Orissa or Odisha is located in India, south of Kolkata, but few tourists know it, which has beautiful and wild areas, in addition to the long pristine beaches bordered by palm trees overlooking the Bay of Bengal, as well as forests inhabited by local people who do not always like the intrusive attention of travelers. However, these tribes have in common socio-cultural characteristics that make homogeneous their primitive tribal culture. So we take a trip to get to know the tribes of Orissa, their culture, their customs.
The Orissa coast was considered highly strategic with its ports from which was sailed to Java, Bali, Indonesia and the dramatic battles of conquest undertaken by Mauryan emperor Ashoka in the third century BC.
We arrived in Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha after an overnight journey from Kolkata. Bhubaneswar was the ancient capital of the Kalinga and the architectural heritage of this period is its biggest attraction. For its many ancient Nagara art temples and with Puri and Konark, forms the Swarna Tribhuja or the golden triangle, and is one of the most visited destinations in eastern India. The oldest buildings date from VI and VII century AD but the recorded history of the area is famous for the Ashoka Pillar that dates back to before the Christian era.
In the afternoon we visit some characteristic temples, typical of Orissa. The magnificent temples of Bhubaneshwar that frame the Bindu Sarovar lake show the entire development of particular architectural style of the region, called the Nagara style with the wonderful Parsurameswar Mandir and the Lingaraj Mandir from the 11th century AD, with refined carved towers, dedicated to Harihara, a form of Shiva, and one of the oldest in town.
We continue to the Mukteshwar Mandir, dedicated to Shiva, famous for the stone arch at the entrance and the sculptures in the outer walls of which the most famous are those that tell the story of a donkey and a crocodile of the Panchatantra tale written by Vishnu Sharma and the Chausath Yogini temple.
The Rajarani Temple was built in the 11th century and is known as the temple of love, which is covered discreetly with erotic carvings, but elegant in its sensual sculptures nymphs. The Brahmeswar Temple also has excellent sculptures.
Next day after breakfast we start our excursion to Khandagiri and Udayagiri hills, famous for the partly natural and partly artificial Jain caves, which are finely carved and are of great archaeological, historical and religious importance. It is believed that most of these caves have been dug by Jain monks during the reign of King Kharavela.
Udayagiri has 18 caves and Khandagiri has 15. Among the most famous in Udayagiri is the Hathigumpha and Ganesha Gumpha for their art treasures, their sculptures and reliefs, and for their great historical importance. Khandagiri offers a nice view of Bhubaneswar. The Pagoda of Peace, located in the Dhaulagiri Hill was constructed by the Japanese Buddhists. We later visit the Nandankanan Zoological Park famous for white tigers. In the evening, we visit the Ram Mandir and Ekamra Haat, the traditional market as well as see a ballet performance of the Odissi dance.
After breakfast, we depart for Konark and visit the Sun Temple, one of the wonders of religious art and a UNESCO world heritage. The temple, built in the 13th century by Narasimhadeva I of the Ganga dynasty to celebrate his victory against Islamic invaders and is one of the world's leading examples of sacred architecture. Dedicated to Surya, there is the heavenly chariot drawn by seven horses and driven by finely chiseled and gigantic size twenty-four stone wheels.
The statues of the god, driving his chariot to bring light and life, were arranged so as to receive the rays of the sun at dawn, noon and dusk. The bas-reliefs exalt the divine journey with allegorical motifs of terrestrial life with musicians, women, children, couples in erotic effusions, birds and flowers.
We continue to Puri. According to Buddhists, Puri is the place where it was hidden a tooth of Buddha which was later stolen and brought to Kandy in Sri Lanka. The village of Pipli is famous for its excellent craft fabrics to hang on the doors and walls and for its traditional canopies that are also hanging in the temples over the images of the deities. These tissues exposed outside shops transform the main street in a multicolored avenue.
In the evening we visit the Jagannath Temple, dedicated to Krishna with his brother Balabhadra and younger sister Subhadra, which is also part of the Char Dham and especially famous for its sacred festival of chariots, Rath Yatra.
Built in the twelfth century, the main building is 65 meters high and topped by a banner of Vishnu and the chakras, the mystical wheel. Until recent times almost the entire temple was covered with white plates that European sailors in previous centuries used as a reference point defining it in logbooks as white pagoda as opposed to the Black Pagoda, visible at Konark, about 40 kilometers away from Puri.
Next day after breakfast we relax at the beach. In the afternoon we visit the Gundicha Temple, Loknath, and Raghurajpur, a village of artisans known for its Pattachitra, the art of painting on cloth and drawings on palm leaves. In the evening we visit the Jagannath Temple for the aarti. We have an evening walk in the market on the beach.
Next day after breakfast we drive to Gopalpur and stop in Mangalajodi, which belongs to the Chilika lake area between Puri and Ganjan and is the largest brackish water lagoon in India and is perfect for those who want to engage in birdwatching and for those who want to enjoy a boat trip around the surrounding islands.
Chilika is the largest saltwater lake in Asia, with a lagoon of 1100 square kilometers separated from the ocean by a strip of sand, which is home to dolphins, fish, and shellfish and in winter comes millions of migratory water birds from Siberia, like hawks, gulls, ospreys, wild geese, egrets, herons, cranes, and flamingos. The scenery is dotted with islets as Kalijai, where the temple dedicated to the goddess Kali is reflected in the silvery waters of the lake.
We have a cruise in a typical country boat to admire the surroundings and spot local and migratory birds that arrive in winter. After lunch, we continue to Gopalpur. Here we buy fresh fish and enjoy the sand sculptures. We also visit Chandipur, in the north, where the tide reaches five meters in height.
Next day after breakfast we drive to Rayagada via Chandragiri, a Tibetan colony with a large monastery, and Taptapani, famous for its sulfur springs. We then enter the tribal area of the villages of the Adivasi tribes. This region is a picturesque landscape of mountains, meadows, rivers, waterfalls, and lakes and preserves an exceptional ethnographic heritage. Early in the morning, the lush hills were still shrouded in fog.
The paths that go down to the valley were dotted with people carrying goods, directly to the weekly market as there is the inevitable opportunity for exchange and trade among tribal people who live in this remote region. Adivasis or first inhabitants have so far refused any kind of integration in Indian society to keep alive their ancient social systems and their original culture, completely different from those of all other Indian people, who express themselves through clothes, jewelry, parties, and markets.
In India, there is an amalgam of 437 tribes of which 62 are in Orissa of Dravidian origin, who took refuge in the jungles to escape the advance of the Aryans in 1600 BC, from Central Asia. While belonging to 62 different tribal groups, each of which speaks its own language, the Adivasis have some common characteristics with an itinerant practice of subsistence agriculture, supplemented by hunting and gathering wild fruits.
Bonda, Gadaba, Saora, Gond, Kotia, Paroja, Bhumia, Didayi, Duruwa, Bhottada, Jatapu are just some of the people who come together in Kotagarh markets on Tuesday, Chatikona on Wednesdays, Onukudelli on Thursdays and Kundlu on Friday, all located in Koraput district, southern Orissa.
From Rayagada after a long walk on hard mud trails and climbing small hills we reach the villages of Kondh. Their homes are located on the hills and the huts are aligned along a rectangular square, the center of which stands a totem, used in the past for child sacrifice today replaced by animal sacrifices, mostly buffalo to appease the gods. Women to drive away evil spirits adorn the cheeks and forehead with blacks dots. Until recently they were subject to attacks of tigers and to exorcise the evil spirit of cats the women tattooed mustache on their face.
Next day after breakfast we start our excursion to Dukum, near Bissamcuttack to visit the weekly market of the Desia Kondh and also see the local Dokra handicraft in Jigidi village. The women of the tribe of the Maliah Kondh have tattoos on the face, arms and feet, which were made to avoid tiger attacks in the village, who ate men and wear gold and metal rings in the ears and nose, while men have long hair in a bun and wear a thong.
The Desia use to burn their dead in the forest, but in the case where the deaths are due to causes that were directly due to the same mother-earth, as, for example, as a result of snake bites or attacks of tigers, the bodies were buried in the forest. The Desia are monogamous, and their wives enjoy the equal prestige of men. For dowry, it's up to the man pay a fee to parents of the future wife. If the woman proves infertile, the husband can take a new wife.
However, the first mate, while ceasing in all respects to be his wife, can continue to live in the home of her former husband. The Desia Jighni are skilled farmers and their costumes are not dissimilar from those of populations that often cohabit. Women do not have the tattoos and their clothing is particularly taken care of. Their peculiarity is the custom to bring up each nostril a small Bronze plate, and an ornament of the same metal- hangs from the nose. The smug willingness to be photographed testifies to their natural coquetry.
Among the Desia living in the plain of Bisamkatak they, instead of plates, use lead in the nostrils. The ornament hangs from under the nose instead of a shape similar to that of Desia of Jighni. In the forehead lead a tattoo in their intention is the stylization of a flower but that really seems rather like a trident. In the cheeks they instead use a tattoo triangle, stylized through the use of three simple dots. The saris used by these women is the most appropriate to the one worn by the other Desia.
Next day after breakfast we start our excursion to Chatikona to see the beautiful colorful weekly market of the Dongria Kondh tribe. This tribe is one of the most primitive civilizations and lives on the high slopes of the Niyamgiri hills, preserving their obsolete traditions and lifestyles of the distant past. They speak the Kui language and still use bows and arrows to defend themselves from animals.
The deep reverence that the Dongria has for their gods, the hills and streams pervade every aspect of their lives. Even their artistic expressions reflect the mountains: from the triangular designs found in the temples to the gods of villages, crops, and forests, up to Niyam Raja, the deity who governs them. The name of the tribe comes from Dongar, which means hill and refer to themselves as Jharnia or streams protectors.
The Dongria live in villages scattered along the hills. Believe Niyam Raja, which are the real descendants, we gave them the right to cultivate the slopes. Prodonda has a knowledge of their forests, plants, and game. From forests gather wild foods such as mango, pineapple, jackfruit, and honey. Also abundant are some rare medicinal herbs that the Dongria use to treat various diseases such as arthritis, dysentery, fractures, malaria and snake bites.
Often the Dongria families spend whole days in their orchards, holding off the animals with songs and drums. In the forest the Dongria also have orchards where cultivate oranges, bananas, ginger, sweet papaya and jhunu aromatic resin; all these products are then sold in local markets. According to a recent study, the Dongria collect about 200 different foods from the forest and grow in their gardens over a hundred products. This extraordinary diversity sustains them throughout the year: hardly need food or goods that come from over the hills.
The tribe also raises chickens, pigs, goats, and buffaloes. The Dongria men collect the juice of sago palms from the giants of the forest is a drink that gives them energy for long hikes through the hills of Niyamgiri.
Women have the tattooed face with drawings representing the nose of the tiger, thus identifying with the animal in order to neutralize the black magic of a shaman that according to an ancient belief transformed women into ferocious felines.
The Dongria have the nose with three small rings in gold and gird the arms with numerous bracelets decorated in a diamond pattern. The women wear hair wrapped around a cloth bearing, fixed on it with several pins and, in this hairstyle are used to store a small metal sickle to have on hand for small daily needs.
They venerate the Niyam Dongar mountain, the highest of the Niyamgiri hills, as the home of their god Niyam Raja. They are given the name of Jharnia, protectors of the rivers because they protect the sacred mountain and the rivers that flow from its forests. The Kondh Dongria populate a dozen villages hidden among the dense forests of the Niyamgiri mountains, where they live in isolation.
They are the ones that have preserved a large part of their culture and their original traditions even though these are increasingly threatened, eat meat and do not worship the Hindu gods. They once performed human sacrifice and exists among them the establishment pre-matrimonial dormitories called ghotul.
The 14-15-year-old village girls gather around are the dormitory, at the confluence of the boys of the other villages. A boy throws the chosen scarf, traditionally woven and embroidered by a sister and if she accepts they will spend the night together. Women usually wear nose rings, have numerous clips and decorations like flowers in your hair, combs or box cutters and have a particular hairstyle with black and shiny hair in the sideways. The hands and arms are decorated with bronze rings and numerous bracelets or aluminum.
The Dongria are still fervently linked to the ancestral traditions of the animist religion. The sick goes to the shaman and not to the doctor and the wizard dictates are followed, even when it comes to advising and suggestions not related to health. Marriages, contrary to what happens with other tribes, are not arranged. The boys and girls go to a special building in the center of the village and begin to flirt but before a union can be made official, the future spouse must obtain a home, while the girl will have to run in the fields and so gain the necessary dowry.
The Dongria choose their partners, but cannot marry within the same clan. Before the wedding, the bride is accompanied around the houses of the village and, subsequently, is immersed in the water made from the yellow turmeric. Then, veiled, she walks towards her husband's village.
The center around which their vision of the world respects the rhythms of nature, which can only be enforced through rituals and prayers. For this purpose exist in every village in a family of a particular caste, said Meriah, which was exempted from all jobs and tasks, but honored at every opportunity and nourished with the finest products of the village.
Traditionally, the sacrifices are performed in the villages or in the top of the mountain, before planting and after harvest. Each village has specific locations for the sacrifices and the veneration of mothers Dharni divinity of Niyam Raja and the other gods of the hills. In every house, there is also a space dedicated to the prayer of the many domestic and local deities. The Kondh until the last century made human sacrifices, now replaced by animals, to ensure good harvests.
They sacrifice chickens, pigs, goats and especially buffalo. The Dongria Kondh have not a single political leader or religious representative of all the people, each clan, and each village has its leader and some personality with specific ceremonial duties, such as beju and bejuni respectively priests and priestesses. The Dongria believe that animals, plants, rivers, mountains and other specific places have a life force, soul, jela, which comes from the mother deity.
According to legends about the ancestors of the populations, the infanticide was practiced, and the motivations were of a social nature. The Kondh Poraja community as a whole celebrated the anniversary of Meria calling it Tokimara Parab, which literally translate as a virgin feast of the sacrifice. In fact, it is said that the intended victim was always a girl, the daughter of Kondh.
In ancient times during Meriah, there were made human sacrifices in honor of Dharani Penu, the mother goddess. These were usually of abducted children or bought from poor families of the villages. The children were then detained for 4-6 months before being sacrificed. On the day of the sacrifice, they were dazed with opium and then tied to totem poles.
The priests then invoked Dharani Penu to fill the barns and with cattle, after which the victim was slain to pieces and sometimes burnt slowly so that the tears can propitiate abundant rain. Every householder received a piece of sacred flesh which was then buried in the field or in the barn. The ashes instead, mixed with seeds, were scattered over the fields.
Ritualized human sacrifice was practiced by the Kondh. These men were known to be a fierce and warlike race, who dabbled with cruelty and devastation. Surely even their deity was delighted with the slaughter during bloody rituals. Basically what happened was that these communities were buying regular innocent people, often children, but not only. Then they organized a grand celebration of sacrifice, to which were invited to participate the community and neighboring villages to attend the ritual slaughter of the person who they had bought.
They did it several times a year. According to what we might call their religion, there were special times during which the sacrifices were made, but also created opportunities for ad hoc rituals. For example, if something unexpected or negative happened during that year, the idea was that the mother earth or malevolent gods were angry with them and had to be appeased with the blood of an innocent bought for sacrifice. So there were these occasional sacrifices, as well as those regulated seasonally.
Apparently, it was necessary to appease the goddess so that would guarantee a good harvest and did not happen anything wrong to the community. This is the justification, the way they saw the thing the people who practiced it.
The Dongria living near Bisamkatak have a population far aggressive and their customs and clothing are totally different from the others Kondhs. The men wear long hair tied in a bun at the nape of the neck. Youngsters use oil for their hair which is then combed. Once the combs were made of wood, horn or bone. These young men with well-coiffed hair and comb placed on the head for good, walk from a village to another by beating their drums (changu) to reach the dormitory where they attract girls waiting for them.
They carry on the shoulders a scarf, traditionally woven by his sister, whose ornamental motifs are reminiscent of those tracks on the walls houses with red diamonds that symbolize the blood sacrifice, green for trees and nature around them and yellow to represent the mutual harmony. In the pre-marital institution of the dormitories, take place the resulting free sexual acts, helping young Dongria to find the right partner. After sunset and dinner at the dorms gather children between the ages of 6 and 12 years. This exchange between villages allows a continuing genetic parts and serves to strengthen the bond between the various groups.
Dongria girls learn to understand who they are, what they want and what fits their partners. Traditionally, in fact, the teenagers live in these communal houses for girls where they learn to confront each other, to exchange ideas and tell desires, listening to the legends, the stories and opinions of the elderly.
Girls and boys spend the night together and sex between them is absolutely free and even encouraged. In order to avoid pregnancies, girls make use parts of a special plant. It seems that this natural system features in the majority of cases. The Dongria women are easily recognized by the nose with three bronze rings, one for each nostril and the third pendant in the middle. They wear big round bronze or aluminum necklaces and hands and arms are adorned with rings and bracelets that among all Kondhs symbolize the holy gauges of ritual sacrifices.
Like the male, they also bring a comb through the hair, to which is added a large number of hairpins and even sickle knife with the pointing blade. Their hips carry one or more metal belts including a knife-sickle similar to the one in the hair. A similar object is usually part of the male kit. However, in the most remote villages, we can still meet men wearing the traditional white dresses, which is accompanied by the scarf. Typically the Dongria do not like to be photographed, but women with exchange for small gifts can agree with relative ease. The men can create troubled if photographed against their will, who are very aggressive.
During a visit in the Dongria, we pay special attention to the sacred places as the Dongria believe that if a stranger touches or comes close to an object or a sacred place, the sacrificial pole, or the totem of the village, this will become unclean, causing the removal of the spirit of the mother-earth goddess thus putting at risk the very survival of village.
Even in the region of the Dongria, as already reported for other Kondh tribes, there are occasional ritual places with remains of food offerings, bows, and arrows. Similarly to what happens between the Kutia, even among Dongria applies the figure of Jani. Equally similar is the widespread use of alcoholic beverages obtained by fermentation of rice (pendam), flowers (Mahua) or lymph (Salap) of which the Dongria make abundant and excessive use.
Therefore it is common to meet intoxicated men. Their main business is now agriculture, especially with the cultivation of pineapples, papayas, bananas, mangoes and a particular tuber called wild potato. Their agricultural activities are made easier by the wealth of water that characterizes the hills among which they live. The structure of the Dongria villages is similar to that of al Kondhs with the particularity that the villages always see two well-defined points of access and exit.
By contrast, the shape of the houses is different and peculiar. The Dongria homes have very low wood walls and straw roof. At the center of the village, in what we can define as the Square stands the sacrificial structure matching the totem poles in the other tribes. The structure is covered. The bearing beam of the building, supported by two stakes is adorned by three pairs of cups on each side representing the stylization of the breast of the mother-earth goddess.
In April, at the time of Meriah celebrations, access to the village is forbidden to everyone including the Dongria from nearby villages by the heritable bamboo fences. Access is a forbidden sin so much so that all animals intended for that purpose are sacrificed. The dialect used by the Dongria consists of a close number of words and the way they talk, and their own way of being is direct and without innuendo or shades.
We then visit Jeypore, stopping at Minapali, the homemade bamboo village. Next day after breakfast we depart for Onukudelli to visit the famous Bonda tribe, who lives in Koraput, northwest of Machkund River. The weekly market is a unique opportunity to see a concentration of so many colorful tribal people in one place. The Bonda is an ancient tribe of about 12,000 people living in remote hilly regions in Orissa. Their clothing and jewelry are very similar to the Masai tribe in Africa. Their culture has changed very little in over 1000 years.
The Bonda for example, are one of the poorest populations known as pygmies for their short stature, love to hunt, fight and kill, who move in fact always armed with bows, arrows and a sharp dagger. Men wear a white thong, different earrings and have an asymmetrical hairstyle, while the women, wear kilts, raffia, beads build with whole tissues to be used on large shaved heads and necklaces to serve as clothing.
According to legend, a haired goddess was insulted and ridiculed by some Bonda women, as they bathed dressed. For this reason, she cursed and imposed their hair cut and perennial nudity. They also wear massive metal rings around their necks. There is the custom of celebrating marriages between adult women and male children in order to ensure that the woman can be maintained by her husband to a great age. Women build good sorghum brooms, but few buy them because they have the reputation of being witches.
They speak Remo, a difficult language of obscure origins. The men are famous for their irascible character and their aggressive personality. They are often drunk in spirits made from various plant materials like flowers, palm trees, rice etc. The women, more docile, are small in stature and wear a skimpy skirt of striped fabric.
They have shaved heads and bare chest, leading many strands of colored beads. Older women wear huge aluminum neck collars weighing about 2 kg each. On their back, they wear a sort of cushion that serves as a counterweight and wears big earrings, several bracelets on the hands and feet rings and collars. Other tribal groups, which are distinguished by their traditions and costumes, are the Gadaba, Paraja, Parenga Saora, and Dhruwa.
At Onukudelli, some women of Bondo ethnicity with a tobacco pipe in their mouth, carry on their head a container made from a gourd, filled with beer, obtained from the fermentation of certain tubers. They hope to sell their beverage or exchange it for basic necessities. They are completely naked but covered with hundreds of long necklaces made of beads and old coins forming a long dress.
The neck shines with several metal rings while the head was completely shaved and adorned with a colorful headdress. The Bondo are undoubtedly the most famous tribes for its originality as well as to the hostilities that they have always shown towards foreigners. They are grumpy and suspicious, often drunk and loud and prowl on them armed with bows and poisoned arrows. Their economy, in fact, is still based on hunting, gathering and some timid nomadic cultivation.
They are animists with totem worship, and practice a community life in small villages of mud huts and branches and live amidst the forces of nature, magic and live in regions difficult to access that guarantee a strong insulation. The only exception is the market. It's the only way to meet these so genuine people. They form a kaleidoscope of customs, practices, and beliefs, which form the basis of assimilating the beliefs of adivasis in the infinite Hindu pantheon by the Aryans.
They celebrate many different ritual celebrations with music, songs, and dances, and produce an original artwork with paintings on linen paper, drawings on palm leaves, ceramic paintings, silk and cotton saris, soapstone, bone, wood and brass sculptures, silver filigree that they sell in colorful markets. Some are peaceful, friendly and easily accessible, while others live in inaccessible tangles of the forest, without even access tracks.
Above all, they practice an intense and free sexual life, at least until marriage. Each village has a ghotul, a common house where they sleep young people to have fun and be able to acquire an erotic experience before facing a monogamous life with high fidelity standards. We visit of some villages, Kutia Kondh and Dongria Kondh Desia and also Barkham to see the typical work of the tribals. Bonda women wear colorful jewelry.
The Kutia Kondhs live in remote and often inaccessible hills in the far southwest of the district of Phulbani, mainly in Belghar and few in Kalahandi. The Kutia's are a docile peace-loving people, devoted to agriculture and hunting that practice also with the use of traps with plant fibers. Their homes always are between the hills and aligned along a square realized in such a way that the major axis runs from the top of the hill to down to facilitate the outflow of waters. The structure is made of woven timbered wood and recovered in dried mud that is sometimes adorned with triangular graffiti.
The Triangle is a recurring symbolic element of all Kondhs tribe. The wooden doors of the houses are adorned with shaped designs of stylized leaves. In front of the main structure of the house is raised a timbered network, so as to create a sort of spike in the corridor along the front. While the corridor has usually the straw roof, the greater structure is, since ancient times, traditionally protected by a roof of clay tiles.
Even in Kutia villages in the center of the square is the sacrificial totem. Unlike the more elaborate adopted by other tribes, among Kutia the totem is represented as a simple pole with triangular friezes, provided with a recess on the top to support the victim's head (once human, now buffalo or goats). At the time of human offerings, the sacrifice occurred in such a way that the body of the victim remained attached to sacrificial pole only the skull and the feet. Even Kutia worship the mother-earth and do the Meriah with the same way as Desia.
Each location is characterized by a rectangular wooden structure with a thatched roof and no walls. The structures are dominated by a bamboo pole with a flag green, yellow and red. Under the structures are small offerings and other ritual objects such as arrows. Often, nearby there are other places occasional rituals (similarly to what happens between Desia) where shamanic rituals are performed for bringing about healing or to secure a favorable newborn.
It is not rare to find ghee jars broken after the ceremonial use. The Kutia are very jealous of their traditions. On special substance structures guardians watch over the territory, monitor grazing domesticated animals. The arrival of any predators or the approach of intruders is indicated by the use of tom-toms. Moving in the Kutia territory you will have the perception to always be observed while the sound of tam-tam accompanies each movement.
Villages show virtually few inhabitants locked up in the houses while most retreated into the forest. With nightfall, though the villages recover progressively as the Kutia return from their jobs in the forest and are then this is the most propitious time. A dominant role in society is played by Kutia Jani, men (and women) of medicine and the magic.
The Jani, which enjoy great prestige among the population, in the performance of their activity make extensive use of shamanic practices, to black and white magic that use both to cure sick, to perform rites. Until relatively recently in forests inhabited by Kutia lived many tigers exposing the population to their attacks. Kutia interpreted the attack of a tiger as the action of one evil spirit. The attack of a tiger was considered a bad omen.
Even today the Kutia believe that a person killed by a tiger will turn itself into a spirit that assumed the form of the cat, and can come back to kill. Unlike Desia, the Kutia women do not use any elaborate tattoo to offset evil spirits but sometimes adorn the forehead with the tattoo of three simple dots. The Kutia make extensive use of their special drink called colic. If during the preparation of drink, at the stage of fermentation, the kuer assumes a reddish color, the Kutia come into excitement because this is an auspicious sign for the immediate future.
The occurrence of this event provides an opportunity to great celebrations with dances, which also involve women, accompanied by the sound of drums and trumpets made from the horns of the buffalo. On a full moon night, we witnessed an engagement between a pair of young Kutia. The most curious aspect is that the two lovers do not participate in the festivities, but rather are in their own home. The friends of the groom go to the village of the bride. In her house are picked instead of the other friends of the girl.
Between the two groups soon begin a song competition during which, in turn, the boys exalt masculine activities like hunting, working in the fields or in the forest, and girls those of female life. To the end of the song, the two groups come together in one clearing where, in the presence of the whole village, give life to a dance that lasts long. On the next day will be the turn of the girls to go to the village of the bride and the celebrations and parties are repeated.
Another ethnic group we met in Onukudelli area was that of Gadaba. The women wear large bronze metal collars. In the village, it is not uncommon to see women dance to the beat of drums played by men. They are arranged in concentric rows made up of small groups divided by age, coming together and come off and then back together perfectly. At the center of the village, the Gadaba erect, under a leafy tree, one or more monoliths in memory of their ancestors. The dead are cremated.
Gadaba belongs to the group of three different tribes, The Bara-Gadaba, the Ollar-Gadaba and Parenga, but among these only the Bara-Gadaba, are very micro-tribes rooted to their traditions, who can be considered real Gadaba. The tribes of Parenga and Ollar-Gadaba, in fact, are a result of frequent contacts and crosses with the Parajas, the Mallis and Rana, who have lost their cultural and traditional heritage and were therefore stripped of the status that was paid to them in the past.
The sense of tradition is very high among BARA Gadaba who have maintained a very ritualistic society. When a family member dies, Gadaba believes that these will be reborn in the same family. This means that they take prodigal care towards their children. The family system plays an essential role in the Gadaba. Every family has a sadubhai that is close to them in times of trouble. Therefore, on every ceremonial occasion the sadubhai is invited to attend and to him is bestowed honors and the deference that is due.
The presence of sadubhais then is an additional and powerful defense compared to only forces of the family. What sadubhais embody for families, the jabhais represent it for the whole village with a supporting role in times of crisis of the village, especially in the most important celebration, the goter. Like the Meriah sacrifices of the Kondhs, the Goter performs the same function in Gadaba society. The goter festivals are celebrated to appease the spirits of the ancestors, to please them and ask them protection.
Many buffaloes are slaughtered. The costs are equitably divided between the members of the entire village. During March and April, however, the Gadaba use hunting party which is also a great opportunity to agree or contract marriages. During pendam party with rice beer and Mahula, a beverage made from the fermentation of yellow flowers the tree that bears the same name, the Gadaba dance a beautiful dance. At the center of the village, under a leafy tree, monoliths are erected in memory of ancestors and next to it is a platform on which sit at the meeting when the men have to discuss issues that affect the entire village.
The Gadaba cremate their dead after ten days in which the whole village participates during which are sacrificed buffalo and other animals. In Gadaba society, men and women have equal dignity and enjoy equal rights. This equality, among other things, permits women wide sexual freedom, so much so that a married woman can abandon her first husband to be accompanied by another man who, if he wishes, is also free to break ties.
This is not considered a serious offense to the first husband, who, however, is just as free to look for a new partner. The only problem is represented by the fact that the woman's parents must return to her old husband whatever has been paid for in marriage. As you can imagine this can instead be a source of heated arguments and quarrels!
Besides several large metal collars, sometimes Bara-Gadaba women wear lead or bronze rings in the huge ears. The stature of men and women are very low and their appearance can look like Aboriginal Australians. The Bara-Gadaba live in clean houses and wear aesthetically pleasant dresses. The tribe lives mainly in Machkund in the vicinity of Koraput. The language of the Bara-Gadaba is Gutab that is linguistical of the Munda family.
The Ollar-Gadaba, however, speak a language akin to Telugu, the Dravidian language. Contrary to Bara-Gadaba, the nature of Ollar-Gadaba is very sweet and kind. Their company is pleasant and they are always smiling. The houses of ollar are extremely clean and well maintained with entrance doors and features. The walls are painted with pleasing combinations of color and decorated with geometric motifs where the square holds the place of the triangle used by Kondhs tribe.
At harvest time the ollar-Gadaba dance together, to the sound of instruments to breath and drums, a dance called Kunda. Even among Ollar-Gadaba applies the system of sadubhais, ancestor worship and celebrate vibrations of the dead on the tenth day after the death.
Ten days after death it is organized a large ceremony attended by the whole village, during which animals are sacrificed and rice beer and fermented liquor are drunk. After the ceremony the deceased return to their family in the reincarnation of the first baby to be born. Moving away from the hills, in a succession of rural landscapes, ends the part of the journey dedicated to the people. We then, return to Jeypore.
Next day after breakfast we depart for Kundli to visit the weekly market of the Paraja and Mali tribes and is the largest of the tribal markets. We stop at the tribal villages of Paraja Sana, Sana Padar, Bada Padar. In the Kundlu market, the majority is the Paraja. They are a simple, friendly and hospitable people. The market is a whirl of colors, smells, lights, and looks.
The Paraja women dress in colorful saris and adorned with necklaces, bracelets, rings, earrings with piercings in the nose, ears, and lips. Often they have garish tattoos on arms and legs. They smile sincerely and shyly hiding her face in front of the camera. In the early afternoon, the market begins to get empty.
Next day we catch the early morning flight to return home. Coming out of this enchanted land, mountains and hills, we dive back into traffic and the chaotic life of India. A country full of surprises, Orissa, is still genuine, wild and unknown to most travelers.
Orissa Travel Tips
Around here, certainly worth a visit is the Simlipal National Park that covers an area of about 3 thousand square kilometers that boasts of the Jaguar to the elephant, from the crocodile to numerous species of birds.
In order to access the tribal areas of this region, it is highly recommended to lean against a local guide.
This is a place where you can reach virtually all year. The best period is from November to March. Summer is from March to June and it is very hot, then there from July to September is the rainy season and winter is from October to February.
Cuttack boasts of the ruins of a fort and Kadam Rasul has three mosques, while there are temples at Paradeep and Balasore.
Other Tribes of Orissa
Mallis are known to be excellent farmers, and in the valleys, they cultivate with great care, with well irrigated, demarcated and fenced fields. The advanced agricultural methods allow Mallis a good standard of living that differentiate from the surrounding tribes. Many have now embraced the Hindu religion abandoning traditional animistic one.
Among the Parajas special care is given to homes frequently repainted in the traditional colors of black, yellow and ocher. In addition to agriculture, the Parajas routinely engage in the hunting and in particular with the aid of large tools made with vegetable fibers. Even in the Parajas villages, down there in the main square, under leafy trees, are the monoliths of the ancestors and the platform forms for public meetings.
The Deday are quite high in stature. Their women are particularly graceful. They are easily recognizable by the big red flower that is worn in the black and smooth hair in a bun.
Lanjia Souras lives between the Puttasing hills in the district of Gajapati and among the hills in the area of Serang Parlakhemundi. Like Bara-Gadaba they have a very ritualized society, but on the contrary of the first, they are not polygamists. When they have enough land they may take two, three or more wives that make working rare in the fields, drawing good crops. The agricultural jobs are in fact an occupation mostly reserved for women, while men are totally lazy and indolent. They spend a lot of time drinking Salap, a drink obtained from the fermentation of the sap.
Similarly to the goter feast of Gadaba, the Lanjia Sauras have a party called guar, celebrated to appease the spirits of their ancestors. Each house of Lanjias has, in the inner part, a sacred room on a wall which special artists paint beneficial entity. Lanjias believe that if properly venerated it ensures prosperity to the family.
Koyas belong to the Dravidian group, both as regards their origin and language spoken. This population lives mainly in Malkangiri in Koraput district. The Koyas are renowned for their sumptuous dance with the horn of buffalo during which they beat large drums at the center of the village. Their dances, in the night of full moon, are a sight not to be missed. Koyas are very respective of the village hierarchy, to those against who show great fidelity.
The village chief and his assistant have a completely free hand in making every decision concerning the public welfare. This tribe is traditionally dedicated to the breeding of livestock, though in more recent times there has been an approach to agricultural practices. Their food, however, continues to be based on consumption of meat, whatever its origin: cow, pig, bear. The drawings which usually decorate the houses are combined in a very aesthetic manner.
The Bonda, who call themselves Remo, speak a dialogue like the Austroasiatic language Munda. Like the Bara-Gadaba the Bonda has petite stature and facial features that recall those of the Australian Aborigines, but unlike Bara-Gadaba, the Bonda have thin legs. Of all the tribes of the highlands probably the Bonda has the most primitive mind. Living in remote hills, the Bonda managed to maintain almost intact their customs and their traditions. The irritability of Bonda is proverbial and when combined with the habit of extensive use of alcoholic beverages, which they themselves obtain from the fermentation of various plant elements, they have homicidal tendencies.
The most trivial provocation to a Bonda man can lead to shooting with his bow and a poisoned arrow to kill, if necessary, even relatives and friends. You should, therefore, be very careful when you proceed in their territories. Among the Bonda exists a curious marriage system. A young woman of 16 or 17 years usually marries a boy of 8 or 10 years with the hope that they can give great attention to her until her old age.
It's very common for the older brother of the boy or his father to cohabit with the girl, but this coexistence, with sexual implications, is often a source of family quarrels and fights that can also lead to killings. This fact combined with the reduced number of individuals that make up the tribe, to the problem of consanguinity and the fighting spirit that causes annually quite a few losses, leads to a constant decrease of the population.
The Bonda women dress in a very succinct manner with an incredibly mini skirt, while the bare chest is just covered with numerous strings of beads. Bracelets, metal belts, and other ornaments cover with profusion their nakedness. They wear the wide and large circular collars of bronze or aluminum, so narrow that they can never be removed, and cover the neck. When they go to weekly market also they wear a kind of scarf or short cape.
Men traditionally wear only a small thong, but when they go to weekly markets often dress in pants and a sort of shirt. Bonda are discrete farmers. During the monsoons they cultivate in terraces along the streams getting good results and is always in the same season they procure new land to cultivate cutting down stretches of forests and lighting fires. Bonda's are extremely related to a particular type of agriculture from which they derive abundant fruits and are particularly jealous of their Salap and Mahua trees from which they derive alcoholic beverages which include extensive use and sell at local weekly markets obtaining a small income.
The Dharua Gond are a subtribe of the larger group of the Gond, which represent the interesting component from an anthropological point of view. They live in the vast forests of the area in the south of Siribeda, the country divided into a dozen villages. Once the villages were grouped into two different clans, that of the Tiger and that of Cobra. Among their prey figure all sorts of animals, from deer, mice, snakes, porcupines, gazelles, bears to the gharial.
A treat particularly appreciated is represented by bird chicks, eaten alive, that prey on nests with great skill from the highest branches of the trees. In the river, which flows into their territory through a spectacular scenery between lava gorges, they use arrows equipped with a cord to fish. Both the men and women adopt a curious short hair on the neck and on the front. Women wear a distinctive green or yellow sari with a phosphorescent brilliance, while men wear only a small thong and sometimes a cream-colored scarf but adorn profusely earrings, bracelets, and necklaces.
As with other tribes, even among Dharuva, all children and young people of the village go at night to the shared dorm. The interior is ideally divided by structural poles of the structure delimiting the area of the males from the females. Here they spend the evening singing and playing, while elders teach girls to do the movements of traditional dances. Otherwise, from what happens in other tribal populations of Orissa, in shared dorm does not take place sexual acts.
Often marriages are arranged by parents and the bride and groom are usually between cousins when they are still at a very early age. Marriage is consequentially very early so that in the initial years' children couple are not able to have a full representation of sexual acts and are limited to sex games. Much later, however, there are married, when they come of age and in this case, the reason is to be found in difficult payment of the dowry, usually quite large, which the husband is required to pay the family of the bride.
The Birhor or Mankadia tribes live in the area of Simlipal hills. Most continue their hunting activities of monkeys for food they need. These elusive bands change at least twice a year in order to stay close to monkeys who must hunt, kill and eat. The presence of Sal trees is also important for them. Weaving the fibers of these trees, in fact, the Birhor build strings that they sell at local markets and build long networks with which they capture the monkeys. The Birhor are obsessed by the taste of the meat of monkeys. They are able to perceive the odor and prepare traps to catch them.
After identifying the prey, some of the men penetrates deep in the forest, while the rest of the group awaits. When the monkeys are localized, the men in reconnaissance communicate it to the rest of group by means of a whistle based language with which they transmit all information related to the movement of animals. While the main group lay traps, others cry and shake the trees pushing monkeys into the trap. As soon as the monkeys end up entangled in the traps, the Birhor launch into new pursuits, catches, and killings.
The perfect knowledge of the territory and the secrets of the forest allows them to identify even the smaller pools of water in the most hidden recesses. With the leaves, they build small cups for collecting water and quench their thirst. While marching into the forest in pursuit of monkeys, hunters collect leaves and edible roots. The whole group returns from the field late in the evening after kilometers and kilometers of travel, while women exchanging trends of the hunt. The food is divided equally between the various kumbhas or houses and the opportunity is propitious to celebrate and dance.