Arunachal tribesmen bury last rites - Noctes give up custom of exposing the dead in the open, opt for cemeteries

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  • Published 19.01.04

Khonsa (Tirap), Jan. 19: The Noctes of Arunachal Pradesh have buried the practice of exposing the dead on raised platforms for nature to perform the last rites.

Kheti village, near Khonsa town, was the last Nocte-inhabited village to give up the custom for the more practical method of burying the dead. The change came about after social reformers and religious leaders campaigned against the age-old custom, explaining to the villagers that decomposed bodies lying in the open were responsible for the frequent outbreaks of disease.

“The stench was intolerable. Worse still, the unhygienic conditions aided the spread of disease,” Fr P.K. George, a missionary associated with the Seva Kendra in Kheti, recalled.

Before the intervention of reformers, Nocte families used to keep bodies either near a river or just outside their houses. Entire villages would stink, but the residents nonchalantly went about their chores.

“Awareness about health issues and education gave us the courage to change an age-old custom,” Wanlin Lowangdong, chief of Borduria village and king of the Nocte tribe, said.

Militant groups played a role, too. The National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) reportedly intimidated residents of Kheti into changing their custom.

However, Nocte Christian households still do not bury their dead immediately. The bodies are retained for three days, but not kept in the open.

The Noctes came to Arunachal Pradesh from the Hukong Valley, in Myanmar, between 1670 and 1700. As Vaishnavaite philosophy spread, several of them converted from Buddhism. Narottam, one of the first disciples of 16th century saint Srimanta Sankardev, was a Nocte.