Tribal taboos are conservation devices in Arunachal, says Tine Mena

Tine Mena, the first woman from the Northeast to climb Mount Everest explains, “My Naba (father) always says you can’t challenge nature. If you challenge nature, you are asking for trouble. When you see a river and think, it’s so low, I can easily cross it, the next time you need to cross the river, it will rise and swallow you; nature is always stronger than you. You can have no ego with nature.”

Belonging to the Idu Mishmi tribe in Arunachal Pradesh, Tine was dragged on hunting expeditions while growing up. Sitting next to her now 70-year-old father, she teases him and says, “Naba would not care if I was in pain or hungry. I couldn’t make a sound in the jungle. Sometimes he would just disappear and I wouldn’t know what to do.”

She is the daughter of Buge Mena, popularly addressed as Naba – one of the most respected tribesmen in the Mishmi Hills, known for his skills as a hunter. His single-handed fight with a Himalayan black bear is occasionally told in the area.

Naba says, “Once I shot four beers, but was able to carry back two of the bears. I stopped in a friend’s village to rest and share the meat. When I arrived at his house, an old woman ordered me to take the meat away. She seemed angry.”

“A stillborn baby had been born in that house. We are not supposed to bring jungle meat into a house where someone had died, but I had not known. I left immediately, but I knew I had broken a ghena.”

A ghena is a taboo, and breaking it has consequences, according to local beliefs.

Few months after, due to his ghena, he had a single-handed fight with a Himalayan black bear .Luckily he escaped a near death. He said, “I managed to find people who helped me, but I knew this happened because of my ghena.”

There are approximatelt 12,000 Idu Mishmis in Arunachal Pradesh. Their lives are profoundly shaped by rituals, myths and taboos. Referred to as ghena, these restrictions provide ecological balance for the Idu tribe.

Ghenas ensure that the Idus continue to respect the ecosystem they inhabit because it remains at the forefront of their mind.



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