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India’s Tribal Communities- The Paraja Tribe of Odisha

The Paraja tribe is one of the well-known major tribes of Odisha. In the last blog, we looked at the tribe’s various aspects like locations, livelihood, culture and festivals, and more. In this blog, we will dive more into their tribal lives intricacies that make them unique.

  • Parajas are one of the well-known major tribes of Odisha.
  • Paraja tribe is found in Nabarangpur, Nandahandi, Tentulikhunti, Papadahandi,  Dabugaon, and Jharigaon blocks of the district.
  • The Parajas seem to have been inhabiting this country from about the 2nd century of the Christian era.
  • They say that their original home is ‘Bastaria’ as they have migrated from Bastar area of  Madhya Pradesh (now Chattisgarh).
  • Paraja is a conglomeration of various endogamous sections and is not a compact community.
  • Compared with other tribal communities, they show some cultural differences,  especially in respect of their settlement pattern, dress and ornament, economic life,  belief and worship, manners, customs and folk tradition.
  • Their mother tongue Porji is a form of Gondi belonging to the Dravidian family of languages which varies according to local tongues like Odia or Telugu.
  • Parajas are generally hill cultivators. But in Nabarangpur district settled cultivation is the mainstay of their subsistence economy.
  • They are fond of cattle wealth.
  • The overall literacy percentage of the tribe is 34.92%. 46.44% of males and 24.44% of females of this tribe are literate.
  • They are in the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category.
  • One of the largest tribe of Odisha

PARAJA TRIBE OF ODISHA 

POPULATION: 3,50,000

RELIGION: Mainly Hinduism and some Christian

LANGUAGE: Porji is a form of Gondi belonging to the Dravidian family of languages and local tongues like Odia or Telugu.

LOCATION: 

CULTURE AND LIVELIHOOD 

  • The tribal economy is driven essentially by activities around the jungle. Most communities were hunter-gatherers, who also did some fishing as a source of livelihood.
  • Agriculture and farming are also practised with the slash and burn technique or shifting cultivation.
  • However, larger tribes have adopted newer agricultural practices and cattle breeding.  ∙ Some local tribes sustain themselves with crafts and artisan skills such as textile and basket-weaving, tool-making and metal craft.
  • The local haat (market) is the best time to see various tribes together.
  • Haats are held on specific days at specific venues and offer tribals a platform to buy provisions or livestock or sell their wares.
  • Despite poverty and a struggle for survival, they still retain their heritage and love for music, dance and revelry.
  • Inside the village, there are two important places called Berna Munda and Nissani  Munda. Berna Munda is the place comprising stone slabs where the village headman and leaders sit at dawn to discuss village affairs.
  • Nissani Munda is the seat of the village deity called ‘Hundi Debta’.

SOCIETY 

  • The name PAROJA, is derived from the local Odia word Praja or Paraja meaning the common people who are tenants or subjects or citizens under ex-feudal lords or Raja.
  • The tribe is divided into two broad sections: the Bada Paroja and the Sana Paroja.
  • Each section further divided into two sub-sections: Bada Paroja or Sodia Paraja and Bada  Jodia Paraja or Penga Paraja under the former, and Bareng Jodia Paraja and Konda  Paraja or Selia Paraja under the latter.
  • The major distinction between both the sections is that the Bada Paroja are more  Hinduised than the Sana Paroja.
  • The former do not take beef. They observe elaborate purificatory rites in the event of the death of a cow or buffalo in their household while the latter is said to be beefeaters.
  • Among all the four sub-sections the Selia or Chhelia who were goat-breeders in the past are given the lowest rank.
  • The Paroja live in big and small settlements in the company of other communities.
  • The villages lie in the plains, at the foothills and near forests in close proximity to hill streams.

DRESS AND ORNAMENTS 

  • Their traditional dress pattern is plain and simple.
  • Little children hardly wear any cloth but after reaching seven to eight years of age they wear a small piece of discarded clothing (koupin) which barely covers their loins.
  •  Adult males generally wear a small napkin or loin cloth (langoti / kachha) leaving the entire body completely naked.
  • Females wear loom made coarse sarees purchased from local weavers or from weekly markets, which cover up to the knees and tied in a knot in the left shoulder.
  • The saree and its typical wearing style make it convenient to work in fields as well as to participate in dancing.
  • Now-a-days, due to external contact, modern dresses like shirts, banyans, pants for males and blouses, coloured sarees, ribbons, etc. for females are becoming popular.
  • These dresses are preferably worn during festive days or while visiting the market, fairs,  friends and relatives.
  • Women love to adorn themselves with varieties of ornaments to beautify themselves.
  • They put kanjika, sikidiguba and suju on their head, phasi and jilligut and rings on their earlobes, dandi on the helix of their nose and mundra on their nasal septum.
  • They also wear kagada, khadimadi and adalimadi and coloured bead necklaces around their neck, bajubandh on their arms, coloured glass bangles around their wrist, varieties  of finger rings such as kumudaati, takahajer (coin finger ring), hitudhajer on their finger and godbada, painjali, and jetra, etc on their anklets.
  • In their society use of nose and ear rings is a customary practice for the married women.
  • A married woman must wear these rings lest she is subjected to social criticism.
  • Silver rings called shamka, often studded with coins, are also worn around the fingers.
  • On the toes, they wear silver rings known as bakuli and gungur.
  • The khagla, a kind of heavy and broad silver ring is used as a necklace, while a thinner type called khadu adorn the forearm and upper arm.
  • Wearing khagla and khadu is compulsory for married women.
  • Their ornaments are simple and are usually made of silver, aluminium, brass and are available for purchase in local markets.
  • The well-to-do families among them buy gold ornaments.
  • Women comb their hair applying oil and style the box at the right of the backside.
  • Females are fond of tattooing their body by skilled women belonging to Kela community with beautiful designs such as kumbana, sikidibana, udulibana, hulbana, danbana and topa, etc. to enhance their beauty and charm.

FESTIVALS, DANCE AND MUSIC 

  • Paraja observe many seasonal festival with pomp and ceremony round the year.
  • Among these, the important ones are Asadha Parab, Nuakhia, Diali Parab, Push Parab,  Chaita Parab etc.
  • Dance, song and music are the characteristics of Paraja aesthetic life. Dhemsa dance,  Khadumara dance, Dungdunga dance are some of the popular dance of the tribe.
  • The male members use the musical instruments like dhola, tamaka, dungdunga &  mahuri.
  • Among the Paraja every one is a musician and a poet.
  • They sing different types of song on the occasion of Puja & festivals.
  • Their dance, music & songs are highly inspired by the beautiful elements of nature like the Sun, the Moon, the sky, the wind, the rain and the trees, streams, flowers, birds and animals etc.

SETTLEMENTS AND HOUSING 

  • Paroja settlements are exclusively homogenous and uniclan in structure and are usually located near foothills where perennial hill streams are flowing down the hills to provide them drinking water throughout the year.
  • In multi-ethnic villages, they live in separate hamlets keeping a social distance from other ethnic groups and maintaining their own cultural identity.
  • In typical Paroja habitations, the settlement pattern does not follow any typical or regular model.
  • In some villages, houses are scattered here and there, while in other individual houses run in two parallel rows facing each other along a common street.
  • In the village, there are two important places called Berna Munda and Nissan Munda.  Berna Munda is a centrally located place inside the village comprising a constellation of circular stone slabs where the village headman, leaders and elders sit down to discuss and decide village affairs.
  • Sometimes, this place is in front of the headman’s house and otherwise called Munda  Dand.
  • The Nissan Munda is another place where a circular stone slab is encircled by menhirs standing erect.
  • This is the seat of the village deity called Hundi Debta.
  • The Paroja use indigenous raw materials like soil, mud, cow-dung (lappy), bamboo,  wood, straw (piri) and country-made tiles (jhikar) for house construction.
  • Laying the foundations of a new house involves elaborate rituals conducted by the village priest.
  • Animals such as pigs or fowls are sacrificed to appease the deities and ensure hassle-free construction of the house as well as the well-being of the family.
  • The walls, verandah and floors are regularly maintained by plastering with cow dung and painting with red or white coloured soils.
  • The roof is thatched with paddy straw or Piri grass once a year.
  • To protect the low thatched roofs from the cattle, wattle fencings are made around the house.
  • The typical feature of Paroja housing is that, like those of agricultural tribes namely the  Kandha, the Bathudi, the Gond and the Santal, the Paroja houses, besides having a  kitchen garden, have a verandah raised higher than floor level and a spacious courtyard on either side of the house.
  • The verandah is used as a place for sitting, gossiping and sleeping.
  • The doors are smaller in dimension but coloured and decorated with carvings. Inside the house, partitions are made for the hearth and the kitchen, store and sleeping spaces.
  • Generally, the houses are two-roomed having no windows for ventilation.
  • The bigger room near the entrance is usually used as living room-cum-store to stock their foodstuffs whereas the smaller one is used as a kitchen.
  • In the kitchen, a sacred space lying preferably at the eastern corner of the house is earmarked as the seat of family deities and ancestral spirits which is tabooed for entry for the outsiders.
  • Livestock like cattle, sheep, pigs and fowls are accommodated in separate sheds beside the house mostly in the open spaces between individual houses and the poultry is kept inside a small cabin either inside the house or on the verandah.
  • Adjacent to the house there is a small kitchen garden fenced with bamboo splits.
  • Although the houses are similar in type, the size of the house and number of rooms vary according to the need and economic status of the individual household.
  • Nowadays, well-to-do families are constructing big, spacious houses having more than two rooms. Some of them now have houses with brick walls and semi-permanent roofs using country-made tiles, asbestos sheets and multiple doors.
  • Affluent landowners among the Paroja living in Kalahandi district have large double storied houses locally known as Dhaba Ghar.
  • The Dhaba Ghar usually have country-made tile roofing.
  • The upper storey is lower in height and used for storing grains, implements and other household assets.
  • The Paroja possess scanty household assets.
  • Their utensils are comprised of earthenwares, gourd vessels to store drinking water and few aluminum utensils.
  • Their winnowing fans, some bamboo baskets and wooden mortar and pestle are kept in the living room.
  • The mortar is apparently big in size and at a time two women can take part in pounding the food grains.
  • Hunting weapons like bows, arrows, knife, spears and axes are hung on the walls of the living room.
  • Grass mats, pillows made of wooden slabs are kept in a corner of their house and clothes are hung on a bamboo pole inside the room.
  • A flat stone disc and a stone pestle are put aside the doorsteps to grind the spices and condiments.

LIFE CYCLE 

MARRIAGE 
  • In the Paroja community, adult marriage and monogamy is the norm.
  • They regard marriage, arranged through negotiation (kudianala) is ideal and prestigious and for that, it is the common practice.
  • In other cases, they resort to other modes of marriages such as by capture (jhikanata), by service (gharaon), by mutual consent (manaraje), by elopement (udilia) and by exchange  (badulu) etc.
  • Cross cousin marriage is a preferential mode of marriage in which a man may claim traditionally, to marry with his mother’s brother’s daughter or his father’s sister’s daughter.
  • Junior levirate and junior sororate are permissible by which a man can marry the widow of his deceased elder brother (boudeurghar) and deceased wife’s younger sister (tada).
  • Remarriage of widows, widowers and divorcees are permitted in their society.
  • In all regular modes of marriages payment of bride price (jholla) is obligatory which is paid in the shape of cash and kinds, which includes Rs.5/- to 500/- in cash, clothes for the bride and her mother, some rice, goat or fowl and some jars of country-made wine.
  • As the Paroja settlements are uniclan, village exogamy is the rule.
  • Divorce is permitted and either party can pursue divorce on the grounds of misunderstanding in conjugal life, misconduct, cruelty, extramarital relationship etc.
  • Divorce cases are adjudicated in their traditional community council and if the conflict between the couple is not settled, they are approved to divorce, where after the divorce seeking person gives a copper coin or pebble (chelo) to his/her spouse.
DEATH RITES 
  • The Paroja usually practice cremation to dispose of their dead, but corpses of pregnant women, children, and victims of leprosy and smallpox are buried.
  • The dead are given a bath anointed with turmeric paste and clad with a new cloth.
  • The pallbearers (malbadia) carry the dead to the crematoria where the eldest son puts fire on the pyre.
  • All the personal belongings of the deceased such as his used cot, clothes, walking stick,  tobacco container, umbrella etc. are thrown away near the funeral pyre.
  • The malbadias bath in the nearby stream and eat mango leaves and resin for purification and sweep their body in brooms to prevent themselves from the wrath of the departed soul.
  • Death pollution continues till they perform the minor purificatory rite sanakama / duma  misani after three or five days after the death.
  • Some well-to-do families conduct the major purificatory rite badakama or dasa on the tenth day of the death which is expensive.
  • The bereaved family do not perform any economic activities nor cook food during the mourning period but the food is provided to them by the lineage families.
  • During this period they observe certain taboos such as abstinence from nonvegetarian foods, observances of rituals and festivals, worship of deities, consumption of alcoholic drinks and sexual union, etc.
  • Their traditional priest Jani presides over their mortuary rites and the maternal uncle acts as the barber.
  • On the eleventh day, he plants a vertical stone menhir near the cremation spot in the honour of the dead.

SOCIAL CONTROL 

  • The Paroja have their own traditional community council at the village level held at bernamunda headed by the gauntia/ muduli.
  • Their traditional priest jani, astrologer disari and messenger challan are respected members and all family heads of the village are members of this body.
  • All the functionaries hail from their own community.
  • The post of gauntia /muduli, jani and disari are hereditary.
  • They have another village messenger called barik.
  • He is from the Dom (SC) caste and carries messages to distant villages.
  • Both challan and barik are appointed by nomination.
  • They have inter-village council known as bisi berammunda constituted of muduli, jani  and chalan of ten to fifteen Paroja villages and headed by a naik whose post is hereditary.
  • These councils act as guardian of their customary affairs and adjudicate cases of family disputes, rape, theft, adultery, incest, divorce, extra-marital affairs, the formation of maggots in the wound (bittada), killing of cow (gohatya), death by the tiger attack,  slapping with a shoe (chapalmada) and intra and inter-community rifts.
  • The unsolved cases of the village councils are referred to intervillage council. The council sits to decide especially on pus punei to organize seasonal festivals and rituals.
  • The naik is held in high esteem and his judgment is final and binding. He holds the power to ex-communicate the offender and readmits him into their society.

SOCIAL PLACE 

  • Each Paraja village has two separate dormitories at the end of the village; known as  ‘dhangda basa’ for boys and ‘dhangdi basa’ for girls.
  • Grown-up unmarried boys and girls of the village come to these ‘basas’ spend the evening there, know each other and engage in dance and music till late at night.
  • These dormitories help in creating an intimacy between the boys and girls to select their life partners.
  • Besides, these dormitories are the centers of socio-cultural activities of the Paraja society.

FOOD 

  • The staple food of the Paraja is rice and is supplemented with millets, maize, pulses,  seasonal fruits, roots and meat, egg, fish etc.
  • Some of the important trees of the Paraja are mahula, salap, kendu, mango etc.
  • They collect flowers, juice and fruit from these trees. They also use (mohua liquor) mahuli, landa (mandia liquor), salap (palm liquor) etc.
  • It is an integral part of their life. Even they offer liquor to their deities and spirits.
  • They also eat “mouse” after the harvest period.

ECONOMY 

  • The economy of Paraja tribes is primarily agro and forest-based.
  • Their lands are not so fertile, mostly unirrigated and are of low productivity.
  • So they are marginal & small farmers. Many of them are landless.
  • Whatever is produced is consumed.
  • They adopt the primitive method of cultivation. They adopt both wet cultivation and shifting cultivation.

IMPACT OF MODERN WORLD 

  • The Paroja are no longer isolated from the world outside.
  • In the post-independent scenario being declared as a Scheduled Tribe of the State, they are influenced by a package of development and welfare programmes and their varied exposure to the developing world has made impacts in their traditional way of life.
  • Yet, by and large, the Paroja has more or less retained the core elements of their age-old traditional way of life, which distinguishes them from other tribal and non-tribal communities.
  • Though their traditional economic organization, marriage and kinship system, political system, magicoreligious life, folk culture and world view, have externally changed to some extent with the changing time they still continue to function effectively.
  • But by all standards and parameters, they have Remained socio-economically backward as compared to the national mainstream.
  • Less literacy rate
  • No employment work such as MGNREGA
  • Less technical agriculture