The variety and quality of exhibitions on offer at the British Museum mean that it’s not just tourists who go there these days.
I made my way there yesterday to go to the Between Tibet and Assam: cultural diversity in the eastern Himalayas exhibition. It’s a small exibition, relatively obscure (I don’t recall any publicity about it).
I was in the Himalayas last March when the Tibetan protests were in the news. I spoke to a few Tibetan refugees at the time and came across large groups making their way to demonstrations. The exhibition at the British Museum reminded me of my trip and of the few minority groups we came across.
“Between Tibet and Assam” is about two specific tribes from the state of Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India – the Apatani (who believe in a wide variety of spirits and conduct rituals involving animal sacrifices) and the Monpa (who follow Tibetan Buddhism).
“Over thirty-five different tribes live in the remote river valleys which run south from the Himalayas.”
“The culture of these tribes is not frozen in time. They have always had contact with their neighbours and their culture has consequently changed. However, today this rate of change has accelerated dramatically.”
“The Apatanis live in a narrow highland valley in the centre of Arunachal Pradesh. They speak their own distinct Tibeto-Burman language and have a rich oral tradition that has only recently been written down.
Rice is the staple food of Apatanis. It is cultivated using a complex system of irrigation, without ploughs, animals, wells, or machines.
Apatanis are animist – they believe in a wide variety of spirits representing traits such as wisdom, strength and fertility. Animist rituals with animal sacrifices and complex oral chants take place in yearly festivals as well as on other occasions.”
The Monpas live in the West of Arunachal Pradesh, near Bhutan and their languages is closely related to Bhutanese.
“Monpas follow the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism led today by the fourteenth Dalai Lama.”
If you’re in the area and have 30 minutes to spare, I’d say it’s worth checking it out. The exhibition is on until 13 April 2009 and it’s FREE.
Source for information on the Apatanis and the Monpas: the British Museum.