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India’s Tribal Communities- The Bonda Tribe of Odisha

The Bonda (also known as the Bondo, Bondo Poraja, Bhonda, or Remo) is a Munda ethnic group who live in the isolated hill regions of the Malkangiri district of southwestern Odisha, India, near the junction of the three states of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh.

  • The Bonda tribe of Odisha are believed to be part of the first wave of migration out of  Africa about 60,000 years ago.
  • They were the first forest settlers in India
  • The Bondas continue to speak in their language, Remo, which comes under the  Austroasiatic language belonging to the Mundari group.
  • Their children are named after the day on which they were born.
  • They have a unique dressing style—women are semiclad and wear various types of rings and necklaces around their bodies, while the men carry lethal bows and arrows.
  • They are primarily agriculturalists, but also hunt, collect forest produce and work as labourers.
  • They are in PVTG category

BONDA TRIBE OF ODISHA 

POPULATION: Approximately 12,000 (2011 census).

LANGUAGE: The Bonda language, also known as Bondo or Remo

RELIGION: Hinduism (99.54%) and Christian

LOCATION: Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh.

CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE 

  • The Bonda people are a tribal people who currently live in the hills of Odisha’s Malkangiri district in India.
  • There are two different Bonda tribes: the Upper Bondas with a population of 6,700 who are the most isolated from mainstream Indian society, and the Lower Bonda with a  population of 17,000.
  • Upper Bondas have almost no connection to the outside world.
  • Dambaru Sisha took the oath of office to become the first MLA{Member of legislative  assembly} to the Bonda tribe, to which he traces his ancestry.
  • Sisha attempts to protect the traditions and culture of the people while providing them with educational opportunities.
  • Only 6% of Bondas are literate.
  • The life expectancy of the tribe is so low they are nearly extinct
  • The unfree labour or Goti system in India is known as Gufam by the Bonda people.
  • According to Pati, a male bonded labour is called Gufam-Rem whereas a female labourer is a Gufam-Boy.
  • When death or mora occurs, it is custom to sacrifice a cow on the tenth day, a practice  also known as “Gaitang.”
  • Population growth in the Bonda Hills in India led to forest habitat decrease although there existed a well-balanced ecosystem.
  • Poverty, however, became a fundamental issue among the Bonda people due to social  customs regarding obligatory marriages and deaths, along with myriad other socio-religious practices.
  • These customs did not improve health condition nor economic status, which has created  much poverty for them
  • For instance, crop production is hardly able to feed the population.
  • In order to overcome starvation, the Bonda people, or Ku duburu Remo, often take out loans ( Kalantar or Badi) in order to eat.
  • The loans are usually in cash and are taken from a community member or a figure that  serves as a landlord Sakar Remo
  • Roughly 62 out of 245 households in the Bonda hills are in debt.
  • Loans taken even in cash are charged interest rates, and these funds often provide payments for bride prices, fines, and the performance of socio-religious rites.
  • As a result, debt payment becomes difficult, with constant fines and interest rates being increased.
  • Very often the Bonda people are led to debt bondage and are forced to liquidate assets  such as land, trees, animals, etc
  • They live in mostly kutcha house and are self-reliant.

MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE 

  • Bonda people are often led to bonded labour through marriage, also known as diosing.
  • A form of dowry (known as Gining) is paid for brides.
  • In Gining items are used to determine how many arranged marriages will take place.
  • For instance, the number of cows relies upon the social status of the girl.
  • Bonda boys are expected to marry between the ages of 10 and 12.
  • Although a man may pay the price of a bride for his brother, the brother must always return the amount owed.
  • Divorce, also known as “Lung Sisi” is also an issue within the Bonda people.
  • In some extreme circumstances, such as if a Bonda woman is divorced for adultery, the former husband demands double the price that was paid for their marriage.
  • The village council determines the severity of the case arrives at a decision based upon the number of cows given back.
  • However, if a man is the one who caused the wrong which resulted in divorce, he can no longer get married through an arranged marriage system.
  • They usually don’t marry non-tribal, but if do so it is accepted.

DRESS AND ORNAMENTS 

  • The Bonda are generally semi-clothed, the women wear thick silver neckbands.
  • The Bonda attire is explained in a legend relating to the Ramayana.
  • Their torsos are covered in strings of colourful beads.
  • Bonda women also wear metal rings that cover their necks and bangles on their arms.
  • Since Bonda women hunt and forage for food in the forest it is thought that these ornaments have a function of protecting them from injuries and attacks by wild animals.
  • Bonda women have their heads shaved and adorned with two types of headbands, called turuba and lobeda.
  • The turuba is made of grass and the lobeda made of beads.
  • Worn together the turuba secures the lobeda by preventing the beaded headband from slipping off the woman’s head.
  • Bonda women wear metal bands adorning their necks, which are called khagla and are made from aluminium.
  • Including the bands around their neck, necklaces made of beads are also worn, these are called Mali.
  • Due to the culture surrounding their ringa cloth which covers the waist down, the khagla and Mali act as a sort of clothing for the upper body of the women.
  • Both men and women of the tribe wear earrings called limbi made of brass, and rings on  their fingers called orti made of aluminium.
  • For bachelors or newly married men, it is customary to wear their own set of ornaments.
  • Beginning at the ages of eight or nine, males will adorn their bodies with headbands called ornaghboh, bangles named sungrai, necklaces named thangimali, earrings named unsurul, and rings called Sabah.
  • Once married, men typically do not continue to adorn their bodies with more  ornaments

GENDER ROLES 

  • In Bonda society, women enjoy a privileged position.
  • They are the primary workers and providers of food for the community.
  • This matriarchal dominance is also seen in the marital norms of the community.
  • Bonda girls largely marry boys who are at least five to ten years younger than them.
  • Thus the girl looks after her husband as he grows up and in turn, he cares for his older wife.
  • In contrast with many other populations in India, the number of women among the Bonda greatly exceeds the number of men.
  • Among the men alcoholism is a major issue.
  • They spend much time brewing and consuming liquor from rice, palm and the mahua  flower.
  • The Bondas are trained in using arms at a young age.
  • This, coupled with rampant alcoholism and their reputation for a quick temper, has contributed to high rates of fratricide among them.
  • The Bondas still use binnimaya pratha, or barter, and they customarily go to a market every Sunday.
  • They like to put castor oil on their heads.
  • The women make worli paintings in their homes

SOCIETY 

  • The hill Bondas are divided into exogamous sections such as the a) Barajangar group and b) the Gadaba group.
  • The Barajangar group or the country of Twelve Confederacy constitute twelve villages which are situated on the hilltops within the hill ranges and are thought to be the original Bonda villages.
  • The Gadaba group consists of the villages that emerged from the Barajangar group, the original Bonda villages, due to population expansion.
  • These daughter villages are not necessarily situated on hilltops.
  • Of all these villages, Mudulipada is considered as the central of the whole Bonda country and enjoys the status of being its capital where the chief deity is propitiated and the chief (Naik) of the Bonda land has his throne.
  • However, the people of Gadaba group of villages who under the influence of the  Gadaba tribe (another neighbouring primitive community), do not acknowledge the authority of the Naik of Mudulipada; they have no interest in the cult of the chief deity, and they may even keep their festivals in different dates and even perform in different ways.
  • This second group have descended to foothills.

DEATH RITES 

  • If a person dies, he or she is cremated on the pyre, but the cause of death is ascertained.
  • The surviving spouse goes to the cremation ground and takes a piece of half-burnt bone and hits with a pebble.
  • If it crumbles, the death is not by any sorcery.
  • Otherwise, the culprit is searched through the magical method by a ‘Shaman’.
  • When the guilty is ascertained, either the village council penalise him or revenge is taken by magical practices.
  • On the tenth day of death of an adult, a cow is slaughtered and the feast is given to the kins and ‘Soru-brothers’ (a socio-religious brotherhood).
  • If the descendant is not capable at that time, either he is granted time up to twelve months by the Soru-brothers or he can take a loan from any fellow villager and become his bonded labour.

FESTIVALS 

  • The annual Jatimara festival, also called Pus Parba, is celebrated with much enthusiasm.
  • The festival began in Bonda Hill under Khairput block with the tribal priest sacrificing livestock, birds and propitiating the presiding deities with liquor.
  • This was followed by Jhatimara, a decade-old tradition that Bondas believe ends enmity among people of the community.
  • It is mostly observed by male members of the Bonda tribe.
  • On next day, the ritual began with boys greeting each other and dancing to the frantic beats of drums.
  • Later on, Bonda youths stood in pairs and beat each other with pliant branches of a tree till the blood flowed from the wounds.
  • As per the ritual, the priest then offered traditional cakes to the youths urging them to stop fighting and delivered a lecture on friendship and good behaviour.
  • After the lecture, the youths embraced each other and the Bonda women applied turmeric paste on the wounds of the youths, giving out a message of brotherhood and unity.

RELIGION 

  • The Bondas are primarily animistic but also include Hindu gods in their pantheon.
  • Unlike the Hindus, they consume beef and meat of dead animals.
  • As stated earlier they associate themselves with Ramayana hero Lord Rama whose sword is their supreme deity i.e. Patkhanda Mahaprabhu, situated in a Great Banyan  Tree.
  • Besides this, the Sun and the Moon are worshipped with a number of demigods residing in different streams, forest, swiddens, villages, homes etc.
  • They are thought to be responsible for good and bad in their daily lives.
  • The Disharies or Shamans act as the intermediaries between the supernatural powers and human beings.
  • Wrath of ghosts of the recently dead is considered as malevolent entities who are responsible for crop failures, death of domestic animals, diseases etc.
  • So the Bondas fear such ghosts and do not go out alone at night.
  • If required, they go in groups by singing songs to ward off those beings of the unseen world.
  • The demi-gods are worshipped in different shrines mainly at Sindibor, the sacred stone platform in each village where the important socio-religious activities are conducted.

ADMINISTRATION

  • Law and order are maintained in the society through the village functionaries.
  • Each clan is headed by a Munda who is responsible to solve minor cases relating to the members of his group.
  • However, the cases relating to homicide, adultery, divorce, land-related disputes etc. are referred to the Munda of Badnaik clan who acts as secular head of the village and enforces law and order in the village society.
  • The trials are held at the Sindibor and the Badnaik is assisted by Kirsani Munda who is also assisted by the Chalan Munda.
  • All these functionaries enjoy high social status and the office is almost hereditary.
  • But if somebody is found unsuitable for the post can be removed by consensus.

ECONOMIC EXISTENCE 

  • The Bonda people live in the safe altitude of hills amidst the forest.
  • Basically they lead a life of hunter and food gatherer for the most part of their existence.
  • In course of time hunting became illegal and forest declined rapidly.
  • They began hill slope cultivation in slash and burn (Swidden) method.
  • They could not develop efficiency in this and the crops produced was meagre for their requirement.
  • Forest adaptation made them self sufficient and fearless people who did not allow anybody to enter their territory and themselves did not come down to take others help.
  • The government development agencies were trying for a long time to make the Hill  Bondas aware of the modern methods but met with little success.
  • For the last two decades or so, various non-government agencies and also government people became partially successful to befriend the High land Bonda people and taught them agricultural methods.
  • Now the Bondas are gradually responding to the development activities to eliminate poverty illness and ignorance. Much is awaited to be done.

THREATS TO BONDA CULTURE AND IMPACT OF MODERN WORLD 

  • The Government of Odisha has over the years tried to bring the Bonda into the mainstream and set up the Bonda Development Agency (BDA) in 1977 with this aim.
  • Outside influences resulted in the Bondas being given new gods.
  • The curriculum in the government school also seeks to inject this process through prayers and songs.
  • The Bonda has begun to take up non-traditional occupations as migrant labourers and as peons and clerks in government offices.
  • This process of mainstreaming has however also had its fallout.
  • Remo or Bonda has approximately 2,500 speakers in the Jayapur hills of Koraput.
  • Despite a large number of speakers of a few Munda languages, bilingualism is widespread.
  • At the present break-neck speed of assimilation, most Munda languages will not survive to the end of this century.
  • All Munda language communities are under heavy demographic and socio-economic  pressure to assimilate linguistically to the local Indo-Aryan majority language
  • The Remo language is now an endangered tongue as more Bondas have taken to Odia as their primary language of communication.
  • The absence of a script or text for Remo adds to the threat of its extinction.
  • It is also feared that other indigenous knowledge of the Bondas will also become a casualty to this emphasis on integrating them with Odia society.
  • They don’t have basic facilities like school, health, electricity etc.
  • The employment rate is very low
  • They have a very low literacy rate