Advisor Dr. Gaganendra Nath Dash
Advisor Dr. Rabi Narayan Dash
Concept Dr. Birendra Kumar Nayak
Editor Dr. Supriya K. Ghoshmaulik
Executive Editor Soumya Dev
Editorial Assistance Santosh Baral
Editorial Assistance Jogendra Kumar Behera


Food Culture of Koya Tribe

Dr. Snigdha Misra




Intoxicating Beverages

Traditional Food procurement

Food Preparation and Dining Habit

Food Materials Cultivated

Food Fads

Forest-dependent Food Materials



Food is the basic need of the all-living creatures and man is no exception to it. It is only in case of human that food being associated with the designed behavior reveals the existence of what we call ‘culture’. From procurement to consumption, a human being follows a pattern learnt from the predecessors or contemporaries. It is not instinctive as in non-human animals. Thus, the researchers in human sciences have found ‘food’ intake as very interesting behavioral character of each community

Food culture relates to a complex system, where environment, technological capacity, physiological tolerance, preference and prohibitions etc. play considerable roles. The primitive communities, who have kept themselves confined to mountainous forest regions for centuries, are interesting societies for inquisitive modern minds who want to learn the intricacies of food system. It is also a concern for development agencies that want to eradicate under nutrition among such people. For them, the present information on the Koya Tribe of Orissa-Andhra Pradesh border area may be interesting.


The Koya inhabit the rugged terrain on the Eastern Ghats (east-coast India), mentioned in ‘Ramayana’ as "Dandakaranya’. They are medium height, thinly built people with dark-brown skin and speak a language of Dravidian family. They can communicate with the other non-tribal in local dialect, which is mixed with Oriya and Telugu. Their inaccessible habitat was encroached by non-tribal people of neighboring areas, but in a large way by the refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) since 1960. Influx of large number of out side people with alien culture caused certain changes in the food procuring sources of the Koya, who were inefficient food producers. No other tribal communities of Orissa had to face this type of eco-pressure in recent history. It came all on a sudden due to the entry of the non tribal refugees in the area. These forest-dependent people lost much of their food sources and suffered. It is worthwhile to not that human groups cannot be forced to adapt to alien food materials and dietary practices.

Traditional Food procurement

The habitat occupied by the Koya is extensive on the Eastern Ghats, on 3000 feet elevation from sea level. It receives fair amount of rainfall and the forest was luxurious. The forest was once very rich in vegetation and animals. The Koyas cultivate some minor millets, oil seeds and vegetables around their villages. They also supplement their diet with edible roots, fruits and flowers available in the forest and meat available from hunting. These people in their traditional culture eat variety of meat either hunted or reared.

After settlement of the refugees, destruction of the forest and restriction on hunting, the Koya have changed their food habit in last three or four decades. The Koya living in Kalimela and surrounding region of Orissa (bordering Andhra Pradesh and Chhatisgarh), have now made settled cultivation of paddy and other millets on low land and are producing most food items rather than going for collection and hunting (depending on availability in the neighborhood).

Food Materials Cultivated:

Although the Koyas do not consider rice as staple food item like other rice-eating people, they grow paddy, along with ‘suan’ (a kind of millet), maize etc. They grow some kind of pulses like ‘biri’ (black gram) and ‘kandula’. Along with vegetables, they grow, cowpea, broad bean, brinjals, chili, horse gram etc. Tobacco is not a food for stomach but very much used as smoking and chewing item. After the arrival of the rice-eating refugees, the Koyas started giving importance to paddy. The excess amount of paddy after their own consumption is bartered with or sold to the refugee neighbors.

Apart from, cultivation of domesticated plants, they rear some animals for own consumption, ritual sacrifice and earning money. As hunting practices are almost abandoned, their meat requirement is partly met from domesticated animals. Cattle like buffaloes, cow, goats and pigs are part of almost all Koya households. Paddy cultivation on low land requires buffalo and bullock as draught animals. Previously, the cow was also used for ploughing, but now they have learnt milking of cows and selling milk to tea stalls or to the refugees or make cheese and ‘ghee’ for selling. Pigs, goats and fowls are used as source of income or ritual sacrifice or consumption. The Koyas are veteran beefeaters, but now they are abandoning the practice or hiding from the investigators to become acceptable to the neighboring Hindu people. Milk and eggs were not consumed under belief that such practices would hamper growth of cattle and fowls. But cockfights that a kind of gambling with betting during the market days, earn them some cash money. The eggs and hens are used in most rituals, either religious or magical cure for illness. After development of the area, many non-tribal people have increased market value of fowls, eggs and goats.

Forest-dependent Food Materials:

Nature is very kind to this people. From very early morning team of young women enter the proximal forest to collect flowers of ‘Mohua’ (Bassia latifolia) tree in the spring and summer. In these seasons they collect jackfruit, mango, kendu fruit (whose soft leaves used as tobacco roll for cigars). There are many other berries and tamarinds. But the ‘Mohua’ flowers get most attention.

The other fruits are consumed instantly, but the ‘Mohua’ flowers and fruits are also sun-dried and stored for making their cherished wine and oil extraction. Edible oil and oil for hair and body massage are obtained from ‘Mohua’, ‘kangula’, ‘kendu’, ‘rasi’ or ‘til’ and ‘alsi’ (Black Niger).

During the rainy season, fruits become less and underground tubers, bamboo shoots and various types of mushrooms fill in the vacancies.


These people have traditionally learnt the rule of saving for future. Food materials they produce or collect are not all consumed instantly. They store some for lean season, especially the rainy not only vegetable materials but also meat and fish. Meat is sun dried thoroughly and kept in the basket or earthen pots. Small fishes are roasted on dry leaves and kept inside the room on lofty. The smoke bellowing from hearth keeps these safe from moths or ants. Food grains are kept inside on floor in large baskets plastered with mud-slip.

Intoxicating Beverages:

Mohua’ flower is fermented and produced their desired wine ‘Srate’ or ‘Urma', a golden color drink rated high by all tribal people. Rice is fermented with yeast to make common liquor ‘Landa’, which is consumed throughout the year. It is considered as food supplement. In the spring and summer, they climb up palm trees or sago-palm tree, tap oozing juices from the incised flowers. The juice mixed with yeast and given a daylong exposure to the sun, is transformed into liquor to keep them happy in the afternoon.

Consumption of intoxicating drink is an essential part of not only the Koya but also all the tribes living difficult life.

Food Preparation and Dining Habit:

The adult Koya persons take two major meals, at around 11a.m. and 7p.m. But kids do not adhere to this norm. They are given in between small food and also they consume any edible fruit item they collect from nature. In meal, they usually consume a gruel made of rice and maize or millet. They have started consuming rice as gruel or soaked-rice, recently after exposure to other people. They do not have elaborate cooking by frying or using condiments. Mostly the raw staffs are boiled. Along with this gruel, sometimes pulses and leafy vegetables are consumed. They are very fond of tamarind and chili to make the food tasty. If fish or meat is available, they become very happy.

During the major meals, the entire family sits together in the open space keeping the cooked food in the center. If any member remains absent due to engagement, his/her food is kept separated. No food is wasted or kept for consuming later on. No gender wise discrimination is observed for food distribution. Food is served as per the capacity to consume.

Food Fads:

As in the most rural and primitive societies, there are some belief system accompanied with items of food, time and gender. Not only non-vegetarian food items, but also many vegetable items are included in the list of prohibition. Such belief are traditionally derived probably out of ancient observation, which may sound as superstitions to people with modern knowledge. In the following table a few such food items are enlisted with the reasons of prohibitions associated with them.

Prohibition for pregnant and lactating women

Prohibited food item What it causes Prohibited food item what it causes
Pumpkin Epileptic feat Guava Cough and cold
Brinjal Arthritis Drum stick Headache
Bean Non drying of umbilicus Mushroom Stomachache
Green gram Green diarrhea of baby Coconut Stomachache
Suan Breast milk indigestion Plantain Cough and cold
Potato Epileptic feat Pork Arthritis
Ladies Finger Epileptic feat Egg, fish and prawn Fatal disease


Photographs : All the photographs by Hrudaya Panigrahi

References :

Echoes from the Hills

Dr. Rabi Narayan Dash


Percussion instruments

Blowing instruments

String instruments

Odd Type


The tribal communities (listed as 62) living in Orissa today, still maintain their identities in socio-cultural sphere. The ecological degradation of their homeland, inflicting economic hardship, food scarcity and ill health could not suppress their care free spirit. Still one can find, beating of drums, sonorous flute and vocal songs along with dance, in the tribal villages. The village belles when go in a group for forest collection, sing in chorus and burst into wild laughter to relieve themselves of anxieties and tiredness. Music and dances are part of their life from time immemorial.

The tribal people developed their dances as imitative representation of Nature. The music has also originated from the similar source. Natural environment has not spoiled their auditory senses like the urban people. Rhythmic murmur of springs or water falls, chirps of birds, rustling sound of dry leaves etc. helped them in composing their own tune. Man always tried to produce melodious sound as expression mood. The primary method is to use one's own vocal chords and subsequent methods are from artificially devised equipment. Technological capacity of people has allowed them to find suitable natural objects from the surroundings and devise desirable sound producing artifacts. Even thin flex of stone when hit in a controlled way could produce soft resonance. The wind blowing through dried hollow bamboo in bush creates sweet melodious sound.

Striking two hollow bamboo sticks also produce soft sound. Primitive people to design instruments for producing desirable note used all such objects of nature. Through centuries of culture with these equipment, the forest dwelling people could stabilize the notes and learn how to play the instruments to produce sonorous music synchronizing with vocal tunes and dance rhythms. In the process, the instruments have considerably been modified. The use of metal has changed many indigenous instruments. Non tribal contribution in this regard is important. Also specialist groups from other communities of the locality play musical instruments in tribal tunes.


The tribal music has its own distinctive character. The tribal music can always be distinguished from the non-tribal folk music. The instruments the tribal people use are devised, by the specialists from amongst them, from locally available objects like animal hide, bamboo, wood, animal gut etc. The instruments they use fall into the categories viz., percussion instruments, blowing instruments, string instruments.

The percussion instruments are double membrane drum of different sizes (dhol, dholki, madal), kettledrum with earthen hollow base covered with hide (of large as well as of very small size), single membrane drum (Changu).


The blowing instruments are flute and trumpet (singa). The flute is made of a special type of hollow bamboo with one end closed. There are some holes on the body of the tube at specific distances to control the blow of wind from the player’s mouth. Various tunes can be played with the flute. One finds the use of the flutes of different sizes. The trumpet (singa) is made of buffalo or bison horn. The call of the elephant is imitated by the sound produced by the trumpet.

The string instruments are very limited in type. Usually prototypes of modern guitar and violins are used.
Besides these broad types of musical instruments, there are some odd types like reeds wound as broomstick or split bamboo used occasionally to supplement the main musical instruments.

The male members of the tribal communities mostly play the instruments. The tunes played by them are traditionally learnt by the present players from their predecessors. So without any codified notation, the tune and the rhythm running in the community through generations. It is susceptible to external influence in each generation but the basic character remains unchanged particularly in the interior areas.

The tribes of Orissa though physically represent the Austroloid type, linguistically belong to different families- Dravidian and Mundari. We do not have any clue as to whether the linguistic differentiation has caused any difference in musical tunes. But the scholars are pursuing their research to discern the influence of the primitive tunes in the modern music. Dr. Sunil K. Satpathy , a noted scholar , has tried to find the link between the musical notes of Juang tribe (Orissa) with Odishi music.

Photographs : Men Playing Flute: Hrudaya Panigrahi

Illustrations : Supriya Ghoshmaulik

References :

The Making of the Saunti Tribe

Dr. Biyotkesh Tripathy

Origins: Children of the Forest
Origins: from Uttar Pradesh
The History of Keonjhar, Goddess Tarini and the Saunties


Origins: Children of the Forest

[M 30. Tribe: Saunti. Village: Karanjiapada, Patana, Keonjhar. Date: Oct 10, 1998. Interviewer: Biyotkesh Tripathy & team. Cassette No. 57, Side A. O. Tr. Pp.: 4000-07. F.N.: Knj 1, p. 38. Transcriber: F. B. Pothal. Status: As told (minor editing; editorial explanations & additions in brackets). Type: Myth-Legend.]Translator: Biyotkesh Tripathy
Teller: Raghunath Dehuri

I had asked my uncle about from where we had originally come. He had told me that we had originally lived in a forest. Not to speak of where our seat was, [even] where we came here from is, perhaps, unknown to us. He said that we had lived in a forest. We lived in the forest as children. The children played every day in "siali" vines. When they were thus playing, the king of Keonjhar came hunting one day. When he came hunting, he saw them playing on swings. When he saw them swinging, he asked, ‘Who are playing here?’ The king was watching the children play from a distance. He then said, ‘If we take them to our place, they can surely improve in the future. At least they can serve our people and animals somehow by worship and begging.’

Then he thought about how to take such small children. He was a little worried. When he went to catch these children, they vanished. At this time a woman appeared before him. She told the king, ‘You cannot take them like this. You come with your army and followers. When you do that, they will go with you of their own will. If you want to carry them away, they will not go.’ When the king got this answer, he went back home and returned with his soldiers and followers. On reaching the place, he again saw the children playing on the swing in that forest. [When approached], they again vanished. Again, the woman appeared.

She said, ‘Since you have come according to my bidding, the children will go to you according to their volition. You go back. The children will go by themselves and reach inside the palace you might have built for them.’

So the king went back. When he reached home, [he found that] the children were in the palace [built for them]. Seeing this, the king was astonished. Really.

Slowly the children started growing up. When they had grown up, [the king] said to them, ‘These our people who are living here, [save them] from cholera and small pox. [Give them] cows, bullocks, goats, sheep, buffaloes, and all such things so that they can live. You live by worship and alms.’

Then the king ordered every village to perform ritual worship. This is still continuing among us by tradition. He has given land [for cultivation and homestead]. We have been living on that. The other subjects are also living like that.

After that, as those children grew up, their families grew, for the king had given those children of the jungle women to mate. Thus the tribe grew in number. Taking land they started living. What else? Their work was to be Dehuris [priests]. They performed pujas and did cultivation.


Origins: from Uttar Pradesh

[M 50. Tribe: Saunti. Village: Kapundi, Patana, Keonjhar. Date: Oct 10, 1998. Interviewer: Biyotkesh Tripathy & team. Cassette No. 58, Side A. O. Tr. Pp.: 4087-98. F.N.: Knj 1, p. 41. Transcriber: F. B. Pothal. Status: As told (minor editing; editorial explanations & additions in brackets). Type: Legend.]Translator: Biyotkesh Tripathy
Teller: Gautam Bisoi

The Saunties came from Uttar Pradesh. When king Purushottama Bhanja won his victory and Gobinda Bhanja had given [Goddess] Tarini, they held a great yagnya [fire sacrifice] for the greatly extended kingdom. As a result, [when they looked for Brahmins], there none in Orissa. When there were no Brahmins, the king said, ‘Go,’ and sent his messengers to Uttar Pradesh. He told his Minister, ‘Go and bring Brahmins from Uttar Pradesh.’

So, the Minister went. [When he reached there and made his king’s request known], the king of Uttar Pradesh said, ‘It’s good that you have come, but what offer have you brought from your king? What can you give [to these Brahmins?’]

The Minister replied, ‘I can give nothing.’

[So, the king of Uttar Pradesh expressed his inability to comply with the request.] When this was said, the Minister returned disappointed. Having returned, he told his king.

Purushottama Bhanja asked, ‘What happened?’

‘This is what happened. I could not give them any assurances. They are asking for wealth and people to serve them.’

So the king again wrote a letter. Again the Minister went. He handed over the letter to the king [of Uttar Pradesh]. Saunties were the people who provided service for the Brahmins. In Uttar Pradesh they were called Dalapanthi [followers of the group]. When the king of Uttar Pradesh summoned the Brahmins [and explained the situation to them], the Brahmins said, ‘How can we go alone? If our helpers do not go, who will provide things for us? Who will make arrangements for our food and give us even a drop of water?’

When the Brahmins responded thus, the king asked, ‘Then, what do you want?’

‘We want the people who provide service for us [to go with us]. Those who will give us a drop of water that we can drink. Since there are no Brahmins there, no [acceptable] helpers will be available there. So we shall have no one to serve us. Who will provide things for us? So, give us people to serve, we shall go with them.’

So, the king gathered together some poor people [and sent them with the Brahmins.]

When they arrived—these Brahmins and their serving people, the Saunties—the yagnya began. The Brahmins sat to perform the yagnya. The Saunties provided water and all the other things required for the ritual. Thus, the yagnya ritual was completed.

King Purushottama Bhanja asked [these helpers,] ‘What is your race or caste?’

When the king asked them, they said, ‘Our caste is Dalapanthi.’

‘Where from have you come?’

‘We came from here and there, each one from a different place.’

‘Okay. There you had been given the name of Dalapanthi, but in my kingdom you will be known as Saunti [since you have been gathered (saunta) from different regions.] You have come as the helpers of the Brahmins.’

Then Purushottama Bhanja said, ‘From today you have become Saunti.’

This tribe is the enemy of lies and betrayals. They are always truthful and never tell lies. So, the king gave them land here. He gave land to the Brahmins as also to the Saunties. These, all these titular land grants to the Saunties are from those days.

They were [also] warriors. They had many qualities and abilities. Whatever they said used to happen. If they shot an arrow from here, it would land in Bhubaneswar. If they threw a stone from here, it used to reach Bombay. Such power they had. That is why the Brahmins do not leave them. At last the king recognized their talent. So, the king asked them to go and live in this place. He gave land to all of them. Everyone lived there.

When war was fought for Singhabhuin with Bihar, our king at the time was Janardan Bhanja. When the war was fought, we had a man, a valiant warrior, a big man. His name was Radhamohan Mahapatra. His son was Bhakta Bisoi. He was taken. The king took all the warriors that we had to the war. Everyone was defeated. When Bhakta Bisoi went, the Tentaposhi War was fought. When the war started, he gave a loud war cry and then the trees and hills turned into warriors. So, the enemy was destroyed.

When he came from there, the king made him happy. He showered praise on him. He gave him an iron sword and some money too. Gave him ten "manas" of land at Rai Tihar. When he came back, Radhamohana Mahapatra was there in our tribe. They were looking after all our things. Government was not taking care of anything. British Government was there at the time. But they were looking after everything—who died, who went, who was lost. If someone became widow, Mahapatra was bringing her, selling her or even sending her to men who wanted women. Administration was like this. He died recently, in 1964. This is how he was ruling our tribe. So, we were suffering like this. And he used to force us to work without pay. This Radhamohana Mahapatra of our tribe, he was torturing us.

When our Orissa Government was formed, then our sorrows slowly receded. But, all the same, to speak the truth, Saunties have not been able to develop or advance. I mean, they are not able to advance because of their truthfulness and simplicity. Why, because, whoever calls them for work, they would go, whether he pays or not. When they went, what happened. ‘Wages? Come day after tomorrow.’ This is how the Saunties have been living in sorrow and difficulties.


The History of Keonjhar, Goddess Tarini and the Saunties

Teller: Jagadananda Das (Misra) [M 60. Tribe: Brahmin (Expert on Saunties). Village: Patana, Keonjhar. Date: Oct 10, 1998. Interviewer: B. K. Tripathy & team. Cassette No. 59, Side B. O. Tr. Pp.: 4319-43. F.N.: Knj 1, p. 46. Transcriber: F. B. Pothal. Status: As told (minor editing & emendation). Type: Legend-history-myth.] Translator: Biyotkesh Tripathy

Trilochana Bhanja, the king of Keonjhar, ruled Keonjhar from 1461 to 1480. During his reign, due to some reason, a quarrel ensued between him and his son Gobinda Bhanja. So, the latter left Keonjhar and went to Puri, where according to convention established by the Gajapati [dynasty of Puri], all royal personages had houses at Puri. He lived in that house at Puri. As folk tradition says, the Gajapati king of Puri at the time, Purusottama Deba, waged the Kanchi War from 1474 A.D. to 1475 A.D. He lost in the First Kanchi War.

After he had lost, with that pain at heart, he sat in prayer before Jagannath. He was told [by Lord Jagannath] in a dream, ‘I and my elder brother, Balabhadra, both will go to the Kanchi War. But tomorrow, the man you see first on the Baisi Pahacha [the twenty-two steps leading up to the main temple], tie a silken sari on his head. He will go as your Commander-in Chief. And it would not be too much to call this Jagannath’s kindness or sympathy, that the first person Purusottama met [on the Baisi Pahacha] as he was returning from the audience [with the Lord], was Gobinda Bhanja. And the silken sari was tied to his head. In the Second Kanchi War, Gobinda Bhanja went as the Commander of the army. The war was fought at Kanchi. The king of Kanchi was defeated and died in the war.

Gobinda Bhanja, having won the war, took away as memento the statue of Ganesha and Madanamohana that was there. He also carried away from there the guardian deity of Kanchi, Mother Tarini. Finally, he brought with him Commander-in-Chief of Kanchi. When they came, the king’s place was not at Puri but at Khurda fort. [He went there.] After six seven days of his arrival, message came from Keonjhar that Trilochana Bhanja had passed away. The cremation and death rituals would be performed when the prince arrived. So he had to leave precipitously. The Gajapati [king of Puri], very pleased with this victory crowned him as king and gave to him the subdivisions of Athgarh or Anandpur as a tax-free gift and declared him the hereditary Supervisor of the Jagannath Temple [at Puri]. When he was returning to Keonjhar—it was 1480—he established the Madanamohana statue at Trilochanapur Dandapat. And, as per folk tradition, when he looked back to see if goddess Tarini was following, when he did not hear her horse hoof sound [thus breaking his oath not to look back], she remained at Ghatagan [the place where he had looked back].

The naming of Ghatagan comes from that tradition. When Mother Tarini remained there, she had said, ‘You are unclean now as there has been a death in your family. You can’t do anything for me. I am staying under this tree. You hang a "ghata" [pot] of "ghee" [clarified butter] over me so that it would keep dripping on me. I shall be satisfied with that.’ Since the ghata was tied there the village was named Ghata Grama [Pot Village]. In course of time, the name changed into Ghatagan. Tarini stayed there.

The Ganesha he had was brought was installed in the Puri temple on the request of the Gajapati king. He is still there and is known as Bata Ganesha [Ganesha under the banyan tree].

Then he [Gobinda Bhanja] came to Keonjhar. He ascended the throne after the death rituals were completed. The crowning ceremony was over.

One day the royal congregation was organized. [Many people gathered.] At this time, the Kanchi Commander-in-Chief who had come [with Gobinda Bhanja] raised a question. He said, ‘O king, you had brought me with you. Just as you were the Commander of your army, I was a Commander too. You brought me as a Commander. I have not been badly treated in Keonjhar. I have been paid the respect due to me. But your Excellency is now the king of Keonjhar. I am staying with you. But I have neither my family or my own people with me, nor any followers. How shall I live?’

When the Kanchi Commander raised this question, the king ordered, ‘Bring a "jala" [a net.] A net was brought. The net was spread among the congregation so that it surrounded some people. Those who remained within the net [jala] were named "Bedhajala" [net enclosed]. And since they were from many communities and had been randomly collected ["saunta"], they were also called Saunti. Only Keonjhar is the birthplace of the Sauntis. The Saunti tribe or community was created here. After they were created, he [the Kanchi Commander] was given the title of Guman Singh. Jaigopal Guman Singh Bedhajala Mahapatra, such was his name. And he was made a landlord at Mushakhori and Kapundi with 120 "bati" [2400 acres] of land. And he was also appointed Commander-in-Chief by the king. This is the history of the birth of the Saunti tribe. Since they had been gathered from many communities they were called Saunti [deriving it from the word "sauntiba" which means "to gather"].

And in the time of the same Gobinda Bhanja, when Jagannath and Balabhadra were going [for the Kanchi war,] we have a folklore about Manika Gauduni. And there is another lore about hocking a "kudua" [earthen pot in which Jagannath’s offerings are cooked] in exchange for drinking water from "Gudia" [snack seller], thereby making them "touchable" from untouchable. The Gudia community was one from which even water could not be accepted. Jagannath and Balabhadra had pawned the kudua to them. With Manika Gauduni [cowgirl named Manika] they had hocked a gold ring. These liberated communities could now serve the Brahmins. Otherwise they could not serve Brahmins. At that time the kings were establishing "sasana" villages where a few Brahmins were settled. They governed the people living around them according to the legal and administrative system. As people providing service to them the first preference had been given to these cow tending people. They would serve the Brahmins and provide service to installed deities. When this tribe of Sauntis was created in Keonjhar they were given the privilege of serving the Brahmins.



Intoxicating Beverages of The Bonda Highlanders

Dr. Ramesh Prasad Mohanty


Brewed Beverages

Plant Exudation (Naturally Fermented)


Juice of Sago palm tree



Enhancing Alcoholic Contents



The Bonda highlanders who are only 5565 in number (census 2001) are the most primitive tribal community of the state of Orissa. They are found on the mountain ranges of the Eastern Ghats limited to only 32 villages under Khairput block of Malkangiri district of the state of Orissa . They are highly dependent on the local forest resources for various purposes. These people are very much addicted to intoxicating drinks. They extract various intoxicants from plant juices and prepare various types of liquors for own consumption. Their liquor addiction has made them infamous for frayed tempers and murderous attitude displayed on flimsy ground. Like many other tribe of the area, intoxicating liquors occupy an important place in the life cycle rituals and festive occasion of the Bonda. Even some intoxicants are considered as milk to feed the infants and thus among the Bonda Highlanders., life without intoxicants is unthinkable.

Intoxicants consumed by these primitive people can be categorized into three types:

  1. Plant exudation, (naturally fermented)
  2. Distillation of cereals/ millets
  3. Brewing of plant products

All these beverages have quality variation and standard gradation, comparable to tea or coffee in modern society.

Plant Exudation (Naturally Fermented):

Juice of Sago palm tree (Sapung):

The economic status of a Bonda is estimated according to the number of Sago palm trees (refer to the cover photograph) he possesses. These trees are considered as the most valuable wealth. This tree takes about 12 years to get matured and to secrete its juice. Normally a matured tree feeds its owner round the year. The juice is consumed by the family members and also sold out to the kin and the villagers.

As soon as the Bonda man wakes up, he rushes towards its sago palm tree, climbs up, dislodge the pot fixed to the juice producing shoot (inder) the night before, comes down with the pot filled with sweet sap and drinks it on the spot. Sometimes, the sap is fermented and distilled through the process of distillation to improve its alcoholic status. The earthen pot is laced with yeast to facilitate fermentation in the sun ray. The tree is also sold or leased out during the lean periods. The cost depends on its age, location and the number of inders or shoots it bears. The tree that is matured and about to secrete its juice is known as Inder Sapung and the old ones as Budi Sapung. The prized Sago palm trees are, in some cases gifted to married daughters.

When the first inder comes out, the owner of the tree immediately arranges for a magico-religious rite (gigi), which is either performed by the village priest (Dishari) or by the owner to stave of evils.


In the first year of production of juice, one to four inders may come out depending upon the health of the tree and separate magico-religious rites are performed for each of the inders for their protection from the evil effects and to enhance the juice production. A new inder may appear at any time but the secretion of the juice is comparatively more in summer than any other season of the year. The juice of the first day of a new tree is not drunk rather offered to the deities. The juice of the second and third day is distributed among the clan (mada) members after performing a simple ritual. As a social norm, the owner abstains from consuming the juice during these days.

On the fourth or fifth day a magico-religious rite known as Ispur gigi is observed on the spot where the tree stands. A fowl is sacrificed to the earth goddess (bursung) and some rice is cooked and consumed by the clan members on the spot. On this day the owner of the tree drinks the juice ceremonially for the first time and thereafter the juice is sent to the paternal relatives of the nearby villages.

On the fifth day Rugsa Gigi is performed and on this day, the juice is collected early in the morning and is offered to the home goddess inside the kitchen room (Randa Dio) of the owner of the tree. Five to six or even more unmarried girls who are agnatic and collateral kins perform this offering and then they drink it. It is believed that if the unmarried girls perform this gigi, then the secretion of the juice increases steadily day by day. The juice is sent to the maternal relatives only after this gigi is over. In no case the maternal relatives can be offered the juice before this gigi is performed, otherwise, it is believed, that the tree may suddenly cease its natural secretion of juice.

When a tree reduces its normal secretion of juice, it is believed to be the act of the God, ‘Kundar’ . Guphsah Gigi, a magico-religious rite, is performed to appease the concerned deity. In this case some twigs of the locally available jungle plants namely Lupah, Kumpedan, Bulab, Sunuk, Gubur, Ngada and Arleinsan are tied together and some turmeric powder mixed with water is sprinkled over it. A fowl or a crab is cooked with rice and it is offered to the concerned deity. It is said that the tree again starts normal secretion of juice just after this gigi is performed. On ordinary days the juice is consumed on the spot by the kinsmen. If a person, a Bonda or non-Bonda, passes by the site, the owner offers a little juice and the passer by has to accept it otherwise the tree may stop its secretion of juice.

Brewed Beverages:


The beer, which is prepared out of rice, millets and some other cereals known as widar, rigdar and khankadaki among Bondas, is known in general as pendum. The khankadaki is half boiled in an earthen pot and then the raw rigdar and widar are put into it together. The preparation is just as rice is cooked. Some amount of water is taken out from the boiling mixture and yeast, locally known as pendum surang (sold by the local Dom people), are powdered and spread over the item. Some leaves of pusayu plant, which is used in case of sapung, is also used here in addition to the pendum surang. Finally, some water is added into the whole content and the container is covered with an earthen plate. It is kept for about a week inside a kitchen on a particular place known as kunutera. On the 7th or 8th day, the whole content is made into a starchy substance through a process called as Billai. Some more fresh water is added to it according to the requirement and finally the coarse grains are separated through the process of filtration (Sana) with the help of a bamboo sieve known as salin.

During the festive occasions, different verities of pendum are prepared and are distributed to the villagers when they pay ceremonial visit to households by moving from door to door in groups. It is not generally sold out either among themselves or in the local markets.


The liquor which is prepared out of different fruits nuts, flowers namely mahua flower, tamarind, mango, amla, jackfruit, sugar cane, date palm nuts, banana, cashew fruit, etc. through the process of distillation is known as sagur. The sago-palm juice is also sometimes used in this process and the drink is called as sapung sagur.

The Distillation Process

The Bonda people has their own indigenous equipments through which the process of distillation is carried out near hill stream or just below the terraced paddy fields where stream water flows.

The starchy substances of fruits and nuts out of which liquor is to be prepared is kept in an earthen pot (unkuin) over which another earthen pot (khupuri) is covered up.

It is placed on the hearth and fire is set. The khupri bears a hole at its neck into which the broader end of a long hollowed tube (Nala) is inserted. The joint is plastered with cow dung (Ektang). The other end of the tube is opened into an almunium pot (Gaira) downward. The mouth of this pot is carefully covered with some jungle leaves (landula) so that the vapour that comes from the Khupri through the nala does not get leaked. A piece of cloth (Jagali) is tied around just above the middle portion of the Gaira over which the stream water (Parak dak) flow is allowed through a long leaf of murga plant (Danga dak) to keep the whole container cold. The vapourous form of the liquor deposited inside the gaira is converted into liquid form.

Generally the Bonda people follow a common procedure to prepare all types of sagur. Normally the raw materials made into semi solid substances and then distilled after the coarse materials are separated through the filtration.

Mohua Flower (Bawh Sagur)

The mohua flower is kept in an earthen pot with some water according to the requirement. The powdered form of the bark of a wild plant Artunuk is mixed with the content to enhance the alcoholic status. The raw bark of the said plant may also be used after it is thrashed and made into a number of small pieces. There after the whole content is either kept for some days for fermentation or immediately prepared into a semi solid substance. The coarse materials are separated through the process of filtration and there after the liquor is extracted through the process of distillation. Sometimes both Mahua flower and jaggery(gur) are mixed together to make a special type of liquor that is more alcoholic than any other type of sagur.

Jackfruit (Unkusuin Sagur)

The pulp and the fleshy substances of the jackfruit are kept in an earthen pot and very little amount of water is added into it. It is kept at least two days and then the whole content is made like gruel. The fibrous materials are extracted by hand. Finally some more fresh water is added into it and there after liquor is extracted. Sometimes both mango and jackfruits are mixed together to increase the quantity of liquor as well as to have a liquor of different taste.

Tamarind (Titim Sagur)

This sagur is prepared in the same manner as bawh sagur but in this the leaf of Artunuk plant is not used. Though it can be separately prepared, gur is often mixed with it.

Sugarcane (Gur Sagur)

Some amount of jaggery is kept in an earthen pot and water is added to it. The mixture is stirred to dissolve the jaggery. The content is kept for twelve days and after which it is distilled.

Amla (Singer Sagur)

The amla fruits are peeled of and the seeds are separated. The smashed pulp is soaked in water for 7 days. More water is added to it and distillation is done.

Date palm (Bulura Sagur)

It is prepared just as singer sagur.

Banana (Unsugdak Sagur)

Either skinned or un-skinned bananas are kept in some water for 7 days and there after it is made into a paste by adding some more water. It is not filtered for distillation.

Mango (Uli Sagur)

Both skinned and un-skinned mangoes kept together with some water in an earthen pot for 7 days. The seeds and skins are separated by hand and then it is distilled.

Enhancing Alcoholic Contents:

The Bonda people use different parts of some locally available jungle plants namely Gisingteh, Kiringe, Pusayu, Landu, Easch and Dang to enhance the alcoholic content of the Sago-palm juice.

But the bark of Gisingteh and the root of Kiringe are mostly used for this purpose. Any of the above-mentioned agents are used singly or multiply. In most of the cases the bark of Gisingteh and the root of Kiringe are used together to enhance the alcoholic status up to the maximum limit. The new roots of Kiringe plant retains its activating power for about a month.

Photographs : By the author

References :

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The word tribe is variously used in literature to denote a community on the basis of homogeneity. Originally many autochthonous communities who were identified by similar culture, social organisation and governance, living away from the main stream life of a country, were mentioned as tribe by their colonial rulers and Western scholars. Many such communities have moved towards the mainstream lifestyle so that they may no longer be identified as secluded, underdeveloped people with queer customs. This has happened to all areas of the world where tribal communities live. Still, many tribal communities lead their lives in very primitive ways devoid of the techno-economic glamour of contemporary civilization. These communities are labeled as "Primitive Tribal Groups". Indian Government has identified such tribal groups to give special attention to their development, whereas in the Indian Constitution all the tribal groups are recognized as "scheduled tribes".


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