The tribes of Orissa are at various stages of socio-economic development. At one extreme are the group which lead a relatively secluded and archaic mode of life keeping their core culture intact while at the other extreme there are communities which are indistinguishable from the general agricultural communities.
Any Society-bribal or otherwise is comprised of organized groups of people who have learnt to live and work together interacting in the pursuit of common goals. Each society has its own rules of business and tricks of trade which helps its people to define their relationship with one another and live and work together. Therefore a society is a going concern and functions and perpetuates itself on the basis of the rules for living together.
Culture is the shorthand version of the rules which guide the way of life of the people. More specifically culture can be thought of as the common learned way of life shared by the members of a society. Briefly, society means people and net work of their inter personal relationship and culture means behaviour of people, their ethos, views and value systems.
The tribal people express their cultural identity and distinctiveness in their social organization, language, rituals and festivals and also in their dress, ornamentation, art and craft. They have retained their own way of managing internal affairs of the village mainly through two institutions namely, the village council and the youth dormitory. The dormitory is the core of tribal culture and it reinforces the age-old traditions. In Orissa this institution occurs among many tribal communities in some form or other. It is variously called by different tribal groups. The Juangs call it Dindaghar, the Bhuinyas call it Dhangarabaasa and among the Bondas, it goes by the name Ingersin. Off all the tribes the dormitory sysrtem is well organized among the Juang. Conspicuous in the village, the Mandaghar is the largest hut. It has wall on three sides and is open in front. The wooden parts and sides walls are carried with decorative symbols depicting animals. The boys hang their changu, a flat tambourine like drum which is used at the time of dancing. In front of the Mandaghar is the small open space where dance tasks place almost every night after the day ‘s work is over. The dormitory is so to say a school of dancing and expression of the communal art of the people. The elders of the village assemble at the dormitory house every day for every important event in their corporate life. Here they discuss matters concerning the welfare of the village, settle the distribution of swidden and fix date and time for celebration of the village festivals, etc. in these respects the dormitory may be considered as the center of social, economic and religious life of the village.
The amazing conglomeration of traditions, beliefs, sorrows and philosophies that together constitute and vitalize the rituals and festivals of the tribes, has descended from antiquity and has been preserved unimpaired to the present day. Every facets of their life covering round the year activities is intimately connected with religious beliefs and ritual practices. It is these aspects of their culture that give meaning and depth to their lives, and solidarity to their social structure.
The tribes believe that their life and work is controlled by supernatural being whose abode is around them in hills, forests, rivers and houses. It is very difficult to standardize the Gods and spirits as their composition continually changes when old ones are forgotten with the introduction of new ones. The Gods differ from one another in composition, function, character and nature. Some are benevolent; some are neutral and some are malevolent. The malevolent spirits and gods are cared more than their benevolent counter parts as they can bring misery.
Manipulation of environment being the main concern of the tribals, all the ritual acts are directed towards stimulating natural process. Illness or misfortune is attributed to displeasure and malicious act of the gods or ancestors. The sacrifice of different kinds of live stock accompanied by tall the rites and ceremonials of fetishism is considered appropriate appeasement. Moreover, their extremely superstitious nature prohibits the undertaking of any enterprises unless the gods are first appeased and the omens, after being carefully considered, are adjudged to be propitious.
Among the tribes therefore religious functionaries who cater to their spiritual needs. For example, the hierarchy of priests among the Saoras may be divided into three categories. The Buyya is a priest who presides at agricultural festivals and offers sacrifices that especially characterize these occasions. The Kudan is a shaman who combines the functions of priest, prophet and medicine man. The sacerdotal head among the Juang is called nagam or Buita, Pujari or Sisa among the Bonda and Jani among the Kondh. The post of these officials are mostly ascribed but not achieved.
The ceremonies and festivals of the tribes can be classified into two groups, that is, those that relates to the individual families and those that relate to the village as a whole. The ceremonies and rites relating to birth of a child, marriage, death are observed family-wise whereas those relating to various agricultural cycle, eating of new fruits, hunting, etc. are observed by the village community.
Some of the important festivals observed by the tribal communities of Orissa include Guar ceremony of the Saora, Gotar of the Gadaba, push punel of the Juang, Kedu of the Kondh, karam festival of the Oraon, Chait parab of the Bonda and Magha parab of the Santal.
With the advent of time, traces of borrowing from Hindu Pantheon and religious ceremonies are noticed among the tribes of Orissa. They have started worshipping siva, Parbati and Lord Jagannath. Hindu festivals like Raja, Laxmipuja, Dasahara and Gamha are also becoming popular among them day by day.
The tribes of Orissa, despite their poverty and their pre-occupation with the continual battle for survival have retained the rich and varied heritage of colourful dance and music forming integral part of their festivals and rituals. Among them, the dance and music is developed and maintained by themselves in a tradition without aid and intervention f any professional dancer or teacher. It is mainly through the songs and dances the tribes seek to satisfy their inner urge for revealing their soul. The performance of these only give expression to their inner feelings, their joys and sorrows, their natural affections and passion and their appreciation beauty in nature and in man.
Although the pattern of dance and music prevalent among them vary from tribe to tribe yet there are certain features common to all. Tribal dance have some accompaniments by means of which the rhythm is maintained. This consists of clapping of hands or beating of drums or an orchestra of different instruments. Every dance is accompanied by a song which is sung by the performers. Both men and women, young and old dance and invariably sing but the accompanying orchestra or music is usually provided by the male members. Tribal dance is characterized not only by its originality and spontaneity but also for its wide range of movements. Many part of the body such as head, back arm, feet, finger etc are brought into play. Some of the tribal groups put on colorful dancing costume during their performance.
Like dance, the songs sung by different tribal groups differ from one tribe to the other. Among the tribes every one is a musician and poet. When happily inspired, they can coin a song then and there and sing it. Like any others, when they see things of beauty and meet pleasantly, they exhibits this pleasure and happiness by composing songs. One finds in these songs humors, jokes, romance, satires, criticisms, acquisitions and anger. Though there is no modernity and fineness, their ideal being natura, the compositions are good, inspiring and melodious. One the occasion of performing pujas and observance of festivals the songs sung are different. Such songs are adopted from the past so many years. These songs describe the history of gods, the process of creation and some epic stories.