Tibet and Assam:
cultural diversity in the eastern Himalayas

23 October 2008 – 13 April 2009

Exhibition closed

Room 91

The cultures of two tribes from the remote Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh – the Apatani and the Monpa – are displayed in this exhibition.

Museum objects are shown alongside archival and contemporary photographs. The exhibition features recent research by a team from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and the British Museum, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

The Apatani live in the hills in the centre of the state and are animists. Their economy depends on growing rice in a unique way that has maximised yield in their enclosed upland valley. The Monpa live on the Bhutan-Tibet-India border at high altitude. They are ethnically different from the Apatani and are Buddhists, in the past more closely linked to Lhasa in Tibet, than India to the south.

The exhibition features rarely-seen objects from the Museum’s collection, as well as contemporary materials, the textiles are especially note-worthy. Other items include painting and clay offerings from the Monpa, and objects connect to the Murung Festival including an audio recording of a ritual text from the Apatani. Photographs by mid-twentieth century scholars and contemporary photographer Michael Aram Tarr feature throughout.

An Apatani shaman’s chant

These are the first two verses of a 12-hour chant known as ‘Subu Heniin’ (Mithun Chant). It is performed by Apatani shamans during the Murung festival. Standing on a platform, the shaman invites spirits to the animal sacrifice and, in return, asks for favours.

These lines were recited in 2006 by a shaman called Mudan Pai, not during a live performance but in his home.

Download the audio file of the shaman's chant


A book to accompany the exhibition, Through the Eye of Time: Photographs of Arunachal Pradesh, 1859–2006 by Michael Aram Tarr and Stuart Blackburn, is available in the Museum’s shop.

Two young Monpa boys, Dirang Dzong, May 1956

Two young Monpa boys, Dirang Dzong, May 1956.
Photograph by Verrier Elwin, from the archive at the British Museum
© Elwin family.