As per the Ahom Chronicles, the Nocte tribe have been living in Tirap since the beginning of 12th Century AD. The Nocte tribe migrated from at least five places of Myanmar, and speak four dialects.
The term Nocte/Nokte, was coined in the 1950s. It has been derived from two words: Nok, which means village, and Tey, which means people. In the medieval and pre-colonial period, the Nocte tribe was called Noga or Naga, because of the tribe's close ethnic relation with the Naga tribes of Nagaland. As per the location of the village, the Ahoms called the Noctes as Namsangya or Namsangia, Borduaria or Bor Duris and Paniduaria. The native name of the above villages are Hakhunthin or Thinnyan, Sahla and Longchang, respectively. Read about the History of the Nocte term.
Formally known as Tirap Frontier Tract, the Nocte tribe is concentrated in the southernmost part of Arunachal Pradesh, Tirap District. The district measures approximately 2362 square kilometres, surrounded by unique picturesque hills. It lies between the latitudes 26º 38’ N and 27º 47’ N and the longitudes 96º 16’ E and 95º 40’ E.
The district's name has been derived from the River Tirap, which originates from a high peak in Laju Circle. The river flows from the southeast to the northeast part of the district and then crossing over to Changlang district and finally joins into the Buri-Dihing river near Ledo of Assam. It shares a state border with Nagaland and Assam, an international border with Myanmar and a district border with Changlang and Longding Districts of Arunachal Pradesh. Changlang bifurcated from Tirap in 1987, and Longding in 2012.
In 1814, under the lead of Lowang and Mongwang families of Namsang, a small group of Noctes belonging to various villages came down from the hills and settled on the banks of Dihing River at Jeypore in Naharkatia (Assam), which is about 30 kilometres away from the tribe’s mainland. This Nocte village in Assam is called Pontuan. As of 2020, there are around 38 houses in Pontuan village with a population of not more than 200. Read more on Pontuan Noctes.
A considerable number of Nocte families reside in Rajanagar area of Changlang district.
Wang Hang, was the name of the chief who led the migration of the Nocte group from Hukong in Myanmar. He is the ancestor of the ruling families of Borduria, Namsang and Laptang villages. In some texts, he is mentioned as Khunbao. Khunbao is actually a Tai word which is used to signify a person of a royal blood and given the fact that the Noctes were Buddhist in Myanmar, the name should not sound alien. Wang Hang had two sons Khunlang and Khunlai. They were succeeded by Tangthok and Tankam.
Another group of Noctes migrated from Hakhi Haja in Myanmar under the lead of Dambang Kakon . He is the ancestor of the ruling family of Dadam village.
Tewang Lowang and Tumwang Lowang were the leaders of the Khunnu group who migrated from Tangnyu/Tang in present-day Myanmar.
Naisan led another group from Wakka area of Longding district. He is the ancestor of the ruling family of Lapnan and Luthong villages.
The group led by Wang Hang migrated from Hukong Valley in Myanmar. They came via Pongsau Pass and down to Jeypore in Assam, along the Dihing river. Then they came up the hill and settled near the present Laptang village. They followed Buddhism in Myanmar. Golden umbrellas, stone tablets and wood bark writings in Bali or Pali language, were found in the possession of Wang Hang's descendants, as a testimony of their origin.
Dambang Kakon and his group migrated from a place called Hakhi Haja, under Patkai Hill range, in Myanmar and settled in present Dadam village. On their way, they stayed in the Laju circle, home of Ollo and Tutsa tribes, for three days and three nights.
Dadam was originally inhabited by the Wakka Wanchos. To clear them away, Kakon invited Kamhua Wanchos and then settled down together. For this reason, Dadam have two chiefs, representing two different groups - one, the group of Kakon, and two, the group of Kamhua. However, Kamhua group speaks the Nocte language.
The monarchs of Khela and Kheti were brothers and ruled over the Hakhun-thong area covering/stretching from Tarung river in the south, to Baamat river (which belongs to Longrak) in the north of Tirap district. They prefer to be called as “Khunnu”, while the Ahoms identified them as Borkhunma. Tracing their origins from Tang/Tangnyu in present-day Myanmar or maybe beyond, Kheti and Khela are believed to have migrated to present-day Tirap not later than 16th century CE, taking into account their arrival before the advent of Vaishnavism in the Nocte area during the 17th-18th century. While Khela is the elder of the two, it is Kheti that is said to have migrated first to their present settlement. Led by Chief Tewang Lowang and his younger brother Witwang Lowang, Kheti separated from Khela at a place called “Phanyyu”. “Phannyu” loosely translates to place of separation and isn’t the name of a place. Khela, led by the Elder Chief Tumwang Lowang and Liamwang/Liamlang Lowang ( Galey and Nyamnya) ended up taking a different route through the lower Nocte belt of Borduria and Paniduria.
After Phanyu, Khela made their way through Longchaang or the present-day Paniduria, where they were accorded a very warm welcome. Longchaang at the time was inhabited by Khapá speaking people who are believed to have migrated or fled to Siloni Gaon in Sibsagar district of Assam. Khapa dialect is widely used in Nocte folk songs (Si-Thaak) and tales to this day. Tupi and Nokchha villages in present-day Tirap are keepers of this ancient dialect. Si-Thaak (loosely translating to referencing/comparing through songs) during ceremonies of importance still employ Khapa extensively. On enquiring of their Kheti kins, the Khela group was pointed towards the Saan Sahla Ho (present-day Borduria) which translates to “Where the Sun Shines Bright”. Khela departed from Longchaang with provisions of food from their hosts and marched towards Borduria. Like at Longchaang, the Khela people were welcomed at Saan Saahla Ho with vigour. An interesting development took shape there between the people of Borduria and Khela with a mutual agreement to foster matrimonial relations between the two. Matrimonial relations at the time primarily meant intermarriages between the royal families of the two villages. The Khela people then marched on towards “Kiet Dong Wang Thong” pointed out to them by their hosts at Borduria. It was the present-day Khonsa. To this day, Khonsa town is referred to as “Kiet” by the travellers from Khela and Kheti villages.
Before departing, the Borduria Chief gifted an Ox to the Chief of Khela as a mark of their friendship and agreed upon terms of maintaining cordial matrimonial ties. The Ox was a sacrificial beast, marked to be slaughtered for the feast if and when the Khela united with its Kheti kins. It is said the Ox’s hooves were painted white as a mark of distinction for the animal destined to be slaughtered to sanctify the reunion of the two forlorn brothers. Khela continued their journey towards Khonsa or Kiet. During the night halt at the western hilltop of Khonsa town, the travellers were terrified by the constant roars of a “Saah” (any wild cat of sizeable make is called a Saah in Nocte). The name of the hill, which is currently the helipad at Khonsa, hence came to be known as "Saah Jup Ho" (translating to the place where the tiger sleeps). Due to the sheer fright, the ceremonial Ox gifted by the Chief of Borduria was cut loose to lure away the tiger. This frightful ordeal was quickly forgotten the next day when three hunters stumbled upon the tired and exhausted group of travellers the next morning. They were from Kheti village. Months and perhaps years after they parted ways at Phannyu, the two villages were finally reunited. Overwhelmed with joy and relief on seeing familiar faces, they danced together at the spot which they named “Bongthin Ho” (present-day SP bungalow area at Khonsa). Bongthin Ho means “the Place of Dancing”. Dancing on these occasions is orchestrated by a Si-Wa (a singer of repute) in the Khapa language to this day.
Under the lead of Naisan, a group of eighty families migrated from a place called Ofan nu, from Myanmar. Then they migrated to Wakka village of Longding district. After that, they moved to Kam Sinjong near present Kheti village. The people of Kheti frequently attacked them, and thus, they migrated to Luthong or Lothung. When their population increased, Lapnan village was formed.
The forefathers of Doidam village migrated from a place called Mankong in Myanmar and came to the Patkai Hills via Soro and Tilang. Crossing the hills, they came to Changlang district. From there, they went to Fanglim. Then they moved to Tutnu, Wakka, Tilang etc., and finally to Doidam. The main cause of their migration was to find suitable land for cultivation. At Tilang, they were divided into two groups - one settled in Doidam, and the other went to Changlang.
In search of suitable land for cultivation, the forefathers of Soha village abandoned their homeland called Ngeimung in Myanmar. Crossing the Patkai Hills, they came to a place called Thungja and then to Phungsa. Both these places are on the bank of Barap river in Laju circle. From Phungsa, they crossed a Langtok Hill and briefly stayed in Longcho. Then they came to Moinak, and finally to present day Soha village.
The Nocte language falls within the Tibeto-Burman language family. There are four main dialects in the Nocte language, and they are:
The migratory groups from Hukong and Hakhi Haja speak the Hawa dialect. There are many villages who speak the Hawa dialect, and some of them are Bera, Borduria, Chinkoi, Dadam, Namsang, Hunkan, Kaimai, Kheti, Kuthin, Laho, Laptang, Moktowa, Sipini, Sumsi, Khunchha, Wasathong etc.
Hawa dialect has been given the code ISO 639:3:njb Naga, Nocte. As per renowned anthropologist and linguist, Robbins Burling, the Nocte language can be categorized together with Bodo-Garo, Koch, Konyak and Jingphaw languages into the Sal subgroup of Tibeto Burman language family.
Know more about the Hawa dialect from Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal (1849) and Verbal Agreement and Grammatical Description of Hawa (2016).
Khappa dialect is rich in terms of vocabulary and grammar. It is spoken in only three villages, namely, Noksa, Tupi and Polung. Khappa people also migrated from Hukong. In the beginning, they were ruled by the Tangdong dynasty, but with the passage of time, Wang Hang and his descendants became the ruling family. An agreement was reached between them, and it was decided that the common tongue of the Noctes will be the Hawa dialect, and all the folk songs will be sung in Khapa dialect.
People who migrated from Mankong and Ngeimung, speak the Fong dialect, sometimes also written as Phong. This dialect is spoken in a number of villages such as Doidam, Dongrong, Kenon, Makat, Mopaya, Soha etc. They are originally Tangsa tribe of Changlang district.
Wancho is not a dialect, but a rich language, with script, of the Wancho tribe of Longding district. Villages such as Lapnan, Luthong and Chasa, speak the Wancho language.
The following articles are speculative in nature, and open to interpretation:
They both have the practice of carving out a large hollow drum from a single tree and then dragging it to the village. The drum plays an important role in their culture and is used during festivals, attacks, meetings etc.
Head hunting was parcticed by them and the head taken from their rivals were kept in a designated place for display.
The villages are headed by a hereditary chief (usually the head of the oldest clan). The chief was assisted by a council of the heads of other clans and a religious expert.
They predominately practice monogamy. However, there are few instances of polygamy. Marriage within the same clan is considered a taboo. The most preferable match for a man is to marry his maternal uncle's daughter.
Both the cultures put immense importance upon the consumption of betel leaves, areca nuts and edible tree barks. The Noctes used them for religious ceremonies and before a festival a ritual called Sali Hun is performed where the girls go to forest and collect edible tree barks.
N.B.: The above information is not exhaustive and is subject to change with new findings and research. Valuable suggestions with references is welcome.
Juruh is a community fishing event observed by the Nocte tribe. It is done in the month of April. Concoction paste extracted from tree barks function as a temporary hypnosis agent resulting in bounty fish harvest, mostly fishing nets are employed by the villagers.