Arunachal Pradesh tableaux at R-Day parade is tribute to hundreds of unsung Abor heroes of India’s freedom struggle against the British.

This Is What The R-Day Tableaux Of Arunachal Pradesh Showcased

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Wednesday, January 26, 2022 05:54 PM IST
This Is What The R-Day Tableaux Of Arunachal Pradesh ShowcasedThe R-Day Tableaux Of Arunachal Pradesh
  • The Arunachal Pradesh tableaux at the Republic Day parade this year is a tribute to hundreds of unsung Abor (Adi) heroes of India’s freedom struggle against the British.

The tableaux of Arunachal Pradesh at today’s Republic Day parade that won many accolades depicted the Anglo-Abor Wars where Abor (Adi) tribesmen fiercely battled the British many times.

The 1826 Treaty of Yandaboo that ended the First Anglo-Burmese War gave the British control of Assam. Soon, the British started encouraging European entrepreneurs to establish tea gardens in the vast swathes of fallow land in the foothills of the eastern Himalayas that were inhabited by fiercely independent tribes who the British collectively called Abors.

The Abors — actually the Adi tribe of present-day Arunachal Pradesh — used to periodically raid the villages of Assam in the foothills and kill or take away villagers and foodgrains, livestock as well as clothes and valuables.

The rulers of Assam never succeeded in preventing these raids. Ultimately, Assam’s rulers agreed to pay a fixed amount of ration and other items routinely to the tribesmen to preclude their raids on the villages.

This was known as the posa system.

The British, initially, reluctantly adhered to this system and paid ransom to the Abors. But the British, especially the tea planters, stopped doing so after some time and the raids by the Abors on villages and the plantations resumed.

There were three severe raids on Assam’s villages by the Abors in 1848, 1858 and 1861 in which many British subjects living in Assam were killed or taken away as captives.

This was too much for the British and they started sending expeditionary forces to subjugate the Abors, who inhabit what is now the East Siang, Siang, Upper Siang and Lower Dibang districts of Arunachal Pradesh.

Soon after the 1858 raid, the British gathered a force and sent it to Abor village. Fierce battles were fought, but they did not result in a clear victory for any side. This was the first Anglo-Abor Battle and is known as the Bitbor Mimak.

The British sent another force the next year, but the battles fought in the hills remained indecisive again. This faceoff between the Abors and the British is known as Bongal Mimak.

The next faceoff was the Nijom Mimak in 1894. A British expeditionary force led by J.F Needham, assistant political officer at Saidya (Assam), Captain Maxwell and Lieutenant East, marched along the left bank of the Siang river with the aim of reaching and capturing Damroh village, which was the nerve centre of Bor Abors (an Adi sub-tribe).

The tribesmen marched from Dambuk village — now a prime tourist destination where an annual music and motorsports festival is organised every winter — where the ramparts of a fort erected by the villagers still exist.

The mobilisation of the tribesmen started on 20 January 1894 and the Abors reached Dagem Liireng at Sijon on 25 February 1894. Here, they inflicted heavy casualties on the British forces, forcing the latter to retreat. The British could not even reach Damroh village, leave aside capture it.

But the Adis also paid a heavy price and many of them were killed. Prominent among the martyrs were Kengki Megu, Jongkeng Pertin and Koyi Lego.

The final Anglo-Abor battle was in 1911 and is known as Poju Mimak. This battle was triggered by a rather peculiar incident.

A small British party — two British officers named Williamson Greigerson, an interpreter, some porters and a few Assam Rifles soldiers — were surveying an area (near present-day Pasighat) and came across an Abor village.

The villagers were friendly and offered the party refreshments and some gifts. One villager, who had a skin ailment, offered a chicken to the British party, but Williamson refused to accept it. For the tribals, refusal to accept a gift offered to a visitor by them amounts to a grave insult.

The Abor man insisted that the visitors accept the gift, and an angry Williamson struck the villager with his baton before leaving.

The villagers decided to avenge this insult and ambushed the British party as they were making their way through a thick jungle. The entire party, except for a porter, was killed.

The British decided to teach a lesson to the Abors and gathered a large expeditionary force which entered Abor territory in October 1911. The Abors once again fought bravely in this battle that raged from 6 October 1911 to 11 January 1912.

The Abors fought with a lot of bravery and used booby traps, poisoned arrows and heavy-duty slights through which rocks were shot at the invaders.

The Abors stopped the advance of the invaders for more than two months at Kekar Monying village.

But ultimately, the British with their sophisticated weaponry and large force prevailed. The heroic sacrifices of tribesmen like Matmur Jamoh, Tajong Tamuk, Lomlo Darang and Lotiyang Taloh, to name a few, are remembered by the Adis.

The Arunachal Pradesh tableaux at the Republic Day parade this year is a tribute to these, and hundreds of other unsung Abor (Adi) heroes of India’s decades-long freedom struggle against the British.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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