Conversion and Quest for Indigenous Religious Identity: Emerging Religious Terrain in Arunachal

Sarit Kumar Chaudhuri, Rajiv Gandhi University, Arunachal Pradesh

Arunachal Pradesh, the erstwhile NEFA, is the homeland of large number of tribes with distinctive identities who spread over sixteen districts. This state is sharing boundaries with Tibet, China, Burma and known for its cultural diversity reflected by variegated tribes though some elements of commonalities can be traced in latent or manifested aspects of their culture. In spite of the presence of Buddhist tribes, majority of the tribes subscribed to the indigenous faiths, which again reflect tremendous heterogeneity evident in the nature of deities, spirits, religious specialists, festivities and oral tradition but undoubtedly defined their tribal identity. However, with in last three decades gradually Christianity emerged as one of the dominant forms of faith among majority of the non-Buddhist tribes of this state, like Adi, Nyishi, Apatani ,Galo,Tagin,Wancho ,Nokte,Tangsa, Sulung etc. In order to counter such alien faiths and practices, a new reformist movements emerged which are gradually gaining ground among some of the tribes to protect and preserve their indigenous religious beliefs and identities. Such reformist movements generated new taxonomies to contextualize tribal faiths such as, Donipoloism, Intyaism, Rangfraism etc. And this has culminated a process of institutionalization tribal religion by imagined images of Gods and Goddess, constructing temples, textualising religious chants or oral traditions under the patronage of various organisations. The present paper is an attempt to understand this very important phase of transition, which has surfaced a contested domain in reation to certain fundamental issues related to Indignity, identity and conversion. Such a discourse may help us to relocate the emerging realities of Indian’s bordering state that is otherwise much in international focus for occasional Chinese claims over some of its territories.