‘Slow’ Death of the Rapidly Diminishing Traditional Systems in Northeast

Francis Fukuyama coined the term ” End of Hegemony”, Samuel Huntington borrowed the Darwinian ” Survival of the Fittest” to indicate the extinction of the weak. With due respect, I would like to borrow their theories to indicate the “fast death” of our cultures and customs in the present day scenario.

I had a small discussion on this with a few friends over a cup of tea. Everyone seemed to agree with me, and like me, they all expressed their concern over the issue. Nevertheless, I asked them about a few practices they had noticed when they were kids but which no longer seem to exist now.

A friend from Manipur pointed out that she had heard folk songs for every occasion and also witnessed the ridicule of mocking grins by the people who considered themselves “superior” to the singers. People had gone to the local mass wearing the traditional Puan which is now replaced (almost completely) by more western dresses.

My friends from Ladakh also agreed on the disappearance of folk songs and the ignorance about our history! I am a Monpa and I share all of these opinions. The local Dress are rapidly being replaced by the more convinient Tibetan Dresses among my people. The local way of making tea is being replaced by a machine and the local language, by Hindi or English which is believed to be superior and the languages of the elite.

It is indeed sad to see the death of our architecture too. Nobody seems to be interested in renovating their old houses or building a house that looks traditional. And it is not just modernization, but perhaps modernization induced changes in the weather pattern that is to blame for this. There was a time when winter meant a lot of snow in my town. But now we have gotten used to loving the beauty only by gazing at the far away snow clad mountains ironically not yet touched by mankind.

I look at my little nephew and his friends and wonder if he would ever know about his culture or hear all the so many stories which have in them so much of mysticism attached. And in case he ever wanted to know, would there be anyone who would be there to justify his questions and fulfill his curiosity? Most of the traditions over the ages have been transferred verbally from one generation to another. As we don’t have a script, I often wonder what histories of my culture would I be able to transfer?

I, as a Monpa, surely don’t want my culture to die. Maybe one day I will try and encourage the local NGOs based in the region to do more constructive work about it. Talk to the people, document the stories, generate awareness among the young and create a sense of respect. But I hope my “one day” wouldn’t become “never.” I am not ethnocentric and I surely am not against westernisation. But maybe we can imbibe the best of all cultures and ensure we don’t forget our own, for a tree is only as strong as firm and deep are its roots!

Editor’s Note: Monpa is a tribe inhabiting parts of Tawang and West Kameng District in Arunachal Pradesh. The story of rapidly diminishing traditional knowledge of all kinds, in the wake of the so called “modernisation” is a story of the entire Northeast and indeed, also of other tribal inhabited areas in the country.


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