A blog discussing life and things in Odisha
Bonda people courtesy Mongabay

Tribes of Odisha: A Prominent Human Resource

The tribal people or a tribe is a group of social humans living particularly in forests and non commutable areas. The tribal people are perceived by the population to be primitive and the term may have negative connotations. Just like we have a state, a nation or a kinship which where we live and we call it a society, similarly tribes are also a group of people forming Society. The tribal people or the tribes of Odisha thus form a impactful society of human habitation.

In some places, such as India and North America, tribes are polities that have been granted legal recognition and limited autonomy by the national or federal government.

Different Aspects Tribes of Odisha

In the state of Odisha, a total 62 kind of tribes are found. The most prominent tribal people being The Kandhas, The Kolhas, The Bondas, The Sauras, The Santal, The Ho People and The Kisans. These tribes live in forests and hilly areas. Their population forms 22.5 % of the State’s total population and 9.7 % of the Nation’s population. 

Tribal people in Odisha are called adivasi. Adivasi is an umbrella term for a heterogeneous set of ethnic and tribal groups considered the aboriginal population of India. Also they are known as Vanabasi (Forest dwellers)  and Girijana (Hill dwellers).  The tribes of Odisha live in such places which are hardly commutable by the modern people. Over time, unlike the terms “aborigines” or “tribes”, the word “adivasi” has developed a connotation of past autonomy which was disrupted during the British colonial period in India and has not been restored. They generally live outside the mainstream of Indian Hindu and Muslim society. So the people of Odisha hardly get to know about them.

Koraput tribe during monsoon
Koraput tribe during monsoon (courtesy Wikipedia)

The tribes in Odisha form a major part of Odisha. These tribal people are hunters and gathers, living in forests and caves or even in hills. They earn their living by agriculture, hunting and collecting forest goods. Over time, the tribes of Odisha are being attracted towards the outside world. They are being socialized. They are being civilized. All the festivals, fairs are also being celebrated by them today. To cope up with the modern age human beings, they are also involving in education. Some Adivasi Schools are found open in the Tribe areas. 

Some Prominent Tribes of Odisha

The Kandha Tribes

They are known as Kondha or Kandha. The Kandhas are found in highest numbers and across many parts of Odisha. The Kandhas mainly live in the Kandhamal and adjoining districts like Rayagada, Korpaut, Balangir and Boudh. 

Dongaria Kandha, Nityamgiri
Dongaria Kandha, Niyamgiri (courtesy Purusottam Thakur, People’s Archive of Rural India )

The Kandha people of Odisha worship hills, nature, and streams. They offer vegetables and animals to Dharani Maa (the earth). The people of Kandha Tribe know extensively about the mountains, trees, forest, and plants.

The Santal Tribes

The number of Santals is over 5 Lakhs in Odisha. They are prominently found in the Mayurbhanj district. The great fighters during British regime in India and also most fun-loving ones are the people of the third largest tribe of India – Santhal. Music and dance are activities which are loved the most by Santhals. They form groups and dance during any festival on their own tribal music. 

The Ho Tribes

The Ho people are a kind of tribe. They constitute a population more than 100,000 and live primitively in Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Jajpur, Balasore districts. 

The Saura Tribes

The Saura tribe is another main tribe of Odisha with a population over 300,000. They are found mainly in the undivided Ganjam and Puri district. 

Lanjia Sauras
Lanjia Sauras (courtesy Virasat-e-Hind Foundation)

The Sauras is an ancient tribes. They are even mentioned in famous Indian epics like Mahabharat and Ramayan. Shabari (From the Saura tribe)  once fed Ramachandra with remains of berries that she ate. This depicts the importance of the Saura tribes. The tribe has a unique shamanic culture and its people are the great craftsman of Saura paintings.

The Bonda Tribes

The Bonda have a population of about 5,000. Mostly found in Malkangiri district which was formerly part of undivided Koraput, the Bonda tribes constitute a revolutionary portion of the tribes. According to sources, The Bondas are now accelerating with civilization. Many of them are taking education and The Bonda community is developing towards urbanization. The Bonda people were previously known as “Naked People”, but now they are turning themselves towards the modern society and are being able to be  civilized. The Bondas are also celebrating Odia Festivals and Traditions.  

Bonda tribe, Orissa, India
Bonda Tribeswoman, 2011, ©Ingetje Tadros

The quaint hills in Malkangiri district Odisha are the living places for the people of Bonda tribe. The unique culture, enthralling customs, and typical attire make Bonda the most popular tribal community in the state.

The Parajas

The Paraja tribes are the devotees of numerous gods and goddess. The Parajas reside in the forests and hills. The people of this beautiful community have a different passion and love for music and dance and are mainly agriculturists.

The Kisans

The Kisans  are found in Sundergarh, Sambalpur and Keonjhar. They speak the Kisan dialect along with Odia, Hindi and English. In a major portion, The Kisans are all farmers. They cultivate lands and grow corps. They also involve themselves in enjoyment by music and dance. They observe festivals and fairs. 

The Bhumias

The Bhumia tribes are rich in culture and tradition. They are counted as the most celebrated tribes of Odisha. Their marriage trends are unique and different. Peculiar rituals followed during the weddings and worshipping are the important things to know about the Bhumia tribes.

Ritual Majigura
Durga Puja in a Bhumia Tribe village, ©Colette Criem

The Gonds

The brave hearted, the warrior blooded, Gonds is a tribe where most of the people acquire war skills. They prominently live in the hills of Koraput, Balangir, Sundergarh, Kalahandi, and Sambalpur. They are usually hard working. They belong to the hunters and gatherer groups. Not just India’s but Gond is one of the largest tribes in South Asia.

The Oraons

The Oraons are the most progressive and developed tribes amongst all tribes of Odisha.  Oraons have great skills in tea plantation and had recorded high tea production. Now a days, most of the Oraon people have shifted to Indian metro cities. They have become urbanized and civilized. 

The tribes of Odisha form a major human wealth as these people are also contributing for the development of the state and the nation as well. 

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