantras, rituals and the sacrifices are made to invoke and please the Mother Nature or Goddess Nyokum who is supposed to bless the land with rains, fertility, and production and also save them from the wrath of nature in any form viz. famine, flood, drought or infections to their crops. The prayers also aim to seek the safety of the Nyishi people from any accidents or unforeseen circumstances.

The festival is also an opportunity for the Nyishis to meet others and cherish the proud heritage of their declining culture. It is a way for the Nyishis to preserve their ancient religion of Donyi Polo during the time of modern influences and prevalence of other dominating religions.

Considering the decline in celebration at the village level due to the time and religious restrictions involved in the separate functions in each village, the tribe-heads came forward in the year 1968 for a common celebration at Joram and after that, it became a matter of a grand celebration in the district headquarters at Yazali. In fact, it is a state holiday for the people in Arunachal so that they can be a part of the rituals pleasing the spirits of nature.

The rituals of the festivals continue for several days but the main gathering and the sacrifice take place from 23th to 27th February.


The Mantras and the Mystical Rains

The main rituals include the chanting of the age-old mantras by the Nyubh, the head priest of the Nyishi Tribe. It is said that the mantras are not written in any for anywhere and they can neither be memorized nor can be taught to anyone. The shamans or the priests are naturally blessed with the power of chanting the mantras for different rituals.

Nyokum Yullo Nyishi Tribal Festival Arunachal India

It is believed that the mantras of the shamans during the Nyokum Yullo Festival bring the rain especially on the day of celebration. In fact, the rain is also considered a good omen and evident of the fact that the shamans have performed all the ritual in a manner that would please the spirits protecting the community and their agricultural land.


Vigorous yet Graceful Dances and  the Traditional Sports

The traditional dance performances and the songs are sung during the day as well as in the evening cultural program. The prominent among which is the traditional dance-drama ‘Nyem Khabnaam’ that resembles the famous composition ‘Solitary Reaper’ by William Wordsworth. It is performed almost every day during the festival. It would give you a glimpse of the local culture, marriage ceremonies, and farming.

Nyokum Yullo Nyishi Tribal Festival Arunachal India

Nyem Khabnaam Prelude


War dance or Ropiy is another fascinating dance of the Nyishi Tribe that is also a theatric representation of warding away or killing off an evil spirit. The shamans also accompany the performers by chanting the ancient mantras for the war dance.

Nyokum Yullo Nyishi Tribal Festival Arunachal India

Topo’ is a war dance of the Adi Tribe of Arunachal. It is performed as a part of cultural representation by the other tribes in Nyokum Yullo Festival. Apart from this, the performance of Dragon dance is also quite intriguing.

Bamboo Dance, a peculiarity of the tribes in North East India can be enjoyed here during the festivals. It is interesting to see the girls matching the tapping of their feet with and through the beats of the bamboo stick.

Nyokum Yullo Nyishi Tribal Festival Arunachal India

Bamboo Pole Wrestling is one of the traditional sports of the Nyishi Tribe. The committee in charge of the festival arranges the rounds in almost all the villages of the district. The best 3 from all the villages are then invited at the district level in Yazali. The match between the top wrestlers who manage to reach the final round is truly captivating.

Nyokum Yullo Nyishi Tribal Festival Arunachal India

Pole Climbing: While the tribesmen here are genetically blessed with the art of tree climbing or pole climbing, Nyokum Yullo Festival gives them an opportunity to showcase their talent which, otherwise, doesn’t have any recognized platform.

Tug of War, a sport that reveals the strength of a group is also a core part of the Nyokum Celebration. The teams belonging to different localities or villages participate and bring laurels to their respective village by winning and showing their strength.


The Traditional Rituals 


Warding Off the Evil Spirits and the Victorious Procession

A day before the sacrifice, the shamans help the households remove the bad luck or the evil spirit depriving them of their prosperity and luck. The mantra chanting does the main job while a man disguised as an evil is chased away just as a dramatic representation.

Nyokum Yullo Nyishi Tribal Festival Arunachal India

On the final day, the same ritual is performed for the whole region, where the evil is driven off from the region ensuring the positivity and appropriate vibes to please the Goddess and the spirits.

Pleasing the Spirits by Sacrificial Ceremony

The number and type of animals to be sacrificed are decided by the shamans or the Nyubh. The most common to be sacrificed are Mithun(bison), goats and the chickens.

When the shamans are welcomed to the festival venue, they carry along a thick bamboo stick called ‘Dapo’. The tribal religion Donyi Polo doesn’t follow the idol worshipping. But the bamboo stems are a major part of the rituals and are worshipped by the tribe by decorating it with leaves and chanting mantras near it.

The place where he fixes it would be cleaned and purified followed by a creation of an altar called ‘Yugung’ or ‘Yugie’ decorated with fresh leaves. It is a mere representation of different spirits that are supposed to be residing in them. The animals to be sacrificed are tied around the ’Dapo’. The shamans chant the mantras during the process of sacrifice that are addressed to the animals, land and the Goddess Nyokum.

The tribe believes that animals, birds, trees, crops, land and all the other natural elements have the divine or evil spirits in them. Pleasing the divine spirits can bring the good fortune, and same is the logic behind the ceremonial rituals of the Nyokum Yullo. The tribe invokes a spirit named ‘Uyus’ that is supposed be the protector or destroyer of their crops. And the bamboo sticks and the leaves merely show its presence at the Yugang.


” The Rituals are not about understanding, it is about the faith and the experiences of the believer.” – Immortal Talks

Also Read:  An Encounter with the Tribesmen of Andaman
Purification Process

On the day succeeding the sacrifice, the ladies who participated in the main rituals of Nyokum, carry fresh water from the flowing streams, river or a few homes. It is then sprinkled in their fields from where they also pluck the fresh leaves. The remaining water and the leaves are carried back to offer it to the ‘Yugung’ or ‘Yugie’. Then they wash or purify themselves by pouring the same water on their feet.

Teiyammch Hukmanan Tetap – Predicting the Future

The Nyishi men and women stood in line, they all had their ‘Likha’ or the family name as a descendant of the Nyishi Tribe. Only then can the Nyubh predict their future based on the measurement of grains in a patha (a bamboo mug). It was strange to observe that the quantity of the grains and the size of the vessel remained the same. When some of them poured the grain into the mug, it was brimming whereas it remained a little lesser for the others.

Tha Nyubh would declare the people with the brimming mug as luckier than the other one and that their year is going to be prosperous.

Post Ceremonial Rituals

After the days of rituals, the spirits of nature are left untouched to rejuvenate or probably to prepare for the abundance to be showered on the tribals that had pleased them. The people do not touch or disturb any of the natural elements, be it trees, animals, fruits, land, crops, vegetables or water. This ritual was followed strictly earlier when the tribes wouldn’t even bathe or wash any clothes to refrain from polluting the water, but with the changing times, they have been lenient with such rules.

Moreover, the people who have been a part of the Nyokum ritual can’t cross the Dapo after the purification process and that is the reason nowadays the altar is fixed in the festival ground which is then closed till the ritual restrictions prevail.


Travel Tips

  • How to Reach Yazali: The best way to Reach Yazali is to take the overnight train from Guwahati to Itanagar.(Would cost you 585 INR in Three-tier AC) There are direct trains to Itanagar from Delhi and Kolkata too. Though I traveled by a direct cab from Guwahati to Itanagar (1500 INR per person), the journey was quite tiring. From Itanagar, Yazali can be reached in shared taxis within 2 hours.
  • Where to Stay in Yazali: If you wish to share the space in the local longhouse of the Nyishis (recommended), you can also opt for the family home stays. You can contact Chukhu Mamma (+919862830513), who is a professor at Itanagar Uni. And also a lead person managing the grand festival. However, if you need comfort and privacy, you can opt for a stay in Exotic Heritage Resort.
  • What to Eat: The festival venue provides free food for all during the festival duration. However, do note that the food is very traditional that includes the steamed rice, salted and boiled meat of different animals (Mithun, goat, and Chicken, pork are main). Dried ginger, dried local spices are also available. The town of Yahali also has several restaurants that can provide you with basic veg food on your demand. Apart from this the festival ground has a few stalls that provide fruits, Maggie Noodles, fish, wild sweet potatoes, boiled sweet potatoes and other local vegetables.
  • Red Millet or Raagi Wine(Apong) is also available at the venue. Even if you don’t drink, it would be a good experience to try.
  • You can take some day trips to Ziro Valley to explore the Apatani Tribal Area or can do some treks, attend Ziro Festival (July/September) or Dree Fest if you are there during or after monsoons.
  • Obtaining Inner Line Permit is a matter of 15-20 minutes through this official website for Arunachal ILP. Foreigners need to obtain PAP (Protected area permit which is also available in the locally approved Travel Agents. (Contact: Chukhu Mamma – +919862830513 ) or you can read more about it here.
  • Read more about the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh  —  ARUNACHAL PRADESH: TRIBES & TRADITIONS

If you are impressed by the traditional Nyishi attire, you must read this:  

A Tribal Fashion Fiesta In North East India; The Tryst with Nature

Pint it Now, Read it Later

Nyokum Yullo Nyishi Tribal Festival Arunachal India

**It was an honour to be invited for the golden jubilee of the Nyokum Yullo Festival at Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh. And my heartiest thanks to Chukhu Mamma for his informative guidance and inputs about the Nyishi Tribe, the rituals and the culture throughout the festival.**

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Flaunting the Tryst with Nature; A Tribal Fashion Fiesta In Arunachal

Flaunting the Tryst with Nature; A Tribal Fashion Fiesta In Arunachal


Narrow sharp eyes with fierce look, chiseled body wrapped in a hand-woven macron shade cloth and the ornaments made of metal and precious stones; not to forget the traditional yet trendy bamboo bags, sword and a goblet. While in their modern avatar, they could beat even ‘America’s Next Top Model’ !!


My first encounter and an impression of the Nyishis, one of the major tribes of Arunachal Pradesh in India, was that of a jolly natured people who dressed like ancient Greeks. And their adaptation of modern fashion stunned me even more. The grand celebration of 50th Nyokum Yullo Festival ( festival for better productivity, prosperity and happiness of all human beings on earth) at Yazali brought me closer to the unbelievable fashion sense and creativity of this tribe. The striking part was that each model showed the indigenous sense of the tribe to utilize the natural objects that almost nullifies the garbage.

Famous designers of the state came together to blend the tribe’s early style with the spices of current fashion trends. From the fabric to bamboo accessories and Hornbill beak headgears to Eagle clawed hairstyle, Nyishis know how to flaunt it all during the grand celebration of the Nyokum Yullo Festival.

Nyishi Tribe Attire Arunachal India

Men and women have the same wrapping attire called ‘Par Eij‘ which is usually worn during the auspicious occasions and celebrations. Thus, during the Nyokum Yullo Festival, you would see most of the people involved in the rituals wearing the same yellowish white (macaroon shade) attires in different styles.  The men wear a number of stone bead necklaces or ‘Tesee‘ called ‘Domin‘ bunched together and also carry a sword, a spear or a bow with a number of arrows in a bamboo backpack called ‘Nara‘.

While a rope is tucked on this backpack just for the decorative purpose, it was used for the climbing and crossing purpose in the earlier times. A few people also wear a black cloak made out of a Sago Palm tree’s blade-like skin. It is cut, dried and then tied together in order to make the furry coat which is known as ‘Tassh Nara’.


Nyishi Tribe Attire Arunachal India

Another cotton fabric used by the tribe is a designed with black and white stripes commonly introduced as Zebra dress and locally known as ‘Pomo‘. It is accompanied by a belt called ‘Tama‘. The genius ancestors very well knew the use of the commonly found wild creeper. It is dried off and is used for various purposes. The attire for man is always short considering their ventures and hunting expedition.

As their legs and hands are bare, they created a few ornaments for that too. Created by peeling bamboo, the strips are braided to create the ‘Lalum’ that can be seen in the above picture. The men wear it below the knees while women wear it on ankles.

The third dress of the Nyishis consist of the plain jade-black fabric and is locally known as Jekh Eij.


 Also Read:  An Encounter with the Tribesmen of Andaman

Nyishi Tribe Attire Arunachal India

Loaded with multiple bead necklaces mostly shaded emerald green, white and tiny red pearls, the Nyishi ladies ooze grace and charm in the shades of bright red and pale coffee. Most of the time, pom-poms made of red or white wool are also used to embellish the jewelry, clothes or headgear. The women’s bead necklace is called ‘Seetir‘.

While ‘Tama‘ accessorizes the dress of men, women have created a more beautiful version of the same by looping it with ‘Hupiya‘, small metal disks. However, it is tied over a bright red scarf that is wrapped around their waist. Further, Reign, Tajin and Juhwe , a dangling on their waist make the attire all the more gorgeous.

Chucha‘ a small basket, which was probably a pocket or a wallet for the Nyishi ladies is tucked in the Hupiya. The bracelet and earrings are usually made of the shining metal. While the earrings of women are usually made of metal, the men wear only one earring studded with semi-precious emerald stones.

The buoyant face with the neatly tied hair is festooned with a heavy metal chaplet or ‘Dumpins‘ threaded with blue beads that rest on their head like a tiara.

As per a marriage custom of the Nyishis, the bridegroom’s family gifts a number of Mithuns (Gayal, descent of Indian gaur or bison) as a gesture of asking the bride’s hand from her family or as a gesture of fixing the marriage. In another custom when the bride’s family comes to the groom’s house, they gift precious artifacts and necklaces of beads usually found in the Himalayas. The cost of these precious jewels varies from 3000 INR to 8 Lakh INR. The gift is given based on the financial capabilities of the family. Surprisingly, gold jewelry is not in trend even till now and probably, the gold doesn’t even hold much cultural value for the tribes of North East India.

Also Read: Worshipping the Nature; Nyokum Yullo, A Tribal Fest of Arunachal Pradesh

Nyishi Tribe Attire Arunachal India

This is how a ceremonial couple looks like. The girls either wear a plain cloth or a draping with red designs. Many a time, the plain cloth is also decorated with woolen pom-poms.

Another distinctive accessory worn by a Nyishi man is the sword called ‘Dao‘. The handle is embellished with the locally found shells and the bamboo case if further coated with the fur of a monkey or a bear.

The man and women also carry a chillum called ‘Seile‘ and what do they smoke? No, tobacco and weed aren’t their stuff. They smoke the dried ‘Kele‘ leaves found in the forests of Arunachal.  This shows how Nyishi people could recognize the peculiarity and usage of every available plant.


Nyishi Tribe Attire Arunachal India

This was probably the highlight of the show where a designer had showcased the western versions of Par Eij and Pomo. The young generation, including us, were all stunned looking at the way these tribal girls carried the Trench version of their dress. And probably, this was the move to keep the conventional clothing alive while embracing the westernized styling. In a way, it is only a revolutionary change in the traditional dressing. The common headgear was worn as a fanciful tiara and the hues were also slickly used to give the ethnic touch to these modern attires.


Nyishi Tribe Attire Arunachal India

This fellow in the picture has literally nailed the fierce look of the Nyishis.

Once upon a time, the Nyishi men had long hair that was either left open or was tied in a bun above their forehead very much like the Sikhs of Punjab. The bun is then covered with the layers of yellow woolen threads giving it a look of a headgear. Their traditional headgear ‘Bopiya’ was also tied along with it to prevent it from falling off during any sporty movement.



Nyishi Tribe Attire Arunachal India

These are not the traditional ways of draping the ‘Pomo‘ or the ‘Par Eij‘, but again being on a track with the current world, the clothing, as well as all the accessories of the tribe, are donned in the best possible way.

Apart from carrying the small basket, the Nyishi women generally have a big basket held on their back over the head. It is called ‘Egin‘ or ‘Tokkri‘ which is used to carry grains from the fields, firewood and sometimes even water. While traveling in the area, I saw many girls and ladies carrying the same and actually using it for their daily purpose. Probably, this is their way of not polluting their river and air with harmful chemicals released by the fancy bag making factories.

While the theme of the Yazali Nyokum emphasized on the organic living, these models just promoted it in a way that can impress the young generation. Both men and women also carry ‘Patha‘ a small goblet made by drilling out the bamboo shoots which are used to drink local millet beer named Apong or Opo and even water.


Nyishi Tribe Attire Arunachal India

The ladies, especially during the festival, would be seen carrying a hollow bottle-shaped container called ‘Harcha‘. The main use of it is to serve the local brew. It is made by scooping out the local bottle gourd which is then dried off, chiseled from within and polished to give it a beautiful look. Almost all the Nyishi Houses would be having a number of ‘Harchas‘ hanged on the wall of their houses.  During the time of festival or any auspicious occasion, these Harchas are decorated with green leaves ‘Kohaam Okhh’, bamboo pom-poms, and the white rice flour. The rice-flour is used the way ‘kumkum’ is used in the other parts of India. The girls apply it on their cheeks, it is sprinkled over people as an auspicious powder and even applied on the things to be used in rituals.

The larger bottle gourds are converted into storage containers which are generally stationed at home for the keeping of Apong or drinking water. It is called Oppum. Even the ladle is made out of a small bottle gourd and it is called Oju. Considering the increasing population and the demand against the low availability and production of the bottle gourds has made such containers become a little expensive and costs around 400-800 INR in the local market.


Nyishi Tribe Attire Arunachal India

The Nyishis have been the most creative with their headgears called ‘Bopiya‘. Unfortunately, with the changing times, only bamboo hats are prevailing the most among the Nyishis, Bopiyas were their traditional headgears helping them stand out among the other tribes. Though the headgears are quite in use by the elder members of the tribe in the villages, the current generation adorns it on their heads only during the festivals.

I chanced upon a few very interesting hats during the Yazali Nyokum Yullo Festival. A Hornbill beak with a real eagle’s head tucked in front and a claw at the back; and sometimes, a tail of a monkey comes as a surprising element while curiously observing all of them. I sheepishly kept asking almost all of them if it was real. I would get a few ‘Yes’ for a few bizarre animal parts but most of the hornbill beaks were just the wooden representation.

Nyishi Tribe Attire Arunachal India

If you observe this picture carefully, everything in this Shaman’s headgear is real. A real hornbill’s beak, feathers of a few birds, a claw, and even the hair braided to form the knot in the front. 


“Erstwhile, we could spot too many hornbills and we killed them for our headgears, but now there are endangered and gradually the awareness is spreading. We are now working towards preserving these beautiful birds of the mountain, so we choose a wooden beak,” said a local when questioned for not fixing a real beak in their headgear.

No wonder the headgear costs thousands as a number of animals have to be killed to prepare just one original headgear. And currently, as the tribe has gained consciousness of the endangered animals, they have shifted to the substitutes of these parts that are made of natural components.

Nyishi Tribe Attire Arunachal India

An ancestral tiger jaw worn as a pendant by a Nyishi Man. A nail of a tiger, teeth or the eagle’s beak are common pendants that you can spot on Nyishi men. 


However, the Nyishis feel proud to be covered by the animals, plants and Himalayan stones from head to toe as this represents their love for nature and their harmony with their surrounding!!


Watch this stunning video of the festival – By Jay Mishra

**It was an honour to be invited for the golden jubilee of the Nyokum Yullo Festival at Yazali, Arunachal Pradesh. And my heartiest thanks to Chukhu Mamma for his informative guidance and inputs about the Nyishi Tribe, the rituals and the culture throughout the festival.**

Also Read: Worshipping the Nature; Nyokum Yullo, A Tribal Fest of Arunachal Pradesh
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