As summer sets in the far east state of Arunachal Pradesh, the weather becomes bearable and festivities make their way into the villages. Reo or Reh festival is especially awaited by the Idus, a mishmi tribe that has made Arunachal their habitat since centuries. This is the most important festival on the calendar for them and they assign a period in February for the celebrations.
The Idus believe that they are descendants of the divine mother ‘Nanyi Inyitaya’, and the festival is a commemoration of her love and energy. She is also a hard to please divinity- the festival is celebrated to keep her blessings showered on the family. This means many offerings in cash and animals are made. Only the rich members of the tribe sponsor the festivities during the period – in fact it takes over four to five years of planning for the grand celebrations.
If someone from the tribe decides to celebrate this festival, they have to subscribe to a system called ‘Ada’. In this, the person needs to collect offerings in the form of pigs, money, food and other offerings. When ‘Ada’ is completed a tentative year is fixed about one year ahead of the actual celebration. The large-scale celebration means that the chief component, rice beer (locally called Yunyiphri) is prepared three to four months before the actual celebration. Closer to the date, a calendar called ‘tayi’ is distributed amongst the villagers and relatives with an exact schedule of events.
The final festivities are planned over 6 days, over which the mishmis can be seen in their traditional attire and ornaments. The sound of local instruments reverberates in the hills. Flea markets with food, clothes, weapons and handicrafts are set up at the venue and there is an air of festivity all around.
The first day is called ‘Andropu’. Prayers are offered to the Goddess so that the festival may run smoothly, under the supervision of the shaman. The gayals (also known as mithuns), which are collected as a part of ‘ada’ are brought and tied near the house of the patron. A dance called ‘naya’ is performed for the whole night. ‘Eyanli’ is the second day, dedicated to sacrifice. The guests are entertained with rice, meat and rice beer. The third day is called ‘Iyili’ – a day for a large feast. ‘Ilyiromunyi’ is the fourth day of the festival. There is not much feasting on this day. The priest only performs the rituals for the patron for bestowing upon him wealth, prosperity and general well being. The fifth day is known as ‘Aru-Go’. On this day the remaining food and drinks are prepared for the feast and shared with the villagers. On the concluding day of the festival, known ‘Etoanu’, blood smeared seeds are sown in the fields and rice beer is poured at the trunk of the stump for the goddess of the household. This is done for a good harvest and that she may keep the family blessed.
Even though animal sacrifice is banned under the Indian law, age-old traditions in the villages are kept intact.