Bio-Cultural Study Of Variation In Utilization Of Resources In Different Tribal Zones Of Orissa

Dr. S. K. Ghoshmaulik

Dr. Usha Deka

Introduction Resources Other than Cultivable land
Situation of the Tribal Groups New Dimensions of Resources
Tribal Zones and Categories Water Resources and Energy Expenditure
Land Utilization for Production Bio-Cultural Implications


    Man has evolved as the dominant species on earth by being able to exploit natural resources to the highest extent. In fact, Man has been able to convert wealth of Nature into resources for his progress. Different human groups have been found to be innovative at certain stages of their existence and pursue varieties of sustantecular activities. The ways and means lie with their level of intelligence and tecl1nological development and backed by the biological capacity to convert more energy from less amount of food. In fact humans have been found to vary considerably, in consumption pattern, quantity of food and physical labour.

    Larger quantity of food is consumed by people who are engaged in harder physical labour. Standard calorie consumption for an agricultural labourer (male) should be 3900 k cal and that of a lactating mother should be 3550 k cal. But in India this is far from reality. The energy derivation process of various types of human groups at different stages of technological development is expected to ensure adequate supply of energy packed food. Class-wise analysis of quality and quantity of food impresses upon us that people with lower technological development have to render more physical effort to drive home food, which may or may not be of adequate value.

    Technological development at the primary level aims at food procuring means and maximum utilization of natural resources to the tune of highest nutritional benefit. Quantum of energy drawn from local resources remains optimum for a certain period, depending on the numerical strength of the consumers. Technological status of a human group determines area of supporting space. Resource potentiality and supporting space are, nevertheless, a decisive factor in addition to qualitative exploitation capacity of the group. ‘Primitive’ groups are more pinned down to a defined territory and often are subject to environmental casualties, compared to the ‘advanced’ groups who have developed a larger number of "alternatives'. If survival in best possible manner is conceived as the central theme of the living world, an evaluation of the utilization capacities of human groups is extremely needed. Examples of tribal groups have been examined here to assess how technologically underdeveloped people are able to draw benefit from surrounding.

Situation of the Tribal Groups

    Ecological adaptive functions of the tribal groups mainly revolve round their own cultural standard less chequered by external influence, and the exploiting mechanism of natural resources for living, stems from their acquired standard. By such capacity, each tribal group utilizes an area of land to support their members. Under this situation, two kinds of selective pressure are expected to operate: (i) at maximum density area involving production of increased abilities in terms of utilization of resources and (ii) working at less than maximum density level, favouring higher population growth rate and higher productivity.

    Higher population density demands more energy, which need be drawn from surrounding resources. The pattern of human settlements of Orissa, as also elsewhere, reveals that different groups compete to grab best available natural resources for living. Technological excellence of one group help it to draw maximum benefit while less capable co-sharers of the same eco-zone fall behind. Such is the case with most of the tribal people who are constantly been beaten in their own habitat by the developed group of people. This unequal competition has two components: - (i) the tribal populations are constantly lacking in innovative or adaptive technology appropriate to the demanding situation and (ii) the developed group is increasingly encroaching upon the natural resources of tribal habitat.

Tribal Zones and Categories

    The tribal populations of Orissa, which constitute 22.43 per cent of the total population (I981 census), are distributed in all the 13 districts of this State with varying concentration. Concentration is high in districts like: Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Koraput, and Phulbani. Geographically the tribal concentration is high in areas with hills and forest. Tribals are less found in the coastal districts like Balasore, Cuttack, Puri and Ganjam. Mostly rough and rugged terrains are associated with tribal habitation. Of course there, are low land with fertile soil available to them, but in general this is not so.

    Almost all of the 62 enlisted tribal groups are in the food producing economy category. Only 3 major tribes, Bhuiyan, Kondh and Koya are reported to have adopted agriculture by 50% and more and two tribes, Bhumia and Bhottara have adopted agriculture to the tune of more than 40% but less than 50%.

    In the following table, 20 major tribes of Qrissa have been examined, as per their adherence to cultivation in own land (as per 1971 census) and dividing then in 4 zones olth: state. The zonal division cannot be totally discrete as many tribes inhabit in overlapping regions.

l. Zonal distribution of major tribes showing cultivation and labour work (based on l97l census data).


Some Major Tribes

Cultivation percent

Labour work percent















30 40

I6 66























59 18



. Shabar









35 .02








47. 15

8. 21







37 70








3l. 56




30. 72


    The above table gives us an idea how much a tribal community in Orissa, is trying to exploit Nature with plough and hoe. Majority of the land area is irrigated by natural process. A tribal farmer with low-lying land does not cultivate it in very efficient ways. There is little attempt to increase productivity through employment of new agricultural technique and the plots on highlands demand more labour and less return, Modern incentives like good seed, motor-pumps etc. are yet to improve their agricultural technique in an appreciable way.

Land Utilization for Production

The tribal peasants can broadly be divided into three categories on the basis of mode of land utilization. This classification does not corroborate with their numerical adherence to cultivation.

Advanced Farmer:

Mostly engaged in low land cultivation and largely paddy producer, also other millets, e.g. Bhumia, a section of Kondh, Santal, Ho, Kissan etc. major food requirement obtained.

Moderate farmer:

Land utilization technique not very good, sowing and reaping allows wastage, quality of land not uniformly good. Food requirement is not fulfilled. e. g. Gadaba, Bhumij, Bhuiyan, Paroja, a section of Saora and Koya.

Incipient Farmer:

Possess more land of rugged nature, method largely similar like other but care is less, cereals etc. are produced. Production far less than requirement. e. g. A section of Koya, Kondh, Kolha,_ Bathudi, Manda, luang, Bonda. Didayi etc.

    It is important to note that the above classification contains tribes of same identity in more than one category. This is because, of their habitat and exposure to external agencies. Those who inhabit the plains with more natural water, find agriculture as useful way of food production, others who live in the hilly terrain get less return from land and depend more on forest.

    It is fairly imperative that the lesser one group is engaged in cultivation, the more they fall back upon other means subsidiary subsistence. These are usually from two sources: (i) collection of edible food from forest, and (ii) earning money or food through labour. As per utilization of land by cultivation 6 of the 20 enlisted major tribes (table 1), show adherence to cultivation by 30 per cent or even less. It will be useful to examine the nutritional achievement by some of these groups from available data.

2. Distribution of Pirquet’s index as per Cultivation.


Engagement in cultivation.

Sample size


Malnutrition p.c.

Of Type As

Normal p.c.

Per Pirquet’s index

Overfed p.c.


above 50%,less than 60%


65 .00




above 50%,less than 60%


66 .00



Bado Gadaba

above 30% but less than 40%







Slightly over 30%






less than 30%


72 00




less than 40%






less than 30%





    This example gives an idea that neither those groups adopted higher degree of cultivation nor those who pay lesser attention to it, possess enough individuals of normal physique. The ‘Overfed' type is expectedly very low and deprived nutrition is the prevailing type.

    As mentioned earlier diet contains less variety and mostly of floral nature. Floral diet mainly supplies carbohydrate. Fat intake is low. Such low fat intake is substituted by carbohydrate. Calcium supply is not sought through milk. Milk consumption among tribes of Orissa is rare. One can find cattle herds in each village, but they are not used for milk purpose. We do not have data on lactose deficiency to give a biological interpretation. But as they are mostly exposed to sunlight and comparatively dark skinned, synthesis of Vit. D like substance from ergosterol probably provides alternative for supply from food.

    A Nutritional study report on some rural areas of Orissa (1979, Ministry of Food and Supply), reveals that the poorest families consume l388 kcal per head per day, and the slightly better off manages to consume 1872 kcal per day. Even the wealthier section (12.7%) of rural people do not consume prescribed amount of calories per day (they consume 3500 k cal as against prescribed 3900 k cal for a peasant male). If this is the picture of the rural general people who enjoy better land utilization facility, the nutritional condition of the tribes in hilly forest region can be imagined.

Resources Other than Cultivable land

    As mentioned above, the tribal populations subsidise their nutritional and other basic needs from forest and labour. Forest is variously utilized and has become an inseparable part of their life in many eco-zones. From building materials of house, to supply of fuel and other consumable or marketable products forest flora is the veritable treasure house of the tribal people. Supply of animal protein comes mainly from hunting or snaring of small game animals and birds.

    But now access to forest has been denied in many areas, and where the forest is not protected, a large depletion takes place every year. Hunting has become almost a ceremonial ritual work. Consumption of animal protein is now restricted to utilization of domestic stock of pig, goat or fowls. But these are rather sold to outsiders to earn cash money than to consume for their own purpose. Report about protein intake per day per head from a study report by Council for Social Development (1972) reveals that average protein consumption by the tribals of Orissa range from 40.89 gms. to 57.26 gms. The higher values are reported to be found among the wealthier group and very low in frequency. This higher consumption of protein is found among the tribals of industrial area, who earn cash by labour work and can afford to purchase meat.

    Various development projects by the Government are regularly increasing. Though about 33% of the land area in Orissa is believed to be under forest coverage, in reality this seems to be deceptive. Our forest areas have been found to be rich in minerals and this has caused establishment of industries. Also several minor and middle type hydroelectric projects have come up during last two decades, Many ‘image; dominated by the tribals have been shifted. Such projects have grown mostly in the south, southwest and western part of the state.

    Due to rehabilitation of the erstwhile East Pakistan refugees in Dandakaranya, the Koyas and many other under privileged groups have‘ been affected. The better land has gone to the refugees, The Koyas who are reported to be agriculturist in large majority (55.27%) and labour work remarkably low (2.33%), are in frustrating condition which is evident from a decrease in stature and some linear measurements in the filial generation (reported by the same authors in 1981, Indian Science Congress).

New Dimensions of Resources

    It has been observed that various incentives are offered by the Government through Integrated Rural Development Projects and Tribal Development Projects. Loans for purchase of agricultural equipments and other subsidies are given through government and nationalized banks. But till now the tribals are comparatively skeptic about accepting these opportunities. The reasons are of various types, one of these reasons is comparative awareness and manipulative technique by other caste people. In competitive manipulation of various non-parametric resources, the tribes of different zones show variable response.

    Infiltration by the advanced group into the habitat of the tribal people in the wake of new industrial establishments have increased avenues of earning cash money by the tribal people. Replacement of dwindling production economy by cash has also increased their exposure to wider world of resources for improvement of life style. We do not have adequate quantitative data to establish magnitude of this new dimension of resource utilization.

Water Resources and Energy Expenditure

    The tribal dominated areas of Orissa get a good amount of rainfall, especially the Eastern Ghat range, yet some parts of western Orissa and Southern Orissa is experiencing drought for last few years. Irrigation facilities are not extended to the lands possessed by the tribal peasants. Natural water accumulated in the low lands or perennial springs are main sources of water both for consumption and cultivation. No effort by the tribal villagers can be noticed to ensure potable water. Traditional source is the hill brooks, which occasionally dry up, leaving few water holes. So a tribal villager has to walk a longer distance to fetch water. Now, a-days, various villages have been supplied with wells and tube wells, but we have not seen many wells in proper usable condition. The village-women still are engaged in long march for water from their traditional sources abandoning the wells without assigning satisfactory reasons, yet they collect meagre amount of consumable water. WHO specification is at least 70 litres of water is necessary for a man per day. Britanica year Book 1986, estimates that in India only 41% gets potable water for consumption, hence the situation in tribal Orissa can well be conceived. An all-India estimate indicates that an individual has to walk a distance of 1/2 km to get water, but our tribal villagers have to walk far more in hilly terrain to fetch water. This expenditure of energy is not compatible with the extent of result achieved.

    The work of watering kitchen garden or cultivable lands adjacent to their houses is more rigorous compared to the products. Cultivation in the highlands demand more energy. Highland cultivation or shifting cultivation is still prevalent more towards southern and in north-central parts.

    As forest is gradually dwindling, a tribal villager has to walk longer distance for collection of fire wood and has to walk an average distance of 6 km to 7 km with a load of 25 kg of fire wood to earn about Rs.5/-. This is quite unprofitable investment of energy.

Bio-Cultural Implications

    With this dismal picture of transaction with nature, we can examine the net outcome in terms of survivality. It is often emphasized that resource-utilizing ability depends largely on the cultural capabilities of any human group. When viability of any population has to be measured, it is useful to utilize the concept of "fitness". Values for fitness as reflected by coefficient of selection, are here examined for 8 tribal samples. The values have been calculated from fertility data from women with completed fertile career,

3. Selection coefficient values for some major tribes of Orissa

Tribal Groups

Sample Size



P.C. in Cultivation

Other Means

Coefficient of Selection (s)



























. 9.25




Bado Gsdaba


















*Sample drawn from mothers above 45 years age
. **Based on 1971 census data

    From an analysis of the above table it appears that the lowest value of selection coefficient is shown by the Kissan, and the highest value achieved by the Bhuiyan. The Bhumij, Santal and Kharia tribal groups of northern part of the State have achieved education to a fairly moderate standard and subsidise their deficit of production economy by other means. The tribes of southern Orissa like Gadaba and Koya have fairly lower rate of tapping other resources. Only the Bhattara group of south zone inspite of low education exhibit quite lower value of selection coefficient, probably for their better deal with land. The Koya have remarkable traditional attachment thus showing lower survivality value. The case of Bhuiyan requires special attention, because inspite of quite higher degree in’ education, higher engagement in cultivation and fair amount of exploiting other sources of maintenance, score a higher coefficient of selection.

    Coefficient of Selection values help us in assessing the resultant effects of the underlying forces operating upon these groups survivality is the ultimate objective of each population. An efficient social system provides safeguards either through technological innovations or adaptation.

    In another attempt to examine resultant effect of adaptive capacity to exploit new resources under changing situation our earlier observations on Koya, Kondh and Santal can be mentioned. The observations were on the growth process and the final achievement of certain somatic dimensions by the offsprings. Besides these tribes, some other caste groups were also studied, which are out of context here. Out of 10 measurements taken, Koya group showed decrease in 4 linear and 3 girth measurements in the adult offsprings compared to their parents. The Kondh offspring has marginally increased. The data on growth pattern of children cannot be verified in absence of earlier studies, yet it does not reveal any appreciable difference with other tribal children of Orissa. The Santal does not show any deviation , indicate their greater ability of managing with the situation.

    Without seeking further examples, it can be expressed that as different zones of Orissa, have different concentration of tribal population and have undergone different degree of industrialization, the tribals also show varying degree of response to modern resources. Traditional methods are largely non-exploring and now restricted by modern policies. Existing resources are gradually depleted without being substituted by any acceptable or proper alternative. At least two vital resources need immediate attention: (i) provision for water at short distance and (ii) increase of land product.


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[Note: This paper was published in Man and Life: A Journal of the Institute of Social Research and Applied Anthropology vol. 15, nos. 1 and 2 Jan-June 1989, pp.51-60. Man and Life is now a defunct journal. Professor P.K.Bhowmik, Professor of Anthropology, Calcutta University, was the Editor of the Journal and Director of the Institute that was publishing the Journal. After his death the publication of this Journal has been discontinued. -Editor. ]