Adi people

Adi people

The Adi (also Abor) is a major collective tribe living in the Himalayan hills of Arunachal Pradesh (in northeastern India), and they are found in the temperate and sub-tropical regions within the districts of West Siang, East Siang, Upper Siang, Upper Subansiri and Dibang Valley. The older term Abor is a deprecated exonym from Assamese meaning 'those who cannot be controlled'. Some of them are found in Southern Tibet, around areas near the Indian border. The literal meaning of Adi is "hill" or "mountain", which was used to unification term used to identify people of Minyong, Galo, Pasi Padam, Bori, Bokar, Karko, Milang and Ramo sub tribe as a single tribe. Of Proto-Austronesian and Tibetan stock, they speak a language belonging to the Tibeto-Burman family. However, their traditions believed them to be the lost descendants of the Tatars and a mythological figure called Abotani (Abo "father"; tani "man").

Tribes and organisation

They live in over 50 hill villages, traditionally each keeping to itself (many never leave it), under a selected chief styled GAM (British era development) who moderates the village council, which acts even as traditional court. The olden day councils consists of all the village elder and decisions were taken in a DERE (Village community house) on majority verdict. They are divided into several tribes and sub-tribes, which include:


The language spoken by this group is also called Adi, which is related to the Chinese and Tibetan languages. It is spoken with minor variations among all the subtribes of Adi.


Owing to cultural isolation and economic insignificance, the Adi culture was spared major disturbance. However, since the late twentieth century, the people themselves are gradually opting for modernisation, e.g. roads connecting them to the outer world, metal roofs, etc.

Dormitories play an important role among the Adi tribe, and certain rules are observed. For example, a male can visit the dormitory of a female, although he is not allowed to stay overnight. At times, guardians will have to be around to guide the youngsters.

The dress of the Adi consists of one multi-purpose cloth, known as the gaale'', easily worn by both sexes, tied around the loins, hanging down in loose strips. Helmets made from cane, bear and deer skin are sometimes worn by the men, depending on the region.

While the older women wear yellow necklaces and spiral earrings, unmarried girls wear a beyop, an ornament that consists of five to six brass plates fixed under their petticoats. Tattooing was popular among the older women.

The traditional measure of a family's wealth is the possession of gaur (known as "Eso" and often referred as "Mithun"), a native ox which is not milked or put to work but given supplementary care while grazing in the woods until slaughter.

Adi celebrate their prime festival, Solung, between in the first week of September every year for five days. It is a harvest festival performed after the sowing of seeds and transplantation, to seek for future bumper crops. Ponung songs and dances are performed during the festival. At the last day of Solung, throne and indigenous weaponry are displayed along the passage of the houses, a belief that they would protect people from evil spirits.

Festivals and dances

The Adi celebrate a number of festivals, in particular Solung, in September for five days. It is a harvest festival performed after the sowing of seeds and transplantation, to seek for future bumper crops. Ponung songs and dances are performed during the festival. At the last day of Solung, throne and indigenous weaponry are displayed along the passage of the houses, a belief that they would protect people from evil spirits.

Adis dances varies from the slow, rustic and beautifully enchanting style Ponung to the exhilarating, exuberant thumps of Delong. These dances have led to certain forms of dancing which jointly narrate a story, the Tapu War Dance. In the Tapu War Dance, the dancers vigorously re-enact the actions of war, its gory details and the triumphant cries of the warriors. Yakjong is another kind of dance whereby the dancers carry sticks with designs created by removing the barks in certain patterns and then put into the fire for some time, which creates the marked black designs.

Name of festival Dates
Aran March 7
Mopin April 5
Solung Etor May 15
Solung September 1


The Adi practice wet rice cultivation and have a considerable agricultural economy. Rice and wheat serve as the staple foods for the Adi. Trapping and hunting, increasingly with firearms(firearms licence should be stop)
are practiced to supplement the diet; the favorite prey is the abundant rat, prepared in various ways, including raw pieces in a cake.

The Adis practice jhum cultivation (slash and burn) practice. Permanent cultivation is mostly followed in the plain regions. Staple food of the Adis are rice, millet and maize including yam, which cooked in earthen pot (Now the method of pottery making is only history) which has been with the Tani people since time immemorial. It is orally told through Miri (Priest) that in older time Abotani (Abo- Father, Tani- Human) has wondered in forest for want of food. Once he went to Takar-Taji's place (Tatar-Taji) marriage ceremony where Mithun (Gaur) was sacrificed. Due to ABOTANIS' trick Takar-Taji could sacrifice only one Mithun, which was meagre for distribution to the guest. Abotani's Dog (Kiipu) and the Deer (Duumpoo) shared a packet of rotten soya seeds (staple food in olden days) as the use of rice millet and maize was unknown in those days. This led to quarrel between Kiipu and Duumpoo. Duumpoo the deer kicked the Soya seed packet and ran away, which angered Kiipu the Dog and chased the deer. Abotani had to follow both them. After many days Duumpu the deer landed in the world of Digo Ane (Digo- land, Ane- shawn) (Keeper of land) and scattered the rice powder set on sun for drying. Duumpoo the deer was caught; Kiipu the dog followed and was caught; Abotani followed them and was also caught by the peoples of Digo Ane. They were imprisoned. After many days Abotani had a trick played by putting a dead mole rat in his armpit and acted as if dying. This worried the Digo Ane people lest the act may anger Takar-Taji people and they freed ABOTANI with gift of rice seed, millet seed and maize seed. From this day onward MOPIN festival is celebrated to appease the Digo Ane deity for prosperous harvest. MOPIN is a major festival of the Galong group. Similarly many harvests festivals are celebrated too by different subgroups of the Adis; viz they majorly being Solung, Solung Etor, Yakjong and Aran.


The majority of Adi traditionally followed the animist Donyi-Polo religion, which involves the worship of the sun, the moon, and the ancestral god Abotani or Abutani; the shaman, called Miri, can be a female. Other deities traditionally worshipped by the Adi include Kine Nane, Doying Bote, Gumin Soyin and Pedong Nane. Each deity is associated with certain tasks and act as protector and guardian of various topics related to nature which revolves around their daily life. This included the food crops, home, rain, etc.

In modern times many of the Adi have moved away from Donyi-Polo. A growing number of Adi, especially among the youth, have converted to Christianity. Adis in Tibet, in particular the Bokars, have adopted Tibetan Buddhism to a certain extent, as a result of Tibetan influence. But in recent few years there was a revival in the faith and the search for indigenousity on the part of the people made it popular with the youth again. Followers of Donyi Polo faith can also be found in parts of upper Assam among the Mishing tribe; according to available knowledge of history and folklores the Mishings were the Adis who migrated to Assam.

Efforts are now underway to give a properly organized form to the traditional beliefs and values of the Arunachal Pradesh state, and to protect and preserve the local religions. In olden days the practice of Donyi-Polo religion were limited to priest. The Adi people have started organizing systematic practice of Donyi-Polo religion now known as Donyi Polo Lotta, Dere, Gamgi to protect the fast vanishing traditions and culture among the Adi as well as the Tani group of tibes..


  • Danggen, Bani. (2003). The kebang: A unique indigenous political institution of the Adis. Delhi: Himalayan Publishers. ISBN 81-86393-51-X
  • Hamilton, A. (1983 [1912]). In Abor jungles of north-east India. Delhi: Mittal Publications.
  • Mibang, Tamo; & Chaudhuri, S. K. (Eds.) (2004). Understanding tribal religion. New Delhi: Mittal. ISBN 81-7099-945-6.
  • Mibang, Tamo; & Chaudhuri, S. K. (Eds.) (2004). Folk culture and oral literature from north-east India. New Delhi: Mittal. ISBN 81-7099-911-1.
  • Lego, N. N. (1992). British relations with the Adis, 1825-1947. New Delhi: Omsons Publications. ISBN 81-7117-097-8.
  • BBC TV program Tribe, episode on the Adi; explorer Bruce Parry lived among them for a month as an honorary tribesman, 'adopted' by a village gam.
  • Danggen, Bani. (2003). A book of conversation: A help book for English to Adi conversation. Itanagar: Himalayan Publishers. ISBN 81-86393-50-1.
  • Mibang, Tamo; & Abraham, P. T. (2001). An introduction to Adi language. Itanagar, Arunachal Pradeh: Himalayan Publishers. ISBN 81-86393-35-8.

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