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Dongria Kondhas
About Kondha

The Kondha are indigenous tribal groups of India. They live in Odisha, a state in Eastern India. Their highest concentration is found in the blocks of Kashipur, Rayagada, Bissamcuttack, Kalyansinghpur and Muniguda.

The Kondha are proficient land dwellers exhibiting greater adaptability to the forest environment. The Kondhas are believed to be from the Proto-Australoid ethnic group. Their native language is Kui, a Dravidian language written with the Oriya script. However, due to development involvements in education, medical facilities, irrigation, plantation and so on, they are forced into the modern way of life in many ways. Their traditional life style, customary traits of economy political organization, norms, values and world view have been significantly changed over a long period.

 
Economy

They have a subsistence economy based on foraging, hunting & gathering but they now mainly depend on a subsistence agriculture i.e. shifting cultivation or slash and burn cultivation or Podu. The Dongria Kondh are superb fruit farmers. Forest fruit trees like jackfruit and mango are also found in huge numbers, which fulfill the major dietary chunk of the Dongrias. Besides, the Dongrias practice shifting cultivation or "Podu Chasa" as it is locally called, as part of an economic need retaining the most primitive features of underdevelopment and cultural evolution. The most prominent feature of the Dongria kondhas is that they have adapted to horticulture and grow pineapple, oranges, turmeric, ginger and papaya in plenty.

 
Religious beliefs

The Dongria have syncretic beliefs combining animism. Their pantheon has both the common Hindu gods and their own. The gods and goddesses are always accredited to various natural phenomena, trees, animals and objects etc. They have a god or deity for everything and anything. The Dongrias give highest significance to the Earth god (Dharani penu), and NIyam penu (Niyamgiri Hill) who is held to be the creator and sustainer of the Dongria.

For instance, in a house, there is a deity for back and front street, kitchen, living room, implements and so on and so forth. In the Dongria society, breach of any religious conduct by any member of the society invites the anger of spirits in the form of lack of rain fall, soaking of streams, destruction of forest produce, and other natural calamities.

Society

The Dongria family is often nuclear, although extended families are found. Female family members are considered assets because of their contribution inside and outside the household and women are on equal footing with the male members in constructing a house to cultivation. Women do all the work for household ranging from fetching water from the distant streams, cooking, serving food to each member of the household to cultivating, harvesting and marketing of produce in the market. Due to this, the bride price is paid to her parents when she gets married which is a remarkable feature of the Dongrias. However, the family is patrilineal and patrilocal.

The Dongrias are great admirer of artistic idealism. Their personal adornment is distinctive with each male and female member using hair clips, ear rings neck rings, hand rings made up of brass, iron and Hyndalium prepared by themselves as well as purchased from local markets. Body tattooing is practiced by both sexes.

The Dongrias generally practice polygamy. By custom, marriage must cross clan boundaries (a form of incest taboo). The clan or "Puja" is exogamous, which means marriages are made outside the clan. The form of acquiring mate is often by capture or force or elopement. However, marriage by negotiation is also practiced. The Dongrias have a dormitory for teenager girls and boys which forms a part of their enculturation and education process. The girls sleep at night in the dormitory (Daa Sala) and learn social taboos, stories, myths, legends, riddles, proverbs amidst singing and dancing the whole night, thus learning the way of the sacred feminine.

Habitat

One sub-group of kondhas is the Dongria Kondhas. They live in Rayagada, Koraput and Kalahandi districts. They are mainly found in the blocks of Kalyansinghpur, Muniguda and Bissamcuttack. They are called Dongria or dweller of donger ("hill" in Oriya) and settle in higher altitudes due to their economic demands. The Dongria Kondh call themselves Jharnia meaning those who live by the Jharana (streams). Hundreds of persistent streams flow from Niyamgiri hill, and there are hundreds of Dongria villages by the streams. The Dongria are believed to be the protectors of these streams, hills and jungles by the people of the nearby plains. Some kandha tribes lives in Gajapati district.

 

 


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