The antiquity of Orissa is endorsed by
her ancient people who continue to inhabit their traditional dwelling
places in remote areas in the deep forests and hilly interiors. Steeped in
the mystery that surrounds their ancient ways, the Orissan tribal continue
to be a source of deep interest not only for anthropologists and
sociologists but also for numerous tourists who flock to Orissa in search
of the exotic mystique of their relatively unexplored state.
Orissa has 62 distinct tribal groups, making it the largest collection of tribal people in a single state in the country. Each of these tribal groups have their own indigenous customs and continue to practise them even today. Orissa is home to India's ancient civilization and most of it is concentrated around the eastern Ghat hill ranges in the region of Koraput, Sundargarh and Mayurbhanj. Many tourists do get to meet some of these tribal groups and see them in their natural habitat, though access to some tribal areas is still strictly restricted.
But what the tourist manages to see can be an experience that is both enriching and educative.
The tribal economy is by and large based on activities around the jungles. Food gathering hunting and fishing continue to be the main source of livelihood though some of the larger tribes such as the 'Santals', 'Mundas' and 'Gonds' have become agriculturists. The 'Juang', 'Bhuyan', 'Bondo', 'Saora' and 'Dharua' tribes follow the shifting cultivation practice.
The 'Koya' tribals are cattle breeders while the Mohali and 'Lohara' are simple artisans involved in basket weaving and tool-making. The Santal, Munda and 'Ho' tribals have now also become involved in the mining and industrial belts of Orissa.
Though their economy is a bit shaky, the Orissan tribals enjoy a rich and varied cultural heritage, the most powerful instance of this being in their music and dance, which are as colourful as they are rhythmical. The cycle of life offers numerous reasons to celebrate and is done so with vigour and grace, either in the privacy of the family home or as a community activity. The changing seasons, religious customs and the traditional rhythms of superstitious belief are strong incentives for creating a string of festivals to augment their importance to the tribals.
Kondhs: The Kondhs form numerically the largest group among 62 tribes of Orissa Customarily they were once famous for their brutal acts of human sacrifice ('Meriah') to achieve the end product of bumper crops and killing of infants for better yield of turmeric.
There are various sections among the Kondhs. Each section is endogamous through originally they hail from the Kondh community. The 'Dongria Kondhs' of Koraput district and 'Kutia Kondhs' of Belghar area of Boudh-Kondhamals in Phulbani district (now renamed as the Kondhmal district) represent the primitive sections. The 'Desia Kondhs' inhabit the plains and the coastal areas. They represent the Hinduised section of the tribe.
Paraja: The 'Paraja' tribe is primarily located in the Kalahandi and Koraput regions or Orissa. Their language is 'Parij'. They worship numerous Gods and Goddesses who live in the hills and forests. They love dance and music during weddings.
Saora: The 'Saora' tribe is one of the most ancient
and they are known for being marathon walkers, expert hunters and
climbers. Personal hygiene is of intense importance to them.
Bondos: The 'Bondos' are fiercely independent and aggressive, and continue to practise the barter system of exchanging produce from their fields for their daily needs. Bondo women prefer to marry younger men because they can have someone who will earn for them in their old age.
Gonds: The 'Gonds' are the warrior caste who have travelled the vast tracts of central and south India.
Oraon: The Oraon tribals are economically better placed because of their more progressive ways and interaction with the modern world, in the field of agriculture. An Oraon marriage partner can contest for divorce on the grounds of not only adultery but also for bad temper and laziness.
The Tribal marriage system is of particular interest as it throws light on the evolution of the system, which comprises practices like winning of the bride by capture, purchase, service to the parent, elopement- negotiation. In course of time the system of negotiation has come to receive preference.
Payment in various forms is made for bride price but with modernization the dowry system has come into vogue. The marriage rites are now performed in the bride's house instead of the groom's house. Prescriptive and preferential marriages with maternal or paternal uncle's son or daughter prevail among Dravidian Tribal communities except the Kondhs.
Adult marriage is the usual practice. Among the Bondas and Saoras the groom is younger than the bride. Polygamy is prevalent among certain tribes to exhibit prestige and importance. Multiple wives, as with the Saoras, helps in sharing and reducing the burden of labour. Clan exogamy is observed by most tribes and even village exogamy by some of them. Extra-marital relationship is riot approved by the tribals and is not of common occurrence either.
The religion of the tribal community is the resultant of traditions and beliefs that have come down to them from antiquity. The tribals like the Hindus are polytheists. The supreme deity, who is believed to be the creator of the world, is a mythical figure, under whom there are a number of gods and goddesses often malignant in dispensation.
The Rituals & Supernatural Beliefs
The tribals rely on the village priests to please and propitiate their gods at the time of sickness, pestilence or for the yield of good crops and healthy Livestock good progeny. Life crisis rites of different types, cyclic community rites like sowing of seeds, harvesting of crops, eating of the first corn, the performance of seasonal festivals like 'Guar' (Saora), 'Gohar' (Gadaba), 'Push' 'Ponei' (Juang), 'Kedu' (Kondh), 'Karam' (Cram), 'Chait Parab' (Bonda), 'Magh Parab' (Santal), other community rites, ancestral rites, occult practices are decided upon by the village priest.
The influence of Christian and Hindu religions is seen in the celebration of Christian festivals like Easter, Good Friday and Christmas and Hindu festivals like Raja, 'Gamha Pumima', 'Durga Puja' and 'Laxmi Puja' and the worship of Lord Jagannatha (originally a 'Savara' deity), Shiva and Parvati. Their religion, which exhibits features of animism, animalism, anthropomorphism, nature-worship, fetishism, ancestor-worship is under the control, guidance and supervision of the village.
ART AND CRAFTS
Tribal art is entirely folk art; it is the concern of ever-common man and woman in the community and does not admit of improvisation by an expert. The traditional architecture of the tiny tribal houses, gable or dome-shaped, has an eye-catching appeal of its own.
The houses of the Santal and Ho tribes have their walls decorated in pretty colours and painted with figures of animals, birds and flowers. The doors of the Kondh houses are skillfully carved with traditional figurines. The Saora icons drawn on their walls are highly appreciated.
Tribal crafts are simple and artistic. The common items of manufacture are baskets, headdresses, textiles, combs, necklaces, bangles, earrings and articles with artistic specialty for use by tribal communities. Tribal art depicts the beauty and simplicity of their life. The continuity of tribal culture through the past, present and future is also maintained through tribal art.
The tribes of Orissa, despite their poverty and their pre-occupation with the continual battle for survival, have retained the rich and varied heritage of colourful dance and music forming integral part of their festivals and rituals. Among them, the dance and music is developed and maintained by themselves in a tradition without aid and intervention of any professional dancer or teacher.
It is mainly through the songs and dances the tribes seek to satisfy their inner urge for revealing their soul. The performance of these only give expression to their inner feelings, their joys and sorrows, their natural affections and passion and their appreciation of beauty in nature and in man.
Harmonised With The Music
Although the pattern of dance and music prevalent among them vary from tribe to tribe yet there are certain features common to all. Tribal dances have some accompaniments by means of which the rhythm is maintained. This consists of clapping of hands or beating of drums or an orchestra of different instruments.
Every dance is accompanied by a song, which is sung by the performers. Men and women, young and old dance and invariably sing but the accompanying orchestra or music is usually provided by the male members. Tribal dance is characterized not only by its originality and spontaneity but also for its wide range of movements. Many parts of the body such as head, back, arms, feet. finger, etc. are brought into play. Some of the tribal groups put on colourful dancing costume during their performance.
The Sound Of Music
Like dance, the songs sung by different tribal groups differ from one tribe to the other. Among the tribes everyone is a musician and poet. When happily inspired, they can coin a song then and there and sing it. Like any others, when they see things of beauty and meet pleasantly, they exhibit this pleasure and happiness by composing songs.
One finds in these songs humours, jokes, romance, satires, criticisms, acquisitions and anger. Though there is no modernity and fineness, their ideas being natural, the compositions are good, inspiring and melodious. On the occasion of performing Pujas and observance of festivals the songs sung are different. Such songs are adopted from the past so many years. These songs describe the history of gods, the process of creation and some epic stories.