|Contributor: Diane Divelbess
Civilization in India is so old going back thousands of years and has absorbed so many strands of culture that I was taken somewhat by surprise when Malathi scheduled visits to tribal hill areas in Orissa. How could “primitive” tribal peoples still be in existence? But they certainly are and we were privileged to meet a few. Of course I was completely overlooking the tribal craft villages we had visited in rural areas, particularly in the metal crafts and in embroidery. We had seen fascinating examples of tribal clothing, weaponry, jewelry, etc, at the Tribal Museum in Bhubaneshwar, Orissa. But somehow I thought of the museum pieces as relics of people who lived long ago.
But here we were at Chatikona, at the Wednesday market of the Dongria Kondhs, and then the next day in Onkadelli at the market visited by the Bonda people. From the Dongria Kondhs I bought jewelry, especially small hair pins of copper and a larger pair joined like scissors, made from aluminum, 4 3/8” x 3 1/2”; brass rings, arm and ankle bracelets and a single earring made from coiled steel. The most interesting purchase was a large woven shawl with areas of embroidery, especially bands of triangles. It is 85” x 31” and was actually an article of clothing and not something made for the market.
On Thursday the Bonda women swarmed the bus when we arrived and aggressively marketed their beads which they wear over their upper body, covering their chest. They are very small people. The men were congregated at the end of the small market street getting drunk on a home brewed toddy of some sort. They appeared to be a little sullen, but two of us were able to buy an arrow each. The arrows are the real thing—deadly weapons! My arrow is 29 1/2” long; the arrow head itself is 5 1/2”. I bought a “ringa”, the vertically striped, very tightly woven waist cloth worn by the women, 34” x 9 3/4”; two steel neck pieces and a brass bangle; three very delicately “braided” grass headbands approximately 11”-12” exclusive of tie ends; and two small “fish net” coin bags that close with a drawstring, each 5” x 2”. And, of course, many strings of beads. The beads themselves are mostly small and strung on long strands. Each bead necklace is several strands thick; the beads are mostly coral or yellow umber in color. Some strands of beads contained many old coins. We had to run the gauntlet of Bonda ladies selling their beads while we got back on the bus. Visiting these two tribal markets provided a fascinating glimpse into another world. At one of the above markets I bought three small knives with very sharp curved steel blades. They have 1” long handles wrapped with bronze wire. Each knife is 4” long. To what tribe do they belong?
I have several other interesting tribal pieces: the first is a small metal figure with an animal head. It came from a gift shop and no one knew what tribe it was from or even what it represented. The “hands”, if that is what they are, have five “fingers,” but what then are the ten pieces on top of the head? Perhaps the head is that of a deer and on his head are antlers. Fascinating. It is 8 1/2” x 5 7/8” x 1 3/8” deep. The second piece is equally fascinating. Again it was purchased from a shop which couldn’t tell me much about it. The sculpture is of a warrior astride a reptilian mythological beast. The piece is 7 1/4” x 11” long x 3” wide; it is very well made.
|My third piece is a bronze pendant from Nagaland. Its shape is of a man’s head on a fish body, so I am guessing it is “Matsya” the fish-man who was the first incarnation of Vishnu. It is 10” in length with 3 1/2” of that devoted to the head. The remainder of the fish body tapers down to tail fins; there are seven decorative bands evenly spaced across the fish body. The face is 3 1/4” wide and is nicely modeled; it has additional punch work indentations that form circular patterns around the eyes and on the cheeks. A strand of coral beads is fixed to the top of the head and knotted in the back. Finally, I have some small beautifully made lost wax figures from the Dhokra Tribe, a lobster and a crab.
I asked Malathi : "Are there many ethnic groups of people living in India" ? And this was her reply : "There are many ethnic groups who live in various parts of India - North, South, East and West. They have their own culture and tradition which they cherish and have followed and maintained through centuries. They have their own identity and have lived side by side with the main land people of India. While they should be given the advantages of better health and education of an independent India of the 21st century, it is the duty of all Indians to respect and preserve the culture of the ethnic groups of people.. The beauty of India lies in it's diversity".
Places visited in Orissa : Bhubaneshwar, Chatikona and Onkadali near Rayagada for the weekly markets.
Tamil Nadu & Pondicherry
Places visited in Tamil Nadu & Pondicherry : Chennai, Pondicherry & Karaikudi
|Small places cannot be correctly located in these maps. May we request/suggest that you look into Google Maps for the location of these places in the particular States of India. Thank you for your understanding.