A tribal lockdown ritual has staged a comeback in Arunachal Pradesh, the State geographically closest to China’s Hubei province where the COVID-19 outbreak began.
The border State’s West Siang district ceremonially entered the Arr-Rinam phase at the stroke of 5 p.m. on Thursday. Arr-Rinam is the Galo equivalent of lockdown imposed by consensus for 48 hours whenever an epidemic strikes. The Galos, one of the 26 major tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, dominate West Siang distric
“ Coronavirus has not yet attacked us, but we cannot be complacent ,” said Kirba Sora, the president of Galo Welfare Society, an apex tribal body. “ Arr-Rinam , which follows the Ali-Ternam ritual to ward off an epidemic, has been a part of our culture,” he added.
Ali-Ternam — Ali means epidemic and Ternam forestall — and Arr-Rinam were last performed almost four decades ago when a water-borne disease had affected many members of the community.
“We have been performing these rituals periodically for livestock, primarily the semi-wild mithun, that are prone to contagious diseases,” Mr. Sora said in a telephone interview from the district headquarters Aalo. “This is for the first time in 30-40 years that we performed the rituals for the safety of humans,” he added.
An executive engineer in the State’s Public Health Engineering and Water Supply Department, Mr. Sora was one of the two Bos or deputy priests, who performed the Ali-Ternam under the guidance of a Nyibo (shaman) from Wednesday morning.
The ritual ended with the community leaders sealing five major entry points of the district.
“As in the past, all of us locked ourselves in and banned the entry of anyone from outside. We did make a departure from tradition by adhering to the government’s social distancing guidelines, ensuring only a few people participated,” Mr. Sora said.
The Adi community inhabiting East Siang and Lower Dibang Valley districts too performed a similar ritual called Motor that they believe lets shamans with legendary powers to locate wild herbs to combat an epidemic.
In districts such as Papum Pare and East Kameng, the dominant Nyishi community observed Arrue involving self-quarantine. “We have rituals such as Khyasang-Ratar and Merii for preventing the entry of an epidemic to a village,” said Dahey Sangno, a project director of the District Rural Development Agency in East Kameng.