A Unique experience – attending the mystical and slighty bizarre Mopin Festival in Aalo, Arunachal Pradesh
As soon as I stepped into the temple grounds ladies in traditional tribal dress rushed to smear rice paste on my face as a bamboo shoot containing home made rice wine was thrust upon me. I had a feeling that the Mopin festival was going to be quite an experience!
Arunachal Pradesh – A Land of Unique Tribal People and an Unexplored Paradise
After being captivated by the diverse and unique tribal culture in North East India I had jumped at the chance to return again with awesome local tour company Holiday Scout this time timing my visit especially to attend two tribal festivals – the Aoling Festival in Nagaland and the Mopin Festival in Arunachal Pradesh on a special festival tour.
Visiting Nagaland and meeting the last of the head hunters had been a dream come true and being able to witness the Aoling festival (their new year celebration) was an experience that I was so lucky to have. ( Check out my full post on meeting the headhunters in Nagaland here)
After leaving Nagaland we spent almost a whole day winding and bumping our way along little more than mountains tracks against a backdrop of stunning mountain scenery (there’s a reason they call it off the beaten track!) until we arrived in the town of Along, also known as Aalo deep in the mountains.
This area is so different from the rest of India and so undeveloped that it’s almost like stepping back in time, the scenery is gorgeous but, for me, the real highlight of visiting North East India is the diverse tribal life that you can witness here and how removed it feels from the modern world.
What is the Mopin Festival
Mopin is an agricultural festival that is held every year on the first five days of April in Arunachal Pradesh in particular in the East Siang and West Siang districts where the Galo group of tribes live. Mopin is the biggest festival for the Galo tribe, for many this is the most important day of the year as Mopin is believed to bring wealth and prosperity to all households and to the whole community. The rituals associated with celebrating the Mopin festival drive away evil shadows and bringing blessings, peace and prosperity for all mankind.
The Galo tribe worship Donyi-Polo an animist, kind of shamanic belief that has many interesting deities, rituals and beliefs. Donyi-Polo translates to ‘sun and moon’ and has been described as ‘the nature of the universe as the eyes of human conscience.’ And they believe that they are descended from abotani – the first human being.
The main Goddess worshiped during the festival is Mopin Ane. She is as important to the Galos as the Goddess Lakshmi is to Hindus, and is believed to bring in fertility and prosperity.
The tribal villages have celebrated Mopin for as long as anyone can remember and since 1966 a committee has organized a huge Mopin festival event in the town of Aalo which brings people together on a huge scale to celebrate and preserve their rich and unique tribal culture and I was lucky enough to attend the special Mopin Golden Jubilee event!
Attending the Mopin Festival in Aalo
The festivities started early in the morning in the large grounds of the Donyi Polo temple in the center of Aalo. By the time I arrived there were already thousands of Galo people all elegantly dressed up in their finest white traditional clothing adorned with colourful beads and some rather curious head gear made from bamboo, twigs and leaves.
The women from nearby villages brought with them baskets made from bamboo which they carried on their backs and then lined up together. Each family brought with them the all important home made rice wine called Apong and behind the temple huge vats made from leaves ensured a seemingly unending supply of the popular local tipple.
As more and more people arrived in the festival grounds, friends and families greeted each other with huge enthusiasm, blessing each other by smearing rice paste over each others faces, taking selfies, drinking out of the bamboo shoots as the excitement began to build for the main event.
Sacrificing the Mithun
While I loved seeing the traditional tribal dress and the amazingly warm welcome I received from the Galo people I wasn’t quite so happy to find out that the main focal point of the Mopin celebration was the sacrifice of the Mithun, a docile cow like creature that is only found in North East India and Burma. But, I didn’t come to judge, only to observe this fascinating culture, so I tried to keep an open mind as the festival organisers lead the poor Mithun out to take center stage.
The Mithun was tied up under a specially decorated tree, while people threw rice paste on the animal to bless it before gathering together until the whole ground is filled with people linking arms, chanting folk songs and slowly circling around in a traditional dance known as Popir.
At midday the Mopin festival reached its climax with the sacrifice of the Mithun (I couldn’t look) and then women gathered up the animals blood and put it in little bowls and proudly took it with them back to their homes and villages as a blessing.
At home with the Galo Tribe
After the frenzy of the festival we headed out to a nearby village with some lovely local girls that we had met.
Tongum took us to visit her grandmother in her traditional bamboo and thatch house and as I sat perched on a stall around the fire I realised that one of the things I find so inspiring about the tribal people of North East India is their ingenuity to build their own houses, grow and catch their own food and to use mainly all natural materials – even umbrellas here are from huge leaves. They live a much more sustainable life to us that is so much less damaging on the environment and live to an old age due to their natural lifestyle. I think we could really learn a lot from these people.
Beauty and Tongum both grew up near Aalo but are now studying at university in Chennai and Bangalore. These smart girls were fluent in Hindi and English, as well as their traditional Galo language, and I found it inspiring to see how these bright and educated girls managed to hold on to their traditional culture whilst also excelling in the modern world in the rest of India. They even allowed me to dress up in their traditional clothes!
As we headed back to Aalo we were invited into a party where, once again, rice wine was thrust into our hands and rice paste smeared on our faces as we were dragged up to dance, drink and celebrate into the night.
The Mopin festival is certainly an experience I won’t forget!
See more of my posts from Arunachal Pradesh and North East India.
More about the Mopin festival:
The Mopin festival of the Adi Galo – Chalo Arunchal
The mystic Mopin festival of Arunachal – Sareez Blog
The mystical ways of Arunachal Pradesh’s Galo Tribe – The Shooting Star
About Donyi-Polo – Osho News
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