Tribes from Odisha
Of all the states of India, Odisha (Orissa) has the largest number of tribes, as many as 62 that constitute an impressive 24 percent of the total population of the state. These tribes mainly inhabit the Eastern Ghats hill range that runs in the north-south direction. More than half of their population is concentrated in the three districts of Koraput (undivided), Sundergarh and Mayurbhanj.
Subsistence oriented economy of the tribes here is based on food gathering, hunting and fishing, thus, revolving around forests. Even the large tribes like Santal, Munda, Oram and Gond, settled agriculturists, often supplement their economy with hunting and gathering. While farming, they make use of a very simple technology and a simple division of labor often limited to the immediate family. But they lose out because their holdings are small and unproductive, lacking irrigation facility due to a hilly and undulating terrain.
Many tribes like Juanga, Bhuiyan, Saora, Dharua and Bonda practice shifting cultivation or Podu Chasa, also known as slash and burn. They select a plot of land on a mountain slope, slash down all the trees and bushes and burn them to ashes. Spreading the ashes evenly over the land, they wait for the rains before planting their crops. Due to cultivation for two or three seasons on one plot of land the soil gets depleted and the tribes move on. It is a way of life for them.
Koya is the tribe of cattle-breeders. There are simple artisans too like the Mohali and Loharas, who practice crafts of basket weaving and tool making. A sizeable part of the tribal population of Odisha (Orissa) notably the Santals, Munda, Oran and Ho has moved to the mining and industrial belts of the state, thus, easing out the pressures on small holdings.
Even if the tribal economy is shaky, tribal culture, in its pristine state, is rich and distinctive and the Adivasis work hard to preserve it. A tribal village manages its internal affairs very smoothly through two institutions — the village council of elders and the youth dormitory.
The core of tribal culture, the youth dormitory, is the largest hut in the village. It has only three walls, profusely decorated with symbols representing animals. The fourth side is open. By night dormitory is home to the youth of the village. But before and after a hard day’s work, people gather here to chat and relax. The council of elders meets here too to discuss matters relating to the welfare of the village.
The open space in font of the dormitory is where youths and maidens dance with abandon every evening, for tribal culture allows free mixing of the two sexes. Despite their poverty, the tribes of Odisha (Orissa) have retained their rich and colorful heritage of dance and music. Every tribal can sing and dance to the sound of pipe and drum, and give tune to impromptu compositions that come to him/her as naturally as breathing.
The tribal people of Odisha (Orissa) observe a string of festivals. Some are closed affairs, relating to a birth or death within the family or a daughter attaining puberty. Others relate to sowing or harvest time and involve the entire community. Mostly a festival is an occasion for good Mahua liquor; a game roasted on the sprit and a night of song and dance is revelry.
But that is not the end, there is an animal sacrifice too, for the deities and sprits must be appeased first, particularly the malevolent ones, so they don’t unleash drought or sickness on the land. Tribal people are superstitious. ‘Ojha’ occupies a position of honor since he not only prescribes medicines for the sick but is also believed to exorcise evil sprits.