Friday, September 28, 2007

Would the Nyishi’s get their right nomenclature?

Since the last three decades, Nyishi’s of Arunachal has been putting in their efforts to change its nomenclature from Dafla to Nyishi, and has been demanding scrapping of the term Dafla from the constitution and replace it with Nyishi. And finally, it seems that their long felt demand would see the light of the day. A 2-member Central Team headed by Union Tribal Affairs Secretary G.B. Mukherjee and Joint Director Dr. N.K. Ghatak had toured the state from 20th-23rd of September and interacted with the people to take stock of the demand, peoples view on changing of nomenclature and the administration issues that may arise due to this nomenclature change.

Why Nyishi’s want nomenclature change from Dafla to Nyishi?

It is believed that the term Dafla is derogatory, used for 'wild man' or 'barbaric' and the Nyishi's detested it. The Nyishi’s have never associated themselves with this term Dafla- a term given by the Ahom rulers whose origin and real meaning is not known; but always called themselves Nyishi­- which is a generic term derived from two words Nyi or Nyia and Shing or Ashing meaning ‘Hunam Being’ or ‘People dwelling at highland regions’. However, this nomenclature has been passed down from Ahom rulers to the Britisher’s to the Indian's. Though lately, from the evidence garnered from various sources, the Nyishi intellectuals believes that the term Dafla may not be derogatory, after all. In fact, they seem to believe that it might have been derived from Nyishi term 'te-dofalak'- meaning 'to be an up there my residence'
(loosely translated)

"It is said, during the time of meets, the plains people[stranger] asked the Nyishi, what is your name? So, the person responded, assuming asking his residential location and quickly replied; 'te-dofalak' meaning 'to be an up there my residence' [place]. Taking cue of onomatopoeic sound, the Nyishi was identified with the name dofalak which later on got corrupted into dafala, and during the British period further altered to an anglicized phonetic spelling form dafla."

Yet, the true meaning and origin of the term has to be ascertained but nevertheless, since the Nyishi's have never associated themselves with the term Dafla and has called themselves Nyishi from time immemorial, they have been demanding scrapping of term Dafla- which has an imperialistic tinge and replacing it with Nyishi.

Would the Nyishi's get their right nomenclature?

Going by the reactions of the visiting central team, it may very well be presumed that the Nyishi's may finally get their due and the term Dafla would be scrapped and Nyishi replaced instead. However, the Central team declined to comment anything on it yet, though.

"I'll not make any statement now, you will know later"-G.B. Mukherjee, Union Tribal Affairs Secretary.

But it is hoped that outcome would be positive.


  • Buru

    Some comments:

    1.Dafla has assumed derogatory overtones over time(like Abor, Lushai or Bhote) and should be changed forthwith. The surprise is why the Nyishis took so long to voice it.

    2.The explanation of the term Dafla given in this post(source unquoted)seem farfetched and more imagination than actual fact.Suffice to say, we may never know its meaning(if there was one that is).

    3.Even the term 'Nyishi', like 'Adi' 'Kuki' 'Hillmiri' or 'Mizo' has rather modern origins with adherents joining or detaching acording to circumstances and time.
    It is rare to find the word Nyishi in accounts of older British explorers/Punitive expeditioners or anthropologists who actually set foot on Nyishi dominions and interacted with them--they are described as calling themselves by clan names, like Nabam, or group names like Bangni. I would like it if I can access other(reliable) sources which negate me.
    This is just to keep the issue in perspective and not to suggest the name Nyishi should not be used.

  • AG

    Buru, nice to see you commenting again after a long gap.

    Re 'explanation of term Dafla....' i extensively used the source from NES site and from interview with some Nyishi friends on why they find the term Dafla offensive to write my post. Moreover, 'wild man' or 'barbaric' are the meaning deduced by Haeimendorf for Dafla (see NES Erroneous Etymology......) and as such, the explanation in the post may not be altogether concrete being based only on a single source.

    It would be appreciated if someone is able to throw light on what's the actual meaning and on origin of term Dafla and why Nyishi's find this term offensive/derogatory to put this issue in better perspective.

  • Anonymous

    Simply put....we do not know why and how the Dafla nomenclature came up. It's something like, no Indian was an Indian until the Europeans landed in India. The nomenclature "India" is a colonial legacy. Before colonialism came to India, the natives called themselves Kannad, Tamil, Pandyan, Andhra, Oriya, so on and so forth.
    The Dafla nomenclature was given by the people of the plains (see reference) i.e. the Ahoms. I'd say it was their way of refering to their northern neighbors and unfortunately it became synonymous with the term "barbaric" (probably the Nyishi way of life didn't go down well with the Ahoms).

    Below are a few excerpts from the book "THE APA TANIS ANDTHEIR NEIGHBOURS - A Primitive Civilization of the Eastern Himalayas"


    "The Daflas, who in their own language refer to themselves as Nisii or Ni the latter word meaning simply 'human being' constitute a population of an estimated strength of at least 40,000, scattered over a large, rugged hill-region bordering on the Aka country to the west and on the Miri country to the east."

    I should also let you know that the term "Dafla" applied even to the Tagins and so-called Hill Miris.

    "The distinction between 'Daflas and 'Miris' is entirely arbitrary, the two names are used only by the Assamese plainsmen, and the term Nisii, which despite the plea expressed in my Ethnographic Notes on the Tribes of the Subansiri Region (Shillong, 1947) has not gained currency, applies to 'Miris' no less than to 'Daflas'. Nor are there any significant cultural differences between the regional groups known by these names."

    So there it goes...HAIMENDORF himself did mention that the term "Dafla" was nothing more than a nickname given by the people of the plains.

    I hope I've enlightened you on the matter. You may get this book in Itanagar library.

    As with Buru's query on why it took this long.... the fault doesn't lie with the Nyishi community members. Changing a tribal nomenclature in the constitution order 1950 is a huge exercise and for effecting such a thing, there are several government agencies involved. You are well aware of the way our system works.

    ...and I do feel proud for our Apatani brethren. HAIMENDORF had written highly about Apatanis and even today they remain one of the most advanced communities of Arunachal.

  • Buru

    1. "It's something like, no Indian was an Indian until the Europeans landed in India. The nomenclature "India" is a colonial legacy."

    Sorry to digress, but the term India and Indians are freely used by even ancient historians like Herodotus, Aristotle, Heracaetus etc.However it is true the Indians themselves did not identify with this name, but with their Kingdoms or race.Also the 'term'Indians in these old sources referred to the plains,Caucasoid Indians and not to us.Even during British times we were not considered Indians by the British or the plainsmen themselves.

    2.Agreed the term Nyishi has old origins; but it was probably not used widely ,like today.
    3.I should also let you know that the term "Dafla" applied even to the Tagins and so-called Hill Miris.

    The Tagins were unknown to the plainsmen,and even to the early Britishers, and only once or so they are referred to as Dafla.The Miris were almost always clearly identified as Miris by the Buranjis and British, and very rarely identified as Dafla.

    4.The distinction between 'Daflas and 'Miris' is entirely arbitrary, the two names are used only by the Assamese plainsmen
    Haimendorf came back to Ziro in the early Eighties, tottered around for a few days and then wrote this politically-correct book.I'm afraid he's wrong on this one( though I respect him).The Assamese, who used to club together disparate tribes under 'Dafla'or 'Abor' clearly differentiated the Miris from the Nyishi/Dafla so I'll go with them. They have even identified two subgroups of Miris--the Panibotia( those who use boats to come to Assam) and the Tarbotia( Mountain route).Even the Hillmiris closest neighbours, the Galos distinguish the Nyishi clearly from Hillmiri( whom they call Sarak).The Hillmiri dialect is also closer to lower Galo than lower Nyishi( this is my opinion)and they freely converse without problem!

    * There is no doubt that the term Dafla is a plainsmens coinage.

  • Anonymous there really a link between d miris of ap n those of assam? hillmiri a seperate major tribe or a subtribe of nyishi?
    ....i expect sincere answers rom d enlightened ones......plz do reply......

  • Buru

    Q1.No direct link, except as being part of same Tani group of tribes.The name Miri is just coincidental for both.Hill Miris come under Western Tani group, Plains Miris( Mishings) come under Eastern Tani group, so they are fairly different.

    Q2.Yes and no. Recently a group of Hill Miris joined the Nyishi stream mainly for politico-social reasons; There are others who refuse to be called Nyishis and consider themselves a separate( albeit related)tribe.

  • dakpesikash dadaantabhai

    As,buru mentioned,the merger of hillmiri tribe to nyishi tribe was that of a politically motivated and no blood or kinship
    relativity was there between the two tribes,then, i would like
    to put a question,weather Tagins shared common lineage
    With that of nyishis or not?
    What is the meaning of sarak as mentioned on above comment?were hillmiris the closest to plain miri i.e
    missing tribe?whats the etymological meaning of hillmiri?
    Hill miris,origin too please if possible..

Post a Comment