The Bizarre Nose Plugs of the Apatani Women

Apatani Tribal WomenPhoto: Vinod Panicker

Body modification is nothing new in the world of aesthetics and individuality. With more and more people getting tattoos and piercings each day, body modification is becoming an accepted practice in our society. Apparently, though, we’re a little late in jumping onto the body modification bandwagon, because the women of the Apatani tribe have been using massive nose plugs since ancient times.

The Apatani, also known as the Tanni, are a tribal group of approximately 26,000, based in in Ziro, in the Apatani Plateau of Arunachal Pradesh, in India. The Apatani are one of 26 tribes in the region and have no written history. The story of the Apatani tribe is passed on from generation to generation through their oral tradition. Declared a world heritage site by UNESCO, the Ziro area is known for the conservation and cultivation techniques of the Apatani tribe. The tribe practices several different varieties of wet rice cultivation using methods whose energy efficiency is notably high. Furthermore, they are able to attain this agricultural system without the use of machinery or animals. The high productivity of the Apatanis remains constant by means of a system which recycles waste and matter and a simple irrigation system.

Apatani Woman Close UpPhoto: Rajkumar1220

But perhaps the most famous asset of the Apatani tribe is the massive nose plugs the women sport. Nowadays the plugs are mostly worn by the elderly women, but there was a time when all the women in the tribe we required to wear the bizarre accessories. Tradition holds that the Apatani women were considered the most beautiful in the land, resulting in the Apatanis constantly being raided by other tribes and their women kidnapped. Thus, the nose plug was born in order to protect the women from neighboring tribes. In order to make themselves less attractive to other tribes, the Apatani women began wearing massive nose plugs and tattooing their faces. In the middle of the 20th century, with modernization taking hold, this tradition began to die. In fact, no Apatani woman born after 1970 practices the nose plug custom.

Apatani WomanPhoto: KWT1981

The Apatani have also come into the spotlight because there has been an urgent need to document the various customs and traditions of the tribes in the Arunachal Pradesh area. The Center for Cultural Research and Documentation has taken it upon themselves to head the effort in producing audio-video documentation of the tribes. Fortunately within three years the CCRD has been able to create a public profile, a process of dialogue among tribe members regarding change and adaptation, and a cross-region of understanding among all the tribes. Furthermore, the CCRD has been able to emerge as a political platform in order to document the tribal traditions.

Apatani WomanPhoto: Rajkumar1220

Due to globalized change and the modernization many of the customs and traditions of the Apatani, the tribe is in danger of disappearing. And with the tribe’s elders holding the only keys to indigenous knowledge, it could only be a matter of time before the world misses out on an incredible culture and society.

For more information on the Apatani Tribe visit:
The Apatani or Tanii
People of Arunachal Pradesh, Northeast India By Pascal Bouchery, Lecturer in Social Anthropology

Center for Cultural Research and Documentation
The Weird Nose Plugs of the Apatani Women
Let us Save Tani
Photos of the Apatani Tribe