People & lifestyle

International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, 9 August


A young Aka girl , wearing the yellow stone tradzy necklace, a cherished heirloom


August 9 is observed every year as the International day of the world’s Indigenous people to create awareness about and to protect the rights of the Indigenous population through out the world.  Their contributions to environmental protection is recognized by the United nation at the event.

“The interests of the indigenous peoples must be part of the new development agenda in order for it to succeed. […] Together, let us recognize and celebrate the valuable and distinctive identities of indigenous peoples around the world. Let us work even harder to empower them and support their aspirations. ”  Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations.


A mother with her baby tied in a bundle at her front door, note the makeshift hen house

I first read about  The Aka tribe, also known as Hrusso,  of Arunachal Pradesh, India in a National Geographic article  on Vanishing Language. Their language belongs to the

Tibeto – Burman family. Polygamy is widely practiced in their patrilineal society, and cross-cousin marriages are accepted. Like most tribes, the Aka have an elementary caste system, the aristocrat Kutsun and the commoner Kevatsum.


elongated hut on stilts, a typical house in Palizi village


A shrine in Palizi village

The Aka practice shifting cultivation and rear domestic animals such as Mithuns ( wild cattle).  Handicrafts, basket weaving and wood carving are the principal arts among the Aka tribe. Intermittent Tibetan contacts is evidenced by the fact that the Aka and Mishmis are known as “Khakhra” (meaning barbarians) to the Tibetans. One of the most notable features of Aka arts is the Chinese design of the Jana flower, which can be often found on many of the indigenous haversacks.

Among the Aka live a second group of people known as Koro. They are culturally integrated with the Aka, but have somehow maintained their separate, only distantly related Tibeto – Burman language. Koro has more similarites with Tani language from Easternmost Tibet. There are thought to be 800 to 1200 remaining speakers of Koro and 2000 to 4000 speakers of Aka.

The tribe’s isolation has bred a radical self-sufficiency, evidenced in an apparent lack of an Aka word for job, in the sense of salaried labor.

The Aka measure personal wealth in the no of mithuns someone owns. A respectable bride price in Palizi, for instance, is expressed as eight mithun. The most cherished Aka possession is the precious tradzy necklace—worth two mithun—made from yellow stones from the nearby river, which is passed down to their children. The yellow stones for the tradzy necklaces can no longer be found in the river, and so the only way to have a precious necklace is to inherit one.


Koro speakers at a gathering

In Aka “mucrow” means something more than just an old man. It is a term of respect, deference, endearment. The Aka might address a woman as mucrow to indicate her wisdom in civic affairs, or “an Aka wife will call her husband mucrow, even when he’s young,” and do so affectionately.

A money dispute can draw a recitation about a spirit whose daughters are eaten by a crocodile, one by one, as they cross the river to bring him dinner in the field. He kills the crocodile, and a priest promises to bring the last daughter back to life but overcharges so egregiously that the spirit seeks revenge by becoming a piece of ginger that gets stuck in the greedy priest’s throat.

Such stories were traditionally told by the elders in a highly formal version of Aka that the young do not yet understand and according to certain rules, among them this: Once an elder begins telling a story, he cannot stop until the story is finished.


Aka men in traditional attire


children indoors playing

Even in this remote region, young people are seduced away from their mother tongue by Hindi on the television and English in the schools. Today Aka’s speakers number fewer than 2,000, few enough to put it on the endangered list.

Image & source credit –;;


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