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India’s Tribal Communities- The Munda Tribe of Jharkhand

The Munda people are an Austroasiatic speaking ethnic group of India.

• They predominantly speak the Mundari language as their native language, which belongs to the Munda subgroup of Austroasiatic languages.

• The Munda are found in the northern areas of east India concentrated in the states of Jharkhand,Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal.

• The Munda also reside in adjacent areas of Chhattisgarh and Arunachal Pradesh as well as in portions of Bangladesh.

• They are one of India’s largest scheduled tribes. Munda people in Tripura are also known as Mura, and in Madhya Pradesh they are often called Mudas.

• The name “Munda” is a Sanskrit word meaning “headman”.

• It is an honorific name given by Hindus and hence became a tribal name. These tribes are also sometimes called Kolarian.

• The Mundas are a people of considerable antiquity, some scholars identifying them with the Mundas mentioned in the epic Mahabharata.

• The origin of the Munda people is a matter of much uncertainty. Their own traditions indicate that they migrated to their current location from areas to the northwest.

• Mundas live in mixed villages with other tribes.

• They enjoy their life while working in Tea gardens with community participation, group hunting with bow and arrows of wild animals and birds, group dancing and singing and also enjoying country liquor irrespective of age bar in any ceremony or festival.

• Munda’s economy is so hazardous that they still live on hand to month. They frequently depend on village Mahajan.

• Even then, a lot of changes in their socio-economic life could be observed nowadays.

POPULATION: 22,28,661

LANGUAGE: Mundari, Panch Pargania, Sadri, Hindi, Odia, Bengali language

RELIGION: Hinduism, Christian, Sarnaism

LOCATION: Jharkhand,Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal

LIVING CONDITIONS 

• Munda villages are made up of scattered homesteads built together on the higher elevations of land where there is enough available space.

• The Munda home consists of at least two huts.

• One is used for sleeping and, among the poorer families, houses the livestock as well.

• The other is the eating house and contains the kitchen, a pen for the chickens, and also the sacred room where the family gods reside.

• The homes of the better-off may comprise three or four huts, arranged around a square and having a compound at the back.

• The walls of the houses are generally windowless and built of mud, with a tiled or thatched roof. Household utensils and furnishings are simple.

• The Mundas eat off wooden or metal dishes, while earthenware jars and baskets are used for storage.

• Wooden stools and a sleeping mat or string bed complete the household belongings.

• In addition to its homesteads, a village has its sacred grove (sarna), the public meeting space in the center of the village (akhra), and the village burial ground.

• On the outskirts of the village are cultivable uplands, which are regarded as part of the village itself and are used mainly for growing garden vegetables.

• Lying further down the slopes are the terraced lands used for wet-rice cultivation.

FAMILY LIFE 

• The Mundas are divided into totemic clans (kili) such as the Nag (Snake) Kili and Bagh (Tiger) Kili.

• The Mundas are endogamous, i.e., they marry within the tribe, but they practice clan exogamy, i.e., they have to marry outside the lineage.

• Traditionally, Mundas do not marry before the boy can build a plow and the girl can weave and spin, but instances of child marriage are known to occur.

• Marriages are usually negotiated and depend on the consent of the involved parties.

• The actual ceremonies are quite elaborate and appear to have absorbed many Hindu rituals. A bride-price is paid in both cash and goods.

• Although the newlyweds may take up residence in the husband’s father’s house, the nuclear family is preferred.

• Monogamy is the norm, and both divorce and widow remarriage are allowed.

CLOTHING 

• Munda dress is very simple.

• Men ordinarily wear nothing more than a cotton loincloth with colored borders known as botoi.

• A piece of cloth or a blanket may be wrapped around the upper body during cold weather.

• Young men place a belt of silk or plaited thread around the waist.

• The dress of Munda women is a long piece of cloth wrapped around the waist, with one end passed diagonally across the upper body to cover the breasts.

• Young women are fond of ornaments and wear earrings, bracelets, anklets, and toe rings.

• Ornaments are usually made of brass, with only the wealthier among the population wearing silver or gold.

• Young girls are tattooed on the face, arms, back, and feet.

• Men don colored turbans for festive occasions when dancing is performed.

• Hindu Mundas are often indistinguishable in dress from their Hindu neighbors, while Christian Mundas sometimes wear European-style clothes.

FOOD 

• Boiled rice is the staple food for the Mundas.

• The more well-to-do eat this with vegetables (e.g., onions, eggplant, radishes, beans, and roots such as the sweet potato) and pulses.

• Spices used include turmeric, garlic, and chilies.

• The poorer Mundas eat their rice with green leafy vegetables and may substitute millets for the rice.

• Chickens and goats are raised for food, but they are usually killed and eaten only at festivals and sacrifices.

• The eating of beef, pork, and buffalo meat is not unknown.

• At each meal, the Mundas drop a few grains of rice on the ground in the name of their deceased ancestors.

• The Mundas are fond of drinking rice-beer (ili), each family brewing its own supply. They also enjoy chewing tobacco and betel leaves.

EDUCATION 

• Mundari is essentially a spoken language, and few Mundas have learned to read and write the regional languages that they use for intergroup communication.

• Literacy in Jharkhand (54.1% in 2001) is below the average for India as a whole and that for Mundas is still lower, measuring 47.9% for males, and only 34.9% for females.

• However, these figures usually refer to literacy in a second language.

• While government schools are available to them, their isolation and the need for children to help in agricultural work means that the Mundas’ exposure to formal education is limited.

• Though 50% of the 5 to 14 year old Mundas attend school, only about 17% ever graduate from school and only 3.6% ever continue on to higher education.

CULTURAL HERITAGE 

• Like most tribal groups, the Mundas have a rich oral folk tradition.

• This includes historical myths (e.g., the Asur Legend), folk tales, riddles, and proverbs.

• There are love songs, and songs and dances appropriate for specific religious festivals and social events.

• The Lahsua dances, performed at the time of the Karam festival, are of a kind known as “stooping” dances.

• The dancers form a circle, join hands, and stoop forward.

• Keeping this position, they advance towards the circle’s center, then retire, all the time circling towards the left.

• The musical instruments that accompany the singing and dancing include drums, tambourines, various stringed instruments, and bamboo flutes.

• For weddings, the Mundas employ musicians of the Ghasi tribe.

WORK 

• Although in the past they practiced shifting cultivation, most Mundas are involved in permanent, wet-rice agriculture today.

• They supplement this with hunting and gathering in the jungle, although this is decreasing in importance. Both men and women work in the field, but some activities— e.g., plowing—are restricted to men.

• Many Mundas work as agricultural laborers or in the mines and factories of Bihar’s industrial area.

• Those few Mundas who have the necessary education work in white-collar jobs, in government, and in the professions.

ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION 

• Living in remote villages, most Mundas derive their entertainment from their religious festivals and social events, which are invariably accompanied by singing, dancing, feasting, and drinking.

FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES 

• The Mundas are not known for their arts and crafts.

• While they weave cloth, spin cotton, and make baskets, they rely on Hindu artisan castes to provide many of their material needs.

 

FAMOUS PERSONALITY 

BIRSA MUNDA 

• Birsa Munda was an Indian tribal freedom fighter, religious leader and folk hero belonging to the Munda tribe of the Chota Nagpur Plateau area.

• In the 19th century, Birsa Munda started a tribal religious Millenarian Movement in the Bengal Presidency (Present-day Jharkhand).

• Birsa Munda was also a founder of a new religion called Birsait.

• The religion believed in one God and encouraged them to revert to their original religious beliefs.

• People started referring to him as an economical religion healer, a miracle-worker and a preacher.

• People belonging to the tribe of Mundas, Oraons and Kharias moved together to visit the new prophet and to find a cure to their problems.

• People belonging to Oraon and Munda became convinced of Birasaities. People started referring him Dharti Abba.

• Several contemporary and folk songs reveal his influence over the people of various tribes.

• In the late 1890s, Birsa Munda abolished the feudal system introduced by the Britishers in the Adivasi forest.

• Birsa Munda’s legacy is still alive and tribal peoples of Karnataka and Jharkhand celebrate his birth anniversary on November 15.

• Many institutions and organizations– Birsa Agricultural University, Birsa Institute of Technology, Birsa College Khunti, Birsa Institute of Technology Sindri, Sidho Kanho Birsha University, Birsa Munda Athletics Stadium, Birsa Munda Airport, Birsa Munda Central Jail, Birsa Seva Dal, Birsa Munda Tribal University– are named after him

IMPACT OF MODERN WORLD 

• Munda have shown remarkable adaptability to changing environments, as far as the natural environment is concerned.

• It has undoubtedly been changing due to such processes as deforestation, change in the amount of rainfall, disappearance of marshy lands, and decrease in the amount of humidity and fogging in the environment.

• Some of these changes are related to the effects of urbanization and industrialization

• The Munda have changed painstakingly to adapt themselves to the changing geographical environment.

• This shows their unique adaptability to changing environmental conditions.

• As far as the social environment is concerned the lifestyle of urban people (non-tribal people) has undoubtedly influenced the lifestyle of the Munda. .

• The Munda were away from modern culture and civilization, but recently the impact of the modern culture and civilization has influenced their life style.

• Quacks are exploiting them. Herbal wealth is also being mercilessly exploited.

• Agriculture is the main occupation of the Munda.

• Agriculture being the main source of livelihood of the Munda, they register more faithfully and accurately the effect of the new agricultural technology.

• Religious institutions which were originally superstition-based, fear of the unseen, but are slowly given way to a comparatively more enlightened social and religious style of living.

• The effect of literacy has also changed the attitude of Munda towards various social and cultural aspects of life.

• Developmental and modernizing efforts contributed changes in the socio-economic life of the Munda.

• Due to the contacts with other cultures Munda have not only begun to replace their thatched huts but also have changed their design and structure.

• In the wake of changed conditions the sheds and pucca houses are replacing the conventional thatched houses.

• Munda are slowly losing their cultural identity. With diminishing forest resources and rigid forest laws the reliance on forest produce and hunting is reducing

• They don’t have fair price tags for their products in the market.

• Have access to basic facilities like electricity, education, health but are not satisfactory.