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India’s Tribal Communities- The Bhil Tribe of Gujarat

  • The Bhils are considered as one of the oldest tribes in India.
  • Once they were the ruler in parts of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Malwa, Madhya Pradesh and  Bihar.
  • They are a cross-section of the great Munda race and a wild tribe of India.
  • Bhils could be identified as one of the Dravidian racial tribe of Western India and belong to Australoid group of tribes.
  • They speak a language of Dravidian origin.
  • This tribe has migrated to Tripura from central India mainly from Bihar and Madhya  Pradesh.
  • Their economy is centralized with Tea gardens, Brickfield and Agriculture.
  • Their major concentrations in Tripura are mainly in Akinpur of Belonia, Bagan Bazar of  Khowai Sub-Division.
  • They are also found in North Tripura working in Tea gardens.
  • Bhils are Hindus by religion. They appease deities of forest and evil spirits beside pujas of Lord Shiva and Durga. Small percentages among them follow Christianity.
  • They cremate their dead following a series of rites as per their traditional customs and beliefs.
  • Bhils are also fond of dance and music with traditional tunes of Flute and Drum.
  • In all family and community ceremonies, they enjoy the whole night by drinking and dancing. Bhils in other parts of the country are well literate and enjoy the modern weave of life.
  • The name is derived from the word ‘billu’, which means bow.
  • The Bhil are known to be excellent archers coupled with in-depth knowledge about their local geography.
  • Traditionally, experts in guerrilla warfare, most of them today are farmers and agricultural labourers. They are also skilled sculptors.
  • Bhil women wear traditional saris while men are dressed in long frocks and pyjamas. The woman put on heavy ornaments made of silver, brass along with rosaries of beads and silver coins and earrings.

BHIL TRIBE OF GUJARAT 

 

POPULATION: 12,705,753 (2001 census)

LANGUAGE: 

  • The language commonly spoken by Bhils throughout their geographic distribution is Bhili.
  • Bhili has about up to 36 identified dialects and pronunciation differs by region.
  • Bhili is based on Gujarati, but dialects of Bhili gradually merge into more widely spoken  languages such as Marathi in the southeast and Rajasthani in the northwest
  • Estimates of individuals speaking the language are often inaccurate as speakers of minor  languages like Bhili have sometimes been treated as having major languages (such as  Marathi or Gujarati) as their mother tongue.

RELIGION: Tribal religions (97%); Hinduism

LOCATION: India (Southern Rajasthan and bordering areas of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and  Maharashtra states)

LIVING CONDITIONS 

  • Traditionally, Bhils live in small, dispersed hamlets known as phala, which are occupied  by families of the same clan.
  • Each settlement comprises a hut or group of huts standing alone in the middle of an area of cultivated land.
  • Several hamlets may grow together to form a village or pal. The village may be a multi-clan community.
  • Each village has a hereditary headman, who is a member of the village’s dominant or founding clan.
  • The headman is called panch, vasavo, tadavi, naik, mukhi, or other names according to local usage.
  • The presence of the headman is necessary at most social and ritual functions in the village.
  • A bamboo fence often surrounds individual huts.
  • Their walls are typically built of mud or bamboo, wattled with mud, clay, and cow dung.  ∙ The roofs are thatched, made from grass or leaves, and supported by rafters of teak or whatever wood is available. Huts are windowless and have a single entrance only.
  • They are often used both as living quarters and for housing cattle.
  • Bedsteads woven from bamboo or sleeping mats are used for sleeping, while household utensils are usually made from clay rather than metal.
  • Earthenware jars and baskets are used for storage.
  • The more affluent farmers may own cattle and possess a bullock-cart and other agricultural implements.
  • Few Bhils attain this level of prosperity, and livestock is more commonly limited to a few goats and poultry.

FAMILY LIFE 

  • Kinship among the Bhils reflects regional Gujarati, Rajasthani, and Maharashtrian patterns.
  • Bhil tribes and subtribes are endogamous; that is to say, marriage occurs within the social group.
  • There is, however, little intermarriage between the inhabitants of the hills and the plains.
  • The Bhils also make a distinction between the Ujwala (pure) Bhils and the Kalia (impure)  Bhils, groups that also rarely intermarry.
  • The Bhils are divided into numerous clans, and clan exogamy (marriage outside one’s own clan) is strictly followed.
  • However, beyond its name and its role in defining a pool of marriage partners, the clan is of little significance in Bhil society.
  • In practice, brides come from villages within a limited geographical area—villages that are already linked through institutions such as the Gauri festival, weekly markets, and existing matrimonial ties.
  • Marriage proposals invariably come from the suitor or his family, rather than from the girl’s father.
  • The groom’s family pays a bride-price to the father of the bride.

 

  • Marriage among the Bhils occurs much later than among Hindus, occurring between the ages of 16 and 21 years.
  • The eve of the marriage ceremony is marked by singing, dancing, feasting, and drinking.
  •  Marriage rituals are similar to Hindu rituals, with the bride and groom walking around the sacred fire, and the giving of presents.
  • Bhil society is patrilineal, with inheritance passing down the male line.
  • The new bride moves into the home of her husband’s family and assumes the burden of household chores.
  • She also participates in the family’s agricultural activities.
  • It is customary for a father to provide his son with land and a hut on his marriage so that among the Bhil the nuclear rather than the extended family is the norm.
  • Polygamy, the custom of having more than one wife, is acceptable, particularly if the first wife is barren or too ill to keep the house.
  • Widow remarriage is permitted, with the deceased husband’s younger brother being the most desirable partner.
  • Divorce, though uncommon, is allowed but can only be initiated by the husband.

CULTURAL HERITAGE 

  • Music, song, and dance are an integral part of Bhil life and accompany all feasts and celebrations.
  • The Gehenna or Gher is a ring dance of Rajasthan.
  • Men carry sticks in their hands and revolve in a circle around the drummers, alternately hitting the sticks of the men ahead and behind them.
  • Other dances are performed to propitiate Mataji and other deities.
  • An important Bhil institution is the Gauri, a dance-drama with a strong ritual element that resents various episodes from the life of Mahadeo and Parvati.
  • Undertaken by a village once every three or four years, the Gauri festival is held at the end of the rainy season (usually in August).
  • The festival may extend over a period of 40 days or more.
  • Once the bhopa has given permission for the Gauri to take place, the village sends out a troop of male actors to stage performances in neighbouring villages.
  • The host villages are expected to provide food and gifts for the visitors, hospitality that is reciprocated when these villages, in turn, stage their own Gauri celebrations.
  • The Gauri festival serves to tie villages together through ritual exchanges because the villages are visited by the performers who are their kinfolk, daughters who have been married, and those with important economic ties to the village that stages the Gauri.
  • Bhils have a rich and unique culture.
  • The Bhilala sub-division is known for its Pithora painting. Ghoomar is a traditional folk dance of the Bhil tribe. Ghoomar is the symbol of womanhood.
  • Young girls take part in this dance and declare that they are stepping into the shoes of  women.

ART 

  • Bhil painting is characterised by the use of multi-coloured dots as in-filling.
  • Bhuri Bai was the first Bhil artist to paint using readymade colours and paper.
  • Other known Bhil artists include Lado Bai, Sher Singh, Ram Singh and Dubu Bariya.

 

DRESS 

  • The traditional dresses of men are Pagri, Angarkha, Dhoti and Gamchha.
  • Traditionally women wear Sari and Ghagra Choli.
  • There are many traditional ornaments of Bhils.
  • Men wear Kada, Bajuband, Chain, ear rings, Kardhani.
  • Women wear variety of ornaments including hansli, ring, Zele-zumke, ear ring,  narniyan(bangle), nathni(Nose-jewel) etc.
  • Tattooing is a traditional custom among them. Women folks do tattooing generally before  marriage.

FAITH AND WORSHIP 

  • Every village has its own local deity (Gramdev) and families too have their Jaidev, Kuldev and Kuldevi (household deity) which is symbolised by stones.
  • ‘Bhati dev’ and ‘Bhilat dev’ are their serpent-god. ‘Baba dev’ is their village god.
  • Karkulia dev is their crop god, Gopal dev is their pastoral god, Bag dev is their Lion god, Bhairav dev is their dog god. Some of their other gods are Indel dev, Bada dev,  Mahadevel, Tejaji, Lotha mai, Techma, Orka Chichma and Kajal dev.
  • They have extreme and staunch faith in superstitious beliefs and Bhopas for their physical, mental and psychological treatments.

FESTIVALS 

  • There are a number of festivals, viz. Rakhi, Navratri, Dussehra, Diwali, Holi which are celebrated by the Bhils.
  • They also celebrate some traditional festivals viz. Aakhatij, Navmi, Howan Mata ki  Chalavani, Sawan Mata ki jatar, Diwasa, Nawai, Bhagoria, Gal, Gar, Dhobi, Sanja, Indel,  Doha etc. with ceremonious zeal and enthusiasm.
  •  During some festivals, there are a number of tribal fairs held at different places of districts.
  •  Navratri Mela, Bhagoria mela(during Holi festival) etc. The Bhil community of Udaipur celebrates Gavari festival each year after Holi.

COMMUNAL DANCE AND FESTIVALS 

  • The chief means of their recreation is folk songs and dances.
  • Women dance at birth celebrations, marriage functions at a few festivals in traditional  Bhili style accompanied by a drum beat.
  • Their dances include the Lathi (staff) dance, Dhol dance, marriage dance, Holi dance,  Battle dance, Bhagoria dance, Deepawali dance and hunting dance.

 

  • Musical instruments include the Harmonium, Sarangi, Kundi, Bansuri, Apang, Khajria,  Tabla, Jhanjh, Mandal and Thali.
  • They are usually made from local products

LOCAL POLITICAL STRUCTURE 

  • Traditional Bhil villages are led by a headman (gameti).
  • The gameti has authority and decision-making powers over most local disputes or issues

FOOD 

  • The Bhils were originally hunters and gatherers.
  • They subsisted by hunting small game such as rabbits, foxes, deer, wild pigs, birds, and rodents.
  • They fished the local streams and rivers and gathered edible plants and fruits from the forest.
  • When they turned to agriculture, the Bhils adopted the slash-and-burn techniques of shifting cultivation (jhum).
  • Many continued this form of subsistence activity up to the middle decades of the 20th  century.
  • Today, however, most Bhils engage in settled agriculture using the plough and draft animals.
  • The staple foods are maize, millet, barley, pulses such as lentils, chickpeas, and vegetables
  • Food is taken twice a day, normally in mid-morning and then again in the evening.
  • Rice is occasionally eaten, but the Bhils partake of the flesh of the goat or buffalo only on special occasions.
  • Bhils are strongly addicted to the use of tobacco and alcohol, making liquor from the flower of the mahua tree (Bassia latifolia) or from the bark of the babul (Acacia arabica).
  • The consumption of alcohol accompanies every feast and celebration.

EDUCATION 

  • As an economically depressed group, often inhabiting isolated and difficult terrain, the  Bhils’ access to education is limited.
  • Despite the availability of state-supported schools and government-sponsored programs for the Scheduled Tribes, literacy levels and educational achievement among the Bhils are low, literacy rates being 6.6% (for women it is less than 1%).

WORK 

  • Most Bhils are farmers.
  • However, the pressures of subsistence agriculture, uneconomic landholdings, the burden of debt, and frequent drought have forced many Bhils to leave the land and turn  to other occupations.
  • Many are labourers or earn a living cutting wood, preparing charcoal, and gathering forest products like gum and lac.
  • Bhils in the past have made their living from hunting and other forest activities, and are renowned as trackers.
  • Some Bhils have been employed as watchmen, while others have learned shop-keeping from their encounters with the bania (trading) castes, and a small number of them— perhaps 3%—operate shops, tea stalls and flour mills.
  • Again, largely because of a lack of education, a few Bhils are involved in the service industry, but the vast majority are agricultural labourers.
  • ∙ Despite efforts by the Union and State Governments to promote economic development among the Bhil Adivasis (tribals), especially in the areas of agriculture,  sericulture, and education, Bhils in India remain socially and economically disadvantaged.

ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION 

  • The Bhils, though regarded by outsiders as shy and retiring, have a strong sense of community.
  • ∙ Social and cultural occasions are celebrated by singing, dancing, and feasting, with the free consumption of liquor.
  • Hunting and fishing, formerly a means of subsistence, are popular pastimes, although opportunities for such activities today are greatly limited.

SOCIAL PROBLEMS 

  • During the last 100 years, many attempts have been made to improve the social and economic conditions of the Bhils.
  • Christian missionaries, Hindu reformists, the followers of Mahatma Gandhi, and modern social workers have all worked to eradicate what has been perceived as the evils of  Bhil society—the traditions of magic and witchcraft, thievery, alcoholism, meat-eating,  and animal sacrifice.
  • Many Bhil groups have abandoned their traditional customs and one community, the  Bhagats, has even adopted the observances and practices of orthodox Hinduism. ∙ The Bhils face many social and economic problems today.
  • Frequently inhabiting isolated and marginally productive environments, they experience widespread poverty and live in depressed economic conditions.
  • The rapid growth of population, land fragmentation, unproductive landholdings, inefficient farming techniques, and constant indebtedness have forced many off the land to seek work as landless labourers.
  •  While some groups have assimilated to a degree into Hindu society, the Bhils remain a  people set apart from the mainstream of Indian society.
  • They have yet to share in the wealth and social and economic advances of post-Independence India.

IMPACT OF MODERN WORLD 

  • Lack of basic facilities such as Education, Health, Water, Electricity, etc.
  • Poor irrigation facilities
  • Migration for work in cities
  • Poor literacy rate
  • Lack of political representation
  • Don’t get benefits of ST category
  • Started wearing modern clothes and speaking different languages
  • Don’t get the benefit of the forest even after the forest act.
  • Huge problems related to malnutrition
  • Those with more staple millet diets have less impact of malnutrition