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A Kondh woman in Odisha.
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Khonds (also spelled Kondha, Kandha, Khondho etc.) are an ethnic indigenous tribal people of India. They are a designated Scheduled Tribe in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and West Bengal. Traditionally hunter-gatherers, they are divided into the hill-dwelling Khonds and plain-dwelling Khonds for census purposes; all the Khonds identify by their clan and usually hold large tracts of fertile land but still practise hunting, gathering and slash and burn agriculture in the forests as a symbol of their connection to and ownership of the forest. The Khonds speak the Kui language.
The Khonds came to the limelight during the British Raj for their Rebellion against the British intrusion into their territories for timber in 1836. The British sought to project their invasion of tribal territories as a civilizing mission to prevent for the practice of human sacrifice by the Kondhs. These sacrifices were known as Meriah and were considered to be essential for maintaining the fertility of the earth. It was incumbent on the Khonds to purchase their victims. Unless bought with a price, they were not deemed acceptable. They seldom sacrificed Khonds, though sometimes Khonds, out of piety, or promise to an ancestor spirit, did sell their children, often for a token amount, and they could then be purchased as Meriahs. Persons of any race, age or sex were acceptable if purchased. Many were bought and kept and well treated as full members of the community. The intended Meriah victims were encouraged to marry and start families.Meriah women were encouraged to become mothers. On the day of the sacrifice, the Meriah was bathed, anointed with oil and tumeric, dressed in new clothes, garlanded and led in a procession to the sacrificial altar, which usually was a carved timber planted in the ground. The victim usually was encultured to view his sacrifice as honourable, though during the actual ceremony the Meriah was heavily narcotised. The intoxicated victim was tied to the cross piece of the sacrificial altar and an tame elephant spun the cross piece around during which the entire community, men, women and children sing and dance till they entered a trance. The victim was dispatched usually by the Kondh Pradhan- the chieftain of all clans, or by the local Jani or priest by strangulation, after which flesh from the thighs was carved out, chopped into pieces and distributed among the members of the community. This piece of flesh was buried by each cultivator into the land he cultivated was supposed to ensure a good crop.
The Kondh Rebellion
The British sent Maj. George Edward Russel as the "Meriah Agent" to Ghumsar Native Princely State in 1836 to stop the brutal and inhuman practise of Human Sacrifice by the Khonds living in the forested tracts of Ghumsar, when some Christian missionaries sent to the Kondhs for converting them to Christianity were captured by Ghumsars and sold to the Khonds, who then offered the missionaries as Meriah Sacrifice.
The growing discontent among the tribals of Ghumsur Native Princely State from the beginning of British rule under the Madras Presidency, was due to the fact that the British did not pay proper attention to the prevailing status of Khonds as allies rather than subjects of the rulers of Ghumsur. While the Ruler of Ghumsar accepted the paramountcy of the British Crown and became a vassal, the Kondhs living in Ghumsar never accepted the British as rulers since they had never even acknowledged the Raja of Ghumsar as their ruler. In due course of time, the tribals of Ghumsur led by the Kondh Pradhan Kamal Lochan Dora Pradhan popularly called Dora Bisoi started rebellion against the British authority.
Factors responsible for the discontent of Dora
There were many factors which led Dora to revolt against the British. First, the suppression of Meriah in the Kondh dominated area of Ghumsur was a direct attack of British on the traditional religious faith of the Kondhs. Along with that the activities of the Christian missionaries, infuriated the Kondhs and made them rebellious.
Secondly, for the first time land revenue was collected from the Kondhs living in Ghumsar through forceful means which wounded the sentiments of independence of the tribals, since earlier the Kondhs were exempt from paying any taxes to the Rajas of Ghumsar as they were regarded as allies not subjects. So, the tribals in Ghumsar became irritated and wanted to take revenge against the British.
Thirdly, the Bhanja rulers of Ghumsur had unfriendly relation with the British. Being apprehensive of capture by the British authority, Dhananjay Bhanja the ruler of Ghumsur fled to the jungles and sought the assistance of the Kondhs. The Kondh Pradhan wanted to help him as he was a traditional ally.
Lastly, the dissolution of the Bhanja ruling family after the death of Dhananjay Bhanja in 1835 became the immediate cause of the rebellion. After his death, Brundaban Bhanja and Jagannath Bhanja, two members of the royal family became rebellious and got the support of Dora, the Kondh Pradhan of the Kondhs of Ghumsur.
Revolt of Dora
The Kondh tribe rose in rebellion under the leadership of "Kondh Pradhan" Kamal Lochan Dora Pradhan. He was Kandha Pradhan of the Maliah Clan born in the village Binjigiri, located near Kullada of the lower Ghumsur area. He was appointed the 'Maliah Bisoi' or 'Tribal Ally' of the Raja of Ghumsar in his personal capacity as the chieftain of the clans of the Kondhs of Ghumsur area of Odisha. He was a good sword-fighter and a wrestler of high quality. He was also the hereditary leader of the Maliah clan of the Ghumsar Kondhs and 'Tribal Ally' to the king of Ghumsur. He was appointed as the Commander-in-chief of the Ghumsur and Kondh army. He had managed the military affairs of Ghumsur in a good manner. While fighting with the British army, he had given a tough fight to the British.
British measures to stop the rebellion
In order suppress the rebellion of Dora, the British authorities took several measures. When the rebellion of Dora became intolerable, the British authority under the Madras Presidency sent George Edward Russel to suppress the rebellion under Dora. During this time, Dhananjay Bhanja who had left Ghumsur had taken shelter under the Kondhs of Ghumsur. However, it is supposed that instead of paying revenue to the British Government, he had taken much amount of money with him to continue and support the rebellion in association with the Kondhs of Ghumsur. In the mean while Russel reached Ghumsur on 11 January 1836 to suppress the rebellion. He had a grand army with him to fight with the Kondhs. In addition to that the British Government of India had ordered the superintendents of the Tributary Princely States to render all necessary military and logistical assistance to Russel to suppress the rebellion.
Preparations of Dora for the rebellion
During this critical time Raja Dhananjay Bhanja died on 31 December 1835 leaving his family to the care of the Kondhs of Ghumsur. At this critical hour, military commanders and allies of Ghumsar like Brundaban Bhanja, Jagannath Bhanja, Madhu Bhanja, Baliar Singh, Chakra Bisoi, Sundaray Bisoi, Sangram Singh, Nanda Bisoi came forward to strengthen the hands of Dora in the rebellion against the British authority. As these leaders were quite well acquainted with the jungle area, they took the benefit of it and resorted to Guerrilla warfare against the British in this rebellion. Dora as the Commander of the rebellion fought against the British by concealing the rebels in the jungles and ghats causing severe attrition to the British army.
The British operation
In order to capture the family members of Dhananjay Bhanja, Captain Butler on 14 th February, 1836, led the British troop to the Ghats He had two point responsibilities to perform (1) to capture the royal members and (2) to rescue to treasury which had been taken by Dhananjay Bhanja. Dora had instigated the Kondhs to resort to aggression against the British troop. When the British troop reached the Ghats to make a head way to Ghumsar Udaygiri, they faced staunch resistance from the Kondhs. With their logistical lines disrupted, the British troops were forced to forage and some soldiers forcibly took away the livestock and grains of the Kondh villagers. By these acts they invited the hostility of the Kondhs of Ghumsur.
Resistance by the Kondhs
In the mean time, the rebellious Kondhs attacked a British detachment between Ghumsar Udaygiri and Durgaprasad village. In that encounter, thirteen soldiers (sepoys) and two European officers Lieutenant Bromly and Ensign Gibbon were killed. Prior to that the British forces had captured some Kondhs and subsequently took others as prisoners after this incident, subjecting them to torture and public humiliation. This instigated the Kandhas under Dora to give a tough resistance to the British forces.
Special operation of British forces to arrest Dora
In order to arrest Dora, the British entered into Ambhajhara and Jiripada forests but they could not get success. Till that time Dora was playing as the key leader of the movement. The British searched in many places to arrest him. He moved from place to place and at last sought refuge at Angul. Having failured to capture Dora, the British, declared a prize of 5,000 rupees for his capture dead or alive. Following this, the Tributary Raja of Angul betrayed Dora. At the instigation of Henry Ricketts, the Commissioner of Odisha, Raja Somnath Singh of Angul handed over Dora Bisoi to the British forces in 1837 when Dora had visited him to seek military assistance.
Results of the revolt
After the capture of their leader Dora, other rebellious leaders were captured subsequently. They were tried and awarded severe punishments. As a result of which Dora received life imprisonment and died in the Ootacamund prison in 1846. 40 rebels were awarded death sentences, 29 received imprisonment for life and 2 others received the same sentence for 8 years. Similarly, others got imprisonment who were involved in the rebellion of Ghumsur. After the arrest of Dora and other rebel leaders, the British Government made new agreement with the Kondhs. The British appointed Shyam Bisoi as the Chief of the Kandhas who had played a great role to capture of Kamal Lochan Dora. After this, the rebellion organized by Dora ended. The Kandha rebellion did not stop after Dora‟s imprisonment and death. His nephew, Chakra, took Dora‟s place and resolved to take revenge for his uncle‟s imprisonment and death. He posed a great threat to the British authority.
Factors responsible for the rebellion under Chakra
The Kondhs under Chakra were instigated to make rebellion against the British Raj. The following factors were responsible for this rebellion. (1) the death of Dora, had left a scar in the mind of Chakra. He wanted to take revenge of the death of his uncle Dora.
(2) the actions of Captain S.C. Macpherson, the Meriah Agent disturbed the Kondhs a lot as he had interfered in the religion of the Kondhs. He rescued Meriahs and threatened the Kondhs of dire consequences who violated the law regarding Meriah. Further, he punished the Kandhas mercilessly.
(3) on the other hand, Captain Macpherson was defeated by the Kondhs and thereby humiliated in his camp at Bisipara in 1846. He was forced by the Kondh revolutionaries to surrender the Meriahs whom he had rescued from the Kondh area. Otherwise the Kondhs would have killed him. This achievement of the Kondhs under the leadership of Chakra made them courageous. Finally, the Kondhs installed Pitambar, the minor son of Dhananjay Bhanja as the king of Ghumsur. This emboldened them and being surcharged with enthusiasm, they looted the British camp. The above factors forced the British Government to plan to suppress the rebellion of the Kondhs under Chakra.
British plan to capture Chakra Bisoi
Looking into the above factors, Capt. Macpherson did not follow the policy of appeasement with the Kandhas. The British Government realized that his presence as the Meriah Agent was detrimental to the smooth functioning of British administration at Ghumsur. In order to bring the situation under control, the Madras Presidency appointed Lt. Col. Campbell as the Meriah Agent who succeeded Macpherson. However, Campbell was a man of different attitude. He followed a policy of compromise and tried to win over the Kandhas of Ghumsur. Also he was successful in protecting the Christian and Medical Missionaries who within a short while converted a large number of tribals to Christianity. So, the Kondhs began to abstain from Meriah sacrifice.
Role of Somnath Singh in the rebellion
By his strategy Campbell won most of the Christianized Kondhs to his side. However, Chakra did not come under the influence of the British authority. He organized rebellions of the Kondhs against the British forces. It was alleged that Chakra and Nabghan Konhoro were assisted by Somnath Singh, the King of Angul. After this, the British Government followed a new policy towards the rebellion. It pardoned both Chakra and Nabghan in order to suppress the rebellion. The policy bore fruit and Nabghan surrendered. However, Chakra did not surrender to the British authority. This made the British authority to become skeptic about Somnath Singh and wanted to take severe actions against Somanath Singh of Angul. As a result of which Somnath picked up his quarrel with the British in 1846. He forcibly took possession of a village of Hindol. For that offence he was fined Rs. 3,000/-. The King tried to protest but he could not get success. On the other hand, Lt. Col. Campbell was authorized to march towards Angul to suppress Somnath Singh. In 1848, Angul was confiscated and Somnath Singh was sent as a prisoner to the Hazaribagh Jail.
British attempt to Capture Chakra
Then the British made many attempts to capture Chakra. The capture of Rendo Majhi, the commander of the Kondhs of Kalahandi and the subsequent attack on the camp of Major A.C. Mac Neill who succeed Campbell as Meriah Agent led British to conclude that Chakra was behind the attack. Meanwhile, G.F. Cockburn who succeeded Samuells as the Superintendent of the Tributary Princely States wanted to take steps against Chakra. In the meanwhile, the Zamindar of Madanpur was accused of giving shelter to Chakra. So, he was removed from his zamindary. R.M. Macdonald arrested Dharam Singh Mandhata of Athagaon who had given shelter to Chakra.
Looking at the strategy of the British forces, Chakra never stopped in his mission against the British. He could know that the Sabara Tribals of Parlakhemundi were rising against the British under the leadership of Dandasena of Gaiba. Taking this opportunity, Chakra united the Sabaras and Kondhs and instigated them to set fire to and plunder those villages which did not support Dandasena. Captain Wilson moved to suppress this rebellion and captured Dandasena who was later hanged. After that Chakra moved from Parlakhemundi to the area of Tel valley. Looking at the threat of the British authority, the king of Patna could not help Chakra. So, in order to save himself, Chakra entered into the forests of Kandhamal. The Govt. of Bengal Presidency ordered the annexation of Kandhamals into the British territory in 1855, which succeeded only on paper because of practical difficulties of establishing British authority over a rebellious tribe in a densely forested region. From that time nothing was known about Chakra. He was never captured. He supposedly died in 1856. However, in 1857 G.F. Cockburn, the Commissioner of Odisha wrote to the Government regarding Chakra that perhaps he had abandoned the rebellion. For a decade from 1846 to 1856, the activities of Chakra were a threat to the British authority.
The Kondh rebellion under Dora and Chakra is significant in the history of Odisha in particular and India in general. The role played by both Dora and Chakra in this Tribal uprising was commendable. However, it is beyond doubt that this tribal rebellion of the Kondhs had given a tough challenge to the British authority in the early part of the British administration in Odisha. Although, the rebellion could not bring much result, but it had the shaken the British authority in Odisha and would find resonance in the Great Mutiny of 1857.
The Kondhs are from the Proto-Australoid ethnic group. Their native language is Kui, a Dravidian language written with the Oriya script. The Kondh are adept land dwellers exhibiting greater adaptability to the forest and hill environment. However, due to development interventions 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 drastically changed in recent times. The traditional Kondh Society is based on geographically demarcated clans, each consisting of a large group of related families identified by a Totem, usually of a male wild animal. Each clan usually has a common surname, and is led by the Eldest male member of the most powerful family of the clan. All the clans of the Kondhs owe allegiance to the "Kondh Pradhan", who is usually the leader of the most powerful clan of the Kondhs.
The Kondh family is often nuclear, although extended joint families are also found. Female family members are on equal social footing with the male members in Kondh society, and they can inherit, own, hold and dispose off property without reference to their parents, husband or sons. Women have the right to choose their husbands, and seek divorce.However, the family is patrilineal and patrilocal. Remarriage is common for divorced or widowed women and men. Children are never considered illegitimate in Kondh society and inherit the clan name of their biological or adoptive fathers with all the rights accruing to natural born children. The Kondhs have a dormitory for adolescent girls and boys which forms a part of their enculturation and education process. The girls and boys sleep at night in their respective dormitory and learn social taboos, myths, legends, stories, riddles, proverbs amidst singing and dancing the whole night, thus learning the way of the tribe. The girls are usually instructed in good housekeeping and in ways to bring up good children while the boys learn the art of hunting and the legends of their brave and martial ancestors. Bravery and skill in hunting determine the respect that a Man gets in the Kondh tribe. A large number of Kondhs were recruited by the British during the First and second World Wars and were prized as natural Jungle warfare experts. Even today a large proportion of the Kondh men join the State Police or Armed Forces of India to seek an opportunity to prove their bravery. the men usually forage or hunt in the forests. They also practise a slash and burn (Podu) shifting cultivation on the hill slopes where they grow different varieties of rice, lentils and vegetables. Women usually do all the household work from fetching water from the distant streams, cooking, serving food to each member of the household to assisting the men in cultivation, harvesting and sale of produce in the market.
The Kondh commonly practice Clan Exogamy. By custom, marriage must cross clan boundaries (a form of incest taboo). The clan is strictly exogamous, which means marriages are made outside the clan (yet still within the greater Kondh population). The form of acquiring mate is often by negotiation. However, marriage by capture or elopement is also rarely practiced. For marriage bride price is paid to the parents of the bride by the groom, which is a striking feature of the Kondhs. The Bride Price was traditionally paid in tiger pelts though now land or gold sovereigns are the usual mode of payment of bride price.
Traditionally the Kondh religious beliefs were syncretic combining totemism, animism, Ancestor worship, shamanism and nature worship.The Kondhs gave highest importance to the Earth goddess, who is held to be the creator and sustainer of the world. Earlier Human Sacrifices called "Meriah" were offered by the Kondh to propitiate the Earth Goddess. In the Kondh society, a breach of accepted religious conduct by any member of their society invited the wrath of spirits in the form of lack of rain fall, soaking of streams, destruction of forest produce, and other natural calamities. Hence, the customary laws, norms, taboos, and values were greatly adhered to and enforced with high to heavy punishments, depending upon the seriousness of the crimes committed. The practise of traditional religion has almost become extinct today. Due to increased Hindu Religious influence (Sanskritisation) the Kondh pantheon now has the common Hindu gods and their own Gods have been reduced to the status of minor deities in the Hindu Pantheon, often as a child of a Hindu deity. The Hindu influence is clearly seen in the decline in consumption of beef (earlier a common food) among the Kondhs. Many Kondhs converted to Protestant Christianity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century due to the efforts of the missionaries of the Serampore Mission. The influence of Kondh traditional beliefs on Christianity can be seen in some rituals such as those associated with Easter and resurrection when ancestors are also venerated and given offerings, although the church officially rejects the traditional beliefs as pagan. Many Kondhs have also converted to Islam and a great diversity of religious practises can be seen among the members of the Tribe. Significantly, as with any culture, the ethical practices of the Kondh reinforce the social and economic practices that define the people. Thus, the sacredness of the earth perpetuates tribal socio-economics,wherein harmony with nature and respect for anscestors is deeply embedded whereas non tribal cultures that neglect the sacredness of the land find no problem in committing deforestation, strip-mining etc., and this has led to a conflictual situation in many instances.
Culture and economy
The Kondhs, or the Kui as they are locally known, are one of the largest tribal group in Odisha. They are known for their cultural heritage and values which center on respecting nature. The Kandhamal district in Odisha (erstwhile a part of Phulbani district), has a fifty-five percent Kondh population, and was named after the tribe.
They go out for collective hunts eating the fruits and roots they collect. They usually cook food with oil extracted from sal and mahua seeds. They also use medicinal plants. These practices make them mainly dependent on forest resources for survival. The Kondhs smoke fish and meat for preservation. The Dongria clan of Kondhs inhabit the steep slopes of the Niyamgiri Range of Koraput district and over the border into Kalahandi. They work entirely on the steep slopes for their livelihood. The Niyamgiri range provides a wealth of perennial springs and streams which greatly enrich cultivation. In recent times the Kondhs have been assertive of their Right to the forests and have at times violently resisted the attempts to establish Mining Companies or Government felling of trees in their traditional areas. A nascent Kondh Nationalism fuelling aspirations of secession from the Republic of India as a result of the local Maoist Insurgency is emerging.
- "List of notified Scheduled Tribes" (PDF). Census India. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
- Macpherson, Samuel.C., An Account of the Religion of the Khonds in Orissa In: Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1852, Vol.13 pp.216-74
- 1842 Lieut. Macphersons Report upon the Khonds of the Districts of Ganjam and Cuttack, Madras,1863
- L. E. B. Cobden-Ramsay, Feudatory States of Orissa: Bengal District Gazetteers, Logos Press, 2011
- Krishnamurti, Bhadriraju (2002). The Dravidian languages (1st ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-77111-0.
- Jena MK,et.al. Forest Tribes of Orissa: Lifestyles and Social Conditions of selected Orissan Tribes, Vol.1, Man and Forest Series 2,New Delhi, 2002 , pages -13-18.
- Hardenburg Roland, Children of the Earth Goddess:Society, Sacrifice and Marriage in the Highlands of Orissa in Transformations in Sacrificial Practices: From Antiquity to Modern Times ...By Eftychia Stavrianopoulou, Axel Michaels, Claus Ambos, Lit Verlag Muster, 2005 , pages -134.
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