I’ve always believed that traveling broadens one’s horizons. We realize the vastness and diversity of the world as we travel. We are out of our comfort zone and also appreciate life’s small pleasures.
1.Nyishi Tribe of India’s Arunachal Pradesh
The Nyishi tribe is one of the largest indigenous tribal groups in Arunachal Pradesh, which is located in north-eastern India. Nysihis cultural practices and beliefs are similar to those of Mongoloid tribal groups in Myanmar. The Nyishis identify as the descendants of Abo-Tani, a mythical forefather.
They speak Tibeto-Burman and are still working on a script. Because they don’t have anything written down, it’s fascinating to learn that they pass on their culture, rituals, and history from generation to generation through an intriguing oral tradition of folklore. Nyishis have a firm belief in their culture and rituals. They believe that if rituals are not performed religiously, they can cause problems.
Mithun (traditional cattle) is important in all aspects of life, whether they are social, cultural, economic, or religious. During the marriage, the groom pays the bride price in the form of Mithun, and they sacrifice Mithun (sacred to them) to appease their deity in almost all of the ceremonial rituals.
I was intrigued by their Traditional Grain Analysis (Amyemch Hikanam) Ritual, in which the priest holds a bamboo measuring cup and asks a woman to fill it with grain, then predicts her future based on how she filled the cup. Isn’t it fascinating?
Nyishis, in contrast to our urban society, are quite progressive. They treat their women equally and include them in decision-making.
I adored their people, culture, traditions, dance (Rikham Pada), clothing, homes (Namlo), and their local brew apong served in a beautiful patha (a bamboo shoot goblet). They live in absolute peace and harmony in this fast-paced and competitive world where people are trying to pull each other down. Nyishis are simple, honest, always smiling, and realistic about their culture and nature. They accept things as they are and do not try to change anything for selfish reasons. They are also fantastic hosts.
The Kalash, one of the world’s most fascinating cultures, are a distinct people who hail from three small valleys in the mountains of western Pakistan: Bumburet, Rumboor, and Birir. The valleys lead to mountains bordering Afghanistan in northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The Kalash people are distinct in several ways. Some researchers believe they are descended from Alexander the Great’s armies; some of his men remained on the Indian subcontinent after his campaign through the region. Despite popular belief in Pakistan and India, the Kalash are the only people whose genes show an injection of European DNA around the time of Alexander’s campaign.
Aside from the veracity of the claim, there’s no denying the Kalash people don’t resemble their neighbors. Many men and women have fair skin and light eyes, which is unusual for South Asians.
The Kalash have their own religion and culture as well. Despite Pakistan’s Muslim majority, the Kalash are animists. Kalash culture is thought to be related to ancient Hinduism. The Kalash make and drink their own alcohol. Women wear brightly colored dresses and headpieces with unique Kalash embroidery.
The pinnacle of Kalash culture can be seen at one of three major Kalash festivals. At each festival, people dress up, drink, and dance while praying for a successful harvest, animal protection, and so on.
Though I recommend visiting the Kalash Valleys if you visit Pakistan, please respect their traditions and culture and treat them with the respect they deserve.
I’ve been fascinated by Tibetan culture for many years, ever since reading Alexandra David-Néel’s My Journey to Lhasa. David-Néel demonstrates a deep respect and fascination with Tibetan Buddhism in this account of how she entered Lhasa disguised as a Tibetan beggar to learn about Buddhism from Tibetan lamas, which I found contagious.
I’ve encountered Buddhism in numerous Asian countries and have always related to and connected with its teachings of compassion and nonviolence toward all sentient beings. But Tibetan Buddhism has always seemed mysterious to me, and I was captivated by the eerie tones of the singing bowls, the deep guttural vibrations of the chants, and the vibrant colors of the sand mandalas.
While you’re probably aware that Tibetans are from Tibet, it’s worth noting that the Tibetan Autonomous Region, as defined by the Chinese government, is not the only place where Tibetans live. Tibet used to encompass a much larger area that is now part of the Chinese provinces of Gansu, Sichuan, and Qinghai. In some of these provinces, ethnic Tibetans still constitute the majority of the population.
These areas may be more rewarding to visit because, unlike the Tibetan Autonomous Region, foreigners are permitted to visit on their own. A visit to the Labrang Monastery in Gansu province, for example, can be an excellent way to immerse oneself in Tibetan culture without having to join a Chinese-approved tour group. Just keep in mind that some parts of these provinces remain completely closed to foreigners, and these regulations can change at any time, so be sure to check official websites for the most up-to-date information.
With young people flocking to cities in search of work, the future looked bleak for ethnic groups such as the Rungus, who live near the tip of Borneo in Sabah, Malaysia. Tourism, on the other hand, has the potential to save their culture by encouraging them to revive traditional crafts like dancing, gong-making, playing the nose flute, and building traditional longhouses. I had the opportunity to spend a few days living with a Rungus family and participating in their daily lives.
Much of that life revolves around food, which is grown on family-owned land and cooked fresh every day: rice, a variety of green vegetables I didn’t know existed, fish, of course, given the proximity of the sea, and chicken. It wasn’t particularly spicy, but it was delicious and filling.
Gong-makers in the nearby village of Kampung Sumangkap hammer and shape zinc sheets into curved, vibrating instruments. This is an important traditional skill because the gong is the most prized musical instrument in Rungus culture and is used for all major events. It, too, faced a bleak future until the Rungus realized that visitors would enjoy the gong-making and purchase gongs to take home, bringing much-needed income to local communities.
With the increase in tourism in Sabah, villagers can now supplement their income by performing traditional crafts such as gong-making, bead-stringing, dancing, singing, nose flute-playing, and maintaining longhouses. While young people continue to migrate to cities, they now have the option of staying closer to home because jobs are available.
5.Akhu Tribe, Kengtung Myanmar
Kengtung (or Kyaing Tong) is a town in Myanmar’s Shan State and one of the best places to visit if you want to learn more about the country’s cultural diversity (there are over a hundred distinct ethnic groups in Myanmar). The Kengtung district is located in Southeast Asia’s golden triangle. As a result, there are various influences from neighboring countries, and some of the local tribes can also be found in neighboring states.
We visited some of the local tribes during our visit to Kengtung. The visit to the Akhu village was one of our most memorable. The Akhu women are known for their long bamboo pipes, which they enjoy smoking and will gladly demonstrate for their visitors. They wear black headwear (similar to a turban), and most of their clothing is black as well, with the exception of colorful bead necklaces and beautiful silver earrings. Their homes are simple, unadorned wood huts with no running water or electricity. The local guides do everything they can to assist the local communities.
In terms of religion, the village was once an animist village, but missionaries converted the villagers to Christianity, as they did many of the tribes in the area.
We were invited to a local home and were able to converse with our hostess with the assistance of our guide. Her friendly demeanor made us feel at ease, and we could tell she enjoyed smoking her long pipe for us and telling us about her day. The women of the village appear to live well into their 80s or even 90s, which is remarkable given the village’s poor medical care. The men, on the other hand, rarely live past the age of 60. It is difficult to explain this difference because both men and women work extremely hard. Anyone who enjoys learning about different cultures and discovering hidden gems should make an effort to visit Kengtung in Myanmar.
6.Thai community who offer Red Fanta to God!
We first noticed it near a Ganesha statue in front of a Bangkok mall. Then we assumed it was left there by an ignorant person. The next day, we discovered two bottles and an egg bowl in the same location! It now appeared to be some kind of ritual. We’ve seen a variety of offerings, but never a soft drink given to God! Was it because Thailand’s hot and humid climate made even the Gods crave soft drinks? I couldn’t help myself any longer and asked a local Thai in Doi Suthep. Following that, an intriguing story unfolded.
Traditional Thai culture is heavily influenced by the Indian subcontinent. For thousands of years, human, animal, and blood sacrifices to daemonic Gods have been an integral part of its ritual to appease the spirits and keep them from interfering with the lives of ordinary people. Such sacrifices were eventually prohibited as civilizations advanced. And in each region, an alternative emerged.
It first appeared in Thailand in the form of red Fanta, whose color is so close to blood! And the modern Thai community began to offer red Fanta to the Gods! Thailand, in fact, is one of the largest consumers of Red Fanta today. And the majority of it is given to the Gods. Interestingly, if a Thai consumes red Fanta, he is admired and mocked in his community for exhibiting “daemonic symptoms”!!