Capturing a Culture

The Mountain Eye Project

Moji Riba set up the Centre for Cultural Research and Documentation in 1997 in Itanagar, the capital city of Arunachal and has created many documentaries for national television and  government and non-governmental agencies . The Centre for Cultural Research and Documentation was created to give the tribal people a platform to voice their concerns and share experiences. Moji has a master’s degree in mass communications, was instrumental in creating the diploma in mass communications at Itanagar’s Rajiv Gandhi University, and is head of the university’s communications department in addition to running the centre.

The unprecedented rate at which cultural change is taking place is simply too large, too rapid and too overwhelming for the Centre to capture through standard methods. Moji’s idea was to create the Mountain Eye Project, an unconventional and ambitious initiative that aims to create a cinematic time capsule documenting a year in the life of 15 different ethnic groups. The idea is to select and train young people from each community to do the filming. This way the film-makers give viewers access to an intimate understanding of village life. The novice film-makers are able to capture a broad range of the tribes’ oral histories and the rituals, ceremonies, and festivals that take place over a year in their villages to provide an invaluable record of life as it has been lived in the state for centuries. The Mountain Eye Project engages scholars from 15 tribes at the University in Itanagar to analyze,  translate, and organize the stories and information gathered to make them openly accessible for people to experience and learn about the cultures, the community, and the life of the communities.

Film-makers are invited to create a film based on a particular aspect of their village that moved them. The films become the cornerstone for interactive workshops with the films shown alongside traditional artistic activities such as mask-making, painting, storytelling and participatory games using local languages. Students are encouraged to create heritage activity clubs in their schools and colleges and create events where students from different tribes can meet and exchange cultural experiences.

Accepting Change

“It would be unrealistic to expect that customs will continue to be practiced in their original forms. The forces of change are larger than what we can take on. We are instead trying to create a space where some customs will continue to live in some form or the other. Some  practices definitely, like the singing of songs, the telling of folktales and the fun of the folk dances. Others like the Apatani nose piercing or the Wancho tattoos and the war rituals more to be understood and valued for what they would have meant to our people in another time and age. I like to think of our heritage as an elastic band. I want to stretch this as much into the future generations as we can.

The scale of the project is large, it’s almost like working against the clock to try and get as much done within a limited time frame in a vast area. Therefore, the resources needed are also relatively large”

Moji Riba

The idea is to give children and young people an appreciation of their traditional heritage to help make sense of their ancestry and their identity.

Films will be screened in New Delhi, giving the  film-makers the opportunity to present their work to a large audience in a country where cinema is one of the most popular forms of entertainment.

Ultimately, Riba hopes to draw attention to this part of the world, enhance the Centre’s visibility and encourage support from other sources.

“Language is a significant part of our culture, our heritage, and we cannot afford to let it die. In today’s era of globalization, where everybody is encouraged to be the same as everybody else, language is one of the only things we have left to distinguish ourselves. The Mountain Eye Project will help preserve these languages for new generations to bridge the divide between modern society and their tribal identity, inspiring them to be in touch with their roots.”

Capturing a Culture

Apatani People
Monpa people