Thursday, September 13, 2007

Roh-pi Ritual - A Photo Feature

Having never witnessed any 'Roh-pi' ritual before, I couldn't resist myself from rushing to Hari village, when I heard that 'Roh-pi' ritual was going to be performed at Hari village; to witness the ritual live and to capture it on camera.

When I reached Hari village, people were almost ready- attired in war dresses armed with 'dao' (sword), bow and arrows, spears and with armours made up of bear skins to carry out the ritual.

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I was told that quite some days ago, the Mithun-owners of Hari village had found this wild cat (see pic of skin of the wild cat below) dead in their trap which was laid by them in desperation over the attack on their Mithun (Bos frontalis) - a semi-domesticated animal of high religious value and as the belief has over killing of feline, so this ritual. Below are the shots taken during the ritual.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe feline (skin) that led to performance of Roh-pi ritual

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPeople jumping over the dead animals skin at one of the Lapang- a community platform, as a part of Roh-pi ritual

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPart of ritual at Lapang

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketSkin of the animal being carried to 'Ranti Hirung-bo'

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketRantii Hi-rung-bo (the sacred stone) where the eyes, tip of tongue and piece of heart of the animal, stuffed inside bamboo is buried underneath the stone.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPhoto Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketRituals after burial (Pic above)

Why Roh-pi ritual is performed?

It is widely believed by the Apatanis that when you kill a tiger or a leopard or some other member from cat's family-which as the mythology suggests, is closely related to us and elder than us, the soul of that animal would haunt you and would take revenge on you. So, in order to subdue their soul so that they may not be able to take revenge on you, Roh-pi ritual is performed. It is also said that in olden times, the same rituals were performed by a person if the person murders or executes another person; and for the same reason.


  • Arif

    Thanks AG for sharing this photo feature. This is very informative and interesting too. We have to learn many things from our elders.

  • Pascal

    AG, excellent initiative and photo report. Keep those pictures preciously.

  • AG

    Thx. Sure do we have many things to learn from our elders like the preservation of wildlife and the environment, which they have been following religiously.

    @ Pascal,

  • Solom Ohn

    the wild animals of arunachal are being hunt down to almost extinction.i believe, the
    animal appeared in the Roh-pi ritual photo was hunted not because the customs and traditions
    demanded it but for pleasure. and if our elders really think that the cat's family is closely related
    to us, then we shouldn't be hunting and killing them. right? i think those people who indulge in hunting
    for pleasure should be penalised and put behind the bars for destroying the wildlife at ziro.
    besides, there are many things to do at ziro, for example cleaning their surroundings instead
    of killing naive wild animals and birds.

  • AG

    @ solom ohn,

    Here I guess the animal in question was not hunted down for pleasure or because customs and traditions demanded it, but because they had to save their Mithun from being killed. And as it belonged to feline family they had to perform Roh-pi ritual.

    And you are right in saying that those indulged in senseless killing of wildlife for their pleasure should be penalised and put behind the bars.

  • Solom Ohn

    the cost of gayal or mithun is really high in these days. but do we really need to kill those faunas? what about the food chain? i guess, in order to save one, we are losing some precious animals.

  • AG

    Your point is well considered and I do agree with you that there shouldn't be indiscriminate killing of wild life for fun sake, lest it may totally alter the ecosystem.

    But here I should make myself clear. This post is just meant to capture the event lest we forget, and not as a post to glorify hunting/killing of endangered species in the name of custom or culture.


    Very good works to preserve photos of ritual in web. KEEP IT UP !

  • AG

    Thx Richo

  • yasiyalow

    Good work, AG. I have always tought of capturing such moments for posterity. Something which I thought about, you have lived it. I also dont have very clear memory of seeing a roppi sonni. I thought such ceremonies are performed during day time but from your pictures, it seems this is nightl time ritual.

  • AG

    @ Yasiyalow,
    Your thoughts are not wrong at all. Roh-pi Sonnii rituals are performed either during day time or night depending on the omen they see through egg ;). Here in this case omen came out for performance of ritual during night. Hence, the picture of night. Actually, I wanted to elaborate on this part also but I couldn't. Hope this would be rejoinder to my post.

  • Pascal

    This animal seems to be the Asian golden cat, also called Temminck’s golden cat (Catopuma Temmincki), living in Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Nepal, and China (Tibet). In India, only Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Assam have golden cat habitats. For information, it is mainly nocturnal and its diet consists chiefly of rodents, birds, reptiles as well as small ungulates such as goral and barking deer (Nowell and Jackson, 1996). The total effective population size is estimated at below 10,000.
    AG, from the literature available here the Apatanis have at least 3 names for ‘wild cats’ : ‘siiyin’, ‘siiso’ and ‘some’. Do you remember (or know) which name was used by Hari villagers to denote this one ?

  • Buru

    This ritual and the underlying mythology seem very very close to the same ritual performed by Tagins and Galos.The leaping over the dead feline ,the egg/chicken omen and the martial attire esp!
    Meaning--this is an age-old practice from the dawn of Taniis.
    I hope you keep the full record in a hard disk for posterity.

    Solomons valid(but misplaced)concerns reminds me of a real incident that was related to me by a colleague: A decade back some White tourists came to Along just as the same ritual as portrayed here was being performed by a villager after a Tiger kill.The Whites gently asked for photos and the proud hunter posed with his kill in varying angles. Now the Whites made a beeline to the Deputy Commissioner and showed him the photo/video and the hunter was promptly imprisoned!Nowadays people of Along apparently forbids white tourists from any occasions/festivals where animals(incl mithun)are killed.
    Moral: Dont pose for tourists during Roh-pi;)

  • AG

    Thx for the information regarding the wild cat. I was wondering which family it belonged to and whether it is endangered species or not.

    Regarding the Apatani nomenclature of this wild cat, I can't remember exactly now. I'd post about it later after confirming about the name.

    Guess the same ritual is performed by every group of Tanii, including the Nyishi's as I've been told and almost for the same reason.

    And like the incident you narrated, I was in a dilemma while posting the photo's of the ritual lest it may implicate those performing the rituals in a wild life protection Act; but the urge to preserve and showcase the ritual prevailed upon me to finally put up the photos in the web. Hope they are not implicated.

  • yasiyalow

    Hi Pascal
    You got names right except for "some" which is actually called siimyo. But If I remember right roppi is not perfromed for siiying, sisso and siimyo. Theses are performed for more ferocious animals like hogya, path etc i.e leopards and tiger family.
    I hope AG will clarify the actual name of animal.

    Sometime back I read a news item about Nagaland government banning all kinds of animal hunting. May be arunachal govt can emulate it. Instead we can encourage wild life tourism and angling. This will help in creating more sustainable income for the local people.

  • yasiyalow

    In the second thought, u r right Pascal. There is a feline animal called somay which is prononunced so - may. But where did you these Apatani names of animals.

  • Tanii_Gal

    Such a beautiful animal. Despite our elders and customs, I feel sorry to see it dead.
    At least it wasn't hunted with a gun, that wouldn't be nice.

  • AG

    The Tanii name of the cat in question is Solang.

    Yes Rohpi is not performed for siiying, sisso, ami etc. I'm giving the names of felines for which the Apatani's perform Rohpi based on the descendency from eldest to youngest(remember we are related to feline family and they are elder than us-as suggested in mythology).

    Solang (the animal in the post) and Ami (Cat) are contemporary and oldest -- Nyokhe (probably Black Panther) comes next-- Hogya Taker (Spotted Leopard)--Patii(Tiger) --Hogya (Clouded Leopard) then Suppu and Golo Goi. These are the felines for which Rohpi ritual is performed, as I have been told.

  • Pascal

    @ AG. Thanks for this valuable information.

    @ Buru. U’re right in stressing that such rituals as well are the underlying mythologies are shared by most if not all members of the Tani family. But it is apparently not restricted to them. See for eg. this extract from a recent report of a wildlife conservation project (2006) refering to the hunting practices of the Miju Mishmi of Lohit and Anjaw districts :
    “A skin of the golden cat (Catopuma temmincki) was found in a hunter’s house… The cat was trapped in a wire trap…. Hunting of any member of the cat family is taboo and is strictly followed. Cats are not hunted due to religious reasons. If anyone accidentally kills a member of the cat family, an elaborate “religious ceremony” is carried out by sacrificing cattle which is expensive and time-consuming.” ( project update.doc). For the full report on hunting practices in AP :

    @ Yasiyalow : Thanks for ur corrections and additional information. There is a handful of wordlists and other materials related to the languages of Arunachal Pradesh available in libraries. However this information is largely dormant … Should it be accessible to all through internet it would surely be more useful… I got the word ‘some’ from I. V. Simon, 1972, ‘An Introduction to Apatani’.
    I agree with u that wildlife tourism should be encouraged. As we’re discussing here about wild cats, Indian forests habitat the highest diversity of wildcat species in the world (IUCN, CSG), and Arunachal is probably their largest natural sanctuary inside India. The ecological resource is certainly one of the State’s best assets, but the question is how to transform this potential into a substantial source of income. For AP is not Kenya, and most forest animals are hard to see, hence as such most wildlife sanctuaries are unlikely to attract a large number of National or Foreign tourists. Hunting can be banned or controlled successfully only with an active participation of the local populations, when people realize is is more profitable to protect animals instead of hunting them.

  • yasiyalow


    Sighting of wild animals and birds is not that difficult if one knows the season and their migratory routes. There are seasons when hornbills and large size wild doves are easy to sight and one is sure to see them if one can time their journey to those trees where they come to feed. During the month of April and May, Ziro is also visited by beautiful flocks of swan which is locally called as Pakang.And then there times when wild boars are abundant and cat family bcomes abundant. But this seasons and places are used for hunting and lots of them are hunted down. If we prevent the reckless hunting, the animals are wont to become abundant and easier to be sighted.

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