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"Women in tribal village, Umaria district, India" by Yann (talk) - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

“Women in tribal village, Umaria district, India” by Yann (talk) – Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

We all long for fulfilment, we all seek some promise in our life. To enjoy a spiritual transcend our selves.

So religions offer their own answers and paths, but liberation and accomplishment have both sacred and profane dimensions. Adivasi meaning is linked inextricably to the land. Whether racially proto-Austaloid (Munda, Uraon, Ho, Gond, Khond etc, Himalayan Mongoliod, Negroid of Karela or the Andamanese Islands, the Adivasi people long for the land that is both critical for their existence and their spiritual encounter with the supernatural. Without land the Adivasi do not exist. They are linked to the land, and for many tribes state of Jharkhand offered some hope and challenge to make sat-patt- raji a concrete manifestation for their people and the afterlife or parum disum or merkha (heaven). Jharkhand mean “forest tract” and was carved from Bihar, after 50 years of agitation across areas that included districts of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal. The Adivasi value simplicity, truthfulness, contentment, hard work, hospitality, generosity, hard work, independence, egalitarianism love of peace and a care free attitude. The agricultural Adivasi see fulfilment in having plenty to eat, drink cattle, crops land and children. Sins is a violation of these priorities. When their connection to the land is threatened they can fight back!

Dongria Tribswoman

Dongria Tribswoman

For Adivasi existential longing is both personal and communal determined by a collective faith experience. Its two dimensions are this word and the other world: relationship with being on this earth and secondly a synthesis of human and divine relationship both personally and for the ethos of the group. Key to liberation is happiness. For happiness in this world is a criteria for the next world. Happiness is collective, and uts achievement gives direction to the individual. For the Oraon tribals, this is measured by Cattle, Crops and Children in the prosperity of the family. Heaven reflects his world. The afterlife has fields to plough, cattle in abundance, and a bumper crop. The more agricultural tribes, the Mundhu, Kharia, Ho and Santhal, long for land and a rich harvest and children to perpetuate the family. The Kharia have a great respect for cattle.


D.P.D.,A14bCOMMUNITY PROJECT CENTRE, RANCHI (BIHAR)Jitia dance by Oraon Adivasi young boys and girls.

“Without land they simply do not exist. In absence of land, there is no space for their social, cultural, economic and ecological life. Sanjay Bosu Mullick opines that “identity and indigenous peoples rests on two vital elements, space and speech”. Spatial habitat or the geographical territory of their ancestors is their birthright. That part of “Mother earth” has been passed on to them by their fore-parents. Therefore, the rationale for their struggle for a separate land can be justified in terms of three Js, namely, JAMIN (the land), JAL (the water) and JUNGLE (the forest) which belong to them from time immemorial[1].”

The call for Jhakhand was therefore an emotional call for life. “Land is their altar of sacrifice to god and to the spirits” adds Kujur, which is why they protect land and produce.

“A part of the virgin forest is preserved since the settlement of the village as the sacred grove, the abode of the Mother earth, to be propitiated regularly. The spirits of all the natural objects are also propitiated as benevolent ones. The spirits of the ancestors are believed to be residing in the household itself who protect the family from all kinds of evils.” –          Basu Mulllick[2]

In twined with the tribal system and religious life is the preservation of sizable sacred groves that include isolated forest specimens of peepal (ficus religiosa) often without reference to a god. Symbiotic is life’ relationship to nature and performing arts. Earth and water belong to Mother earth. We have their use, but they are not bought, sold or privatised. Adivasi stewardship of the land offered by each tribes respective gods is an open secret challenged by modernity. Since 1970 every major dam and wildlife sanctuary and 90% of National Park, are carved from Adivasi land. 50% of India’s mineral wealth of coal, bauxite and mica is mined from Adivasi land, yet 85% live below the poverty line, and while only 8% of the population they represent 50% of people evicted from their homeland for National Development Projects[3]. No government ever created land so how can they own what god has made? And is an intimate companion, a source of great knowledge to live with harmoniously. In both East and West, as W J T Mitchell reminds us, landscapes are part of a ‘process by which … identities are formed”[4] But Western thought defines landscape in terms of the Enlightenment: landscape controlled and commanded.

“The English word landscape comes from landscaef , an Anglo-German word that meant “a clearing in the forest with animals, huts, fields, fences. It was essentially a peasant landscape carved out of the original forest or weald, out of the wilderness[1]. The English ‘land‘ means earth from the older Gothic for ‘a ploughed field’. Scape implies the shape of similar objects or shaeth , a buncle or sheath of similar plants.”

Landscapes change slowly to our minds, but they erode and shape. To those in the forest daily, their movement is like the breath of lungs. Do we command ecology through the science and technologies of architecture? Landscape is certainly sublimated or modified by mans interference. But now, the ideological imperative to remake the land is losing ground to environmental fears.

Adivaso girl by Scalerman

Adivaso girl by Scalerman

Personhood is rooted in the land. This experience is not only true of the Adivasi, but also the Australian Aboriginee, and other native people. The alienation of the Adivasi so often reminds me of the loss felt by my Aboriginal brothers and sisters. The late Australian naturalist writer Eva Palmwood notes “ in earlier puritan times, nature was pushed away and seen as an evil animal realm in which civilised rules and practices were abandoned in favour of wholesale licence” Nature was wild, feminine and threatening; to be domesticated by “this suspicious, civilizing and crusading culture” into a house garden. So we stay away from the uncomfortable, lock ourselves away from even a mosquito.

“The dualistic Christian/Western framework of alienation and material denial has erased our connecting narratives” she writes. We desperately lack stories that transparently link us to nature. Gaia stories: “the real meaning of ecological literacy, to have stories that speak of the culture/nature boundary and of where the two cultures meet.”

Palmwood touches on what I see in both Advasi India and Aboriginal Australia.

“Our conviction that ‘we’ live in culture and ‘they’ live in nature is so strong that all that is left is a passionate story about consciousness, history and freedom—about us—and another story about fiercely uninvolved causation and clockwork—a story about them.”

To be separate from nature – to be distinct from the pain of animals other humans better In some ways India has grate sensitivity to animals – stray dogs are often de-sexed and not euthanized. However, I suggest Australia fares better in treating other humans. In each action there are exceptions. Australia had a social security system but hides from facing its obligations to refugees and forgets Aboriginals in the outback. A similar argument is made by environmental ethicist and seed saving campaigner Vandana Shiva. Shiva laments the scientific urge since Roger Bacon to conquer rather than coexist with nature. The nature divide is also expressed in our attitude to women. For nature is feminine. A point made by Marilyn Frye “argues that it is necessary to move beyond a concept of woman as ‘deficient male’ to the idea of woman as ‘positively-other-than’.” We see this in Colonial Britain’s criticism of Indians as feminized, over sexed, in reference to early marriage, and weak minded. Then Vivekananda masculinised the Nationalist agenda, and it seems that Hindi nationalist movements have since moved from feminine sensitivity to nature to a post colonial, almost colonization, raping of the land.

Tribal land is to the Adivasi what Mecca is to Muslims and Jerusalem is to Jews. It is sacred. Their cosm-centric worldview is nature-linked. There is no “I”/ “other” dichotomy; nature-human-spirit are an integrated whole.

Land gives dignity, pride and identity. Without land the Adivasi is “helpless, subservient and subjugated like a bonded laborer without any dignity[5].” Which is why peace loving Adivasi can dangerously resist some development projects. It is not my purpose to rehash history, suffice to remember many anti British struggles, mixed with the fire of the Bhakti movement, were agrarian and tribal. Threatened by being overwhelmed by outsiders, others or diku, there was the Santhal struggle of 1860’s and 1870’s, the 1895 Bhagat movement among the Oraons, Madhta Pradesh Gond movement in the 1930’s.

‘Mining happiness’ Vedanta is stripping all that the Dongria Kondh tribals hold sacred. (Photograph by Sandipan Chatterjee)

‘Mining happiness’ Vedanta is stripping all that the Dongria Kondh tribals hold sacred. (Photograph by Sandipan Chatterjee)

Without land Adivasi truthfulness and simplicity has been lost to indebtedness, alienation, drinking, displacement and migration. The loss of identity finds many apologetic for their race, dropping their clan names. Unlike their caste divided and status conscious contemporaries, economics is secondary in egalitarian villages. Within the Parha, the village confederations that resolved inter village disputes, all have equal standing. Accountability is to the tribe and family offer fulfilment, but Colonial structures still remaining have crushed their land and encourage the biggest obstacles to human fulfilment: greed, pride and disobedience. These vices according the Genesis myths of Oraon, Khartia and Munda cause Rain of Fire and Deluge. Ecological imbalance caused by smelter pollution by the Asur polluted the cosmos stopped by the merciful intervention of the Supreme being sending messages: a crow, crane and then the Supreme himself disguised as a boy.

Damage to the cosmic harmony is hoped to make human defaulters to become aware of life communitarian nature. The tribal dream is always harmony with the other.

In the Oraon Genesis tradition Dharmes made man “in a mold like tiles” and gave food to all creatures. Happiness is the realisation of Gods care for all “sinners, enemies in all” God walks with human beings, he is not aloof in heaven. Fulfilment is this God experience. But the continuation of the cosmos requires rectifying the corruption and injustice. Evil, such as an evil eye is neutralised by the bhakh khandna ceremony. For life is focused on communal prosperity” crops, cattle marriage and children.

Sorice: Bengal Adivasi Blog

Sorice: Bengal Adivasi Blog

Unless there is a radical social change, will they have to accept Singbonga’s will and find liberation with their ancestors in Purom Disum, the afterlife, imagined by the Uraons as ploughing fields?

“This parom disam is looked upon as a world separated from our world by some mighty barrier such as is formed by an impossible chain of mountains or an unfordable river or a boundless ocean “ writes Martin Topno. It is indescribable in terms of height, distance, or depth “for the parom disumreko (those of the world across) are not thought of as living in far away places, since they dwell in the huts of their nearest relatives, in streams, rivulets, field and mountains of their village and Singhonga, the Lord of all, is explicitly declared to be everywhere and to see everything. These two worlds are rather conceived as co-penetrating each other, and yet as not possessed of any means of direct communication.”

The afterlife, and the rituals of death, will be discussed elsewhere, along with the influence of Christian conversion. However, benevolent spirits are guardians of those on earth, but they are not worshipped, unlike Singbonga. In the Mundu region the Christian concept of ‘salvation’ is understood as communion with Singbonga in the afterlife. Singbonga is the centre of life now and in the future and Janau suku, eternal happiness is possible only through Sigbonga and the ancestors, Communion is achieved through sacrificial ritual of Umbul Ader, lirerally entering into spirit, achieved in the abode of Singbonga in Sirma Disum, or heaven. nagesiya-household-kerang-village-in-lohardagga-district-jharkhand-photo-anumeha-yadav1 Meanwhile tribal hopes and frustrations inspired in Jharkhand include liberation from jagirdars, jaminders, money lenders and other exploiters. The reality of poetical life is less promising. While India’s Constitution protects the Adivasi, they continue to be harassed. Adivasi are still looked down on as inferior, pre-literate and vanvasi, or forest dwellers. Perhaps India could learn from them. I agree with Sauros-Prabhu[6] that tribal solidarity with nature and egalitarianism should be an example to modern competitiveness and individualism. [1] Joseph Marianus Kujur, Human longing and fulfilment: An Adivasi perspective, Disputatio Philisophica, and referencing Mullick 1993:13 [2] Mullick S. E. Ed 1993:14 Indigenous Identity: Crisis and its Re-awakening, Nanin Prakashan Kendra. [3] Jaydas, E., 1993, 34 The Adivasis and the Land, in Indigenous Identity: Crisis and its Re-awakening, Nanin Prakashan Kendra. [4] Mitchell WJT, (1994) ‘Landscape and Power’, Chicago University Press, Chicago. [5] Joseph Marianus Kujur: 19 [6] Sauros-Prabhu, G., 1994 85ff Tribal values in India, in Ijeevadhara, 24 (March)85-88