The wancho inhabits the south-western part of Tirap District of Arunachal Pradesh since time immemorial. They live in their own independent way by emulating their own ethos, traditional heritage, cultural identity and ethical treasures of immense value. The jhum cultivation or the shifting cultivation is the main stay of the people. Chieftaincy, with the chief of Wangham as the head still prevails in the Wancho village. Ngowang is the village council, which is empowered with all political and judicial responsibilities of the village. People believe in the existence of almighty-omnipotent-omnipresent-omniscient God Jowan Rang which means the God in the sky or heaven. Jowan is not the name of God but ’God’. The people live by following the vaanlam i.e. the code of living shown by and excepted from the God.
The Wancho celebrate various fairs and festivals. All these festivals Differ in the time of celebration, type of rituals performed During the celebration and the place or location of the celebration etc. but these festivals are in one way or the other and directly or indirectly related with the agriculture and Mother Nature. Oriah is the most important of all the festivals celebrated by the people, but then the other festivals are in no way inferior or less important. The Oriah is usually celebrated at the beginning of the spring season and it lasts for the whole season in the Wancho area. It is celebrated on different dates in different villages as per the respective lunar calendar they maintain. The calendar too varies slightly from village to village. Generally it is celebrated in the first half of the lunar month. The date is announced by the respective village council i.e. the Ngo-Wang. One the date is announced the preparation for the Oriah goes in full swing. The men folk go for marketing-collection of saale etc. the women folk engage themselves of collection of firewood, the young girls engage themselves for the preparation of chingluak-naipo flower out of wild grass for their loved ones.
In the practice of jhum cultivation, the village selects a location of their jhum field by performing a ritual called Ozok. Mostly in the month of November- December they cut the Jungle and clear their respective plot of land inherited from their ancestors. Then it is burnt and seeds shown. A after that a small hut is built in the field which is called taap. During all these works the people have time to rest. After completion of all these works only they get time for leisure. This period is meant for the Oriah – it is meant for praying and celebration. ‘O’ stand for the sacred offering and prayers. The people offer the indigenous rice beer ‘Ju’ to the almighty Jowan and pray for good harvest and well being of the humanity. Riah stand for the leisure time and celebration. Thus Oriah is an agriculture festival.
The dialect Wancho speaks varies from village to village. The dialect spoken by the Wanchos of the Khanu and Kampong villages of the Wakka circle is hardly understood by the Wanchos of the Chopsa, Nokfan villages of the Kanubari circle. In the same way the Oriah festivals too varies slightly from village to village. But in general the Oriah as a whole is celebrated in the manner with ceremonial sacrificing of cattle and pigs for meat, offering of ‘Ju’ (local beer) to the Jowan, singing and dancing , exchange of meat, ‘Ju’ and other gifts among the relatives and friends etc.
The most important features of the Oriah is the erection of a sacred bamboo post with seven branches, which is called the Zangvaan. In the villages the Zangvaan is procured, decorated and erected at a sacred platform called zangvaan tong. The duty is performed by the traditional assigned person of the paanu and Paasa. In fact the Zangvaan is the symbol of the Oriah festival. It is also the symbol of the Wancho culture and religion, as because at this sacred alter we offer our prayers and pray for the rich harvest, good health, prosperity and well being of the entire community.
At the arrival of spring season every Wancho prepares and waits for the Oriah. Men folk sing Zangvaan Ngoi…..ku ae ponglang-ku ae ponglang-lahuak ley taan tai aa…’which means zangvaan Iam waiting for your arrival with the sacrificial offering of cattle and pig…’ when the zangvaan is procured and decorated, a pig is sacrificed for purifying the bamboo. Then –it is not an ordinary bamboo but the sacred one. All offerings are made to it by chanting…zangvaan nu hanpo-hanziak saitoh hai o…’Which means’ o zangvaan, sow your flowers and fruits in the forms of good harvest and prosperity….’
It is believed that one group of the Wanchos migrated from Tangnu and other from the Sangnu. There use to be inter village feuds in those days. Some of the Anthropologists quote it as “head hunting” which is actually not the correct term. In fact it was the offensive policy in order to defend themselves and to protect their territory and prove their superiority by expanding their dominance upon their rivals. At the same time the Oriah festival was never to be forgotten.
Every village celebrates Oriah festival in their village as per the decision of the village Ngo-Wang. In the villages it is celibrated with all the rituals performed in perfect indigenous manner, but for the rampant embracement and conversion of the people to alien religion. People are very enthusiastic in the preparation, singing-dancing, eating and drinking has no limit.
At Longding the Oriah festival is celebrated every on 16th February every year. It was in the year 1975 that the first Oriah festival at Longding was celebrated. The people residing in the Longding Township participate in the celebration. Dance troupes from various villages also take part in it. The Oriah festival at Longding aims at the unification of all the Wancho villages irrespective of their origin of migration to the present settlements. It aims at the harmonious co-existence of the Wancho people leaving aside the memories of the past inter village feuds and differences. It is also an attempt for the protection, preservation and promotion of the rich tradition which have been inherited from the ancestors. It is also an occasion for showcasing the colourful tradition and rich legacy of the past.
In spite of all odds, the Wanchos are proud to belong to their and to maintain their indigenous tradition and culture. These days Oriah festival is also being celebrated at different administrative headquarters and stare capital Itanagar. It is also celebrated at other places Wanchos reside. It is thus a step in the right direction for the promotion of our tradition and culture. But, as we too have to match ahead with the rest of the world, some changes have certainly been accepted in the celebration of the Oriah festival at Longding. Dignatories from outside Wancho are invited as guests to participate in it, community feast is served at the festival ground, cultural programmes are staged at the festival ground and literary competitions are conducted. Inspite of the modernisation and the changes that have come along with the change of time, the Oriah is celebrated with the same spirit of joy and enthusiasm, with prayers and offerings of the jovan zang.