Monday, 3 August 2015

SMS without a phone or network or even electricity!

The Adis have lived in the remote hills of the Upper Siang in Arunachal Pradesh at the frontier of the country with Tibet for centuries. Electricity is intermittent, phone network completely absent and evenings in the village are fueled by lively conversations. As a city-dweller, I also realise staying here the importance of conversation, of communication of even the most trivial matters to the more significant ones, daily micro-story-telling around the evening fire.

Evenings are also the time when work for the next day is fixed; some are seeking the physical help of others in the fields, some are seeking partners for fishing in the Siang river or its tributaries, some looking for bikes to take them to the nearest town and so on and so forth. While communication between households happens through short visits in the evening, communication at the village level is another story.

Decisions made by the village heads could be regarding the start of a traditional festival, the start of a communal hunting session, the settling of a dispute between households, the start of a communal farming activity such as fencing the fields, to announce that young boys in the village need to go far into the forests and bring back cane required for fencing the fields or for a game of tug-of-war and several such village-level activities. Now, once these decisions are made, how does one get them across to each and every household in the village. Thats' where the short messaging service in the village comes into play. Young boys in the village are summoned and sent out in three different directions shouting the announcement loud enough for every household to hear and comply. During these announcements, all conversations within homes come to a pause and attention is paid to ensure that the message is clearly understood.

Such messaging service is also used during summers between march and april when fire accidents are likely since every home has a central fireplace and the homes are built of easily combustible material such as bamboo, palm leaf-thatch, cane and wood. Two members from two households in the village are recruited every day to stay in the village and shout 'Kolonkoy Hoy Hoy' throughout the village, which translates to 'Ahoy, watch your fire'. The rest of the villagers are busy in the fields undertaking shifting cultivation, with few old members in the homes taking care of small children. From Bomdo, there is a story of how long back folks who were supposed to watch over the fire got drunk and could not prevent a fire accident, were banished from the village.

More than one and a half century ago, Father Krick, who was referred to as a plucky missionary wrote about an interesting interaction with the Padams, a sub-tribe of the Adis. Krick visited the Adi villages alone, equipped with his cross, flute, sextant and his medicine-box. This story is best conveyed in his own witty words in this rare article; 'Whilst the villagers were away working in the fields, the village took fire. On hastening to the spot, what was my surprise to see standing on the top of each roof one or two men brandishing long swords, and endeavouring to kill the fire-demon. "Fetch water", I shouted; but they were obviously too busy with their quixotic performance against the devil to hear me; so I told off the women, who were quietly admiring the valiance of their husbands, and forced them to fetch water; and as they saw what the water could do, they all rushed back to the torrent. Even our Don Quixotes, seeing that their sabres were not half as effective as water, soon exchanged their weapons for the water-jars...all acknowledged that the demon of fire dreads the water, though some felt inclined to blame me for not having foreseen and prevented the accident'.

In Arunachal Pradesh, inter-village messaging service has also existed in the past. In Tirap district in Eastern Arunachal, massive log-drums were used by the Nocte community to announce festivals, enemy attacks, community hunting, among other such communication to the neighbouring village. Such effective wireless networks indeed!