Culture: Abor / Adi
Setting: tribal warfare, northeast frontier of British India 1847-1900
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Heath/Perry 1999 p16
"The name 'Abors' ('barbarians' or 'unfriendlies') was given to this people by the Assamese. Closely related to the Akas, Daflas, and Miris, their territory lay along the Dihang River and straddled the frontier with Tibet. Their principal sub-tribes comprised the Padam (or Bor Abors), Pasi, Minyong, and Galong. Each consisted of numerous independent villages thought to be capable of fielding 10,000-15,000 warriors in the 1870s. However, inter-tribal rivalries prevented them from ever putting these numbers to good effect. They had a reputation as 'the most formidable northern frontier tribe.'
"First British contact with the Abors occurred in 1826, and they remained on friendly terms until the 1840s .... In 1847, however, the Abors attacked a party of British troops that had been sent to rescue some Cacharis seized during a raid: this resulted in the first British expedition against them the following year. After further minor confrontations and the failure of several punitive expeditions, the British adopted a conciliatory policy, and the Abors agreed to recognise the British frontier in exchange for an annual posa (subsidy).
"Though there were no further confrontations for 30 years, the subsidy had the unintended effect of encouraging the Abors to believe that 'we were bribing them to be good neighbours because we had felt ourselves too weak to compel them to remain so.' The Padam invasion of neighbouring Mishmi territory in 1881 led to a deterioration in relations with the British, and in 1893-4 a spate of Abor raids prompted a British expedition, which was only partially successful. A blockade was then imposed on the Abor frontier and posa payments were discontinued. Following a general submission, sanctions against the Pasis and Minyongs were lifted in 1896, and against the Padams in 1900."
* Heath/Perry 1999 p41, 42
"[The Abor helmet] was most often made of tightly woven basketwork, with a stout brim and a crown strengthened by additional strips of cane. In combat it was secured by means of a chin strap. [...]
"[Chieftain helmets] were ornately decorated using materials such as hornbill and crow feathers, boar's tusks, hornbill beaks and pieces of bear, bison or deer-skin dyed red or black. The boar's tusks were normally attached at the front as an additional defence against sword-cuts, the hornbill beak surmounted the crown, and a red-dyed yak tail hung at the back."
* Egerton 1968 p86
"On State occasions they appear in imposing helmets made of cane adorned with pieces of bear-skin, yak tails dyed red, boars' tusks, and the huge beak of the buceros."
* Biebuyck/Van den Abbeele 1984 p162
"Worn with an elaborate war dress, these war helmets are occasionally covered at the top with bear fur or dyed yak tail; beaks and tusks of boars may also be fixed atop the helmet. Similar helmets, either in a simple version for everyday use or with elaborate adornment for ceremonies, for hunting or warfare, are widespread in the northeastern Indian frontier."
* Heath/Perry 1999 p42
"Chieftains and wealthy warriors wore short-sleeved wollen coats imported from Tibet. These were either sprinkled with small decorative designs, striped, coloured or left plain white (or off-white). Clans appear to have worn their own distinctive patterns ...."
* Egerton 1968 p86
"They wear coloured coats without sleeves, or long Tibetan cloaks."
* Heath/Perry 1999 p41-42
"The most characteristic Abor weapons were bow and arrows and either a short, one-edged dao or a long, straight sword of Tibetan origin. Their arrows -- carried in a bamboo quiver which had a lid and an outside 'pocket' -- were poisoned with a mixture of aconite and croton berries. Most men also carried a dagger, and some were armed with a 7-8ft (2.1-2.4m) thrusting spear. Abor shields were usually made of interwoven strips of bamboo and were never decorated in any way. They were about 3ft (91cm) long, 20in (50cm) wide and very slightly curved.
[...] The Abors possessed very few firearms, even at the end of the period covered here [1837-1901]. However, a few antiquated Tower muskets could be found in the villages nearest to the British frontier, and small numbers of Tibetan matchlocks filtered into the more northern districts."
* Egerton 1968 p86
"Their arms comprise the cross-bow, bows and arrows, the latter used with or without poison; very long spears, daggers, and, lastly, a long straight cutting sword, on which, by their own account, they chiefly rely in warfare."