Tripathy, Dr. Biyotkesh

    There are sixty-two tribes in the state of Orissa (Tribes, 1990), belonging to four racial groups, speaking sixty-two different languages or dialects of three language families. Theirs is a culture that, unlike minority cultures of recent origin, can be conceptualized in terms of beauty and intelligence (Arnold, 1882/1993) and wholesomeness (Anderson, 1991). During my extensive fieldwork among the tribal people, I had the privilege of not only recording their myths, legends, tales and lore but also observing the rich and distinct life-styles they have developed with pride and dignity in their isolation and which they are trying to maintain with sporadic renaissance fervour in this age of increasing and invasive culture contacts. 
    Tribal people are those that have lived in the forests and hills far away from the dominant culture and without depending on it in any way. They were the dominant or rather the lone culture until the Deko came. After that they withdrew into the forests and hills. They have been self-sufficient, living off their forests, hills, and rivers without destroying them so that they and the environment have remained pristine. Now the Dekos have moved in closer to them, have destroyed their forests, have dug up their hills, and have even questioned their title to land. They are, thus, besieged. The Deko now is not only the Orissan culture which is the immediately impinging circle, but comprises a middle circle of Indian culture and an outer circle of Western culture. The tribal people have to adopt the other’s ways. They have to go into agriculture if they can afford it, uproot themselves and move out as labourers, or sit idle. Deko education uproots them from their linguistic roots, Deko music disrupts their ancient rhythms, Deko myths overwhelm the very roots of their culture. They are bereft economically and invaded culturally.
    To postulate that they be left alone is to authorize ghettoization. To stop media invasion is to ensure their isolation. Their tunes and rhythms had developed by listening to their environment of birds, animals, winds and streams. Must they now be stopped from listening to the new environment? Must we design minority aesthetics for them and condemn them within it? Or should the Deko receive their art and culture into itself aggressively? If they do, will it bring the tribal people to the center from the margin or will it vandalize their culture and kill it? Do the pundits of cultural imperialism and colonialism see the right things and have the right answers, designed at their study tables?
    Let us see what options the tribal people have and what direction they would like to take rather than looking at them with our theoretical “designs.” For this purpose we shall concentrate on the problem of language, for language is the key to the textuality of a person, group or even a nation, which is configured largely through language into individualities and marks out definitive cultural identities. An assault on language is an assault on the roots of a culture. The Kandha tribe (called Kondh in Hindi speaking states), inhabiting the district of Phulbani and a few other southern districts, is a major tribe with a population of over 1.2 million people. They speak a language called Kui with a few dialects used in different areas. Nearly twenty years back a movement started among them to bolster their language. Toward this end they invented a Kui script and started publishing some literary, cultural and historical material. The movement has not, however, picked up. The reason is that schools use Oriya or English, as the medium of instruction and the script used is Oriya and Roman. But the real reason is that they have to function increasingly among Oriya-speaking people. They have to deal with the Oriyas in most transactions and transact all official business in Oriya or English. Under the circumstances, the will among the people to study Kui script in a self taught way gets weakened. Recently, the Santals, who are also a major tribe inhabiting three states of the country (with a population of over 700000 in Orissa only and a total population of over 2 million), have voiced a demand for the inclusion of Santali in the language schedule of the Indian constitution where the “major” Indian languages are listed. If this is done, some national pride can be salvaged for them. Needless to say that other tribes, major or minor will follow suit. Nothing will be lost for the nation in listing them, for it will give the tribes a sense of recognition and equality. Language is the key to the identity of a people and the keeper of the discourse of their culture. Let us now see what is happening to tribal languages under the present circumstances. 
    The language immediately impinging upon and enclosing Kui language is Oriya, which is the language of the state of Orissa. Oriya is surrounded by Hindi, which our constitution makers have offered as the national language. This is surrounded by English, which has been retained as a parallel national language or language of official transactions. It is also seen as the language of access to the world. All these languages keep the tribal language trapped in the nation’s political construction.
    Let us now see the quantum of the infiltration of these languages into Kui and the natural response of the victim language to this process. Here, it must be noted that the location of the tribal person or group is important. In very remote villages to which access is difficult, infiltration of Hindi and English is minimal. Roadside villages, through which buses ply, and villages that have been electrified so that access to TV and video is obtained, show a fair deal of penetration. Christian villages show a slightly different profile than non-Christian ones, because of the presence of mission schools. Those who have moved out of their villages and are working in towns and those who have completed high school education show far greater infiltration. Making an average of this we can describe the infiltration as follows.
    First, let us look at English which forms the outer enclosure. A few words and phrases that have been acquired by Oriya have entered the tribal languages along with Oriya. Their quantum is proportionate to the Quantum of Oriya acquired. Next comes Hindi which forms the middle enclosure. A few words and phrases acquired by Oriya have also entered tribal languages along with Oriya, with direct inputs from Hindi films, which are seen occasionally in journeys to town. Last comes Oriya which forms the inner enclosure. A fair bit of Oriya has been acquired and mixed with tribal languages to form a mixed language called Deshia (varying slightly in the different border regions of the state because of inputs from the languages of neighboring states) with which the tribal people converse with outsiders, while they use their own language among themselves. Deshia has thus grown as a natural response of the tribal people to their environment. Yet such are the nuances or mechanisms of the spread of languages that Deshia has infiltrated and substantially modified the colonizer’s language to the extent that the people of the region have begun deriving a distinct identity from it.
    This is the current situation. Let us now understand the dynamics of this acquisition or infiltration of alien languages. The terminology (acquisition or infiltration) would depend upon which end we are viewing it from and what ideology we are carrying into the process. Whatever the terminology, the activity must be recognized as part of the process of diffusion. But this diffusion has complex inputs. In order to acquire something alien for which one has a basic or identity-driven resistance, yet a desire or compulsion, a complex process must be in operation. This process is driven through (i) propensities or desires (which are informed by need), (ii) opportunity, and (iii) absence or presence of inhibitors, into (iv) absorption or acquisition of the other’s culture, which process may be politically described as colonial or imperialist overpowering or infiltration.
    I am here suggesting that political and cultural processes are entirely different and need radically different perceptions to unveil reality. To begin with, political readings are the application of set systems with predetermined dynamics, modalities and goals, based on Marxist or other fundamentalist perceptions of society as fractured and of the modes of recovery as militant, whereas cultural processes are open-ended and ongoing exchanges where each juncture is a node of possibilities where directions are indeterminate. I see a culture as a text that is being written. To suggest that its textuality is a myth or is irrelevant is erroneous. To reduce a culture to a materialistic entity and then place it in the context of other such entities and dynamics is to truncate it and then cannibalize it as is done in Raymond Williams and British cultural materialism (Williams 1980). The recognition of a culture in terms only of the play of power and discourse in the Foucauldian New Historicist way energized by Clifford Geertz’s inputs from social anthropology (1973, 4-5), or its placement in the context of other similar cultures or texts contemporaneous to it, in the manner of American New Historicism or Multiculturalism, is to ghettoize minority culture (and its literature through minority aesthetics and other separatist/protective procedures). This is neo-imperialism in its most insidious form, denying minorities their rights in the main stream. 
To return to language, we see that the tribal people’s propensity to acquire Oriya has been based on need, both cultural and economic. As the environment of the tribal people was getting destroyed, survival was impossible without contact with the outer world. Opportunity was there. But the dominant community had them in its economic and political power, setting them clearly apart with a perception of “us” and “them.” This brought in identity and pride driven inhibitors. However, as the Deko’s culture (movies, music etc.) reached them they were drawn to these, even as the Deko was, in a shared desire, sharing the same enthusiasm for the same cult figures, the same box-office hits, using the same dialogue fragments and singing the same songs. This has nothing to do with economics, political aggrandizement or materiality, nor does it set the tribe apart. On the other hand the tribe is integrated into the mainstream. Thus the tribe’s acquisition of the Deko language, here, is a desired act in the integrative processes of culture. The divisive ideological perception may be that bourgeois pop art entrances the victim culture to forget its rightful material goals as a separate class and thus forgets the path of militancy. This is erroneous. The politico-economic goals are pursued separately and are in no way abandoned because of “bourgeois” or “capitalist” popular art. To assume that they are, is to consider some people to be especially foolish and naïve. And to assume that materiality is the only quest of life would be insulting to humankind. I would go so far as to say that the different lifestyle our tribal people have developed is a powerful alternative to our own materialistic one. To impose ideology on them would be worst form of neo-colonialism.
    Here, it may be necessary to distinguish the operational modalities of cultural processes from those of politico-economic processes. Let us take the case of the creation of Deshia by the tribal people as a response to the dominant group’s Oriya language. Over the years this Deshia has transformed Oriya in different regions into such distinct forms that the dominant groups of southern, northern and western Orissa have begun speaking three distinct languages, which vehemently resist being described as dialects of Oriya. In other words tribal languages have taken over the Deko language, modified it and given the region’s culture a separate identity. The overflow of this into the state’s political life is that the people of western Orissa (Sambalpur) not only want their language (Sambalpuri) to be recognized as separate, but also have started speaking of a separate state. They have stopped short of agitation in this matter only with the realization of the irony of the situation in that as a separate state it will have a tribal majority and their hegemony will be lost. Yet the basis on which they recognize their separate identity—their language—is a gift of the tribal people. It is, thus, clear to see the differences between political and cultural processes. 
    Let me, here, give a more radical example of how a colonized culture can carnivalize the dominant group’s language out of use at the very time the dominant culture is colonizing it. By carnivalization I mean a process by which cultural materials are mixed in a creative cocktail that is acceptable to the people as their natural cultural growth. We shall take the example, here, of a major Indo-European language of the ancient world, Sanskrt, with which the Indo-Aryans had marched into India five thousand years back and had started invading native cultures with the instruments of that powerful language and its products. As Sanskrt started spreading among a diversity of people, each culture group grabbed it, modified it and created new languages of their own (Oriya, Assamese, Bengali, Hindi etc.), which the colonizer was forced to use in that region. Soon Sanskrt ceased to be the colonizer’s language of parlance because everywhere he went there was another language in place. Thus, Sanskrt was reduced to the status of a classical language through the pathway of court language, language of scholarship and the language of religious ritual. What happened to Latin as it spread though Europe is not any different. One could describe this process in high-sounding phrases like “the empire writes back,” but that would be too political and too inappropriate to describe a natural cultural process. We may describe this process as feedback. When a loudspeaker is turned towards the microphone there is a hum that drowns the source inputs. That is feedback. In other words when the source language, instead of targeting the audience, begins addressing itself, the feedback will cut it out from the communication process. The audience will start its own noises and conversations. In the present situation the colonized people carnivalized and fed back the language to deaden the dominant group’s voice. In other words, even as the Indo-Aryan was establishing its political hegemony, the colonized people were appropriating and carnivalizing its language. I do not choose to use “hybridity” because Bhabha uses it to describe a condition rather than a process (“Signs…” 144-65). In sociological terms it signifies a “black skin/white mask” situation. Other writers like Terry Collits and Ania Loomba (176-78), also use it in this manner. This is entirely different from what I mean by carnivalizaton. Moreover, Bhabha suggests that distortions in transmission are hybridizations peculiar to the colonial situation. For example, he says that the Bible is hybridized in the process of being transmitted to the natives of colonial India (“Signs…”144-65). What he seems to forget is that any communication involves individual distortions. This has nothing to do with colonial discourse. What one says and what another understands have differences because of the inadequacies of the transference of the contents of the teller’s mind into language and the presences in the receiver’s mind. If this is hybridization, it is universal and is in no way endemic to the colonial situation. Moreover, to totalize these into “Indian,” “Chinese,” or “native” is an illogical exercise. There are many American and British hybridizations of the Bible, as there are Christian hybridizations. Such reading differences have produced many variant practices and faiths in Calvinism, Puritanism, Protestantism, and Catholicism etc. These have nothing to do with colonialism. Furthermore, to totalize them into national or ethnic quanta is political and racial, ultimately derived from divisive Marxist social philosophy or other such fundamentalist perceptions. Such practices are based on the evacuation of the individual or the text that he is. Said, on his part uses hybridity in the sense of racial and cultural mix in a “mongrelized society” where “they are hybrids, they are impure” (Rajnath 84). Let me not comment on his use of “they.” Its import is self-evident. Nor is Spivac’s catachresis adequate to explain the process. Processes triggered by culture contacts have a kinetic procedure of their own which is determined by the situation independently of political and economic ones, rendering material goals irrelevant. They are not hegemony-directed but based on open interactions, depending on factors like numbers (taker-giver ratio), area of spread, diversity of linguistic presence in the area of spread and perceived future convenience, vibrancy of receiving cultures, tolerance of the colonizer, etc., leading to new formations. The politics of warfare do not operate here. Colonial perceptions may stand reversed here.
    Even within a language changes take place so that it is rendered unrecognizable. The Old English of 600 A.D., in 500 years, radically transformed itself into Middle English, which changed itself to the modern English of the 16th century. Now in the 21st century the “englishes” of the world are beginning to come. This is true not only of language but other aspects of culture as well. The Indo-Aryans came into India with a small pantheon of Vedic gods with Indra and Agni as the leading figures. The colonized people have given them several dozens more, with Indra now reduced to the position of a minor mythic figure and Agni no longer a god, with a religion ranging from animism and polytheism, through monotheism to atheism. All these are now the simultaneous presences of Indian culture and the Indian mind. And all these have come from the colonized culture as a counter-flow to the Indo-Aryan cultural invasion.
    Inter-cultural transactions defy the paradigms of hegemony, colonialism, imperialism, power, and materiality. They take place in what may be called cultural genetic pools. Just as a gene released into the biological genetic pool, with its millions of years of encoding, plays with another of like complexity to create new forms from their many possibilities, so does a culture-gene. Once injected into an interactive field it engages itself with the creative factors of another culture to generate new forms and paradigms. There is no politics here, no power play, and no preset material goal. Let us look at what happened to Marxism as it spread across the world into the midst of cultural polysemy. As it entered the political systems of many cultures, it was grabbed and modified into diverse forms of democratic socialism, and thus was evacuated of both its modality and goal, so that it collapsed. Cultures can thus play the genetic game with politics. 
    Let us now look at cultural invasion in the field of mythology. The legends of the origin of these tribes reveal an “oeuvre” or task that is different and distinct from Judeo-Christian or Hindu models. Levinas suggests that Odysseus starts out from Ithaca and, after Troy, while he is wandering away from home, he is still purportedly moving toward Ithaca (Valevicius 41). We may add that the Jew condemned to wander must forever wander toward his homeland. Adam’s progeny, expelled from Eden, must forever wander to recover it. Rama, banished from his kingdom, must come back to it (The Ramayana). That is the enclosed claustrophobic oeuvre or task that defines them. But the vision of the Orissan tribes (esp. of the Santals) is different. Their legends depict their tribe as moving forever into unknown territories looking for new vistas, under nature’s compulsions or pressures of desire, through floods and fires of early times and the pursuing “Dekos” of the middle past up to the present times when they cannot move any farther. Levinas offers a model for this in “the story of Abraham who leaves his native land forever and travels towards a land yet unknown. The movement from the Self to the Other is what Levinas calls ‘l’oeuvre’—the task” (Valevicius 41). There are still small tribes like the Malhara, which refuse homesteading and continue to wander in the forests and hills in pursuit of nature’s vanishing bounties in fulfilment of their oeuvre. Their creation myths (esp. of the Santals) have an ancient semantic perfection unavailable to either the Judeo-Christian or Hindu myths, which, I suspect, are later formations and have borrowed from the former. Or, perhaps, they had all shared from a common ancient culture or information source. Even questions of sexual morality, the problem of incest of the primal pair and their children, have been tackled in the Santal myth with far greater ease, grace and sense of humour, with nothing of the violence of the Greeks or the shame-culture glosses of the biblical story. The Saunties, endemic to the district of Keonjhar, tell a story of creation that is refreshingly original and different from the Santal story, tackling the same problems with equal ease, while using a snake in an entirely different way from the biblical one. The Saoras of southern Orissa tell the story of the survival through a flood in an innovative way, far more rational and primitive than Noah’s ark. All these tribes describe an open-ended journey of which we shall take the Santal story as the prime model, since the rendering of this myth-legend is copious and well preserved in the tribe’s ritual.     Their story depicts the long arduous journey of the tribe as a pursuit of their open destiny.
    Myths inform the very roots of consciousness: they inform the structures of Complexes (Freud), they form the racial unconscious (Jung), they are the basic structures of experience (Campbell), and the primary nodes of cognition (Frye). Invading or infiltrating myths is an assault at the roots of a culture or consciousness. For our purpose we shall take the Santal creation myth and study it vis-à-vis Hindu and Christian creation myths to see if the colonial infiltration has affected them. The story is as follows. At the beginning the earth was covered with water. No land was visible. Thakur Jiu was lonely and wanted to create some creatures. So he created fish, turtle and other water creatures. Then he tried creating man but did not succeed, as the Day Horse (the Sun) trampled on them. So he created Hansa and Hansuli (a swan couple). But the swan couple had nowhere to sit or nest, so they complained to Thakur Jiu. Thakur Jiu thought the complaint to be valid and wanted to create land by bringing it up from the bottom of the earth. So he called the water creatures and asked them (the fish, the tortoise, the lobster etc.), in turn, if they could bring up the earth from the bottom of the ocean. Each one said, ‘If you say so I’ll certainly try.’ Each one dived to the bottom and brought up some earth in its mouth or back, but by the time it reached the surface the earth had washed off. Finally, these creatures suggested that jhilmoli, the earthworm, could do the trick. Thakur Jiu asked the earthworm, who said it could suck the earth and void it on the surface, but then it needed a firm surface to void it on. If the tortoise could be held steady on the surface, it could void the earth on its back. This was done and soon earth started piling on its back to form a solid land mass. Thakur Jiu then planted some trees. The swan pair now nested in the bushes and soon laid two eggs. When the eggs hatched, lo and behold, a man and a woman came out. These were the primal pair, Pilchu Budhi and Pilchu Budha. Thakur Jiu now said that these two must be taken to a suitable place for this marshy land was unsuitable for them. The swan couple found such a place in Hihiri Pipiri and carried the two children there. Pilchu Budhi and Pilchu Budha grew up there in innocence. Thakur Jiu thought it was time to visit his people and see how things were working out. He taught them about cultivation and about certain wild grains. Then he gave them detailed instruction on how to prepare wine, and stayed with them until the wine was made. Tasting it with satisfaction he left them in the evening. Pilchu Budhi and Pilchu Budha got drunk that night and went off to sleep together in their hut. Next morning when Thakur Jiu visited them they looked shame-faced and had covered parts of their body. Thakur Jiu reassured them and left happily. To Pichu Budhi and Pilchu Budha were born seven girls and seven boys. To avoid their error, they separated the boys from the girls. The boys went hunting with the father, while the girls went gathering with the mother. Many days passed this way. One day, however, the parents let the children go by themselves. The fourteen went out in their separate groups in different directions, but on their way back home in the evening they met in a grove and stopped to play a while. Soon they had paired off and had sex. Pilchu Budha and Pilchu Budhi forgave them, but now put them in seven separate rooms they built for them. They laid out exogamous rules for the future so that no marriages could take place within a family. Thus came into existence the seven septs or clans of the Santals. Another version of the narrative, recorded by me but not available in Bodding’s versions, handles the problem of incest slightly differently. The version runs like this. Pilchu Budhi and Pilchu Budha had kept the boys and girls separate with great care. But when they had grown up, finding that maintaining constant watch was not possible for them, they said, ‘You are big boys and girls now. It is time that you went out and explored the world and made out a life for yourselves. But since you are bothers and sisters you must go in opposite directions.’ Next morning the children left in two groups and went away in different directions. Many years passed, and then one day they met. But by then they had grown and changed. They could not recognize one another, but were delighted at finding human company after so any years. There was no stopping them now in their exuberant fulfilment. They now formed seven families which became the original seven clans or septs. From this point in the story, in either version, the myth starts yielding to the legends of the tribe, its wanderings eastward, its devastation through a fire-storm, its resurgence into twelve clans, its eastward pursuit through mountainous country, its crossing a high mountain range and movement into the valleys and forests of India. With this the legend moves closer to history until it brings them to their present habitat pursued by the Dekos, Muslims and the Sahibs. It is the most complete myth-legend-history preserved through oral traditions to the present times that I have found to date. The Old and the New Testaments, in their broken way, or the genealogies of Indian epics or Puranas, in their fantasized ways may be acceptable as poor seconds. The preservation of this myth-legend has been possible because the Santals have built this narrative into a quasi-dramatic form recited as the mantra at the main rituals of the tribe, on occasions like marriage and other cardinal functions. Expert shamans accompanied by a small chorus of refrain-singers do the reciting.
    My purpose in offering a summary of the myth segment of this narrative is to show two things. First, we shall see that despite living among the Indo-Aryans for over two thousand years as a “colonized” social group, Indo-Aryan myths of creation have not been able to colonize the Santali mind. There are several reasons for this, but the primary reason seems to be an aesthetic or narrative reason, a cultural one. A strong or good narrative is not distorted by a weak one, irrespective of the political power of the latter’s creators or advocates. There is no good, consistent or interesting narrative of creation in Indian mythology. There are some philosophical-scientific ones in the Upanishads, the Mahabharata, Manu Sanghita and the Samkhya Karika, but since they are not narrative they could not compete in a battle of stories. The narrative ones are fragmentary and begin appearing later, in the Puranas. The strongest one among them is the Dasa Avatara, stringing together ten Puranic stories of the earth or mankind being saved by ten incarnations of God. And in this story the first incarnation of God is as fish to recover the Veda--the sacred book of human knowledge--from the bottom of the ocean where it had been thrown by a demon, and the second is an incarnation as turtle to hold up the earth when it was stolen and sunk in the ocean by two demons. As we have seen, the fish and the turtle appear in the Santal myth of creation as the primary creatures that attempted to save the earth, and the turtle actually held up the earth-mass. The story has the rugged natural logic of the primitive mind. The colonizer’s myth has not been able to distort the natural logic of the Santal myth. Nothing of the Vedas, the demon who stole it or the two demons who threw the earth in the ocean has found entry. On the other hand, since the Dasa Avatara makes its appearance during medieval times by which time stories are known to have travelled across regional and cultural boundaries, it is more than likely that segments of the Santal myth migrated to the dominant culture’s myth, rendered complex with the Greco-Roman and Indo-Aryan kind of mythic presences of demons, Gods and sundry other creatures including human beings, involved in all sorts of situations. But the story has a thin narrative line and, even today, educated Indians cannot tell this story with any details. In other words, the natural narrative logic of the Santal myth is stronger than that of the Indo-Aryan myth. That is why it has not been infiltrated.
    Likewise, despite two hundred years of heavy missionary work among tribal people with a fair deal of conversions in this area, nothing of the Biblical myth of creation has penetrated the Santal story. Thakur Jiu does not create the world in six days. The entire narrative grid is different. The concept of a watery world is available in some north African myths, prominently available in Egyptian mythology, with Atum rising out of the water as the first landmass, and in the Indo-Aryan mythology, with the description of the original state of the earth as “pralaya prayodhi jala.” It is possible that these cultures shared the same source as the Santal. In Biblical mythology the flood comes much later, in Noah’s time, perhaps inserted when the source was accessed, at a time when that community had conceptualized a cosmic moral order of crime and punishment. There is, however, reference, in Santal mythology, to the proliferation of population and to the society becoming corrupt, which become paradigms for certain kinds of results. In Indo-Aryan mythology it becomes the point when God is reincarnated to save the world, similar to the New Testament concept of the birth of the Son of God for the same purpose. In terms of the Old Testament, however, this becomes the point when God destroys the world or parts of it through flood or fire. The Santals are closer to the Old Testament when they depict the earth being destroyed through a rain of fire. Here, however, unlike in Sodom and Gomorrah, a primal pair is saved (like Noah’s family) in a cave in Mount Harata (perhaps Mt. Herat in present western Afghanistan). Clearly, while there was source sharing, there is no displacement of a formed mythic segment in the Santal myth by the Biblical myths. The point is that the political colonizer cannot colonize a culture. The modalities of cultural interactions are entirely different from the modalities and directions of political interactions or pathways of power and materiality. And when a myth gets encased in ritual, as in this case, it becomes especially invulnerable to arbitrary modifications.
    Let me offer one little segment of one other creation story, coming this time from the Saora tribe living in the southern district of Gajapati. The segment we shall take is from the beginning. The Saoras also speak of a watery world at the beginning. But the beginning of the Saora myth is like the Biblical flood, because there are human survivors. Mankind must have been already created. Now, Isar (God) was there and He had a bird (a crow in one tradition and a hawk in another). Isar was looking for survivors or visible land. So he kept sending out the bird every day (like Noah, from the Ark) to survey the expanse of water. The bird reported every evening that he had found nothing. Finally, one evening, the bird reported, ‘I saw nothing. No land, no men. But I found a floating sack of hide and you know what? Some sound was coming from inside it.’ God became excited and asked the bird to go and look for it first thing the next morning. This was done and the sack was towed to Isar. When Isar opened the sack, out came a boy and a girl, brother and sister. Apparently, when the earth was flooded the two thought it best to pack themselves into a watertight sack of hides, perhaps something like a Native American canoe with a skin of hide. This primal pair became the progenitor of mankind. It is clear to see that the Saora negotiates the flood in his own kind of ark, ignoring the invitation from the huge Ark of Noah, which was veering down on him. It is a rule of the folk tale that it grows by addition of material borrowed from elsewhere, but never grows backward from a complex structure to a simple one. The complex Biblical story could not have been stripped and then used in the kind of form in which it exists among the Saora. It must have sailed its independent course. There is no imperialism or colonialism in culture and no hegemony. The modalities of power and politics are unavailable in natural cultural development, and their entry should be resisted. But let us also record emphatically that cultures exchange products, they assimilate concepts, lifestyles and grow by that process. In the weekly barter market, called hata, at the foot of the Bonda hills in the Malkangiri district, the Bondas come from the hills with their roots, berries, hill vegetable, and herbs to exchange them for rice. Barter was our ancient system of exchange of culture products, and the hatas were the markets that gave us multicultural exposure, leading to recognition of worth, acceptance and exchange. The fourteen-inch Bonda skirt now parades the streets of the metropolises of the world, and saris are beginning to appear in Bonda villages (the Bonda women even today wear their skirt and only beads in the upper part of their body; they are dignified and beautiful). This is as it should be. There is no imperialism in this and no hegemony. We have already seen how languages have grown by such received material and the reception does not follow the dictates or directions of power exercises. Language learning is not “colonial,” “imperial,” or “hegemonic,” nor is it “mimicry.” 
What I have been trying to say is that the time has come to cut us off from the bondage to materiality, ideology and theory, and put our feet down on the earth. Cultures have inbuilt mechanism and strength to protect their essence, if they choose to do that. The choice must be theirs. It is they who must decide the path of their growth. Marx’s cry, “They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented,” fondly quoted by Said (1979, xiii), is an entirely erroneous concept. What can be done for those who we think have been marginalized is to empower them to decide and act for themselves. Unless these minority groups are taken into confidence by the world bodies in terms of their dignity and difference, more and more social upheaval is bound to take place, and instead of a creative interaction between different cultures (Fukuyama), there will be merely clash of civilizations (Huntington). Politics vandalizes the problem with divisive and disruptive philosophy. Aided by politics and abetted by ideology and fundamentalism, terrorist groups are beginning to appear among our tribal people forcing them into patterns of behaviour alien to them. This is the worst form of neo-colonialism that not only disrupts but also destroys cultures and it certainly will destroy them and render them unrecognizable, if unchecked.
    What is obvious is that they must be empowered to deal with the situation, as they would think fit, according to their genius, and in terms of their identity. Their empowerment, therefore, must involve the recovery of their identity, or what I have called earlier, their textuality. This recovery of the text must involve the recovery of their myths, tales, legends and lore, into their memory, as much as they can afford or like to give competitive space for. This will facilitate the recovery of the knowledge and wisdom acquired though thousands of years of experience. It must also involve the revival of as much of their ritual, customs, ceremonies, festivals, songs and dances as they would want to revive, in their present circumstances, without feeling ashamed or abashed. The Deko can help by giving space and participating, rather than by marking that space off.
    Equally important as the recovery of the text is the reconstruction of the text in the contemporary environment. In other words, with recovered identity and pride, the tribes must re-enter the cultural genetic pool of the world and mate with life-styles, customs, behaviour, practices, and languages of the world, as they would choose as individuals. This pool, which has been dammed up and cut off from the world, must be reconnected with it so that cultural choices can recover their vibrancy, novelty and play in a global field. These decisions may cut out new paths, provide bypasses or may turn directions. Take, for example, the problem of language, in making a transition from oral to a written stage. The tribal language is hedged in by Oriya, Hindi and English, in a country where English is the achiever’s language with which the Indian makes his way in the world. Now, instead of going with the state government’s Oriya schools, if the tribal people choose to access English medium schools, they can directly transit into the empowered group. These are not impossible dreams, but can be easily achieved with native resolve and the help of philanthropic groups and NGOs. In ten years’ time the tribal teenagers will be on their way into the world, ahead of the Deko of their region. That would not be colonial enslavement, hegemony or some such fine term. That would be empowerment. But the choice must be of the tribal people. Helping that choice is the nation’s and the world’s responsibility.
    Their empowerment must involve a few things of which we can make a simple list. 1. Education: I am inclined to believe that the national grid of C.B.S.C. and I.C.S.C. systems, which the elitist groups access, should be brought closer to the tribal children and the brighter among them should be supported with scholarships. State government may also actively consider changing the vast network of their schools into the national grid, starting with the tribal regions because the cities and towns already have the system. 2. Language: I have already said, tribal people should opt for English to gain national-international access in one step. This can be achieved with the steps suggested for education. 3. Land grant: Tribal people need land to live from, in order to transit from hunting gathering life-style. Many settlements built by the government for nomadic tribes are empty, because they had no land allotted to live from, labourer’s work was only sporadically available, and the forests were far. So their people went back to the forest, hunting and gathering. They would return once in a while in slack seasons. 4. Industrial Bombardment: More and more industries should be built in these areas, so that work could be made available to the local people. 5. Environmental Back-up: I do not see any immediate state of full employment. Tribal people have to fall back upon hunting gathering. What can be done immediately is to start strengthening the environment of their forests, hills and the little homestead land they have with heavier planting of their kind of things, so that the returns are better than what they are at present. For this purpose they have to be taught a little agriculture and horticulture since they are innocent, having lived on nature’s own resourcefulness. And they have to be supplied with seeds and saplings. 5. Aid: I advocate only a humanitarian use of this where there is (a) calamity, (b) environmental decimation, or (c) lack of work. But no aid must become dole. It must be exchanged for work. A lot of developmental work in educations, horticulture, agriculture, health, sanitation, beautification, road building, etc. can be done at the grassroots level. Hindrances are there, largely bureaucratic and political. These must be overcome with patience, effort and persistence.
    It is perhaps clear that somehow the tribal people should be allowed to grow in their own ways, in the environment of their choice (perhaps their own natural one), and to cultivate their own cultural identity without being absorbed into Deko culture. Their civilization, rich in simplicity, thoughtfulness, and spontaneity, should be allowed to develop its own norms and values to contribute to the richness of global civilization through their difference. 
    Perhaps we should listen to their heart, step out to dance a jig with them, and let them grow whichever way they want to, living out their open-ended oeuvre. And then, perhaps, they can lead us out of our claustrophobic enclosure in consumerism and materiality, divisive politics and violence.


    The four groups belong to Austro-Asiatic, Mongoloid, Dravidian and Indo-Aryan groups. Like the rest of the human kind there have been a fair deal of mixes among them too. In India, the Mongoloid inhabit the northeast and are supposedly endemic to that region, but there is evidence of their strain in Orissan tribes.

    The three language families are Mundari (Austro-Asiatic), Dravidian and Indo-Aryan. The tribes that speak these languages are not distributed in regional confines but are spread diversely, showing that tribal movements or migrations have been of diverse kinds, under different pressures and aspirations.

    Recent minority cultures are a product of (i) people moving largely out of economic reasons into territories inhabited by a different and affluent majority culture e.g. USA (Asians, Mexicans etc); (ii) people brought into a different territory forcibly for economic reasons e.g. USA (African Americans); (iii) large scale migration of alien people into the land of native inhabitants who are reduced to a minority, e.g. North and South America (Native Americans); (iv) settlers of a dominant colonial culture who become minorities in the post-colonial era, e.g. Zimbabwe (the British Whites), Algeria (the French Whites), India (the Anglo-Indians and the Portuguese).

    I refer to the book edited by Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin. Excellent as it is, it is too political in an old fashioned way and therefore dated, along with their models, Marx, Foucault, Gramci etc. Moreover, there is so little understanding of cultural processes.

    “Deko” is the word with which the Santals describe the non-tribal community which is depicted as pursuing it in the later phases of its eastward migration and taking over their new habitat, or, at least breathing down their neck, which broke the isolation they cherished, thus compelling them to move into newer forests and hills to create their new world all over again. At the beginning it was peaceful: “’They were living in he plains and we in the forests and on the hills. But afterwards we got very much fighting ```with the Dekos, until this day we have no happy relations with them. As soon as we have cleared the jungle in any country, the Dekos come and rob us of it’” (Bodding 1925-29, 53).

    I derive the story from Skrefsrud’s (1887) Bodding’s depiction (1925-29) and from several recordings of mine made over a hundred years after Skrefsurd. Bodding’s collection was from the southern part of the state of Bihar, from the Ranchi region, using one main teller and one minor one. My collections are from the northern districts of Orissa-- Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar-- given by shamans as well as village level narrators. I have also collected, from Keonjhar, a manuscript in Bengali script depicting in Santali language the entire narrative in its ritual presentation form. This ritual-narrative or mantra is called “binti” by the Santals and is recited as a mantra in important rituals like marriage.

    The best rendering of this dasa avatara (the ten incarnations of God to save mankind or the Indo-Aryan society) is in medieval poet Jayadeva’s rendering of it in his Sanskrt saga of Krshna’s loves, in Gita Govinda. The section of ten verses, dealing with dasa avataras, has become memorable since it has become a part of the repertoire of every Odissi dancer.

    It means: “post-destruction primal water.” Ancient Indian thought postulates creation and destruction as cyclic. And after every destruction, the universe or the earth is reduced to a watery plasma stage, from which creation begins again.

    My collection. Recorded in the field by Dr E. Raja Rao (Professor of English, Berhampur University, and a member of my team).

    Imperialism is the political condition of keeping alien territory and its populace under control with the use of military and other powers, so as to gain some military or economic advantage or to enjoy the satisfaction of expansionism or world domination. Colonialism, Marxism and now Islamic fundamentalism tread the same path. Colonialism is slightly different from imperialism in that colonialism sees material or economic gain as the chief end, and uses military, political and other hegemonic procedures to maintain its advantage. Hegemony is supposedly the procedure by which a dominant group persuades a dominated group that something it suggests to be good for them is actually good for them. Said suggests, quoting Gramci, that hegemony “’is the exercise of power through the consent of the ruled by incorporating and transforming their ideologies’” (1983: 12). If that is hegemony then all cultural exchange is hegemonic, in fact, all learning will be hegemonic.

    I have put these words under quote marks in order to indicate the distortion they have undergone in the hands of ideology and theory.

Works Cited

    Anderson, Benedict. (1991), Imagined Communities: Theory and Practice in Postcolonial Literatures, London, Verso. 

Arnold, Matthew. (1882, rpt.1993). Culture and Anarchy and Other Writings. Cambridge, Cambridge UP.

Ashcroft, Bill, et al. (1989), The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Postcolonial Literatures, London, Routledge. 

Bhabha, Homi K. (1994), “Remembering Fanon; Self, Psyche and the Colonial Condition,” in Williams at al (eds) Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory. New York, Columbia UP. 

----.“Signs taken for Wonders: Question of Ambivalence and Authority 
Under a Tree outside Delhi, May 1817,” Critical Inquiry 12 (1), Autumn: 144-65.

----. (1994), The Location of Culture, New York & London, Routledge.

“Binti: Santal Story of Creation and Legend of their History.” Manuscript acquired by 
B.K. Tripathy from Keonjhar in Orissa, (1999).

Bodding, Paul Olaf. (1925-29), Santal Folktales, Oslo, Institututtet for Sammenlignende for Skring.

Fukuyama, Francis. (1999), The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order, New York, Free Press.

Geertz, Clifford. (1973), Interpretation of Cultures. New York, Basic Books.

Huntington, Samuel P. (1998), Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Pocket Books.

Loomba, Ania. 1998. Colonialism/Postcolonialism. London, Routledge.

Rajnath. (2000), “Edward Said and Postcolonial Theory,” Journal of Literary Criticism, 9:1 (June): 73-87.

Said, Edward. (1978), Orientalism, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul.

----. (1983), The World, the Test and the Critic, Massachusetts, Cambridge UP.

----. (1993), Culture and Imperialism, London, Chatto & Windus.

Skrefsrud (Rev.). (1887), “Hor Koren Mare Hapram Ko Reak Katha,” (Tales of Ancestors), Oslo, Oslo U Ethnographic Museum.

The Tribes of Orissa. (1990), Bhubaneswar, Harijan & Tribal Welfare Department, Govt. of Orissa. 

Valevicius, Andreus. (1988), From the Other to the Totally Other: The Religious 
Philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, New York, Peter Lang.

Williams, Raymond. (1980), Problems of Materialism and Culture: Selected Essays. London.

ISSN: 2249 3433


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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