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India’s Tribal Communities- The Oraon Tribe of Bihar

  • Oraon, also called Kurukh, aboriginal people of the Choṭa Nāgpur region in the state of  Bihar, India.
  • They call themselves Kurukh and speak a Dravidian language akin to Gondi and other tribal languages of central India.
  • They once lived farther to the southwest on the Rohtas Plateau, but they were dislodged by other populations and migrated to Choṭa Nagpur, where they settled in the vicinity of Munda-speaking tribes.
  • The tribe is divided into numerous clans associated with animal, plant, and mineral totems.
  • Every village has a headman and a hereditary priest; a number of neighbouring villages constitute a confederation, the affairs of which are conducted by a representative council.
  • Traditionally, Oraons depended on the forest and farms for their ritual and economic livelihood, but in recent times, a few of them have become mainly settled agriculturalists.

ORAON TRIBE OF BIHAR 

POPULATION: 4,454,000

LANGUAGE: Kurukh language which belongs to the Dravidian language family. They speak Sadri,  Hindi and Odia as lingua-franca and many also speak these languages as their native language.

RELIGION: Hinduism (46.99%) & 26.43% *

LOCATION: 

LIVING CONDITIONS 

  • Oraon tribal society is divided into a number of territories (parha) containing anywhere from 7 to 20 villages.
  • The territory more or less coincides with clan groupings, although members of several clans may reside in a territory.
  • Each village, however, has its dominant clan. One of the village headmen is chosen to act as chief (parha raja) of the confederacy.
  • He and all the other village headmen form a council to deal with inter-village matters.  Each village has its own leader and village council to handle its own affairs.
  • The village may also contain members of other castes (e.g., herders, potters, and metalworkers) who provide the Oraons with services essential to the agricultural economy.
  • A typical Oraon house has mud walls and a tiled roof. Its orientation is east-west, and a  veranda runs around the house on the east, south, and west.
  • There are no windows and only one door.
  • Generally, there are two rooms, one used for storage and the other for sleeping.
  • The family sleeps on mats, which are laid out at night and picked up in the morning.
  • One corner of the house is used as a kitchen.
  • Poultry may roost in the house at night, although separate structures are erected close by for pigs, sheep, goats, and cattle.
  • There is no running water, and villagers draw water from streams and ditches for drinking and for bathing.

FAMILY LIFE 

  • The Oraons practice village and clan exogamy.
  • The family is a patrilineal extended family, but nuclear families are found as well.
  • A typical family contains five to seven members.
  • In the past, young Oraons would select their own marriage partners, but it is more common for marriages to be arranged.
  • This is, in part, a result of exposure to Hindu practices.
  • The best age for marriage is considered to be between 16 and 20 years for males and 13  and 16 years for girls, which violates national laws against child marriage.
  • Once a suitable match is found, elaborate marriage negotiations are undertaken between the two families.
  • Omens are watched, and the marriage is often called off if they are seen to be bad.
  • A token bride-price, often a small amount of cash and some clothes, is paid. Among the many ceremonies associated with marriage, the central ritual is the anointing with vermilion (a red pigment).
  • The bride and groom stand on a yoke (the crosspiece used to harness cattle to ploughs)  and a curry-stone (a stone used to grind condiments).
  • The groom applies vermilion to the bride’s forehead and to the parting of her hair.
  • The bride, in turn, applies vermilion to the groom’s forehead.
  • Marriage is considered a lifelong undertaking by Oraons, and divorce is rare.
  • As a tribal group, the Oraons do not possess the caste structure so typical of Hindu society.
  • ∙ There is, however, a division into two occupational groups: the Kisans (cultivators) and  Kudas (unskilled labourers).
  • These groups tend to marry among themselves.

CLOTHING 

  • Traditional dress for Oraon men is a loincloth—a long piece of cotton fabric with red borders at each end, which is wrapped around the waist.
  • A hairband of brass or silver is worn around the head. Rings are placed in the ears,  necklaces (often made of silver coins) are strung around the neck, and a silver bangle is worn on the forearm of the right hand.
  • A shawl is sometimes wrapped around the shoulders.
  • For the all-important dance festivals, men wear turbans.
  • A feather or a strip of brass or silver is inserted into the turban.
  • A peacock feather or a yak’s tail is tucked into the waistband, and bells are tied around the waist or ankles.
  • Traditional Oraon dress is being replaced by local Hindu items, such as the dhoti, and  Western-style shirts and pants.
  • Women’s dress consists of a white cotton sari, with five red lines decorating one end.  ∙ They wear earrings, necklaces, bangles on the arms and ankles, and toe rings. These ornaments are commonly made of brass, copper, silver, or gold.
  • Tattoo marks are worn on the forehead and temples. Oraon women have no special dress for festivals.

FOOD 

  • The Oraons are nonvegetarian and eat the flesh of pigs, goats, chickens, and buffalo.  ∙ Much of this meat is consumed at feasts following the sacrifice of animals at religious ceremonies.
  • The staple cereal is rice, supplemented by wheat and maize. Vegetables, pulses, and spices are cultivated.
  • Mustard oil is used for cooking.
  • Both men and women consume alcohol.
  • Rice-beer is brewed at home and drunk at many festivals.
  • Men chew tobacco, while women smoke the hukka or bubble-pipe.

EDUCATION 

  • Literacy levels among the Oraon are higher than those of other Scheduled Tribes.
  • This is particularly true among Oraons who are Christians, whose better education gives them access to better jobs.
  • One problem faced by the Oraon is that literacy is often in a language other than the  Kurukh mother tongue.
  • Many Oraon professionals who have good positions are concerned that the Oraons are  losing their mother tongue and have asked parents to teach their children Kurukh, even  though it does little to prepare them for competitive employment in the “real world.”

CULTURAL HERITAGE 

  • Like most tribal groups in South Asia, the Oraons have no written literature.
  • Singing and dancing play an important role in their ritual life and accompany almost every social and religious occasion.
  • Musical instruments, such as the pipe or drum, are thought to possess special powers.  ∙ When they are first acquired, they are “married” by anointing them with vermilion.
  • Of special interest is the jatra, or dance-meeting, of the Oraon. Every Oraon village has its dancing ground (akhra) where the dance-meetings are held.
  • They often occur as part of the rituals associated with village festivals, such as Harbora,  and thus have socio-religious significance. Sometimes, several villages will participate in a  Jatra.
  • Each village has its jatra flags, which are taken to the jatra gathering place.
  • Carved images of animals such as the tiger, horse, or tortoise are carried to the dance ground on the shoulders of young men.
  • Both flags and animals are totems before which sacrifices are made and libations of beer and milk are offered.
  • Oraons believe in witchcraft and sorcery and the power of the evil eye.
  • Even though Jharkhand laws forbid the accusing of people as witches, women who are accused of being witches are often subjected to violence, torture, and even death by the local populace.

WORK 

  • In the past, the Oraons were hunters and gatherers, living off the game and edible plants found in the forests.
  • However, hunting and fishing have become mostly ceremonial, and the forests play a  minor role in the economic life of the people.
  • Most Oraons (around 67%) are farmers and cultivate their own land, or they work as sharecroppers or agricultural labourers.
  • A few have found their way into government service, or work in the manufacturing and service industries.

ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION 

  • Entertainment and recreation among the Oraons is traditionally associated with the socio-religious festivals of Oraon tribal life.
  • For urban Oraons who are Christians, the typical varieties of church-related social and educational activities are available.

FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES 

  • The Oraons are not particularly well known for any folk arts.
  • Some groups had a tradition of spinning thread from cotton, while modern craft activities include mat-weaving, rope-making, and carpentry.

FESTIVALS

  • Some traditional festivals of Oraon are Sarhul, Karma, Dhanbuni, Harihari, Nayakhani,  Khariyani etc.

MUSIC AND DANCE  

  • Since time immemorial The Oraon people have a rich range of folk songs, dances and tales, as well as traditional musical instruments.
  • Both men and women participate in dances, which are performed at social events and festivals.
  • The Mandar, Nagara and Kartal are the main musical instruments.
  • Some Kurukh folk dance are war dance (between two parha), Karma dance, Khaddi or  Sarhul dance, Phagu, Jadur, jagra, Matha, Benja Nalna (Wedding dance) and Chali (Courtyard dance).

SOCIAL PROBLEMS 

  • The Oraons have been designated as a Scheduled Tribe, and the problems they face reflect, to a greater or lesser extent, those of tribal peoples throughout India.
  • They occupy less productive lands, are often heavily in debt, and suffer from high levels of poverty.
  • Many lose their land altogether and have to turn to manual labour.
  • Tribal families that move to urban areas to seek work face disruptions and the loss of their traditional village support systems.
  • Discrimination and exploitation are common.
  • Development in Oraon lands is another cause for social dissent. States like Jharkhand are rich in mineral resources, but the development of these resources usually involves disruption of Oraons from their lands and, in addition, projects are designed to generate profits for large companies or to serve the needs of state governments.
  • Perhaps one of the major problems faced by the Oraons and other tribal peoples in  Chota Nagpur is political rather than social—a lack of political unity.
  • The area of Jharkhand, specifically, and eastern India as a whole is of increasing significance for the Maoists (Naxalite) rebels due to its rich forest and mineral resources and is an area that is seeing increasing Naxalite violence.

RITES OF PASSAGE 

  • Oraon society believes that gods and spirits influence every aspect of an individual’s life.
  • It is necessary, therefore, to maintain good relationships with them, especially at the time of major life events, such as birth, marriage, and death.
  • This may be ensured by performing the appropriate rites and ceremonies.

 IMPACT OF MODERN WORLD 

  • Lack of basic facilities like electricity, health, etc.
  • Poor literacy rate
  • Lack of irrigation facilities
  • Conversion to Christianity
  • No political leadership
  • Started wearing modern clothes
  • Can’t access forest produce due to rules and regulations.