|Country of origin||Indian|
|Region of origin||Northeast India, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam|
|Ingredients||Fermentation of rice, Medicinal plants|
Apo or Apong is an alcohol drink commonly found among the tribes in the Northeast India states of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. It is prepared by fermentation of rice. It is known by various names across different tribes in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.
The Nyishi people, who form the national part of the local tribal population in Nirjuli, celebrate Nyokum annually. They serve the local drink, apo. The Nyishi people offer the drink, every time they drink it, to the spirits (wiyu) by letting few drops of it fall on the ground. Other occasions when App is served is during annually organized ancestor worship ceremonies. Also during the festival of Bihu, Ali aye Ligangm, NMe-Damme, and the Annual agricultural programs like ‘No-Khua and No Bhiri’ .
Apo is known in different names across different tribes in North-Eastern India, Haaz (Ahom language), Apong Mod (Mising language), and Zou (Zmaia) (Bodo language). The Apo is not distributed in shops, as Apo forms part of a tradition and culture, the Apo is shared through generations like a piece of cultural knowledge. Apos are commonly brewed in households and often served along with rice and chutney as well, irrespective of gender or age differences. Across the tribal communities in the world's similar alcohol drinks are being produced as a part of cultural tradition. Such as Saké, in Japan, Huangjiu, and mijiu from China.
The historical knowledge on the origins of the Apo tradition in the North-Eastern regions are not recorded, However, it is believed that the tradition comes along with the early Chinese and Mongoloid descendants of the region. Similarly, the ‘term’ Apo is not a general term used for addressing their rice drink as each tribe identifies the drink with different names. However, it is believed that the traditional rice beer was first developed by the ‘Mising people in Assam. Thus the etymology of the word refers to its Assmaese origins. Across the different tribes, the brewing method has certain differences, but the substrates used for fermentation are the same. This indicates a common ancestor to the brewing culture in North-Eastern India. Traditionally, two kinds of Apo are being brewed in these regions known as Apong Nogin and Po:ro. The starter cakes called E’pob a made out of crushed rice and medicinal plants are used to make the health quotient. These starter cakes are one of the most important elements of the rice beers made in the North-Eastern region, including Apo. This refers to the connection between different tribal groups and ancestry. This also refers to the idea of sacredness associated with the Apo making across different tribes as it is not made on an everyday basis, but only for ceremonies, festivals, marriage, and group gatherings. In this regard, historically and culturally, the Apo remains as an element of identity in these regions.
The Apo and the Mising people
Apo is known in different traditional names based on the respective tribes. Apo is believed to be first developed by the Mising people in Assam. The term Apo is derived from the traditional name of ‘Apong’ beer spoken by the Mising people. The Mising community is identified to be an early Mongoloid descendant groups which use Austroasiatic language in India. The Mising community is a plain tribal of Assam habituated in the Vally (Brahmaputra Valley) of the Brahmaputra river in Assamese districts like Lakhimpur, Sonitpur,Sibsagar, etc. Traditionally the major occupation of the Mising community was the collection of fire Woods along with agricultural practices. The Mising community is generally known for its passion for traditional cooking methods and food items, along with their indigenous knowledge of folklore medicines that have been shared through generations of the Mishing tribes. The cooking method of the Apong beer is also believed to be shared by the ancestors of Mising immunity and later spread throughout the tribes in North East India. However, the traditional and cultural practices of the Mising community in Assam is distinct from other tribal identities in Assam, and the Apomg beer is an integral element of the culture, tradition, and rituals of the Mising community.
Apo is commonly produced in households of northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in India. Although distinctive methods for brewing exist across the North-Eastern region of India, the process of fermentation remains the same across these regions indicate common origins of brewing. As a first step, the rise collected for making beverage is roasted and it turns black in color. Once the rice is cooked, it is mixed with the fermenting ingredient E-Pob made out of rice and medicinal plants. Time is taken for the formation of ration changes along with the climate and temperature. During the summer season, the fermentation took 5–6 days. The fermented mixture is filtered and finally poured into bamboo shoots. During these processes, around 30 medicinal plants use to the beverage along with rice. This includes leaves, creepers, and grass. The total period taken for the production of Apo beer is more than 3 months. Although, the alcohol content on the Apo is 18-25% it is more intoxicating in nature. Recent studies indicate the Apo Beer can be economically benefiting the community as the beer provides the entrepreneurial potential to the community as the rice beer produced in Northeast regions, including Apo are high quality in nature.
The Apop Pitha (starter cake)
The starter cake is one of the most indispensable elements of the Apo beer production process. The Apo beer produced by the Mising community is identified to have various medicinal and therapeutic properties as a result often used during the preparation of starter cake known as 'apop pitha'. The beer-making process in each tribe varies according to the environmental factors and other socio-cultural practices associated with the individual tribes. These factors are essential in determining the color, flavour, and sweetness of the flower. One major process during the production of Apong is the use of starter cake, i.e. apop pitha which has significant medicinal qualities. This quality is of starter cake is determined by the medicinal plants used during the production along with the sanitary conditions used while making the beer. The making of apo pitha in this regard include the process of collecting a variety of medicinal plant leaves. The leaves collected are dried placing it on a bamboo mat known as 'opoh' after cleaning it. Fresh leaves can also be used for making the starter cake for making the beer. The leaves are later ground separately using a wooden tools hand mixer together to make a apop pitha in the shape of oval-shaped balls from the dough made from the mixture. Kuhiar (Saccharum officinarum), senikuthi (Scoparia dulcis), bhilongoni (Cyclosorus exlensa), anaras (pineapple, also known as Ananas comosus), bam kolmou (Ipomoea species), kopou dhekia, lexuosum Lygodium flexuosum, lai jabori (Drymaria cordata), horumanimuni (Hydrocotyle sibthorpioides jalokia (Capsicum annuum), dhapat tita (Clerodendrum viscosum), bormanimuni (Centella asiatica) etc. are some of the most basic medicinal plants and herbs used for the making of ‘apo pitha’.
The traditional varieties of Apo beer contain several medicinal properties as a result of the conclusion of starter cake made using more than 39 medicinal herbs. The inclusion of various medicinal herbs makes the finished Apong beer a rich source of nutrients that provide energy and soothing effect along with the medicinal features it has. The combination of medical herbs makes Apo with beer an effective agent against health issues like diarrhoea, urinary problems, body ache, inflammation, headache, insomnia, expelling worms, etc. The majority of the medicinal plants used for the preparation of the beer are indigenous and play a vital role in contributing health assistance to tribal people adapting to the environmental conditions for a long time. The varieties of Apo beer in the northeast region of India thus act as a bioactive agent contributing to a wide variety of health issues and illnesses provides significant opportunities for interdisciplinary research for nutritionist, medical researches, biotechnologies, and agronomist to develop a better understanding of the effectiveness of traditional medicinal knowledge on indigenous herbs and plants. Both the methods of infusion and decoction are used by the local peoples to produce medicine from plans for making apo. Although, the making of Apo continues to exist the increasing issues like the changing socio-economical conditions and lifestyle of the tribal communities are threatening the availability of medicinal herbs. As many of the tribal communities in the North East, including Mishing as the medicinal herbs are deeply associated with the cultural identity of the tribal communities. These changes can deeply affect the folklore knowledge of medicinal plants that are being shared through generations as the decrease in the medicinal plants can affect the production of Apo beers.
The Apo is rice that has certain positive elements such as its help in developing a positive mood. Along with this, the Apo being considered as having the ability to regulate gut-brain connection. The starter cake used during the fermentation process in the beer-making process using leaves and herbs has a significant impact as they lead to the process of fermentation as a result of the production of microorganism that biochemical transform rice into the brew. During this process, metabolites such as ‘lactic acid, alcohol, enzymes, antimicrobial, substances aromatic compounds organic acids’, etc. It is also believed that rice beer has composed health including the stimulation of the immune system, production of cholesterol levels, and other it is expected to prevent gastrointestinal ailments and expelling worms. Also, rice beer consisting of dietary fiber nutraceuticals, help in changing the microenvironment of the gut by producing metabolites and help in regulating psychotic illness. Along with this, rice beers are identified to be helpful as they induce the creation of probiotics that can foster microbiomes that help in boosting immunity. However, despite the promising features of the rice beer, one major health concern is many of the medicine; plants and herbs used for making the beer is the lack of scientifically proven documents regarding the epidemiological effects these medicines can have on the human body. These observations often pose challenges to the health benefits of household consumption of rice beer by traditional brewing practices without any scientific knowledge.
Apo can be understood as an important element in the socio-cultural aspect of the Mising people. The Apo beer is served during all religious festivals and ceremonies in Assam such as Midong, Fishing, Dabur, Bihu, and Ali Aye Ligang (Ali Ai Ligang). The Ali Aye Ligang is a spring festival celebrated by the Mising community during the first Wednesday of the Assamese month named 'Fagun (Fagun Thakrar)'. This festival celebrating the beginning of the paddy cultivation in Assam traditionally uses Apong as a mandatory dish for the celebration. Apong is served along with pork 'purang apin, boiled rice wrap in leaves 'tupula that'. The Apong is also offered to the deities and spirits to appease them. It is believed that the traditional way of making Apong for each has not changed at all even today even if each tribal community.
The apo is a very unique indigenous rice beer available only from the tribal communities of North-Eastern states of India. As a traditional beer that is culturally shared for a long time, the taste and quality of the Apo beer make it different from all other forms of rice beer as it is made through folklore methods of beer making. However, lack of scientific research on the medicinal qualities of the apo beer exists as an issue against the commercial possibilities of Apong beer which can bring significant economic opportunities to tribal communities like Mising, Nysishi. Etc. Various efforts are being taken by local scholars and academicians from the region to promote the knowledge on apo beers and its beneficial effects as a traditional beverage for its commercial recognition. However, in local markets, Apong is still a source of income and lovely livelihood for many families and contributes to community development.
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