The Apatani People

Apatani, Arunachal Pradesh, India

In the Ziro valley live a small group of people called the Apatani. All but unknown to the outside world until the mid 1900s, the Apatanis have maintained a great deal of their traditional culture, even until now.

Unlike some of the other tribes here, the cessation of the Apatani facial tattooing tradition was not imposed from outside. Rather, it was the decision of their youth to outlaw the practice so that the next generation could attend schools in neighbouring districts to further themselves. The tattoo itself has no meaning or origin within living memory, and all agree that they cannot remember any of their ancestors without it. Girls were tattooed with a single line running from the forehead to the tip of the nose, then a line running horizontally under the bottom lip with five vertical lines descending from it. Boys were given a simpler tattoo. It consisted of a “T” shape under the bottom lip. Traditionally, men wore a top knot and women nose plugs.

The Apatani still celebrate their traditional festivals the same way they always have and observe many of their traditional beliefs. Ritual sacrifices are still conducted by shamans for the health of the villagers and farming maintained the way it has been for centuries.

Apatani Man Facial Tattoo Topknot
Apatani Shaman
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