Nocte people

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Total population
Regions with significant populations
Tirap District, Arunachal Pradesh:
Nocte, Assamese, English
Christianity 44%, Hinduism 23%, Animism 17%
Related ethnic groups
Naga tribes
Diorama of Nocte people in Jawaharlal Nehru Museum, Itanagar.

The Nocte (literally, village people) are an ethnic group primarily living in Arunachal. They number about 111,679 (Census 2011), mainly found in the Patkai hills of Tirap district of Arunachal Pradesh, India. Ethnically related to the Konyak Naga, their origins can be traced back to the Hukong Valley in Myanmar, where they migrated from between the 1670 and 1700.

They have chiefs who exert control over the village, and they are also consulted by the village elders and priests on all important socio-religious ceremonies.


The Nocte were followers of Theravada Buddhism and Animism, although they have adopted Hinduism[1] since the 18th century, under the influence of Shri Shankardeva.[2] This has brought them closer to the Hindu culture of much of the rest of India. The 1961 census reported some Buddhists among the Nocte.[3]

The first chief or Ang of Namsang & Borduria, Lotha Khonbao was known for his spirituality. The chief was baptised as "Narottam", by Sri Ram the Gukhai of the Bare Ghar Satra, Vaishnavite Hindu.

A place was also named in his honour, Narottam Nagar, where now, the reputed institution, RK Mission is situated. A picture of the chief & his wife is also available in the British Archive Museum.

In the traditional Nocte religion they worshiped Jauban (supreme god) who was believed to have created human beings and started miseries, troubles and happiness. Other malevolent and benevolent deities are also worshipped as well. Offerings of food and water are given to the gods in order to appease them.[4]

The Nocte also deeply follow the virtues of Barghariya Satra in addition to Jauban. A Mahantas (priest) conducts the religious ceremonies.

Of late, Baptist missionaries have converted about one-fifth to one-third of the Nocte to Christianity, principally those living in Khonsa. The rabidly anti-Christian Buddhist Channel in 2010 claimed there were no Christians anywhere in Arunachal Pradesh province in 1951, seeming to indicate that this conversion to Christianity largely happened in the latter half of the 20th century with continuation into the 21st century.[5]


Loku, which literally means chasing out of the old season of the year, acts as the main festival of the Nocte. The festival, which lasts for three days, involves the slaughter of cattle, entertainment and the gathering of food on the first day.

The second day, known as Chamkatja, requires the Nocte to pray to the gods and the chiefs. Following that, feasts and dances that lasts right up to the next day is held. Upon reaching the final day, both the elderly villages and the chief will seek for good foirtune by breaking eggs collected from the village. Selected plots for new year's cultivation is based on the spiritual reply shown by the eggs. The festival is then concluded with a song, on which the villagers pray and hope for a better new year.


The Nocte are agriculturalists and have a good planning in their daily diet. Main crops such as rice and maize are planted, as their staple food is rice, which is often supplemented by leafy vegetables, fish and meat. A local liquor brewed from rice, tapioca and millet proved to be popular among the Nocte, although in recent times tea is consumed as well. However, as staunch Hindus, they do not take beef and mutton.


The menfolk have a tendency to shave their hair in the frontal part of the head, and the back tuft of hair is tied into a chignon just above the nape. The womenfolk will keep their long auburn tresses tied into a bun kept at the back of the neck, although the widows will cut their hair short on the condition if they do not remarry. Like the Wancho, they tattoo their faces and bodies.

Owing to the humid climate, the menfolk will wear a loincloth in front with cane belts, which acts as a waistband. Bamboo slips and armlets made of ivory are worn on all four limbs as well. The womenfolk tend to wear a short cotton skirt that measures from the waist to knees, and a blouse is worn to cover the upper body. The goats horns acts as ear lobes, although ornaments include metal bangles and earrings are worn.


The Nocte construct houses made of silts, although the chief's houses are constructed with carved massive blocks and wooden pillars. Dormitories are provided for bachelors and unmarried woman separately. According to their tradition, it is a place where the elders teach the children about traditional mythology, folklore and religion. In cases of Christian families, Christian teachings are also mixed with traditional teachings as well, which is evident among Catholic converts. The chiefs are addressed in either of the two titles: Namsang and Borduria.[6]

The dormitory of a bachelor is known as a "Poh", while a bachelorettes' one is known as a "Yanpo". However, women are not permitted to enter in the boys’ dormitory, although the reverse is permitted. Dormitories are built upon wooden raised piles, usually measuring four feet above the ground. The bachelors' dormitories are decorated with human skulls taken in head hunting, which are used for containing large log drums carved out from wooden logs. The drum, known as thum, is carved out of designs from hornbills and tigers. However, with the advancement of Western education it has been witnessed that these practices are in decline. Headhunting, which once proved to be popular among the Nocte, has been banned since 1991.

Hygiene issues[edit]

The Nocte followed an age-old tradition of keeping bodies of the deceased relatives in the open, either near a river or just outside their houses. The Nocte Christians, like most Nocte, would keep their body exposed for three days, although they are kept in the house.

Inevitably, the decomposed bodies would attract bacteria, insect and germs lying in the open that produced a terrible stench. This was the cause of the frequent outbreaks of health-threatening diseases. Owing to public health education by reformers, burial of the deceased in proper coffins have completely supplaced this traditional rite since 2004. The Kheti village, which is not far removed from Khonsa, was the last village to give up this practice in the modern Nocte society.[7]


  1. ^ India Office of the Registrar General (1972). Census of India, 1971. Manager of Publications. p. 137. ISBN 81-210-0218-4. 
  2. ^ Jyotirindra Nath Chowdhury (1982). Arunachal Through the Ages, from Frontier Tracts to Union Territory. Distributors, Chapala Book Stall. p. 35. 
  3. ^ Nava Kishor Das (1989). Ethnic Identity, Ethnicity, and Social Stratification in North-east India. Inter-India Publications. p. 38. ISBN 81-210-0218-4. 
  4. ^ Parul Chandra Dutta (1978). The Noctes. Directorate of Research, Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh. pp. 12, 13, 81. 
  5. ^ Buddhist channel article against Christian misisonaries
  6. ^ Tribes of Arunachal Pradesh
  7. ^ Nocte tribesmen bury last rites

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