The Tribal Groups of Orissa
By Kimberly Coole
As I mentioned in my last blog, I thought it would be nice to have a look back at my trip to Orissa a few years ago. Again, rather than break down the trip day by day I’ll give you some information about the tribes I was lucky enough to encounter and then show you the images that I managed to capture. Of all the states in India, Orissa has the largest number of tribes, as many as 62, however I met just 4 tribal groups – the Bonda, the Dongria Kondh, the Paraja and the Kutia Kondh. It’s worth mentioning that access to some tribal areas is still tightly restricted, and hopefully this will protect the tribes’ ancient ways and practices.
The Bonda are an ancient tribe of people numbering approximately 12,000 who live in the isolated hill regions of the Malkangiri district of South-Western Orissa. The tribe is one of the oldest and most primitive in mainland India; their culture has changed little for more than a thousand years. Their isolation and known aggressiveness continue to preserve their culture despite the pressures of an expanding Indian population. Perhaps what makes the group stand out the most is the fact that the Bonda are generally only semi-clothed, the women wear colourfully beaded head-dresses and necklaces, thick silver neck bands and a small piece of material around their waist.
The Dongria Kondh tribe call themselves Jharnia meaning those who live by the Jharana, which translates as streams. The Dongria are considered the protectors of these streams, hills and jungles by the people of the nearby plains and are also the largest tribal group in Orissa. They have a great cultural heritage and truly respect nature. Dongria Kondhs inhabit the steep slopes of the Niyamgiri Range of North-West Koraput district and over the border into Kalahandi and they work entirely on the steep slopes for their livelihood.
The Paraja tribe is divided into two groups, namely Bada Paraja and Sana Paraja, and are hardworking people who once lived in the hills and forests. Sadly many of their traditional practices and rituals have now been forgotten as the tribe integrates with the general population. The women still wear some traditional jewellery, namely armlets, bracelets, necklaces, rings and hair pins made of silver, aluminium and brass. The practice of tattooing is also still common and even girls as young as 5 years old are found with tattoo marks on their faces and hands.