Pemako - Migration

Migration

This study explores the history of migration by different Buddhist peoples from eastern Bhutan, the neighbouring Tawang area and the Tibetan plateau to the ‘hidden land’ (Tib. sbas yul) of Pemakö, and the circumstances that induced migrants to leave their homelands. The descendants of these diverse migrants who settled in the southern part of Pemakö - the Tuting, Geling and Singa Circles of Upper Siang District, Arunachal Pradesh - became officially classified as the Memba and Khamba1‘Scheduled Tribes’ (hereafter ST) by the Indian administration during the early 1950s, in order to incorporate them all into the newly independent Indian state. These ST categories were constructed on the basis of supposed common group origins and spoken language, and thus convey the impression that Upper Siang’s Buddhist population consists of two different groups, both of which are internally homogeneous. However, both written sources of the British and post-independence Indian administration and my own fieldwork data demonstrate clearly that Pemakö’s Buddhist population traces its origins back to a wide variety of homelands. Moreover, the ST labels are themselves exonyms that carry certain stereotypes and negative notions, especially the label Memba. Thus, both the Memba and Khampa labels meet with disapproval by local peoples so labeled. The present study retraces the various migration histories and movements of Pemakö ancestor populations. This allows some preliminary explanation of the autonyms used by these migrants themselves, in contrast to the generic exonyms, such as Memba and Khampa, that external agents haveapplied to them. We can also demonstrate that, in large part due to the religious status of the region as a hidden land, Pemakö became an ethno-linguistic melting pot for migrants from many different places. This diverse group nevertheless developed a common Buddhist identity vis-à-vis their nonBuddhist neighbours, while simultaneously maintaining clear group boundaries among themselves according to place of origin and/or residence.

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