Maaze - the Traditional Sacred Ornament of the Nyishi


Maaze is a traditional sacred ornament of Thanyi group of people is believed to be the solemn work of Aabhu Loma (God of arts, science and technology) who is considered the father of the artistic work of all traditional ornaments which the present generation is proud to possess it. Maaze protects the life and property of owner, member of a family and the clan from any kind of misfortunes and bad lucks. It is also believed that maaze gives courage, bravery, growth, decency, valour and the peace to the owner, family and his clan members. Maaze plays a very important role in the economy of the society. It is considered as an ancestral wealth and   very effective medium of exchange since the time of Aabhu Loma. The importance of this highly sacred ornament is however today under great threats and gradually loosing its real essence of traditional values.

Origin of Maaze

It is believed that the Maze sacred ornament and the wealth of Nyishi and Thanyi group of society in the state of Arunachal Pradesh have dawn with the history of the Aabhu Loma, the Achi Nigin, Khiodang Tarang and Kiye Jamji. The history of origin or the genealogy of Thanyi group has been held differently by the present clans and sub-clans of Thanyism, it may be due to the isolated settlement of the clans from generation to generation. Likewise the history of Maze origin has also been held differently by the clan and sub-clan of Thanyi society. But fact lies that, these clan and Maze originated from Thanyi era. Aabhu Loma better call it an era of human development, migration and settlement. In this era or generation, population growth took placed rapidly, thereafter division of clan and sub-clan within the society took placed. The place or region of settlement and development could not be traced back or remembered precisely by the ancestor and present day clan, but few place of settlement is yet remembered through the strong social memory by Nyubu [priest] and oral traditions of nyegam(verbal transmission) and iedh bengnam (a kind of folksong recited in marriage ceremony and other important social occasion), but name of these place is no where to find out at present because of newer name of river, mountain and places. Almost all verbal traditions bearer maintains that, Thanyi society migrated from the east to the west at first instance, thereafter west to the east at second stage and at the last from east to the west in search of better food habitat to adjust with growing populace. It is believed that Aabhu Loma has been instrumental in development of human being in various field of activity and there are many histories attach with him but his contribution in making Maaze are much talk about.                      

Aabhu Loma has been instrumental in development of human understanding, co-operation, and systematizing the tradition, faith and the culture of Nyishi and other sub-clan, taught by Aabhu Thanyi. The making of the maaze, thalu [ kind of traditional valued plate ], beads, and the yogr  oryok [ valued sword ] etc., are much talked about during the period of Aabhu Loma’s generation, however the traditional beads, swords, and house hold articles etc were found in the oral history of Aabhu Thanyi time onwards. Oral history regarding Maaze origin pin points Aabhu Loma generation and he is believed to be one of genius humane being and Maaze are specially handy work of Aabhu Loma and few genius person like, Aachi Nigin, Khiodang Tarang, and Kiye Jamji etc. Most of the Aabhu Loma’s work was during early morning and Aachi Nigin works was during dawn and the dusk as per believe of Nyishi society is concerned. Pomt Loma Maaze are the  highest class of Riipium, Riph Kuphium, Nigin Loma Maaze are second  class known as Riph and Ridha and Khioda Tarang & Kiye Jamji works are middle or lower class Maaze, known as mokh and Lheme  etc.  The believe relating to Maj origin are sung during maaze Nyeda and other social occasion in the form of iedh or benjam. In this song the maaze material components, design, decoration, and the person involved in making maaze are sung. The chungkuli and bikuli[Earth], Jachar jayir [Taja tree], hir hingtey Nguni ngey ngoma [Bee juice and honey], kutung kopo [Leaves and skins of plantain], hir biyu binyari [Monkey], hir tugwu [Frog] are the main component and design with the creative model of various type of maaze are being employed in making maaze.    

Classification of Maaze

The maaze is a kind of classified wealth of Thanyi group of society in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. It is also regarded as a sacred ornament. The history of its origin is dawn with the history of Thanyism. The thalu [traditional plate] and the variety of thesi [Beads], koj [Bangle], etc., are also believed to have originated with Thanyi group of society. Broadly we can classify maaze into three categories as per its history of origin, price, structure and appearances:

Riph Maaze (Highest class), Mokh Maaze (Medium class), and Lheme Maaze (Lower class).

Riph Maaze     

The Riph maaze can be classified into four different classes. The structure of this class of maaze is the same but we can find variations on number of scripts, colour and designs. Riph maaze are more prominently designed and decorated on outer part of the body and the inner part is scripted alphabets with little decoration. The following Riph maaze are detailed bellow:

(i) Riph Riphium

Riph riphium maaze with a maylo damnam is the costly amongst maaze class and these are believed to be the oldest, finest and rare work of Aabhu Loma. It has the individual names and historical background of ownership, its possession and transmission. The value of riphium maaze may have the range of 12 [Twelve] and above sebbe [boss frontals] heads. The structure of riphium maaze looks like a Tibetan tongueless bell, but its mineral composition differs in many respects. All maaze as per believe of Nyishi is concern,  is made out from special kind of soil or sand with alloy of honey bee juice & wax, typical tree, leafs and skin of plantain tree etc., and all type of maaze are very brittle. The riphium maaze is designed more prominently on the head part of inner and outer body. It has the sharp angular top and open circular base and with dazzling attractive sky blue and dark blue colour. Design on and in the body of riphium maaze are designed from the cat family, human and monkey with artistic and creative imagination. It has the nose, eye, eye led, ribs and the scripts etc. It is believed that the work time of Aabhu Loma was early in the morning; hence all the riphium maaze appears dark grey or blue. The structure of all the maaze are the same but it appears minor differences. Inside of its part are decorated with scripts (letters), lines, and symbols which may range from 8 [eight] to 60 [sixty] lines, from 5[five] to 40 [forty] numbers of scripts and few of them have star symbols. The riph maaze are believed to be the oldest form of maaze and it is attached with the creation of the Aabhu Loma as per history of Nyishi society is concerned. This type of maaze is therefore clubbed as of ancient origin. The structure of riph classes of maaze have sharp angular top with many designs and it is open circular base. This class of maaze has rich artistic work and attractive colours with classic scripts and decoration on whole body part. The design on the outer body part have been drawn from the surrounding and natural beauty ,such as face of the tiger, monkey, bangles, eyes, eye lids, nose, ribs and others. Inside the maaze the scripts, human ribs, special lines and pictograph are depicted vividly. The number of script ranges between 8 to 60 and lines ranges between 5 to 50.



(ii) Riph Ridha Maaze

This class of maaze is also believed to originate during Aabhu Loma period of existence, and few of them have been made by him. This is counted as second class maaze and is valued by the society. It has the individual name, historical background of its origin and trans-ownership. The value of riph ridha maaze may range from 6[six] to 10[ten] sebbe heads. The structure, colour, design and the decoration are similar to that of riph maaze, but it has limited symbol and sign on the body. The number of scripts (letters) in the maaze may range from 5[five] to 30 [thirty] and lines 5[five] to 20 [twenty]. This kind of maaze is also rare like riphium maaze.

(iii) Riph Jiyee Maaze

Amongst the riph class of maaze it is the lowest in value and does not have much design and decoration on the body and inner part has fewer scripts. The structure and the body appearance are the same but colour differs. It is less costly than the other two class of riphium maaze. Its may range 5 (Five) to 12 (Twelve) number of heads of sebbe and lines between 5 (Five) to 15 (Fifteen).

(iv) Riph Lheme Maaze 

 Riph Lheme maaze looks like riph or ridha maaze on its structure, but the design, decoration and the finishing work does not match with riph class of maaze. The script and line may range between 1 [one] to 4 [four] numbers. This class of maaze are of recent origin and is made duplicating riph class of maaze.

Mokh Maaze

This class of maaze as per believe are of recent origin and it is made during much developed stage of human being. It has the individual names, historical background and attached trans-ownership. The value of mokh maaze may range from eight number heads of sebbe. The structure of these classes of maaze is different from riphium or ridha maaze. It has no protuberant on the head part of body as is there on the riphium and ridha maaze and these class of maaze are inverted folding design at the base and smooth curving top to the base. The colour of mokh maaze are slightly black and the polishing, finishing does not match with riphium and ridha class of maaze. The number of scripts inside the maaze may range between 4[four] to 8[eight] and there we do not find lines drawn and special decoration. The mouth of mokh maaze twists inward and is identical from other classes of maaze. Mokh maaze are commonly possessed by the society and it is exchanged easily for sebbe, other animals, materials and money. The mokh category of maaze is believed to be of recent origin. The structure of mokh maaze is slightly different from riph class of maaze. It has no protuberant on the head part of body and colour is slightly black. Number of script may range between four to eight and it has limited design, decoration and symbols. The base part or the mouth of mokh maaze twists inside. It has no lines inside the maaze and there is limited script and design etc.

(i)  Mokh Kussar Maaze

This class of maaze are also of recent origin and it has no attached trans-ownership historical back ground. The value of this class of maaze may range between one to five number heads of sebbe. This class of maaze are similar to mokh Kuphium maaze on the structure, colour, and design but it differs on number of scripts.

(ii)  Mokh Jiyee Maj

This class of maaze are the lowest grade within mokh type of maaze and its structure, design and the colour are almost similar with both mokh class of maaze. The basic differences amongst mokh type of maaze are drawn on number of scripts only, however its artistic work and design varies slightly. The mokh jiyee maaze are valued below one head of sebbe. There is limited artistic work on and inside the body. The number of scripts may below 2 [two].

Lheme Maaze

This class of maaze is believed to be of recent origin. It has no individual name and historical background regarding trans-possession and ownership. This class of maaze are commonly possessed and exchanged in lieu of animals and goods within the society. Lheme maaze looks like mokh maaze, but its design, decoration, colour and finishing work is different. The Lheme class of maaze is believed to be of very recent origin. The structure and colour of this class of maaze are similar to mokh class of maaze. The script, design, decoration and other symbols are very limited and script may range from one to four only.

(i) Lheme Mokh Maaze

This class of maaze looks like mokh maaze but its design and decoration does not match with the mokh class of maaze. The script may range between one to four numbers. The cost of this class of maaze may range from one pig to three numbers of sebbe.

(ii)  Lheme Jiyee Maaze

The Lheme jiyee maaze is the lowest class of maaze as per acceptance of the society. This class of maaze is of recent origin and it has no individual name and attached trans-ownership, it is commonly owned. The value of this class may range from a thesi achier [one set of traditional beads] to a malli [a complete body of pig killed]. The colours of Lheme maaze are candy black and structure is like that of mokh class. The maaze are also classified into 2 [two] groups. It has the nyega(male) and Nyem (female), in which Nyem maaze are highly designed, decorated and are more beautiful than that of nyega counter part, and male maaze are not higher in value than the Nyem maaze. The value of Nyem maaze in all groups as is available today, found to be higher than the male class of maaze, because of its differences in numbers of letters crafted, and designs in and on the maaze. However male and female class are found only in riph type of maaze.

The Value and Determination of Maaze

 The value of maaze is determined by the society in following ground:

(i). Thwk (finishing colour).The body of maaze having good reflective index, nice finishing and shining colour are considered while determining the value of maaze. It is the colour which makes differences amongst classes of maaze. While determining the value of maaze experts in this regard considers and discuss amongst them and gives their views, hence colour of maaze is very important while determining the value of any class of maaze.

(ii). The payik (Scripts), the maaze has identifiable numbers of script in the inner part and few have on the body part. It is the identifiable scripts found in the inner part of maaze, which is counted as deciding factor for fixation of number heads of sebbe. The value of maaze is decided as per total number of script found inside the maaze and scripts on the body are not counted. Each script or letter is equal to one sebbe head on riph, ridha and mokh categories of maaze. The total number of script or letter is equal to total number of sebbe. However Lheme class of maaze do have scripts, but this class of maaze script are not counted and hence it has less significance while determining the value of maaze.

(iii) The nyiyar, nyiffin and the other decorative works, design, on the body of maaze crafted nicely are also taken into account while determining value of maaze. The maaze without design and decoration will not be given due importance by the society. The value of simple kind of maaze will fall down and there may be less demand and acceptance. The historical background of maaze origin, trans-ownership and the decorated sign and symbol on the maaze body are duly observed by the expert while determining the value of maaze. Relatives and the society also increases and decreases the value of maaze at particular generation which may be maintained generations to come.   

The Importance of Maaze

The importance of maaze in Nyishi society has dawn with the history of its existence, more precisely from the Loma time. The importance as of to-days society regarding maaze may be classified as under:

1.  The maaze represents history of origin of Thanyi group of society and its genealogical classification in the history of mankind. Maaze is the centre of believe, faith, custom, tradition and culture of Thanyi group of society in the state of Arunachal Pradesh.

2.  The scripts found in and on the maaze are believed to be a sacred and genius historical event and the guiding principles of mankind. The maaze are believed to be the custodian of human soul, spirit and it protects from any kind of bad luck and happening. The maaze is believed to be a living thing. The maaze are believed to be the spirit of bravery, courage, growth, decency and the velour for the maaze owner family and clan.

3.  It has the individual name, value, historical event and the attach ownership recognition in the society. It is also a symbol and identity of Thanyism society. Maaze testifies the societal growth, development, settlement, migration and historical transformation from animism to social beings. The maaze are a part of traditional marriage system and without maaze, any high or low marriage celebrations are regarded as all time low grade of marriage in the society. The maaze are treated highest class of wealth in the Thanyi group of society and it became an antique by this age.

4.  The maaze are used for daughter marriage, extension of social relationship, and exchanged for other materials as well, hence it became medium of exchange. The maaze are also used for settling civil and criminal disputes amongst the community since time immemorial, hence it plays a vital role in harmonizing community relationship. It is said that even the murder cases on past was settled amicably through compensation of maaze and other traditional wealth. Society can not live without maaze implications in all social business, and activity. maaze has its own importance at silence world of Thanyi society. The maaze continues to be important in all social activities in the land of Thanyi group of society, therefore maaze are prayed annually during new year by hiring priest and provide those fowl blood and rice powder. This is done to make maaze more spiritual activeness and powerful.

Identification of Marks Embossed at Maaze

Thwk (colour or embossed marks and symbols) plays a significance role in determining the exact value and cost of a maaze.  Payik marks are found inside and outside of the body of maaze. Nyishi           accord a lot of importance to such marks and prestige and honour of a maaze recognised on the basis of these marks. Chibya eyebrow) is a sticks like marks or lines found at maaze, Ejj [a group of artistic letters inscribed at maaze]. Pumlo (nose point marks) found at   a maaze body, while sometime we also found symbol like man and monkey being depicted at a maaze. Lerum (a kind of cane woven ankle ring worn by man). Ohuff or Ribhs [a number of sticks depiction at maaze]. Nyiyar (a kind of semicircle or multicircular design), Naypin (eyelids or figure of man and monkey depiction or the space between two Khil and Khil].  Korum (hand ring and bracelet symbols), Phwllo (the pointed part of nose); Maylow (a special kind of lines with design at the end); Phoru (decorative sign on the body of maaze). Gumko (cross mark or dash), Khil (the decorative line between two naypin and naypin), Jhem (special artistic work being embossed and designed), Sobiya ( staircase like symbol), Tugtum (the forehead of facial part), Jhigu or Pudum (the protuberant upper part of the maaze), Rhitum (the chain line just below nyigsin), Nyabye or Gambh (the base part of maaze), Nyiye or Eejtehi (the circular arrow lines just below), and  Khempo (the space between korum and khil).

Honour and Believe Attached to Maaze

It is believed and the faith that the maaze a recognized sacred ornament and wealth of Thanyi group of society is the sacred and solemn work of Aabhu Loma. It is therefore believed it has the spiritual power in it. Maaze protects the life and property of owner, family member and the clan from any kind of incidents, unknown happenings and bad lucks. Further it is believed that maaze gives courage, bravery, growth, decency, velour and the peace to the owner, family and his clan. Therefore, maaze are annually preformed Phirya penam (special ritual involve in maintaining the wellbeing and protection of a maaze) by inviting Nyubu. A special type of altar are erected in the house depicting vividly the god and goddesses of Phirya Uii [ kind of god who protects wealth ] and a red cock is sacrificed in the name of Phirya Uii. The ritual shall commence early in the morning and concluded before noon. In this kind of ritual no second priest is required as is practiced on other ritual system. All the family member, neighbour, and expert persons of village are invited to see and foretell chicken lever omen.

All traditional wealth of the owner shall be placed systematically near the altar and the priest would chant mantras. The priest call all god and goddesses of Phirya to come and accept the offerings, also priest can call god to visit the soul of person having supernatural power of Nyubu and nyigikh nyegam (expert of traditional rhapsody and narrations). When god visits the soul of person that particular person will shiver and tremble [it is known as khul hanam] down and get unconscious, thereafter, priest will ask god or goddesses to leave the body of that person. It is believed that when god and goddesses come to the house it shall rest on the altar and the red cock hung upside down on the altar will give sound and try to move upward and to fly away because of fear of the gods and goddesses. Nyishi believes that all type of animals can see the god, goddesses, and the spirit of good and bad. The male member of the owner shall sit near the altar and when cock gives sound and move they will jointly welcome the visiting gods with humming sound thrice such as khum (tight lip humming sound) and at the end one elder member will make steep sound called keggok gagman(high pitch long howling sound)

Safety and security of Keeping Maaze

The maaze are made of alloys and it has the special characteristics, hence proper handling of maaze is much necessary. As the traditional way of keeping maaze are summarized below:

Maaze is brittle and easy breakable metal; it may develop cracks on the body if not handled properly and delicately. Hence it is kept at the most safer place most provably away from the house in jungle but under the soil and secured. It has the colour to be preserved, accordingly Maj are buried under soil in safer place. It is believed and the fact that Maj natural colour remains as usual generations, if kept under soil and periodically checked. The maaze shall be recognized and valued if it bears the natural colour and the body is intact. Cracks discolour and spotted on the body of maaze will be treated dead and valueless. It is brought from the place only on performing ritual and on the occasion of maaze nyeda and other transaction. It is also believed that the discoloration and cracks of maaze by itself signifies unforeseen happening and calamities, to the owner family and clans. Noticing such kind of phenomenon, maaze owner and its family member would take serious remedial measures that is consulting expert priest, and performing ritual. 

The maaze and the other traditional wealth of Thanyi group of society particularly to the Nyishi, as per local custom the eldest son of the family shall keep all family wealth of father after his death. It is some time seen that the wealth of father before his death are handed over to any son at his will on certain ground, due to lunatic, incapable and have no confidence upon the eldest son. But doing so father shall divide his wealth equally to all living son. This way the clanship wealth especially the maaze and thalu will be handed down to generations to generations.

Change of Ownership of a Maaze      

Maaze the sacred ornament are subjected to change of ownership within the family and society like any other wealth, however its ownership changes are relatively on special circumstances. The change of ownership may take place in these manners: (i) Family, (ii) Relatives or Matrimonial Relatives, and (iii) Others.

(1) Within Family

It is a natural case that when parent become old as per custom the eldest son of the family take over the ownership of maaze and other wealth observing simple ceremony. This could be a sebbe sacrifice as a mark of parental respect. How ever the transfer of parental wealth may be made within family members by birth, position and at the discretion of owner.

(2) Relatives or Matrimonial Relatives          

The maaze and other wealth may be transferred to in-laws and distance relatives. This may be done due to absence of male child, lack of confidence amongst the family brothers, and wife.

(3) Others

On exceptional case the maaze and other wealth may be transferred to any person, in the way of exchange for barter, strong social bonding and for the security of family members. The ceremonial changes the maaze nyeda of maaze are done for strong social relationship between the clan. 

Maaze Nyeda

Traditionally the highly placed wealth maaze are given away with the marriage of daughter to strengthen the matrimonial relation generations to come. Every parent or guardian wish to give away as much wealth  as practicable with the marriage of daughter or sister, as it is matter of pride of daughter or sister and the parents in the society. But most of parent does not have much wealth to part with on the event of their daughter because of limited traditional wealth in circulation. The wealth of parent is directly or gradually drained away by daughters including the maaze. Sometime maaze nyeda (traditional maaze negotiations ceremony procession) are also organized. In the event of lone maaze nyeda system, omen examinations are not performed like that of traditional matrimonial marriage system. Maaze nyeda are also not performed every-were and by every person. The Maaze nyeda is performed on special ground occasionally by the rich person. Basically Maaze nyeda is organized between kit and kens and relatives only. Sometime on special ground, like fear of war by other clan, sub-clan and extending strong future relationship build up maaze are transferred and given to prominent person.

The system adopted during maaze nyeda is similar to that of traditional matrimonial ceremony. Maaze owners (daph) house by visiting party [danh] to possess maaze will continue till final day arrives. On the final day of maaze nyeda both party would enter a final discussion, intended Maj and other wealth will be placed before all presence and performed traditional songs and rituals. The danh party will leave the daph house before noon and on the road or path junction a special short dapoh dinnam (ritual] performed and erects a dapoh signifying strong bond between both clans. Community feast and a ritual performed on arrival of the danh house.

Present Position of Maaze

Modernity has always been critical to the past and maaze one of the object of past is within the ambit of operation. Growing up generation is susceptible to newer one thereby limiting access to the history of its own. The knowledge about maaze historical value, Attach ceremonies and importance is fading away. This ancestral wealth is one of the threatened objects at this transitional era. Limited member of the Thanyi society knew about traditional and highly valued wealth. Societies tend to sale and buy maaze and other wealth without observing traditional norms. Rich people are procuring this class of wealth on their will at any time without practicing custom thereby breaking away the main stream of Thanyism practice pertaining to maaze. The growing up generation is unaware of maaze and other wealth endowed upon us by our ancestor. They are relatively satisfied with modern product and glittering object which is abundant at the modern market. The maaze types, structures, design, symbols, values and attach ceremonies are far beyond understanding of present society more particularly the younger members of Nyishi.             Slowly but gradually the maaze are substituted by diamond, gold, silver and other modern produces and they are surely losing phases of civilization that bears the maaze and other traditional wealth.

To uphold the traditional values of maaze and to enrich importance and ceremonies attached to the maaze present society should consider maaze as an object of central piece of our evolution and civilization. Our concept on maaze should be traced back to the traditional way and it should be emphasized in all strata of Thanyi society. Rich and poor should adapt to the traditional norms of possession and more education imparted to younger generation.


*Chukhu  Cheechung is the Additional Deputy Commissioner, Patuk, Kurung Kumey District, Arunachal Pradesh.

This Article was presented as a paper in the Seminar on ‘The Nyishi   Traditional Culture and Faith : Change and Continuity’, organised jointly by the Nyishi Indigenous Faith and Society and VKIC Arunachal Pradesh Chapter, at Itanagar, 2006