Tribal people of Orissa

orissa_tribe.jpgThe 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 tribals 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 this 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 has its own indigenous customs and continues to practice 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 Santhals, 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 Santhal, 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.

The Paraja tribe is primarily located in the Kalahandi and Koraput regions of 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. 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. The Bondos are fiercely independent and aggressive, and continue to practice 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. The Gonds are the warrior caste who have travelled the vast tracts of central and south India. 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.

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