Live like Galos

The Galo tribe of Arunachal Pradesh lives in harmony with nature and at peace with its history as well as contemporary lifestyle
Last Updated 05 May 2019, 07:44 IST

I am active in trying to help keep the culture and traditions of the Galo tribe alive,” says Henka Basar who holds a Masters degree in Political Science and takes an active role in efforts to keep alive the ancient indigenous culture of the Galos.

The scene is the house of Merken Doke, a priest and a prominent member of the Galo tribe in Basar, a town in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. We are there as guests of Merken Doke and his family. The house is buzzing with activity. Some dancers are rehearsing for the BASCON festival in the courtyard.

The BASCON festival is an annual celebration of dance, music, and indigenous culture held at the confluence of two rivers in the town of Basar. It is a community effort of the Galo tribe where each and every family chips in. The festival is a showcase of the indigenous culture of the Galo tribe which dates back in time to thousands of years.

We are all ears as Merken Doke passionately waxes eloquent about the ancient customs of the Galo tribe. His daughter Kenter Lendo, who holds a Masters Degree in Airlines, Tourism and Hospitality Management gently admonishes him and smiles at us. Her look says, “Hope he is not boring you”! Merken Doke who is an encyclopaedia about the culture and traditions of the Galo tribe, smiles and continues.

The fireplace in a Galo home.
The fireplace in a Galo home.

Who are the Galos?

The Galos are a Himalayan tribe that are concentrated in the area around a town called Basar. Basar happens to be the headquarters of the newly formed district of Lepa Rada in Arunachal Pradesh. Galos live in harmony with nature and follow a religion called Donyi Polo in which their deities are the Sun and the Moon.

Though some of the Galos have converted to Christianity, the majority of them adhere to the Donyi Polo faith. White flags with the sun emblazoned on them can be seen fluttering outside the houses of the Galos who follow the religion of Donyi Polo. The Galo tribe trace their ancestry to Abotani who is said to have handed down the skills of rice cultivation.

Around the fireplace

The sound of the heavy rain was muffled by the thatched roof of the traditional Galo home. The rain had ensured that the temperature plummeted, and it was bitingly cold. However, inside the house, a blazing fire kept everyone warm. This was a traditional Galo home in a village called Sago, high up in the hills. A large square-shaped fireplace occupied centre stage in the house, and this is true of any Galo home, whether it is a traditional one in the villages or a modern house in the town, like that of Merken Doke. The fireplace serves multiple functions. It comes in handy for making black tea, barbequing, drying of fish and other items, and more importantly, serves as a centre of social interaction between family and friends. The position of seating is also pre-determined. Of the four sides, each side is meant to be used by different people, the hosts are supposed to sit on one side while the guests on the other, and so on.

It seemed as if the entire village had joined around the fireplace. The local rice wine called Poka and Black Tea made the rounds accompanied with rice cakes as the people talked about their culture and sang melodious local songs in unison.

What’s in a name...

The Galo customs and culture, which has stood the test of time, has been handed down orally from generation to generation. Be it the customs associated with weddings or festivals or even the naming of a newborn.

The Galo’s still follow the ancient practice of naming under which the name of the son begins with the last syllable of his father’s name, and so on. The Galo ancestors must have come up with this method to enable people to remember their ancestry more easily.

Living in harmony with nature

The Galo tribe are nature lovers and they live in harmony with a symbiotic relation with the forests. Traditionally they were hunters as well as rice cultivators, but now, with the ban on hunting, they no longer hunt. Hunting weapons and trophies today act as showpieces on the walls of the Galo homes. The Galos make use of the bounty of the forest in most of the day-to-day tasks. Leaves serve as plates; bamboo stems make for glasses. Houses are made of bamboo and thatched with leaves. There is no place for ugly plastic bottles or monstrous concrete objects in the pristine Galo villages.

Kids look for plastic waste in the village.
Kids look for plastic waste in the village.

Setting an example

Galo villages around Basar and its people have silently scripted a new way of life which not many in the country are aware of.

As we walked around the villages, it seemed a completely different world. The air was fresh and unpolluted, there was not a piece of plastic on the village roads, and if there was, volunteers ensured it was disposed of properly.

The sale of tobacco products and liquor was not allowed. Children had to adhere to study hours and could not loiter around during that time. Each village seemed to be like one big family.

Visitors were welcomed as one of their own and made to feel at home. This was surely like the making of Utopia.

Each and every member of the community seemed to be a living example of one of the objectives of GRK (Gumin Rego Kilaju), which reads as, “Taking the society to the concept of we, ours and us”.

GRK is an organisation started by a handful of government officers. It works to ensure the sustainable development of the area while at the same time ensuring the preservation of ancient customs and traditions of the Galos.

As people trapped in the glass towers of the concrete jungles of the cities, the Galo tribe, its villages and its culture was nothing short of a revelation for us.

The way the community has achieved a balance between the traditional, contemporary and the environment is a trailblazer for others to follow.

(Published 04 May 2019, 19:30 IST)

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