Birth Rituals of the Ho Tribe

Dr. Basanta Kumar Mohanta

    The Ho is one of the important tribe of eastern India manly found in Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal. They basically resided in foothills and plains. Although they are agriculturist they also depends upon the forest produces. Birth is considered as an important landmark in Ho life cycle. The HOs are very affectionate of their children. Though they very well know that a father plays the main role in procreation of a child, it is also believed that a child is a gift of Singbonga (Sungod)- the supreme deity of the Ho. The maternity is considered an important part as much respected by the HOs. They always promptly try to fulfill the needs of an expectant mother and give proper attention to her(Majumdar 1950:183; Mohanta 2002).

    There are some strict rules and regulations observed by a woman during her pregnancy. The stoppage of menstruation is considered as a first sign of the pregnancy of a childbearing woman. When this first symptom is noticed a sacrifice of a fowl in the name of Churing-Bonga (a mischievous spirit) is made by the family to protect the feotus and the mother from her evil eyes. Though at the early stage of the pregnancy period, a Ho woman does almost all house works to help her family but she is not allowed to go to tank or river to fetch water. Besides, she is always attended, preferably by a female family member, when she comes out from her house after dusk. During this period, she is neither allowed to sit or stand on the Sasandhiri (memorial stone placed on the burial pit or mortal remains) nor she is allowed to go to their clan burial place. She is also not permitted to cook, and offer to any family ancestors in festivals or any special occasions. A pregnant woman usually does not prepare the illi (rice bear). Apart from this, she cannot touch the hunting and fishing implement as well as she cannot eat some specific portion (head) of the fish and animals. To pass under any string/rope and neem/jojo tree is strictly prohibited and she is restricted to use oolee (mango) wood, as firewood.

    These rules and regulations are strictly followed during the 1st pregnancy. They do not follow these restrictions strictly in their successive pregnancy. The HOs do not perform any special type of ceremony in association to this childbearing period. They are very open-minded people and a Ho woman talks every thing about her pregnancy to her husband and parents.

    Now-a-days, the Hos are taking help of a midwife or a trained nurse. During the time of childbirth, a female relative or mother-in-law or even the husband helps the expectant mother. As most of the Hos contains single roomed house, one portion of their hut is temporarily partitioned for a labour room. If they possess a multi-roomed house, a single room is used for this purpose. Though, the HOs generally used Parkom (wooden cot) for laying, the floor of this confinement chamber/room is used as bed for the expectant mother which is covered with a special kind of locally available grass. The rest portion of the floor is used for keeping fire, which is considered as a most useful requisite of the room. The inner wall of the temporary made labour room is decorated with the cowries (conch shell) and different types of fishing and hunting implements, where as the outer wall is covered with the thorny bushes and sotas made of branches of pipal tree. Each of these given items have significance related to child birth. The cowries and Sotas signify the fertility where as the fishing and hunting implements protect both the mother and child from the evil spirits. It is interesting to note that, if a women gets a prolong labour pain; some traditional magical treatments are performed. If they could not get any success, finally they consult with the doctors of their nearby Health centre.

    After the immediate birth of the child, either father or present female member or midwife cuts the umbilical cord with a sharp edged sheath of the maize plant. Now-a-days the steel blade and sharp knife are also used for this purpose. The placenta and cord are kept in a new earthern pot and placed at a corner of that labour room for two days. During this period they carefully watch the health condition of the child. Finally they bury it at their courtyard only after getting a sign of the sound health of the child.

    Though the period of Bisi (pollution) varies among the Hos from place to place, generally it is observed for eight days and during that time the father of the new born child prepares food for himself and the mother of new born child. On the morning of the eight-day, both father and child shave their hair and then the father offers illi to all their ancestral spirits and clan members.



  • Majumdar, D.N. 1950 The Affairs of a Tribe : A study in Tribal Dynamics. Lucknow : Universal Publishers Ltd.
  • Mohanta, Basanta K. 2002 Mortuary Practices of Hos : An Ethnoarchaeological Study. S.R.F report submitted to Anthropological Survey of India.