Missing names


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THIS essay is a foray into the genealogical landscape of the Galo community of Arunachal Pradesh. It explores the notion of history embedded in the genealogy of the Galo tribe and attempts to highlight the presence of women, who seem to be missing in it. By invoking genealogy, myths and social practices, and juxtaposing them with women’s lore, this essay tries to understand the nuances in genealogy and its interplay with gender in the collective memory of the Galo community. Through a study of cosmogonical genealogy, this essay attempts to argue that women have been simply forgotten from the genealogy in the wake of ‘modernity’ from 1962 onwards.

The social genealogy which begins from the great legendary father Abo Tani (Abo in Galo language means father) and contains the name of the successive male descendants has since then assumed greater significance, but the cosmogonical genealogy in which women are prominent seems to be conveniently ignored. Since ‘the past is intelligible to us only in the light of the present,’1 a gynocentric past in the modern patriarchal society of the Galos is unintelligible and hence deemed irrelevant.

This essay is laid out in five sections. The first section is an introduction of the Galo tribe, in which its modern history and identity are discussed. The second section is devoted to the dynamics of the genealogical onomasticons: how names form building blocks of history and how in the social genealogy of the Galos, names of women are missing. In the third section, cosmogonical genealogy is discussed to construct a possible gyno-centric past of the tribe before the advent of Abo Tani, by referring to the Mopin mythology and some persistent social practices. To support the proposition, oral texts in the form of ballads and marriage practice and rituals are discussed in the fourth section. In the last section, an attempt has been made to quantify the genealogy in historical time.


Understanding modern history and identity of the Galo tribes has two interconnected issues. First, for a long time, the Galos and the Adis have been thought and assumed to be a single cultural unit, a single tribe. Tai Nyori’s meticulously written History and Culture of the Adis (1993) is the finest example of this school of thought. He has delineated subtle differences between these two tribes, yet he considers them, as the title of the book itself states, to be constituents of an all-encompassing Adi tribe. He did not refer to the Indian Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950, where the Adis and Galos are listed as separate and different tribes. Instead, his inclusion of the Galos among the sub-tribes of the Adi hinges on colonial understanding.

The Order has been continuously neglected by scholars who tend to portray a picture of schism among the Adis. According to Tamo Mibang and M.C. Behera, there are ‘minor differences’ between the two tribes ‘but in recent years, in some quarters, there has been an effort to consider Galos as a separate cultural group.’2 Democracy as a numbers game has been crucial in instilling the politics of identity among the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh: the larger the tribe or clan, the greater the chance of being represented. Hence, inter-tribe and inter-clan integration and segregation to revitalize new identities through genealogy have been observed.

Second, the Galo tribe is perhaps the only tribe in Arunachal Pradesh that has gone through a series of christening in its name, and this opens up interesting possibilities. Arguably, the reason is that the tribe, until recently, had been ‘officially’ known by names given to them by others such as the Tibetans, the Ahoms, the British, the neighbouring Adi tribe and later the Government of India. However, the Galos regard names as sacred. For the Galos, names are not just a part of personal identity but constitute the building blocks of history, and provide a key to understand their notion of history.

It is imperative at the outset to evoke the history of the name of the tribe, which in its quest for ‘modern’ identity, proposes a genealogy for itself where women are missing. This corresponds with the conventional history imparted through the modern English education system introduced among them after the Sino-Indian War of 1962. In the context of their search for a ‘modern’ identity in the post-colonial period and the location of women in it, therefore, Onomastics assumes great significance


The Galos, one of the Scheduled Tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, formerly known as North-East Frontier Agency, belong to the Tani group of tribes, who believe in a common ancestor Abo Tani and share a distinct socio-cultural, religious and linguistic vocabulary.3 They inhabit the central part of the state, bracketed by the rivers Siang and Subansiri, which contains five districts of the state, namely West Siang, East Siang, Lepa Rada, Lower Siang and Upper Subansiri. They do not have a written script of their own, and their language, belonging to the Tani branch of the Tibeto-Burman language family, is one of the endangered languages in India.4 Traditionally, the Galos practiced slash and burn or shifting cultivation along with animal husbandry, hunting and gathering but now wet rice cultivation has also been incorporated into a widening portfolio of occupations. They worship Donyi-Polo (the mother sun and father moon) along with a host of benevolent and malevolent spirits. The material culture of the Galos is based on wood and bamboo, and hence not likely to leave any tangible remains.


Tucked away in a remote corner of the eastern Himalaya, aloof from the civilizations of India in the south and Tibet in the north, the history of the Galos is shrouded in mystery. The terms the tribe used to refer to itself as a community in pre-modern times is not known; and its origin, as is the case with most tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, is ‘disputed’5 or at the least ambiguous.6 However, we know of the terms by which they were known by their neighbours. The Tibetans referred to them as Klopa (pronounced as Lhoba, which means ‘barbaric’ in Tibetan), while the Ahoms of medieval Assam described them with a generic term Abor, implying ‘non-submissive’, ‘insubordinate’ or ‘independent’ people.7 Neither of the neighbours ventured into the mountainous habitat of the Galos, who continued to be denoted by them with these two exonyms.


When the British Empire in India expanded to the plains of Assam after the Treaty of Yangdabo in the first half of the 19th century, the encounter between the British and the Adis started; and the Adis began to surface, however scantily and inadequately, in British exploration reports and surveys, and personal and official correspondences. During the British period, the word Abor, coined by the Ahoms, acquired derogatory meanings such as ‘savage’, ‘unruly’ or ‘disobedient’ and was used especially for the Adis of central Arunachal Pradesh.’8 This is in contrast to initial usage of the word Abor by the Ahoms to inclusively denote their non-submissive or independent neighbouring hill tribes. The British continued to consider the Galos as a branch of the Abor tribe. The name Abor has now been constitutionally replaced by a new term Adi, which implies ‘the people of the hills.’ The Adi tribe comprises a group of communities: Minyongs, Pasi, Padams, Panggis, Milangs, Karkos, Shimongs, Tangams, Bori, among others.

The British referred to the Galos as Doba/Dobah-Abors, and Ghy-Ghasi Miri or Ghasi Miris. The word Galong/Gallong, with the suffix, appeared as a synonym of Doba-Abors as well as an exonym of the tribe in G.W. Dun’s Preliminary Notes on Miris published in 1897.9 This laxity in grasping the name shows how little the British knew about the tribe and how much they relied on their informers. This is not a surprise because early British explorers penetrated the Adi Hills from the Pasi, Padam and Minyong areas and did not make inroads into the Galo country. Hence very little could be known about them.


The same routes were followed by subsequent anthropologists who ‘concentrated their studies on Abors, and the Gallongs were left out’,10 and no distinctions were made between the Adis and the Galos until George Dunbar. In his ‘Abors and Galongs: Notes on Certain Hill Tribes of the Indo-Tibetan Border’, published in Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1916), Dunbar sympathetically noticed the subtle differences between the Adis and the Galos and attempted to write a history of the tribe based on migration stories. This division, in the post-colonial period, led to the recognition of the Galos as a separate tribe of the then North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA),11 by the Indian Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950. However, the exonym ‘Galong’ was retained even when the differences between the Adis and the Galos were further noted by anthropologist Verrier Elwin, who was appointed as the Advisor to the Government of NEFA in 1954.

In his A Philosophy for NEFA (1957), Elwin divided the Adis into two main groups: the Padam-Minyong group and the ‘Gallong’ (sic) group. The compounding of names of the Galos as Galong/Gallong and Adi-Galong/Gallong created a sort of representational crisis for the tribe, who after decades of lobbying with the Government of India, successfully changed the name from Galong to Galo in 2012.


According to the Galo migration myths, recollected by Sarah Hilaly, the tribe assumed its name Galo from ‘an important landscape where the tribe had its sojourn’ called Golo Yorlo or Topo Golo (ravine or gorge).12 Interestingly, the word ‘galo’ in Galo language is used as a verb for climbing down or descending, which perhaps refers to the tribe’s downward migration.13

The reason the renaming of the tribe from Gallong to Galo took more than six decades is not far to seek. ‘Modernity’ came to the Galos, like most of the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, only after the Chinese invasion of India in 1962. After the independence of India, the tribes were kept in relative isolation, a policy initiated by Jawaharlal Nehru and amplified by Elwin. However, after the 1962 War, the process of integrating the tribes was accelerated, with which came the ideas, institutions and projects of ‘modernity’ of the socialist, democratic Republic of India. The advent of ‘modernity’ has facilitated the forging of tribal and clan identities. Impeded by the absence of writing and archaeological remains, the quest for identity has led to the treating of genealogy as a source of history.


Apparently, ‘the writing of history as a project of modernity’14 has culminated in the translation of memory into history, corresponding to the shift from orality to writing among the Galos. As argued by Pierre Nora, ‘the passage from memory to history has required every social group to redefine its identity through the revitalization of its own history.’15 Since the identity of the tribe is constitutionally established, in popular sentiment, the task of entering a ‘modern’ identity has been facilitated by recourse to genealogy. There has been a sudden rush to form and emphasise lineage based identity among the Galos.

While the genealogy of the Galos can be regarded as cultural genetics that reveals their understanding of the past and format of history, certain kinds of practices that are visible today that are seeking to establish overarching lineage based identities, are rather parochial, restrictive and discriminating. They are restrictive because they focus on selective memory of a lineage or a group of lineages, seeking to unify their bond as clan/tribe. They tend to segregate other lineages whose ancestry may converge with their own if the genealogy is pushed back by a generation or two. They are discriminating because lineage-based identities uphold the androcentric genealogical principle to such an extent that cosmogonical genealogy, where women are present, is ignored: to that extent, their memory suffers from historical andro-normativity. It filters out women from their memory and creates a mirage in which women are assumed to be men.16

This amnesia for women in the historical consciousness and genealogical landscape of the Galos is a new phenomenon, one of the many impacts of ‘modernity’. As a result, women are completely forgotten from the genealogical landscape. They may otherwise be found if the horizon is expanded to their cosmogonical myths, beyond their selective recent genealogy of different clans or lineage. Unfortunately, this amnesia for women among the Galos is further increasing with the rapid erosion of their language, which holds their tradition.


This remark seems apt for most of the societies where history is written, and predominantly the names of men are remembered. But what about those societies where history is not written and memory consists of myths, legends and folklore? Are women remembered in them? If history forgets, does the memory of such societies remember women? The answers to these questions get complicated given the fact that many oral societies are devoid of particular institutions or class of people devoted to the pursuit of the memory.

The Galos’ style of the past can be best understood from Romila Thapar’s concept of ‘embedded history’ – a form of historical consciousness which ‘is not always visible and has to be prised open from sources which tend to conceal it.’17 Thapar argues that embedded history manifests itself in several forms such as mythology and genealogy, and is usually present in the literature of ‘lineage-based societies’, characterized by an absence of state formation and domination of lineage in every aspect of activity.18 The Galo tribe is a lineage-based society and at present, it comprises a conglomeration of over 215 clans that can broadly be classified into 27 lineage groups.19 Kinship encompasses virtually every aspect of life, and mythology and genealogy, among others, serve to reassert and reaffirm their ties and identity. Each lineage group is known by the name of the male ancestor of the constituent clans, who consider themselves siblings and marry outside their lineage group.


For example, as per social genealogy, my clan Ete belongs to the Tutem lineage group, which includes seven more clans, namely the Niri, Nyodu, Nyorak, Mayi, Ori, Tasar and Siram. These clans strictly observe exogamous marriage customs. These clans are named after individuals around whom the history of a family or a group of families, called Rumtum, is constructed.20 The ancestry of all these 27 lineage groups converges at/on one man – Abo Tani, a legendary figure who is considered as the first man on earth.

Since Abo Tani, genealogies have always been the domain of men and narrating and transmitting them has been the prerogative of men. During the Togu Nyida, or the grand traditional marriage, men narrate, disseminate and transmit the genealogy of the groom. The genealogy of the Galos seems to comprise mundane, monotonous and often unfamiliar names but has a distinct and discernible format, meticulously invented to record the past and memorize events associated with each name.


Unlike Assamese/Sanskrit and Tibetan names of its neighbours, a Galo name usually does not bear any meaning. However, a Galo name has its own dynamic. As a norm, a Galo name has two components – a proper name followed by the clan name. The proper name comprises two syllables and children inherit the last syllable of their father as their first syllable, e.g. Token’s (To+Ken) children will have Ken as their autonym, such as Kenba (Ken+Ba), whose children will have Ba as their autonym. Using this format, a Galo can trace back ancestry to the progenitor of his or her clan, right to the great father Abo Tani. This is complemented by the Galos’ androcentric notion of time. The Galos traditionally follow a lunar calendar which is guided by the appearance and the movement of Polo, the Moon, who is regarded as the supreme celestial father.21

The fact that a Galo proper name always precedes the clan name demonstrates the significance attached to the inherited name. This is in contrast to other Tani tribes such as the Nyishis and the Apatanis in which clan name precedes the proper name and the proper name is not necessarily derived from the father’s name.22

This format of androcentric genealogy seems to have been in social practice since the time of Abo Tani. Unfortunately, in this format, women are completely removed from the genealogy. The social genealogy of each clan conventionally confined itself to its lineage group and goes no further than Abo Tani. The genealogy starting from Abo Tani is characterized by the silencing of women’s names, giving an impression that the Galo understanding of history is androcentric. Of course, the patrilineal society of the Galos heralded by Abo Tani deemed women’s names irrelevant for remembrance.


Women are actually not absent in the Galo genealogy but have been simply forgotten from the genealogical landscape. If the genealogy is extended further back from Abo Tani, who is considered as the first man on earth, to the creation of the universe or cosmogony, women are present in the same manner in which the men appear in the social genealogy. According to the Galo cosmogony, the world was created by Jimi Ane (Ane means mother in Galo), who is regarded as the Supreme Being.23 The history of the tribe in the form of original genealogy essentially begins with her.

However, there seems to be a lacuna in understanding the cosmogonical genealogy, which comprises names of ten individuals, who came between Jimi Ane and Abo Tani, namely Miku, Kusek, Sekrum, Rumbom, Bomshi, Hisi, Sibuk, Buksin, Sintu and Turi. First, these are thought to be the names of male ancestors, human or otherwise. Second, there is a tendency to abridge this genealogy by omitting five ancestors that came between Jimi Ane and Hisi. L.R.N. Srivastava24 and Tai Nyori25 have traced the genealogy of the Galos from Hisi/Sichi downwards without acknowledging the presence of women. Nyori narrates, ‘Jimi Ane created Medo (Sky) and Sichi (Earth), and from the union of Medo and Sichi started the human race. The first child was Sibuk whose son was Buksin, Buksin’s son was Sintu, Sintu’s son was Turi, Turi’s son was Rini or Tani (Abo Tani), the father of the man’.26 He neither bothers to recount the ancestors of Sichi/Hisi nor mentions that Sichi/Hisi is mother Earth, a female.


The uncertainty which Nyori refers to emanates primarily from the amnesia for women in the patrilineal society of the Galos. However, there is no dispute in the fact that the cosmogonical figures of Jimi Ane and Hisi are women, and that the genealogy of the tribe can be traced back to either of them. Further, Tani as the first man on earth makes sense only when his ancestors, starting from Jimi, are women. Dropping the names of female descendants of Jimi Ane till Hisi from their genealogy reveals how women were deemed too insignificant and unworthy of being remembered in the patrilineal reconstruction of history. The fact that the children of Jimi and Hisi are named after them and not their father indicates that at some point in the past, society was matrilineal or gynocentric, if not matriarchal. Interestingly, this proposition seems to be supported by some of their prevailing social practices and myths.


First, the name of a child is also derived from the paternal aunt, who is called Abo Pate (the aunt who is a father) or Abo Nyijir (literally, female father). Tejum Padu, a Galo folklorist, justifies this practice by invoking the Mopin mythology.27 Mopin, the mother goddess of fertility and prosperity, who taught the art of agriculture to Abo Tani, had daughters Pinku and Pinte named after her. This interaction between Abo Tani and Mopin Ane can be seen historically as an interaction between a patrilineal society which followed hunting and gathering and a matrilineal society which knew the art of shifting cultivation.

Galo women have been preserving the knowledge of agriculture in the form of a ballad called Ge Ojo Tojo Maya, which narrates the procedure of shifting cultivation in a guidebook format. The mythology further states that when Abo Tani mastered the art of cultivation, he goes back to the abode of Mopin Ane and asks for her daughter Diyi Tami’s hand in marriage. To this, Mopin Ane obliges and Diyi Tami gives her consent. This indicates that this matrimony then ushered in a new lineage that necessitated modification of whom to remember in the Galo genealogy.

Second, Abo Tani’s is known as Rini in the Galo social genealogy, not as Tani. The change in the first syllable of a name, keeping intact the second, usually happens when a child is named after his or her paternal aunt.28 To narrate the name in androcentric genealogical sequential rhythm, the name is made to conform to that of the father. Understandably then, in matrilineal genealogy, the popular name Tani had to conform to the mother’s name, i.e. Rini. Tani as the first man on earth, and the father of the men, implies that he was the first person to have started a patrilineal genealogy, and indicates that a paradigm shift had taken place in which a matrilineal society was taken over by Tani. The mode of remembering the past through names remains the same but whose names were to be preserved was altered.


Today’s patrilineal society, handed down by Abo Tani, has many elements of the preceding matrilineal society, most prominent among them being a culture of remembrance and a tradition of recording the past through genealogy. It is clear from the cosmogonical genealogy of the Galos and the Mopin mythology, briefly narrated in the previous section, that women have innovated the idea and practice of making the proper names an element of the inheritance among the Galos. It is worth noting that there is a clear division of inheritance along gender lines. Men inherit immovable property from their fathers while women inherit movable ones such as ornaments from their mothers. While men indulge in genealogical narration, women perform ballads that are unique to them, in the sense that they are in the domain of women, and the distinct ways to narrate, disseminate and transmit them is one of their prerogatives.


In this section, two popular ballads, namely Dali e Dali li (The Ballad of Inheritance) and Takar e Gene Gehe (The Ballad of the Shooting Star) are discussed to support the argument that before the emergence of Abo Tani, the Galo society was matrilineal. The ballads transport one to a mundane world of women, filled with shared emotions, values, aspirations and creativity, deeply rooted in everyday experience. Interestingly, the language used in these texts is classical/poetic or at the least an archaic form of the Galo language, which is not usually intelligible to common Galo speakers. It must be pointed out here that the meaning of the phrases of these ballads is lost.29

As pointed out by Prachi Dublay in the context of the history of the Rathwa Bhil community of western India, the sound of such phrases itself is the meaning.30 However, to make these texts comprehensible to ordinary people and to render their dissemination and transmission effective, they are blended into performing arts, with a strong emphasis on the narration. The creative adaptation of the narratives of these ballads in a tradition of dance called Ponu, which is yet another prerogative of women, is then performed on social occasions. It not only provides a source of entrainment but also functions as a sort of audio-visual communication of these ballads, acting as a cementing agent that binds the community together and reaffirms its sense of togetherness. Rimi Tadu has rightly emphasized through her ethnographic study of the Tani community of North East India that ‘it is not only the narratives but the total cultural surroundings and socio-political contexts of the performance that co-create meaning.’31


The concern for the inheritance of property and the inheritor is eloquently reflected in a ballad called Dali e Dali li (The Ballad of Inheritance), performed by women. This ballad is a narrative conversation between two women, a mother and a Nibi (nanny) regarding the fees which the former has to pay to the latter for her service. The Galos have a tradition in which a resident nanny is hired to look after a child, and only when the child comes of age, the nanny gets paid. In the pre-modern world, when the lack of nutrition, medicine and sanitation were major contributing factors for the high infant mortality rate among the Galos, successfully rearing and nurturing a child was a serious concern. As the medium of exchange was barter, the mother in this ballad is confronted with the question of what and how much to pay the nanny. She offers all sorts of things, including old utensils and tools, but the nanny rejects each one of them, saying that she does not need them.

The nanny’s adamancy increases the mother’s anxiety and a lengthy negotiation ensues. The frustrated mother finally offers her a family heirloom which the nanny happily accepts. Without actually referring to the child, the negotiation between the mother and the nanny brings to the fore the importance of inheritance in Galo society. The nanny would not have insistently refused to accept insignificant payment had she not known the significance attached to the rearing of a child, eventually to become the inheritor of name, property, memory and social responsibilities.


Besides genealogy, there are social customs that have been inherited by the present Galo society, prominent being the practice of a form of cicisbeism known as Nyime Ginam (moving wife) or Rigo Nyame Benam (intimacy with one’s sister-in-law) in Galo.32 This practice has been often misunderstood as a form of polyandry.33 This is a practice in which a wife enjoys sexual freedom beyond marriage, being allowed to seek potential sexual partners or lovers from her husband’s Hitam or brothers among his clan.

A ballad called Takar e Gene Gehe (The Ballad of the Shooting Star) underscores the sexual independence of a Galo wife by employing double entendre. At the same time, it immediately refers to the creation of star by Jimi Ane who, while ornamenting the sky, created only one star named Takar. Soon she began to feel lonely and started looking for a companion in the sky. One fine day, she noticed Yei Karsi, a male shining entity in the sky located far away from her. Takar couldn’t wait and ‘went flying like a comet to him.’34 She then consummated a union with him and then returned to her original place, where she gave birth to uncountable stars. With her children around her, illuminating the sky, Takar was no longer lonely.


Metaphorically, however, the ballad draws an analogy from Takar, the cosmogonical shooting star, to which the quality of a nyame or wife is attributed. The ballad alludes that just as Takar had moved, searching for company, a wife moves in search of her paramour or a potential sexual partner. It sanctions the sexual independence of a wife through a Galo form of cicisbeism, which is a contrast to the other Himalayan societies, where promiscuous women are abhorred and their sexuality is controlled.

Second, traditionally women are strictly prohibited from touching the bows and arrows used by men for hunting. The taboo associated with this is so stringent that women are not allowed to enter Bago, the men’s side of the kitchen, where bows, arrows and ritual paraphernalia are kept, during their menstrual period. However, there is an exception to it. During Togu Nyida (grand marriage) of the Galos, the bride is allowed, on par with the groom, to use a bow and arrows to hit the sacrificial animal called H/Sobo (popularly known as Mithun, scientifically called Bos Frontalis).


The ritual of hitting the animal by the bride is not mandatory as this is reserved for the groom. The bride is ritually assigned to shoot the beast with ekkam leaves before the groom. However, relaxing the taboo and socially assigned gender work, this ritual is symbolically an enactment or replication of a hunting scene. Performance of this ritual by women during Togu wedding ceremony is a remnant of that phase of the past of the Galos when women actively took part in hunting. The above-mentioned practices have perhaps been retained as compensation for the demise of matrilineal society but acutely foreground the memory of a lost culture.


Arguably, genealogy was invented by the Galos primarily to remember their past. But how do we measure this genealogy in time? This genealogy holds that one of the most prominent events that took place in the past was the advent of Abo Tani, who started a line that represented a shift to a patriarchal set up among the Galos. Parallel and connected to this was the adoption of shifting cultivation based on a gendered division of labour.35 The rise of patriarchy together with agriculture in the history of the Galos seems to support Jared Diamond’s proposition that agriculture is ‘the worst mistake in the history of the human race’, as he believes that ‘farming may have encouraged inequality between the sexes as well’.36 This proposition may not be universally applicable, but in the case of the Galos, the creation of patriarchy and introduction of agriculture by Abo Tani cannot be a mere coincidence. These events are considered so important that they remain reference points for the history and culture of the tribe.


The best way to quantify the genealogy in time is to place generations/ descendants vis-à-vis chronology. By using my own genealogy, an attempt is made here to place the anthropological history of the Galos in historical time. My genealogy reveals that I am the 40th descendant from Jimi Ane, the Creator, and the 29th from the Great Father Abo Tani.37 If four generations are placed in a century, the distant feminine figure Jimi Ane, with whom the genealogical memory begins, can be traced back to ten centuries ago, approximately in the 11th century, around the time when Rajaraja Chola was celebrating the consecration of the Brihadeshwara Temple in Tanjavur, Tamil Nadu. The emergence of Abo Tani can historically be located to seven or eight centuries back, i.e., roughly in the13th century, around the time when the Ahoms invaded Assam and laid the foundations of their kingdom in North East India.

Representational Genealogical Chart of 8 Lineage Groups

Source: Eli Doye, Myths from Northeast India: Functional Perspective of Galo Myths in a Changing Context. Nation Press, New Delhi, 2018, pp. 160-163.

The Galos’ understanding of history is embedded in their genealogy, which comprises the names of ancestors. The name derived from the father acts as a format of recording the past. However, it was not always so. Women are present in the genealogy that begins with Jimi Ane but have been completely forgotten in the later genealogy which starts from Abo Tani. The presence of women in the original (cosmogonical) genealogy and their absence (in the social genealogy) afterwards shows how the understanding of the past among the Galos has become gendered. Both the genealogies hinge on gender as an indispensable tool of history but neither is innocent nor neutral. Both are characteristically marked by gender-selective amnesia and remembrance.

The change in the nature of remembering and memorizing the past, from female to male-centric, indicates the importance of genealogy in a matrilineal or gynocentric society which was taken over by a patrilineal one. It also suggests that the pattern of recording the past among the Galos is an innovation by women, appropriated and pursued by Abo Tani and his descendants, just like the art of cultivation.



1. E.H. Carr, What is History? Penguin Books, London, New York, 1987, p. 56.

2. Tamo Mibang and M.C. Behera, ‘Introduction’, in Tamo Mibang and M.C. Behera (eds.), Marriage and Culture: Reflections from Tribal Societies of Arunachal Pradesh. Mittal Publications, New Delhi, 2006, pp. xvii-xviii.

3. The Tani group consists of Adi, Apatani, Galo, Nyishi and Tagin. They are called Tani tribes because they trace their ancestry from legendary father, Abo Tani; they practiced Donyi-Poloism and the forms of the language they speak constitute the Tani branch of the Tibeto-Burman language family.

4. As per the Government of India 2001 Census, there are 61,887 Galo speakers. This number is dwindling. In central Arunachal Pradesh, the Galo language, in its different forms, is spoken by around 80,000-1,30,000 people. Mark Post, Galo-English Dictionary. Galo Welfare Society, Itanagar, 2009, p. xi.

5. Stuart Blackburn. ‘Memories of Migration: Notes on Legends and Beads in Arunachal Pradesh, India’, European Bulletin of Himalayan Research 25/26, 2004, p. 21.

6. There are two hypotheses regarding the origin of the Tani Tribes. The first hypothesis places the origin in Burma/China and the second postulates Tibet/Mongolia as the home of the Tani tribes. Blackburn, however, emphasises that the migration of the central Arunachal tribes, which include the Galos, is not ‘a single, fixed and long-distance event’. Blackburn, ‘Memories of Migration’, p. 19. See also, Toni Huber & Stuart Blackburn (eds.), Origins and Migrations in the Extended Eastern Himalayas. Brill, Leiden and Boston, 2012, pp. 1-10, pp. 83-103. The migration stories of five clans of Galo tribe described by Tai Nyori also show different locations and migratory routes: Tai Nyori, History and Culture of the Adis. Omsons Publications, New Delhi, 1993, pp. 53-61.

7. Nyori, History and Culture, p. 4. The appellation Abor has been read and interpreted differently. According to Tai Nyori, the word Abor is an Assamese word used initially by the Ahoms of Assam inclusively to denote other hill tribes.

8. Verrier Elwin, A Philosophy for NEFA. Directorate of Research, Government of Arunachal, Itanagar, 2012, p. 17.

9. The name Galong was sometimes written as Gallongs, Gallong-Abors and Adi-Galong/Gallong. Dun’s report says, ‘They call themselves Dobah, but are called Galongs by our plains Miris’ (quoted in Nyori, History and Culture, p. 7. Galong/Gallongs with the nasal suffix is an exonym, not used by the Galos in general.

10. L.R.N. Srivastava, The Gallongs. Directorate of Research, Government of Arunachal, Itanagar, 2010, p. 8.

11. Arunachal Pradesh was known as the North-East Frontier Agency from 1954 and was constitutionally a part of Assam, administered by the President of India through the Governor of Assam as his agent till 1972 when the region was renamed as Arunachal Pradesh and became a union territory. On 20 January 1987, Arunachal Pradesh became a full-fledged state of the Republic of India.

12. Sarah Hilaly, ‘Ritual and Territory: Mapping the Landscape’, The Four Quarters Magazine 4, 2015, p. 6.

13. See note 6 for a debate on migration.

14. Peter van der Veer, ‘The Global History of "Modernity",’ Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 41, 1998, p. 285.

15. Pierre Nora, ‘Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire’, Representations 26, 1989, p. 15.

16. During my fieldwork and personal interview with the elders of the community, I was greatly troubled by the amnesia about women. Many assume that genealogy is all about men, and that the absence of women in it is to be expected. Barring the gender of Jimi Ane (Mother Creator) and Hisi (Mother Earth), the genealogy between Jimi and Tani is plagued with gender ambiguity.

17. Romila Thapar, Interpreting Early India. Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2000, p. 137.

18. Thapar, Interpreting Early India, p. 139.

19. Eli Doye, Myths from Northeast India: Functional Perspective of Galo Myths in a Changing Context. Nation Press, New Delhi, 2018, p. 154. These figures may vary given the inter-clan integration and segregation prevalent these days.

20. Traditionally, the Galos lived in joint families. Now, nuclear families are more common as they are considered ‘modern’. However, joint families can still be observed, though in decreasing numbers, in places untouched by ‘modernity’ or where its impact has been less. The word Rumtum can best be translated as a group of families, nuclear, joint and extended, who share the same immediate grandfather or great-grandfather.

21. The name of a month in the Galo language is polo which honours the father Moon.

22. The name derived from the last syllable of the father’s name is also observed among the Adis and the Nyishis. However, such usage is limited to ritual and mythology. While the Galos have meticulously retained the system, the Adis and Nyishis do not follow it anymore.

23. Srivastava mistakes Jimi to be a man. He writes, ‘He (sic) has also created the firmament… He (sic) is the creator of Dioni-Polo… He (sic) resides in the sky…’, Srivastava, The Gallongs, p. 105. Although Jimi Ane is the Supreme Being, no sacrifices are in her name. The supreme deity is the combined figures of Donyi Ane (the mother sun) and Polo Abo (the father moon). Gender ambiguity is also seen in Nyori’s work. He narrates the creation myths and refers to Donyi, the mother sun, as ‘the sun god’, even after stating the fact the ‘Galo priests call Donyi as Iji Ane (i.e., the mother sun)’. Nyori, History and Culture, pp. 268-269.

24. Srivastava, The Gallongs, pp. 117-119.

25. Nyori, History and Culture 37, pp. 40-41.

26. Ibid., p. 40.

27. Tejum Padu, Mopin and Its Mythology. Mopin Festival Celebration Committee, Naharlagun, 2015, pp. 10-11.

28. Alternatively, in colloquial Galo, the first syllable of the proper names is substituted with prefix ‘Ta’ for masculine names while for women prefix ‘Ya’ is used. Thus, the name Rini becomes Tani (Masculine). If the bearer of the name is a female, then, she would be called Yani (Feminine). These prefixes help identify the gender because the Galos have many gender-neutral names, besides gender-specific ones.

29. The titles of these ballads are coined by me based on their contents. The women’s lores of the Galos have usually secular themes, some of which are central to the life of a woman, reflecting the socio-cultural milieus in which they were composed, and suggest that those were composed by women themselves.

30. Prachi Dublay, ‘History of Rathwa Bhils through the Dynamics of their Songs and Stories’. Paper presented at the National Seminar on Anthropological Histories and Tribal Words in India, Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, 27-29 March 2017.

31. Rimi Tadu, ‘Ethnographic Conversations in History: Doing Oral History in the North East India’. Paper presented at the National Seminar on Anthropological Histories and Tribal Words in India, Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, 27-29 March 2017.

32. Grateful to Professor Jumyir Basar, Arunachal Institute of Tribal Studies, Rajiv Gandhi University, Doimukh, for correcting this word and providing constructive comments.

33. Srivastava writes that ‘Polyandry is the most prevalent form of marriage’ and suggests that this form of marriage was practiced by the Galos because of the economic pressure emanating from the high amount of bride price which prevented many male members of a family from getting a bride: Srivastava, The Gallongs, p. 74. The Nyishis, the neighbouring tribe of the Galos, have equally expensive marriage and high bride price. However, this practice is absent among them. Whatever the reasons may have been for this practice, it cannot be termed as polyandry because although a wife is shared among her husband’s brothers and clan bothers, they have no claim or right whatsoever over the children born to her. Her husband remains their legitimate father. This practice was not institutionalized, in the sense that neither every Galo family practiced this nor was there were any punishments to women who denied sexual access to their husbands’ brothers or clan brothers.

34. D.K. Dutta, A Glimpse of the Galo’s Customary Religion. Ajay Kumar Dutta, Dibrugarh, 2014, p. 41.

35. The ballad, Ge ojo Tojo Maya, or The Ballad of Agriculture, patiently narrates the entire process of agriculture and reminds that agriculture is not an event but a process which requires the involvement of men and women. However, this type of agriculture practiced by the Galos is an enterprise in which labour is divided based on sex. The selection of a site, felling and burning of trees, and clearing of the area, which constitute the starting part of agriculture and require intensive labour, are done by men. While the less arduous activities which follow, such as sowing, seeding and harvesting, are done by women. These are followed by other tasks like the collection and storage of grain, which are again done by men, while husking and cooking are done by women. This ballad narrates the process starting from the selection of a site till the storage of grain. L.N.R. Srivastava wrongly, and contradicting himself, states that in Galo society, ‘no strict social law is prescribed for the division of labour between the sexes, though a tradition has been maintained which they believe ought to be followed in the usual way unless some extraordinary circumstances compel sexes to change to their occupation’. Srivastava, The Gallongs, p. 47. How can sexes change their occupation if there are no established norms that assign specific occupation to a particular sex? The Galos may not have a ‘social law’ pertaining to the division of labour but there are strict taboos that do not allow men and women to embrace the socially assigned occupation of each other.

36. Jared Diamond, ‘Agriculture: The Worst Mistake in the History of Human Race’, Discover Magazine, May 02, 1987, accessed on May 15, 2017, http://discovermagazine.com/1987/may/02-the-worst-mistake-in-the-history-of-the-human-race

37. These numbers may vary depending on the version one is referring to. My Genealogy from Jimi Ane, I could gather is as follows: Jimi-Miku-Kusek-Sekrum-Rumbom-Bomshi-Hisi-Sibuk-Buksin-Sintu-Turi-Rini (Tani)-Nito-Topo-Polo-Losi-Simum-Mumde-De-Ere-Reke-Kepak-Paktu-Tutem-Temshar-Harga-Garo-Ro-Oka-Kadu-Dega-Gangu-Gubin-Bindug-Duggo-Goduk-Dugbin-Binjum-Jumdo-Duli. The genealogy from Jimi to Hisi is based on D.K. Dutta’s A Glimpse of the Galo’s Customary Religion, pp. 48-49; from Hisi to Rini is based on Srivastava’s The Gallongs, pp. 117-119; from Rini to Paktu is based on Nyori’s History and Culture, p. 40; and finally, from Paktu onwards is based on the narration of my maternal grandfather, Late Domo Bagra. For comprehensive understanding of the genealogical origin of the Galos and updated various versions, see Eli Doye’s Myths from Northeast India, pp. 149-164.