The Tibeto-Burman Lisu tribe has been living inside the dense contiguous forests of Namdapha spread over 20,000 sq. km from Arunachal Pradesh on the Indian side, into Myanmar. Their ancestors, a hunter-gatherer tribe from the Yunnan province in China— first reached Myanmar and then into India foraging for food — eventually settling in these Indian forests way before the India-Myanmar international border was demarcated in 1972. Distanced from the monetised economy bereft of most modern technological advancements, they made home in these forests.
In 1983, the Indian government converted their native land into Namdapha National Park & Tiger Reserve on the India-Myanmar border of Arunachal Pradesh, India, and called the Lisus ‘poachers’ and ‘encroachers’ triggering decades of neglect and human rights abuse. They have no roads, electricity, schools, doctors, phone network etc. till date. They undertake three to six days of arduous trek to reach the nearest town for essential supplies, medical aid etc. Their children die without treatment and grow up without education while the world is oblivious of their existence. But abandoning the forest the Lisus’ call ‘home’ is inconceivable.
They cohabit symbiotically with nature revelling in its mysteries, treat their sick, build each other’s home, pray, celebrate and mourn together. How does a community respond with kindness and hope in the face of adversity? I wondered. Does cohabiting with nature influence and shape us? Over the last seven years (2013-), I gradually reflected on the Lisu way of life — philosophy and magnanimity of spirit — and realised it is magical. I embraced poetic aesthetics and magic realism to evoke an aura of their mythical world instead of resorting to spectacle.