The Apatani people worship the sun and the moon, a practice known as Donyi-Polo Mediadrumimages / Palaniappan Subramanyam

By Alex Jones


STUNNING new photos exploring the primitive traditions of an ancient tribe who routinely perform animal sacrifice, worship the sun and the moon, and admit to kidnapping beautiful women have been unveiled in a new book.

A vivid series of rare photographs has been released featuring women bearing deliberately disfiguring noseplugs and striking facial ’pig fat and soot’ tattoos, a stomach-turning glimpse of a terrified chicken seconds away from ritual sacrifice, and other curious cultural legacies within the Apatani tribe in Ziro Valley, Arunachal Pradesh, India.

Many of the structures in the Apatani village are handbuilt and made of bamboo. Mediadrumimages / Palaniappan Subramanyam


Other incredible images in the photobook display the rudimentary tools of the Apatani people who still toil their land by hand, the tribe’s youngest generation who are shying away from the “outdated” practices of their elders, and the wrinkled, smiling faces of the tribe’s oldest residents, many of whom survive well into their 90s.

Residents in the village often live to 90+ years of age they claim. Mediadrumimages / Palaniappan Subramanyam


These remarkable photos are the work of Palaniappan Subramanyam, who feels he may be among the last people to witness the tribe’s rustic traditions in action.

“As a photographer, I feel humbled to have experienced the Apatani way of living in solace,” he said.

“My lens could very well be amongst the last few to have captured this parable of purity.

The younger Apatani generation believe many of their tribe’s cultures are ‘outdated’ Mediadrumimages / Palaniappan Subramanyam


“It has been pure bliss to have been engulfed by the aura that the Apatanis have created.

“Through this photo-documentary, I intend for people to apprehend and appreciate a tribe, uncorrupted by modern civilization.”

Whilst surveying the village Subramanyam found out that the Apatanis existed in a “highly patriarchal society” but that the women were “always smiling” as they made their way between the village’s handbuilt bamboo homes.

Although stopped in the 1970’s as it was branded cruel, the practice of forcing women to wear over-sized nose plugs in a bid to make them less attractive to other tribes in the region is still obvious for the tribe’s elders.

Before the 70s, women were forced to wear noseplugs to make them unattractive to rival tribes. Mediadrumimages / Palaniappan Subramanyam


However, the “very painful” custom of facial tattooing – or ‘yaping’ – continues.

The tribe also practices its own religion, known as Donyi-Polo, where they pray to the Sun (Donyi) and the Moon (Polo). Animals are ritually slaughtered to ward off evil spirits.

However, the current generation may see the last of these unusual customs, according to Subramanyam.


Younger generations are moving to nearby cities to find work. Mediadrumimages / Palaniappan Subramanyam


“Teenagers in the village like any other have been highly influenced by modern and western civilization,” he said.

“Most of the younger generation thinks that their practices have become dated and irrelevant in an age where more and more locals would move to cities to practice different trades.”

Palaniappan Subramanyam’s new book ‘Apatani: The Forgotten Origin’ is available online.

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