Being an essential festival of Apatani community, the Myoko is perhaps one of the most protracted and intricate festival in the world, wherein entire Apatanis take some part in the festivities while the substantial role are played by the host of Myoko, and which induce one to question and contemplate, extol and assess its significance relating to the present day.
The preparation for Myoko begins as early as November – starting with hunting of bi ding (monkey). And the activities goes on until the Empii Koniin ceremony is performed to signify the end of the festival where the priest give a final offering of roasted ‘eared rice’ to deity near the doorstep of both front and backdoor, and which usually happen in the second week of April month. From the groundwork to the end of the Myoko festival, it takes almost six months.
Another aspect of Myoko is that it comprises of so many complex rituals that makes it awfully intricate and very difficult to practice it. For instance, a person who goes out to hunt biding need to take a particular care when shooting a monkey because … not to sacrifice a biding of particular species would be sacrilegious to Siiki. At the time of Siiro Cheniin, every male member has to put up a twig of cane leaves at Nago (shrine). With cane becoming rare, you never know when the ritual will become nullified. And Pigyan Huniin ceremony tests the degree of one’s physical strength and endurance – seizing of pigs and swine from pigsty, taking it to Yugyang (altar) and bringing it back to a house for sacrifice. Subsequently, the swine are killed and delicately prepared to be given away to uncles and great uncles. And preparation or to be precise separation of chest from bacon requires a hand of high skill because recipient may turn down the offer to accept it if found any slip-up. Phew! One of the nasty part is when we grab the swine by its leg so that it could stay still whilst the eldest male member of a clan is plucking off the heart and when we clean down the coating of hair from swine by burning and scraping out the hair with steel tumbler as soon as it is taken down from a bonfire.
Throughout the ceremonial processes of Myoko, loads of unfamiliar things (no doubt, it may be relatively recognizable for some but for inexperience individual it could be a headache) like Sama Anii, Kiira Anii (leaves) et al are used to make Agyang (altar). Moreover, to make things such as byodung, chukha, roobing, etc. to adorn the Agyang calls for great dexterity and fortitude. Furthermore, to look bluntly at Babo (ritual pole) may not seem that it involves effort in any way. On the contrary, it stipulates teamwork as each clan has to select a high and straight tree for babo that are fell and brought at the village by dragging, then erecting it. In a way, it does seem futile to fell a huge tree and erecting it seeing that boha behniin (acrobatic feats) is no longer perform on it and also that huge babo can give away to undersized and manageable babo without being blasphemous to custom. Paradoxically, activities are going in opposite direction.
O Tante La, in fact this is the occasion when guests usually visit the house of the Myoko host and the guests are served with O (rice beer), Tapyo (black salt) and Kaji (meat). In compliance with other ritual this occasion continues for a period of two and a half days – beginning just after Sama Piniin (first day) till Taper Liila Siiro Cheniin (third day of Myoko) – which seem fair enough. But rules are rules, made to be bent and broken. Thus, nowadays, the host could still be seen throwing a Myoko party till the wee hours even after the Pigyan Huniin ceremony was concluded. In such parties, one may notice that both the guests and host will not hesitate to belt out series of Bollywood numbers. Sadly, Bollywood numbers is slowly replacing Ayu (rhythmic folklore handed down from the past).
In terms of money and material spent during this festival, I dare say, goes beyond what is necessary. Over the last few years, the operating cost of Myoko has hemorrhaged. And the respite from this outflow of money and material is not on the horizon. Besides, the people tend to spend more money during this time, possibly, to impress – encouraging others to follow suit. The Yalang or Ala Rita Naniin (portion of beef given to a booniin ajing) is turning out to be bigger and bigger in size. As a result, a whole lot of beef in addition to poultry, pork and cartons of egg is not sufficient enough to last long until the end of Myoko month. If luck favors, the foot and mouth disease of cattle and bird flu at this crucial time will play havoc to entire plan – creating an environment of scarcity and pushing the price of basic items beyond affordable and what’s more the cost of firewood and rice have yet to be added to the gross expenditure. Under such circumstances, to have a second thought about Myoko is apparently justifiable.
Regardless of the fact, the significance and contribution of Myoko principally in renewing ties with friends and relatives and binding the community in a collective unit cannot be neglected. However, the question remains: Will the essence of Myoko last? What if the poor people cannot afford to celebrate it? With the augmentation in the gap between rich and poor, the Myoko is bound to lose its vitality in course of time. So, with due respect to Myoko, amendment in certain custom is inevitable. For instance, the quantity of Yalang could be reduced to a large extent, which is a give-away to booniin ajing. And bestowing other gifts like a packet of tea leaves and milk powder, sugar, etc. to booniin ajing should be altogether stopped. Furthermore, many a thing could be shunned that is not absolutely mandatory during Myoko. To sum up, a public debate need to be conducted to form a consensus to amend in some of our recent habit if not amended, it is sure to do more harm than good in near future. Moreover, it is not that the Myoko never have borne the brunt of reformation. In olden times, the Myoko used to be celebrated in a joint way. Later it was converted into triennial event. Again, in the early eighties, the Apatani Youth Association (AYA) decided to fix the date of inaugural day of Myoko on 20th of March month. As to people’s occasional discussion about holding the festival once in a five year by dividing Talyang-Hao, Niichi-Niitii and Tinii-Diibo into five groups. That, in my opinion, seems fairly reasonable if it could be implemented.
Suppose the expenditure in Myoko keeps escalating and the people remains obstinate about relaxation in certain formal procedure, another horde of people would not hesitate to turn to Hinduism, Christianity and Meder Nello as the tendency of escapism in people is greater than the will to fight to the finish. Besides, the missionaries of all denominations at all times are ready to pounce and put a shackle on them. Eventually, there will be neither Lapang nor Babo; only the flag of Meder Nello, Hindu and Christian will stay.