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The Gaanv Boodhas or Village Headmen of Arunachal Pradesh

January 16, 2012 3 min read

Am stating the obvious – that every journey results in not only a fresh view of old things, but also views of things never seen before by the beholder.

Having travelled considerably in rural India, the attitude of ‘been-there-done-that’ was slowly coloring my vision and I’d begun to become a bit of the Ms. Know-it-all.  Since most of my conversations are conducted with myself in my mind, the ‘listener’ parts of me were beginning to find the ‘speaker’ parts of me, a bit obnoxious.

And so it was good to find completely unknown concepts that even Ms. Know-it-all was stumped by!In the vegetable market in Ziro one morning, I came across a man dressed in a red overcoat and ceremonial sash.

At the vegetable market

But I was busy sitting on my haunches and chatting with the local vegetable vending women, so after a moment of being distracted by the red, I went back to the chit chat.

Within a few moments another man arrived strolling in a leisurely manner and I had to to make way for him on the narrow market path for which I stood up.  Lo and behold – this was another man in a red coat looking all distinguished compared to the general laity floating around.

Another red jacket in the vegetable market

These were no ordinary men walking the streets of Ziro.

The sight of the first red man had aroused my curiosity but that thought train was cut short by my previous engagements.

But the second sighting seized my attention and made me ask the Hindi speaking shopkeeper what these red coats were and who these men were.

Here is what I learnt:

These red jacketed men are “Gaanv Boodhas” which literally means “Village Elder”. 

While there can be many elders or seniors, this title is usually held by the oldest man in the village. His deeds of valour and goodness are also factored in to the selection process because it is important that the entire village respects the headman. Economic standing plays absolutely not role in the respect a man enjoys.

He is the official village headman.The government administration involves him in the decision making process and in the information dissemination process. There is also a formal association of Gaanv Boodhas that includes all the appointed headmen. And he wears a distinguishing uniform consisting of the striking red jacket, a sash that is decorated with the trophies of his hunts, a name tag and his special weapons.

A few images of the many headmen I had the privilege to meet on this journey.

Portrait of a respected Gaanv Boodha


With his traditional backpack

A weapon that is always carried on his person - the 'Dho'

The Gaanv Boodha with his grandson at his home

The Name plate announcing his position and office

Traditional beads

The respected Gaanv Boodha in normal home clothes

The Gaanv Boodha in the full splendour of his uniform

Jaws of a fierce animal hunted by the Gaanv Boodha in the pastEagle(?) claw

The decorated hat contained eagle claws, porcupine quills and feathers

Detail of another sash with the jaw

Detail of bearskin sash and staff

And so, my personal discovery of the concept of GBs that I was ignorant about until now, helped to wash off the saprophytic attitude of smugness that had begun growing like a fungus on my decaying vision. I now stand humbly corrected and reminded that I do not know it all and I hope that this episode will arrest this decay!

My other articles on Arunachal Pradesh

Glimpses of a contented People


 Innovative housing

 A chance encounter with a Shaman Priest during a sacrifice ritual

Tribal signatures – Face Tattoos of the Apatanis

Fierce Nocte Headhunters

Head Hunting Trophies


Jan 2012

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