Languages of the NE->Apatani
Name of the Language:       APATANI

Perhaps their most distinguishing feature is the ingenious care they have placed in transforming their entire valley into a veritable garden; every piece of land is beautifully used. Their rice fields, which are irrigated by a system of channels and ducts, produce a two-fold crop. Terraced rice fields are also located along the sides of the valleys. The terraces are all dug by hand, without the aid of animals or plows.

The Apatani have been secluded from the outside world by both natural barriers and warrior neighbors. Nevertheless, their rapid material, social, and educational development over the last 40 years has been phenomenal. Their educational progress, due to the strategically located high school near their region, has led them to positions of influence in Arunchal Pradesh.

What are their lives like?
Land is the source of life for the Apatani, giving them a sense of stability, solidarity, prestige, and value as a people. All of the cultivated land is privately owned property. All of the Apatani—except for slaves and a few poor men—own their own land. Those who own little or no land earn a living by working for their more prosperous neighbors. Their primary crops are rice, millet, and maize. After harvesting their crops, the farmers plant bamboo and pine for the future generations.

Although specializing in agriculture, the Apatani are also skilled craftsmen and merchants. They frequently trade rice with the neighboring tribes in exchange for animals, cotton, and iron. Apatani blacksmiths use the iron to make knives and spears, and the women spin the cotton to make their one-piece garments.

The Apatani have always had an orderly society. Within their village government, there were never any chiefs or headmen. Rather, the council of elders acted in accordance with public opinion. Today, Indian officials administer law and order in the Apatani villages; however, their culture has remained intact under the limited authority of the elders.

Among the Apatani, there are two distinct social classes: the aristocrats, who own most of the land and hold political power; and the commoners, who are the descendants of slaves. The Apatani are allowed to marry outside their clans, and have complete freedom of choice for their partners. However, marriage between aristocrats and commoners is forbidden. Promiscuous relationships are permitted from the time a child is eight years old until he reaches his late teens or early twenties. When a couple decides to wed, there is no bride price, no engagement, and no wedding feast; the two simply move into the home of one set of parents. Although polygamy (having multiple wives) is permitted, only a few of the wealthier men can afford to have more than one wife.

The Apatani tribe prides itself in solidarity and unity. Their villages are divided into wards containing several clans. Clans range in size from 160 to 1,000 one-room houses, crowded eave to eave in long narrow lanes. The houses are situated at elevations reaching about 1,500 meters. The homes are built on wooden piles consisting mainly of bamboo. New roofs are made of thin planks rather than the traditional thatch.


Geographical Location
The Apatani inhabit a fertile valley in northern India, south of the Tibetan border. They are located in the states of Assam, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh.
Number of Speakers

(1990) 19,600
(1995) 21,500
(2000) 23,500


Phonemic Inventory
Grammatical Categories