Galo tribe

The Galos

Diorama of Galo people in Jawaharlal Nehru Museum, Itanagar.
Total population
(80,597(2001 census))
Regions with significant populations
Mostly in Siang belt of Arunachal Pradesh
Donyi Polo & Christianity

The Galo are a central Eastern Himalayan tribe, who are descendants of Abo Tani and speak the Tani language Gallong. The Galo primarily inhabit the West Siang district of modern-day Arunachal Pradesh state in North Eastern India, but are also found in the southwestern side of East Siang district, the southeastern side of Upper Subansiri district, as well as in some small pockets in Itanagar, Lower Dibang Valley, and Changlang districts. Other names which have been used to reference the Galo in the past include Duba, Doba, Dobah Abor, Gallong Abor, Galong, Gallong Adi, etc. The Galo have been listed as a scheduled tribe under the name Gallong since 1950.[1] Recently, the Galo have successfully lobbied to change this term to Galo, reflecting the actual Galo pronunciation of this name.


The Galo population is estimated at 80,597 (2001 census), which, if accurate, would make them one of the most populous tribes of Arunachal Pradesh. Galo are normally monogamous, but polygamy is also practiced by affluent people as a sign of their prosperity and prestige. Traditionally, Galo practice shifting cultivation. However, after the 1960s and 1970s, wet rice and terraced cultivation has been introduced by Government officials under the auspices of IRDP (Integrated Rice Development Programme). Wet rice cultivation now accounts for the majority of production in the Galo area, however shifting cultivation is also still practiced, especially in remote villages away from urban townships. Galo are socio-economically dominant in their area. Around 90% of Galo children learn Galo as their first language, although almost all are also bilingual and borrow frequently from Assamese, Hindi and English. A significant and increasing number of Galo children, however, do not learn Galo as a native language, instead speaking a semi-creolized form of Hindi as their mother tongue. This phenomenon is especially prominent in urban areas, and among wealthy families. Indigenous religious traditions persist in most Galo areas. In some areas, an institutionalized form of 'Donyi-Poloism' has been developed, within which indigenous religious traditions are re-interpreted in terms of certain Hindu concepts and practices, and novel practices such as hymn-singing and incense-burning are practiced. Christianity is also rapidly on the rise, especially in foothill areas. Galos are often referred to by non-Galo(especially the Minyong-Padam group) as Gallong – an archaic pronunciation reflecting an earlier stage of the Galo language prior to its loss of the velar nasal in codas – and also as Adi – a generic term for a loose grouping of several central and eastern Tani tribes speaking several distinct languages. In most Tani languages, Adi (Galo adìi) means simply ‘hill (people)’.

Naming of children

Among the various tribes inhabiting the hills of Arunachal Pradesh, the Galo follow a patrilineal method to name their children. The last syllable of the father's name (the 'patrisyllable') is used as the first syllable of the child's name (the 'autosyllable'). For instance, if the father's name is Tanii, then the children may be named as Niito, Niiya and Niishi. Now this may continue as Tani-nito-topo-poi-ikar-karka-kalom-lombi-biki-kigum-gumdu-dumar-marbi-bicham-chambi-bipak-pakta-tapak-pakta-tari-richi-chipak-Paktum(-tumge), pakli, pakjum, pakyir...etc. Since the Galo people had no written language of their own, this method of naming helped them in remembering their origins. Within Galo spiritual traditions, it is believed that there were at one time two kinds of Tani; one who did not have human qualities but rather emerged as a formless mass. After many centuries of evolution only did Tani the human being come to this earth.


Main article: Gallong language

Galo is a Tibeto-Burman language of the Western Tani branch. It is genetically closest to Nyishi/Nishi, Tagin, Bokar or Lhoba of Tibet, China, Pailibo/Libo, Ramo, Hills Miri and Na (Bangni) and is to some degree mutually intelligible with them (depending on the dialects in question). However, due to a very long period of close contacts with and frequent bilingualism in the Eastern Tani language Adi whose villages directly abut the Galo in several areas - Galo and Adi languages have to some degree structurally converged. A mistaken belief has thus come about to the effect that Galo is a dialect of Adi language. In fact, although certain Adi and Galo tribespeople are in practice able to converse without great difficulty, this has mostly to do with the specific language experiences of the individuals involved. In their pure forms, Adi and Galo languages are mutually unintelligible and descend from distinct ancestors within opposite branches of the Tani subgroup.

Folklore in relation to resource use and management

The fact that Turi, according to Galo's wisdom, can be the common ancestor of Tani (the first human-being and the ancestor of human-beings), Taki (the ancestor of spirits) and Tanyo [the ancestor of cat families which include Nyote(tiger), Nyopak-takar (leopard), Nyoke (Panther), Nyoli, Nyomuk, Nyoji (various species of wild cats)] signifies the harmonious relationship that the Galo society shares with other living and non-living forms.[2] As the saying goes, ‘tumsi nyomara lo, hottum elam go hore lelam go doma rem yobe nyine hage ha rem. Tumsi nyomra irga kama, isi opo kama rem mopin e irga kama. Sile boso gobo golak go goka kichin gatugo ao go kama rem nyiram re.’ [2] That is, ‘O human! What worth is human life when forests without flora and fauna, rivers without fish’. Instead of assuming themselves as the ‘possessor’ of nature, their core world view of ‘community of beings’ places resource use and its management, apart from providing material sustenance, as a binding agent between human-nature relationship, human-human relationship and human-nature-supernatural relationship.[2] Moreover, resources also act as a metaphysical medium to appease supernatural beings/spirits. Nature, according to Galo’s worldview, has also unknown and destructive dimensions. Thus, periodic rituals with respect to land, water and forests becomes mandatory to pacify the anger of this incomprehensible element of nature, which manifests in the form of spirits.

The constant squabbling over the ownership of land between Tani (the mythical forefather of the Galos) and Taki (the spirit brother of Tani) led to division of ownership of resources: the domesticated ones (one that is owned by humankind) and the wild ones owned by ethereal beings/spirits. In order to resolve the conflict, Donyi Jilo, a respected priest, intervened and divided the land into momen (the domesticated one) and modir (vertical/land not suitable for human use). Moreover, he explicitly instructed both the beings not to intervene in each-other’s land. However, the Galo people hold the notion that Taki's descendent groups namely, the Doje, Yapom, Pomte- Sarte and the Bute-Kamdu frequently trespasses onto momen inhabiting trees, streams, caves, rocks etc. And the way to honor them is to conduct rituals. One such ritual, Ampu Yolu, is observed in relation to protection of crops from pests and diseases. Through this ritual, the spirits/deities, namely Jeru Poru, Pote, Biro-mugli and Yapom are revered. In particular, village women perform the rite, amsep-misep, wherein a paste of amtir (rice powder) and opo (fermented rice) is tied to bamboo sticks and placed randomly in jhum fields. This helps to attract pests. Moreover, it is considered a boon for good harvest.[2]

Another ritual, dir-tachi, is observed in case of excessive pest infestation. In the past, according to Galo’s wisdom, Tachi was mainly responsible for the famine in the region. Etymologically, dir also signifies famine. The ritualistic process involves tiny packets of edible grains and vegetables in combination with an egg, fowl or a pig, which is offered to the spirit, Uyis. After the ritual, effigies of Uyis, made of bamboo leaves along with other offerings are placed in a bamboo raft (hipe) and immersed in the river. In relation to famine, the Galo's myth goes like this: Diyi Tami, daughter of Mopin and the first wife of Abo Tani, leaves for Digo Pine (the land of Mopin). In her absence, Rosi Tami, daughter of Dir (the famine) and the second wife of Abo Tani, mistakenly puts two grains in a magical pot. In normal circumstances, one grain would be sufficient to prepare enough food for the whole family. Putting two grains result in surplus food. Not knowing what to do, she asks Diro-Kibo (dog of famine) to consume the excess rice. Along with consuming the excess rice, he also consumes the magical power of the pot. Thus, the magical pot loses its inherent capacity to produce huge quantity of rice with a single grain. Subsequently, it led to famine in the region. In order to address the food-shortage, Abo Tani, following the order of Diyi Tami, drowns Rosi Tami in the river and kills Diro-Kibo.[2]


  1. Amendment to the Constitution (ST), Order, 1950, Part-XVIII
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Basar, Jumyir (2014). INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE and RESOURCE MANAGEMENT (Perspectives of a Tribe in Northeast India). New Delhi: Anshah Publishing House. pp. 42–48. ISBN 978-81-8364-097-8.


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