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 :