The Tribal Art and Literature Festival (TALF) - 2015

Anil Pradhan

Introduction Proceedings of the Second Day
Proceedings of the First Day Conclusion


Sikshasandhan has been organising a tribal literature festival for the last three years. Hundreds of people from various tribal communities have been taking part in this festival. In view of the success of the programme, it has been decided that the programme will be organised every year to give a platform to artists and writers of tribal communities to share their work and concerns.

Last year, in 2014, the festival was organised on the eve of the International Mother Tongue day on 21st February, showcasing the richness and diversity of the culture of Orissan tribal communities, especially their oral and literary traditions. On this occasion, tribal artists, both young and old, read from their work, staged plays in tribal languages, and played tribal musical instruments. Around a hundred members from various tribal communities from different districts of the state participated in this programme. The festival was inaugurated by Padma Bibhusan, Gyanpeeth awardee Dr. Sitakanta Mohapatra. Amongst other prominent figures who participated in the programme included Dr. Sangram Jena, Professor Khageswar Mohapatra, Professor Ajit Kumar Mohanty, Dr. Manmatha Kundu, and Mrs. Damayanti Besra.

Proceedings of the First Day

The Tribal Art and Literature Festival (TALF) - 2015 was organised by Sikshasandhan on 21st and 22nd of February, 2015, at Adhikar Training Centre, Kalinga Vihar, Bhubaneswar. The session on the first day started with welcoming the guests with bouquets, followed by a solo song.

First day: First session

Welcome address by Mr. Anil Pradhan

Mr. Pradhan while welcoming the guests and participants said that Sikshasandhan is celebrating the international mother tongue day by organising the tribal literature festival. He expressed hope that the participants will share their literature and experiences with each other and learn from the same.

Dr. Sangram Jena

Dr. Jena told that the objective of the festival is to collect the oral and written literature and culture of Adivasi people that remains relatively unknown to people from other communities, and to study the heritage of tribal art and literature. He assured that the festival won’t merely showcase and essentialise the tribal people as done by most foreigners; the aim being to learn from them. This is because the more ancient a culture grows, the greater it becomes. He made a point that if we think that traditional western education or colonial education help more in developing our religion, culture or literature, then it is not true at all. Each society has its own language, ways of speaking, culture and traditions which can be educative for other cultures as well. He continued by saying that every culture, place, literature or languages has its own identity. Therefore, everybody must think hard how to preserve this diversity.

He gave an example of a forest where if a sandalwood tree has its own importance, then a stinging nettle plant has value as well; we should not judge any culture adversely, and respect diversity. We should know and learn about this diversity. The next point which he was eager to make was that in the 18th century BC, world’s first anthology of Adivasi poems was created by the then Royalty, which was named The Book of Songs. He said that in this collection there were poems which demonstrate how a common man can ask more intelligent questions then an educated man. He said, he was giving this example not because of the poem itself, but to show how a simple mind of a little girl can ask valuable questions. In this anthology, a girl, he said, asked a question to her mother that if the sun gives light, streams provide water, trees bring forth fruits, and other animals give us food, then what is the use of the king? What useful function does he have? He pointed out that probably this question raised by the girl in a poem in the anthology was the first voice against feudalism which was made without any so-called protest, without raising any flags. He lastly argued that every culture and society has such a literature which is always universal and modern. Therefore, one should try to know one’s tradition, culture, society and literature, and should try to engage with these.

What the government does for preserving or developing these should not be one’s concern. If once people start taking the initiative to develop their language and culture, the government will be forced to take further steps. Therefore, he suggested that people should come together and try to develop these by organising such festivals where tribal people can get a chance to share their problems, thoughts and culture, and others can listen to them. He concluded his speech by saying that they have many experienced Adivasi researchers and linguists present in the meeting, and invited Professor Devi Prasanna Patnaik to share his views.

Talk by Professor Devi Prasanna Patnaik

Professor Devi Prasanna Patnaik started his speech by stating the reasons for the institution of the World Mother Tongue Day. He said that in our world, in many places, mother tongues are being looked down upon. This was because the countries which use only one language think that it becomes difficult for them to operate if there are such a diverse set of languages. So, according to them, the mother tongue should be done away with. This has started happening in many places throughout the world.

He gave an example of the division of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh which occurred because the government of Pakistan declared that there will be only one language in Pakistan i.e. Urdu, and other languages like Punjabi, Sindhi and Bengali won’t be allowed as official languages. This led to the division of Pakistan, the secession of East Pakistan, and the creation of Bangladesh. This example was given to demonstrate the importance of the mother tongue. He pointed out that we must make a promise to preserve our mother tongues. He said that it is necessary to keep our mother tongues alive because when a child is born, she looks at the world and understands it through her mother tongue. She establishes relationships with the world through her own mother tongue, be it Canadian, Odia or Bengali; she names the things around it and tries to recognise the world through her mother tongue.

Speech by Professor Khageswar Mahapatra

The chairperson then requested Prof. Mahapatra to speak a few words. Prof. Mahapatra saluted the audience and expressed his happiness at the gathering that has again taken place after one year and delivered his speech which the chairperson summarised. The chairperson pointed out that according to Prof. Mahapatra, this festival should not be celebrated in a ritualistic manner. It should be celebrated with certain goals in mind, and the main aim should be to develop tribal languages.

Speech by Mr. Surai Hembram

Next Mr. Hembram delivered a speech. He pointed out that a very important point has been raised in this meeting i.e. to develop the tribal mother tongues. He said he belonged to the Santal community of Mayurbhanj district, and would like to discuss how to develop one’s own language. He started with what happens when one doesn’t learn one’s own mother tongue. To bring his point home, he gave the example of the Santali people who are settled in Bhubaneswar and other areas, doing various kinds of jobs. These parents, he pointed out, do not facilitate their children’s learning their mother tongue; rather, they insist that their children learn English. As people in the villages talk in Santali language, the children of these Santali parents fail to communicate with these villagers who are their own kith and kin when they visit their villages, as they are acquainted only with English. These children suffer as they don’t even know Odia properly. Thus, they cannot communicate and mingle with their own people, feel upset, and return to Bhubaneswar. These children have acquired an English education, they have high aspirations and dreams for the future, but have become disconnected from their kith and kin. Next he argued that when a child understands his/her mother tongue better, learning other languages becomes easier. Different people living in Odisha have their own mother tongues that do not have any links to English, Odia or Hindi. There are many mother tongues in Odisha; even they too don’t match with each other perfectly. But still, he said, after knowing one’s own mother tongue, one can understand many things about the world effortlessly and the can express the same in other languages.

The chairperson summarised the speech made by Mr. Hembram. He said how Mr. Hembram shared his experiences regarding the importance of learning the mother tongue, and how children are growing alienated because of their lack of familiarity and competence with their mother tongues. Towards the end, he pointed out that our first priority should be to create our own identity using our own mother tongue. Next he suggested that the marriage songs and other traditional songs should be translated. He requested Sikshasandhan to help them in creating an anthology of these songs. He also proposed translating these poems, first to Odia and then to English. He also requested Anil Babu to provide help to produce this anthology. Next he invited Mr. Mahendra Kumar Mishra, another esteemed guest who has done research on Adivasi literature and culture and has discussed it in a theoretical perspective, to deliver his speech.

Speech by Dr. Mahendra Kumar Mishra

Mr. Mahendra Kumar Mishra greeted the audience and then raised a question as to why the mother tongues are dying? He said his talk will focus on this fact. He started with the example of Anna Hazare who is in Haryana, fighting for the interest of peasants, to safeguard their land from the clutches of the capitalists. He said that Mr. Hazare is staging a protest at Ramleela Maidan on 23rd of February 2015 to protect the peasants.

Wherever there is agricultural land, there are peasants, and wherever there are forests there live the adivasis. Minerals are found in forested areas. These lands are eyed by the capitalists. It is the local people who protest and fight for their land. He says that local people are distinguished by four things i.e. land, race, language and religion. People are very much associated with these four things. Even the name of the land is based on the name of the tribes inhabiting the land, like Saura mandal, Santal pariana, Kulan desh, Kandha desh, Bhuyan desh, Munda desh etc. He continued that after our nation got independence, adivasi’s imagination of their ‘country/des’ in terms of land was shattered. Then the Santals were divided in five states, Munda people were divided in four states and the land of the Bhuiyan people was split across Andhra, Chhattisgarh and Odisha. After independence, when the reorganisation of the states took place, the very identity of adivasi people was lost.

The constitution of India passed in 1950 defines who qualifies as an adivasi, and guarantees the Scheduled Tribes certain protections, privileges and rights. The adivasis or the Scheduled Tribes of India have distinct languages and cultures and religious traditions. What is written in the constitution, exactly the opposite has been practiced by the various governments in the last 60 odd years after independence regarding the adivasis.

If someone has to grab land, then one has to destroy the land’s identity first, and after that the cultural identity of the people inhabiting the land has to be destroyed. So now, he continued, Sunari Hembram becomes Alok or Basant or Malay; Bubbari becomes Priyanka etc. Thus, he continues, after identity of the land is destroyed, cultural identity of the people is destroyed by giving them new names. He pointed out that the modern educational system helps in changing at first the names of the people and then their dressing style. The people are brainwashed that if they want to become like the capitalists, they have to dress like them and for that they need to earn money. So if they give them (the capitalists) their land, they will provide them with money.

Then Mr. Mishra described the importance of keeping one’s language alive. He said that Surai Babu dedicated his life to protect his language. Even he himself, for twenty years of his career, has worked a lot to obtain recognition to ten of the tribal languages in the state of Odisha. He said that the fifty thousand students from these languages studying under the Odisha State Educational Boards is a great achievement for the state’s government. In no other Afro-Asian country, these many number of languages have been recognised in the school education system, be it China, Kenya, Japan or Thailand. Everywhere adivasi languages have been neglected.

He pointed out that the rulers are afraid of languages because these carry knowledge. This knowledge comes from the forest, from nature. He asserted that just as human life is associated with nature, water, air, and earth, similarly language is an integral part of human life. Language is invisible just like air. We ourselves do not understand how language gives us life, just as air gives us life. We see the world through language. A child views the world through his or her language; the same is the case for a woman and an elderly person as well. Language helps to associate oneself with nature. If language dies, then nature will also die. He at last suggested that if one wants to preserve adivasi knowledge or the knowledge of nature, one has to preserve the language at first and preserve the land as well, which means that no land should be grabbed for the minerals found underneath it.

The chairperson summarised Mr. Mishra’s speech. According to him, the main thing pointed out by Mr. Mishra is that how because of modernity people are getting dissociated from their land, culture and traditions. He gave his own impression of the process by implying that a capitalist government is responsible for this. He gave an example by saying that Gopinath Mohanty wrote two famous novels: Paraja and Amrutara Santana. He pointed out that after six to seven years of publishing Amrutara Santana, Gopinath Mohanty wanted to write a sequel to capture the transition to recent times. He recollected his meeting with Gopinath Mohanty when he had questioned the writer that after committing the murder, why the protagonist who is a tribal, goes to the police station? He argued that the concept of the police station, the law, or the government is alien to the culture of tribal people. Law as an institution is the result of colonial rule. So he pointed out that the protagonists coming to the police station to surrender according to the law is not done by them according to his own natural instinct; this act is an induced act. He said that Gopinath Mohanty in his proposed sequel would have tried to show how the innocence of the tribal people had been lost. How trams, busses and trains have replaced the bullock carts. The writer would have shown how tribal civilisation and culture continues to change gradually and how Adivasi people are getting displaced from their land and alienated from their society, tradition, culture and literature. The Chair then thanked Mr. Mishra and requested Mr. Birabhadra Singh who has fought his entire life for the cause of adivasis, to deliver a speech.

Speech by Mr. Birabhadra Singh

Mr. Birabhadra Singh at first greeted the various tribal groups present in the audience and then extended his greetings to the researchers, anthropologists, writers and social activists present in the gathering who are concerned about the cause of the tribal people. He said that he salutes them for being the well-wishers of their communities and for their concern, irrespective of their being Christians missionaries or belonging to any other organisations. He said that he came to the function when he heard that an internationally famous organisation has invited Adivasi people from across the state of Odisha to discuss about their language, culture and art. He continued that he was a college student doing an MA in Political Science when he became the Adivasi minister in 1977. In 1969 when he was enrolled in a B. Ed. Programme in Raghunath Training College to become a teacher, he was asked about his ambition by Prof. Satrughna Nath and Prof. Gourisankar Mohanty. He was the last speaker and had replied that he wanted to join politics. Everyone was surprised to know that he had joined a B. Ed College to become a teacher, but harboured the ambition to become a politician. He also shared what he wrote as an answer to a question in an exam for one of the papers for his B. Ed. Programme. He said the question in the B. Ed examination was, “Suppose, you will be the inspector of schools, what will be your duty and responsibility?” The answer which he wrote consisted some portion of bookish knowledge but he also wrote in his answer that being the inspector he would make it compulsory for the primary teachers (from LP to ME schools) of the schools to learn the local language of the place.

Next he said that he won’t deliver a speech here because in the forty years of his political career, he had given enough speeches in English, Munda, Santali, Bengali and Hindi. So today he will just present his remarks. He then continued that when he was the Adivasi minister he traveled a lot for the development of the Adivasi people. He wrote letters to the previous Adivasi ministers to provide him the list of failed schemes which they had undertaken for the development of the Adivasi people when they were ministers. He had even begged the Adivasi ministers who came after him to help him for just one purpose i.e. to bring tribal languages to the mainstream of society.

Thus, he advised that the Adivasi people must have the courage to fight for their cause. Next he informed that Mundari was divided into North Mundari and South Mundari. He explained that just as Sanskrit is the origin of languages like Bengali, Odia, Hindi, and Assamese, such was the original Mundari which is divided into North and South Mundari. The North Mundari language group includes languages such as Santal, Bhumija/Mundari, Ho, Kharia, Bigut, Udam. Lastly, he confirmed that he is not saying that they should not read other language like Hindi and Bengali. But, whatever one does, one should not forget one’s own language and culture. He believes that if one can decorate one’s own unadorned languages with literary jewels, it can reach the apex. So he requested the writers present in the gathering, the youth and the professionals to punish their children if they forget their mother tongue. He gave an example of the Golden Temple of Amritsar where people who have committed sins clean shoes of visitors and devotees to absolve the sin, no matter the stature to which they belong. Similarly, he said, Adivasi parents must see to it that though their children studied BA or MA or become doctors, they must be proud to claim that they are Munda or Kui or Santali.

The Chairperson summarised Mr. Singh’s speech and said that one may learn English or Bengali, but, first, one should speak in his/her own language, express his/her thoughts, write books etc. by which ones mother tongue will develop.

Speech by Mr. Aurobindo Behera

Next Mr. Aurobindo Behera, retired civil servant and writer expressed his happiness at the celebration of this festival for the second consecutive year and for meeting the people gathered for it from various parts of Odisha. He started his speech by saying that they have with them Prof. Mahapatra, who knows a lot about Adivasi languages and literatures. He had also worked in various government organisations for this purpose, and is far better qualified compared to him to speak in this area. He even noted that he doesn’t have a researcher’s knowledge on the subject and thus would speak just as a common man.

He continued by saying that it is known to everyone that in our natural environment we have biodiversity i.e. various kinds of plants, animals and flowers - starting from tiny earthworms to big animals. Each organism is essential and the bare existence of human society depends on the existence of this biodiversity. If biodiversity becomes extinct, human society also will become extinct. So human beings struggle to preserve the biodiversity for its own future and existence. He said that it is very important to preserve one’s language for preserving the biodiversity and for the survival and future of one’s culture. If a culture lacks diversity, then it will grow very poor and will lose its essence. The culture, of which we become proud of, is such, only because of diversity.

We have many languages in our culture, and each language has its own folklore. Every folklore and tale is different from the other. Each Adivasi tribe has its own stories, songs and poetry. All these together give beauty to our society, culture and civilisation. When this diversity becomes extinct and people start talking in only one language, say English or Odia or Hindi, then civilisation will look very naive, bare, dumb and dull. Thus, he concluded that the culture, language, folklore, songs etc. of our Adivasi brothers are important for us and we must preserve these. We definitely want the economic development of the Adivasi people; but we also want to keep their cultural traditions alive. He continued that recently he wrote a letter to the Government of Odisha stating that it should not build only one type of home for them. For example, he said that in Mayurbhanj district, Adivasi people have beautiful houses; Santals have a beautiful tradition of construction of homes. In Nuapada too we have beautiful houses of the Adivasi people; even in Phulbani we have marvelous houses with large verandas, even bigger than the rooms inside. He pointed that we should try to develop these houses. How these houses can be maintained easily, how more natural light can get into the rooms or how they can easily be mended without much expenditure, these are the issues we should grapple with. He said that if we build the same type of houses for everybody, be it a terraced house or a tiled house or a tin house, then it becomes very pitiable as the diversity of beautiful houses built by the Adivasi people will be lost.

After Mr. Behera’s speech, the chairperson posited that we should educate the people in their own natural surroundings where they are close to their jungle, their tigers, and their parents. We should not uproot people from their natural surroundings. In addition to the existing educational system, we should try to build model schools near the homes of children. The educational system must be strengthened so that a child can grow in her natural surroundings, learn her own language and learn to love her language and culture. If we remove the child from her native place, she’ll start feeling foreign and the connection between the child and her culture will dry up. The last thing which he shared with the audience was that in the next programme the participants would be invited to talk about their art and culture; participants were invited to sing songs and to play their musical instruments. He at last requested Mr. Anil Pradhan, the secretary of Sikshasandhan to proceed with the meeting.

Mr. Anil Pradhan informed the gathering that only fifteen minutes of the first session of the first day were left. So now the audience would be given time to present their songs or play their musical instruments. But before that he would like to say something about Sikshasandhan. As Birabhadra Babu made a point that they don’t yet know about the organisation which is organising this festival. He said that Sikshasandhan is a twenty years’ old organisation working for the betterment of the educational system in Odisha. Basically it is working for Adivasi education. Prof. Mahapatra was the chairperson for some years. After him Chittaranjan Dash became the chairperson. Now Prof. Jatindra Kumar Nayak is the chairperson. The organisation has conducted many experiments and research studies on tribal education over the past twenty years.

When Sikshasandhan had just begun, the organisation conducted a writers’ workshop at Koraput by gathering many Adivasi writers. The writers shared their stories and poems and held discussions about their society which Sikshasandhan published afterwards in the form of a book. Then it conducted another workshop at Konark for teachers working in Adivasi areas. In this workshop, discussions took place about how education can be imparted in Adivasi areas irrespective of all the hindrances. The proceedings of this meeting were published. Then the members of Sikshasandhan thought that they should hear from the children themselves about the problems they face regarding their education. So they organised another workshop, again at Konark, with high school students as participants. Their problems and necessary actions to solve these were discussed.

Now in Mayurbhanj the organisation works in government schools where matriculates from Adivasi communities have been trained as language teachers and they are now in charge of a school each. These language teachers talk to the parents of their students in their own language and teach in the schools. With this intervention, approximately 80 to 90 % students started attending school. Before this, just 40 to 45% of the students came to school on a daily basis. But now attendance has increased to approximately 90%. He said that he had faith that they can bring this up to 100%.

Next he said that they have Dr. Aurobindo Behera with them who is also a member of Sikshasandhan. He extended his gratitude towards him for attending this function and for delivering a speech. He said that Surai Hembram has been with them even before they started working in the Sarat area in Mayurbhanj.

He informed the audience that Sikshasandhan publishes a multilingual journal on education for students in Santali and Ho. He requested the audience to extend their help so that other tribal languages can be included in this journal. He said, till date, this journal is being published in three languages: Santali, Ho, and Odia. But with the help of the audience they can publish this in other languages as well. Already seven issues of this journal have been published. The journal carries beautiful pictures with the help of a local artist. Earlier they have published in Ho language where an artist named Thakur Munda of the Ho community drew the pictures. So he requested the audience again to get involved in this process so that the quality of the journal improves. Lastly, he extended his gratitude to Mr. Birabhadra Singh for attending this function. He said that they are sorry for not having extended a formal invitation to him for the festival; but they were grateful for his participation in the proceedings. Since the organisation wants to include everybody in the proceedings, they are highly grateful to him for attending the function on his own. He requested Mr. Singh to stay back and participate in the function. He ended his speech and requested those ready with their performances to proceed to the stage; lunch and the second session were to follow these performances.

A performer introduced his musical instruments and then sang to the tune of the instruments. He showed his flute which he said is used in every festival, especially in Hera festival when pithas are made in the eve of the festival which are then offered to the gods, and then they consume these pithas with much respect. He then played his flute. Before taking his leave he said that he will perform for a longer duration of time again on the next day.

Another performer sang a solo song which was followed by a group performance where two persons beat the drum and another person sang. Three other people also played on drums of various kinds. After the performance was completed, the person singing the song introduced each member of the group. He said that they belong to the Munda tribe. He even introduced the persons beating the drum. Then he described the meaning of the song sung by them. It meant, ‘come, come o’ brothers and sisters of Munda. Come let’s educate ourselves. Time will answer what education will give us. It will take care of us like a mother and a sister. It will advise us like our father and will give us pleasure just like a wife. So o’ brothers and sisters, come soon, let’s study.’

First day: Second session

The next session started with Dr. Mahendra Kumar Mishra quickly recapitulating the morning session. He said, “We have to focus on two things. First, what our traditional culture was, and, second what it is now. We’d also discuss the reasons for preserving our art and literature and the modalities of doing so. Second, we should try to find out what are the things which are creating problems in the path of art and culture. How we can protect ourselves from this problem and also protect and develop our art and culture is the question. He said that one needs to keep in mind the discussion on this issue in the first session of the meeting and then proceed.

For example, if in a village we are trying to protect and develop craft, music, games, poems, stories, and songs, then these will help us to sustain our relationship with nature. So our main aim should be to take the necessary steps to keep our cultural identity and confidence alive. If this remains our aim, our gaining of modern education will not be a problem. The struggle to keep our culture alive is not to be attempted only in cities such as Baripada (the headquarters of Mayurbhanj district) or Bhubaneswar, but it is the responsibility of each and every village. This is because adivasi culture is essentially a rural culture.

In the last one and half centuries, Adivasi culture has not been included in any school syllabus. Tribals comprise almost 10% of India’s population. If the art and culture of 12-13 core people is not included in school syllabi, then how can it be preserved? One should think about this issue deeply. We should also discuss the reasons behind our struggles to keep our culture alive. So now we will discuss the problems faced by Adivasi people, how and why villages have kept their culture alive for thousands of years, and how we can work to protect our culture and traditions after gaining education and becoming literate. Earlier village people had unity; they protected nature, shared their feelings with each other, and had shared festivities where they danced together. Now why these are being lost? We must discuss this. What should be done to bring back the lost unity? Every festival, every dance, every music has a meaning which we have forgotten now. We should try to understand the meaning and the purpose of every dance, songs and art. After saying this, he invited interested members of the audience to come to the dais and share within five to seven minutes their thoughts as to how to preserve Adivasi art and literature.

A person came and showed his interest in reading poetry. The chairperson requested him to share his ideas within 7-10 minutes on what his culture was, how it is lost and how it is affecting his society. Since so many people from across the state of Odisha have gathered here, one must understand the importance of the moment and discuss only important matters. The person understood this and started his speech by saying that this type of meeting gave him a chance to say things that were on their minds, and to be able to do so in a collaborative fashion. This kind of meeting has helped them to strengthen their fondness for their language and have given them a platform to discuss how to develop their languages further. He said that to strengthen their languages they need literature. But their literature is not in their hand now. It has gone a long way away from their hands. So at first it is required to rescue their literature, be it poems or stories. They should try to reflect the values present in their traditional lifestyles. Only then their language and community can be kept alive. So he wanted all the participants at the festival to promise that they all will give their heart and mind for their community, for the things they use, for their traditional lifestyle, and for their language, and would try to strengthen these through literature, by joining their hands together.

He expressed a hope that all of them will work together and publish books. He said that he has kept some writings for the development of their literature. He also suggested that if they talk to the elderly people and listen to them they can know the ancient things. Only by learning those ancient things from them they can understand what real truth is. If they sit with those people who know about their ancient culture and traditions, or if they sit with their elderly people they can definitely get to know their real culture. He continued that they cannot get their elderly people to these meetings, but when they sit with them for feasts in community rituals such as marriages, only then they open themselves up. It is during those special times when they should imprint the elders’ words in their hearts. He said that this is the only way they can rescue ancient traditions and create new things based on these.

Talk by Mr. Turam Singh Deogham

Mr. Turam Singh Deogham., belonging to the Ho community from Mayurbhanj, expressed his desire to say something about the marriage ceremonies of Ho community. He read from a written speech. It said that ‘with the development of human civilisation, social lifestyle, traditions and culture are linked with each other. Marriage is a social institution. Marriage ceremonies are different in each culture. In the Adivasi Ho community too there are various types of marriage such as love marriage, consent marriage, forced marriage, widow or divorcee marriage etc. In Ho community all these kinds of marriages prevail. I will describe one form of marriage which is called Sibsung marriage, which in Odia is called Prajapati marriage (marriage through consent). This is held with the consent of both the boy’s and the girl’s families. First, a proposal is sent from the boy’s family to the girl’s family through a representative. An adult boy is called Safer, and an adult girl is called Atant. For successful completion of the consensual Ho marriage, representatives of the girl’s family and representatives of the boy’s family meet together. Through these representatives various rituals are undertaken to fix a marriage date. These representatives check the Sangia of both the boy’s and the girl’s families. Same Sangia marriage is a taboo in Ho community. It is considered an offense and is socially punishable. After the matching of Sangia, the other proceedings are held like seeing the girl, seeing each other’s homes, fixing an appropriate time, fixing the dowry, worshipping of the road deity, bringing the girl etc. Only after completing all these rituals, the consensual marriage gets completed.’ After reading the speech out he said that he would like to say this much about the Ho community, and that he hasn’t described the other four types of marriage. He also said that if the elders will point out the faults in his writing, he will definitely consider those and incorporate the relevant changes.

Talk by Mr. Rohidas Singh

Mr. Rohidas Singh from Mayurbhanj said that he belonged to the Munda community. He expressed his interest to shed light on what should be done by the village people for the development of their language, literature, art and culture. He said that previously the traditions which they had in their village, the art and culture, ancient traditions, literature, the basis of all these was their language. In today’s society the people who are educated are unable to understand the value of their mother tongue, tradition and culture. They take their culture for granted, neglecting it and get attracted towards foreign culture, which the eyes find attractive. Thus, they are disrespecting their own identity, the value of their dressing styles, and the valuable aspects of our culture. They have disrespected the art, culture, literature, culture and traditions which are known to the elderly persons of their villages. But now if they respectfully listen to the memories and knowledge of elderly people of their village, the youth can learn a lot of things from them. They should then try to impart this knowledge of their culture to their children. Only by doing this, they can preserve their traditions, literature and culture.

He continued that in the olden days in Munda villages they had Dhangapera and Nangapera for the development of their mother tongue. They didn’t have any schools or collages. Their educational system was based on imparting knowledge on economics, culture and tradition. They learnt this through the religious festivals related to their culture and traditions. During their religious festivals they invite their kith and kin for feasts in which they used to sit together for dining. The food was distributed to all and then all would eat together. If it is a marriage ceremony, then when the bridegroom’s family would come to the bride’s house, the parents would make the groom and the bride sit together. The priest would also remain present. The chief of the Munda tribe then would ask some questions, and if he doesn’t get appropriate answers, then all the people would leave their plates of food untouched.

Talk by Shreedhar Singh, Mayurbhanj

Mr. Singh started his speech with warm greetings for the audience and said that he is here as the representative of the Munda tribe. He said that the Munda people are getting educated now, and, thus, the tribe is experiencing some kind of development. The literacy rate has been increasing. Thus, they are now into the national mass education system. But, he said, there are many fundamental rituals which are growing obsolete. He gave an example that earlier when the relatives would visit their houses they would wash their feet clean as a token of welcome. The hosts would make the guests sit on a wooden stool, and would wash their feet with oil and water. This ritual is not performed by many now these days. He said that traditional practices such as these should continue to be performed if we want to maintain the integrity of our culture.

He narrated another ritual which helped in the financial development of the Mundas involving the ceremony of ear piercing. After a baby is born, in the first or third or fifth year of the child, the ceremony of ear piercing of the child which is called Tukur Nukur used to be held. In this ceremony, all the village women would gather and donate Rs. 30 or Rs. 50 according to their wish. This money would be collected in a kundi or box. This money would then be spent on the feast of the ear piercing. A little oil is supposed to be poured over the head of the baby and over her mother’s head. A large amount of paddy and the remaining money would be kept as savings in the hope of providing education and the other future needs of the child. He said that this ceremony is now growing obsolete.

He requested the Munda people to become aware of these things and to join hands in preserving this ritual. This will help in their financial growth as well. He then gave instances that how even the Mundas are coming under Brahminical influences. He said after a death, they have started to perform rituals with the help of Brahmins and Bariks. Even in marriages and other ceremonies they have started needing them for their rituals. These, he informs are the Brahminical rituals which have entered their culture, though he said he was not sure when and how. He said that when in 1510 Sri Chaitanya came to propagate Vaishnav religion from Purulia, the mridanga or drum came into existence. So, many elements of Aryan cultures have penetrated into tribal culture and have been accepted.

Talk by Mr. Krushna Sabara

Mr. Krushna Sabara from Gunupur in Rayagada greeted each one in Saura language. He said he would say something about Saura language. In 1994 when he met the then Commissioner Aurobindo Behera, he had asked him to tell a story on how love starts among Adivasi people. He thus narrated how people of Saura community love and how this love then materialises into marriage. When they celebrate Maria festival or Kondula festival, during that time, the young boys and girls dance during the night He then sang a song which he said he wrote and gave to the commissioner. He explained that the song was about how the girl changes her mind listening to the tunes of the flute.

Mr. Birabhadra Majhi asked a question to Mr. Sabara that how he’ll explain the Adivasi people’s relationship with liquor and handia. Is it cultural or behavioral, or just a luxury? The person replied that it is a luxury. So again Mr. Birabhadra Majhi pointed out that in Bengali there is a saying that translates ‘what is not eaten by a goat? What is not said by a mad person? And what is not done by a drunk?’ So after a man gets drunk, we can’t teach him anything. He will forget everything, even his brothers and sisters. He also gave his comment on the topic of love. He quoted a poet, ‘love is not born in any house, and it’s not sold like merchandise in any market place. Be it the king or his subjects, once in love, they never mind anything else. Even the kings and queens have left their kingdoms for the sake of love.

Talk by Mr. Ningi Mundary

Mr. Ningi Mundary said that he was visiting OPEPA since 2006 because they were being trained for writing the ‘Ten language book’. In between commissioner Raghunath Kumar Singh told them in OPEPA that the language to which no culture is associated, that language has no identity. He said that this sentence made an impact on his mind. In their area people are gradually forgetting their culture. He said that he belongs to Rourkela, and that people there are forgetting their language and mother tongue. They prefer to speak in other languages like Hindi and English. When they celebrate some social functions they gather together and sometimes discuss how to preserve their culture and develop their language. Still many people are not interested in these matters, he said. Now a days in schools multi-lingual teaching is being incorporated. Not many show interest towards these matters. He informed that in Sundargarh district, now their language is being taught in schools in five blocks.

Intervention by Mr. Surai Hembram

Next Mr. Surai Hembram said that today quite a few rituals and traditions have been lost, but many still survive. So we should try to preserve extant culture and traditions of all communities. If we look at the details of cultural traditions alive now, it might be possible for us to retrace the lost things. He said that he belongs to a Santal family, and what he feels is that they are being ruled over by two kinds of laws. One is the law of the government, and the other is the law of the panchayat. Many times what he had experienced is that the decisions taken by the panchayat is not accepted in the court. The panchayat gives justice according to the traditions of the community. If sometimes there is an argument between the panchayat and the accused, the person disobeys the judgment of the panchayat and goes to the court. It may also happen that the police will arrest the village panchs. So many times, people willingly go against their culture. Next he said that he won’t say that all the customs related to marriage are forgotten now and nothing is being followed. They still have those types of marriages where people from the groom’s family go and bring the bride, and the other type where elders travel to get the bride from her home. They also have the practice of widow remarriage. He confirmed that the dowry system has not yet entered their culture. Though the people who have jobs do give some gifts during the marriage, but these practices are still not frequently noticed.

Another person from Kaptipada block, Mayurbhanj, representing the Ho community made a speech on the ceremony of naming a child. He said that he would give a brief account of this in Ho as Odia is not his mother tongue and thus he is not fluent in Odia. He said that the human life passes through three rituals i.e. birth, marriage and death. These rituals vary according to caste, religion and culture. He said he will discuss only the name giving ceremony of the Ho community. According to the linguists, Ho community belongs to eighth Asiatic Munda family. They share the same language and culture as other Northern Munda communities whose culture is prevalent not only in India but also in Australia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Madagascar, South America, West Indies and North America. In Odisha, apart from the Ho community, other communities like Santal and Munda also belong to the eighth Asiatic Munda family.

In the Ho community, the name giving ceremony is a unique and important ceremony. This ceremony is held on the third or the twenty-first day of the birth of the child. This is known as kansaki or name-giving ceremony. The family members and the relatives of the baby are present on the day along with a gunia. The objects used for the ritual are a brass bowl, black gram, arua rice, dubo grass, vermillion, mango leaves and a water filled pot. Then the gunia invokes the village goddess and tells which ancestral soul has taken rebirth as the child. It is the custom to name the male child after the grandfather and the female child after the grandmother. Then the village goddess is offered the duba water, the Adi Shakti is offered black gram and the ancestors are offered arua rice and the name is confirmed. If there is more than one child, then apart from the name of the grandfather and of the grandmother, the name(s) of other relatives are also given. On the other hand, all the ancestors of a Ho family are worshipped in the Ishanashala. The entry of anybody except the people of that family is forbidden into this place. It is believed that success comes to those who take the name of each ancestor while worshipping. As the name of the grandfather and grandson, grandmother and granddaughter, father and great grandfather are the same, if one utters the names of two generations, then ultimately every name of the family is recited. So it becomes easy to satisfy the ancestors with the prayers and the family is believed to be blessed with happiness, prosperity and peace.

Now under the pressure of modernity, children are given foreign names. The result of which is a degradation of the culture, and the families get deprived of the blessings of the ancestors. They become victims of various unhealthy disturbances. Another advantage of naming after one’s grandfather or grandmother is that the tradition motivates one to confine a family to one boy and one girl. Being influenced by this great tradition, in sixth century, Huien Tsang, the Chinese ambassador offered his book ‘Indica’, at the feet of the Ho community. He informs that this ritual is not confined to the Ho community of India.

He also informed that all the names of the Ho community are derived from the names of village gods and goddesses. To make it clear, he explained that there are 108 names of the village gods and 108 names of village goddesses from which all the names are derived. This tradition is also getting affected by modern culture. Mr. Birabhadra Majhi pointed out the ill effects of alcohol and handia, and suggested him to include in his writings that newly married couples must abstain themselves from handia or any other alcoholic products till they give birth to the desired number of children. This may save children from ill impacts of alcohol.

Talk by Raghunath Rath, Kandhamal

Mr. Rath greeted the audience and said that though he doesn’t belong to an Adivasi community, he had researched upon Adivasi communities for thirty long years by staying with them. He said that he dealt with and studied Kui-speaking people i.e. the Kandhas. What he had observed during his research is that the culture of Kandhas varies according to the place. They are present in Kandhamal, Ganjam, Rayagada, Malkangiri, Nuapada, Bolangir, and Kalahandi and in many other districts of Odisha. Everywhere one can find their culture varying from one another. Still there is a seed which is the same in their culture irrespective of any place; it is the tradition of Maria, meaning a ceremony when human sacrifice was given. Then he suggested that, for the improvement of language, every region must have a literature festival and workshops must be conducted to encourage people. If encouragement will be provided then there is a possibility of new writers coming up, and the language will also thrive.

It’s not that one must be literate to become a writer. The number of poems and stories known to the illiterate Adivasi boys and girls, the number of songs and stories they can create, cannot be matched even by literate people. According to his thinking, Adivasi boys and girls are inborn poets; they have an inborn poetic imagination. He said that he was saying this on the basis of his own research. He provided another example of a Kutia Kandha girl who had never been to school, and has learnt to write a little from her association with an NGO. He said that she is known even to Mr. Mahendra Mishra. He recounts that he was undertaking a project to collect the stories of Kutia Kandhas. As he was unable to complete the task on his own, he took the help of an NGO. The NGO named Sebabharati requested him to go to their field site and train the workers as to how to collect the stories.

He found a girl there who is not older than 25 years now. She was offering them tea and snacks and in between listened to the discussions. After listening to the discussion she started writing down the stories which she had heard in her childhood. After some days those stories were sent to him by the secretary of the organisation to use them in his project. When he saw the talent of a girl who had never been to school, he thought that it’ll be unethical to use these stories in his own project .Thus, he informed the secretary of the NGO that he would like the stories to be published under the name of that girl. It was thus published by Pramod Patnaik, the secretary of the NGO. Now, he said, that girl is a news head, and has been in news headlines many times. Mr. Mahendra Mishra has also written about her in Vijaya. Now, he continued that he came to know that some more people have taken to writing following the footprints of this girl. So, he suggested, if by inspiring one girl we can open the path of many others, then if we start organising workshops or literature festivals then definitely tribal literature will thrive. Be it in its oral or written forms, the language definitely will remain alive. He believed that if Mr. Anil Pradhan tried, then this could definitely happen. He said that he didn’t suggest this to any other NGO because for this kind of work one needs dedication; money really doesn’t matter. Without money, with inspiration only, these things can definitely happen. So, he believed that Mr. Anil Pradhan of Sikshasandhan can do this because of his dedication.

Intervention by Mr. Anil Pradhan

Mr. Anil Pradhan said that scripts are being developed by many people now-a-days, but we must not have any confusion regarding the matter. We must be aware of the fact that the Assamese have their own language, but they don’t have their own script; they share their script with Bangla. Similarly Europe has many languages, but most of them use the Roman script (the script used to write the English language) to write their various languages. If we produce relevant literature then only our languages will remain alive. Similarly if people speak their mother tongues, then these languages will remain alive. Third, if mother tongues are used as the medium of education, then these will continue to exist and flourish. If we take these steps then our languages will prosper. If we spend all our energy to preserve the script, I think it will take much time for us. We should not think that our language can get its identity only if written in its own script. Our language will get its identity from the quantity and quality of literature it produces. He then described one of his experiences when he had gone to Rayagada where he met some of his friends working in NGOs. He said that sometimes even the NGO people starts promoting Kui script religiously. When he had pointed out the fact that even the Odia script can be used to write the Kui language, they didn’t listen to him. He requested the audience to reflect on the fact as to whether they will try to develop separate scripts for their languages or they’d use the Odia script to enrich their languages. This choice can be made only by them. So he left the debate open and requested Mr. Sanatan Munda to deliver his speech.

Talk by Mr. Sanatan Munda

Mr. Sanatan Munda at first mentioned the names of those who have contributed to the development of tribal languages. They are Dr. Mahendra Kumar Mishra, who is said to be the father of multilingual education. Next he mentioned Dr. Devi Prasanna Patnaik, linguist, who had been the director of Central Institute of Indian Languages. He has contributed significantly for the development of tribal languages. Dr. Khageswar Mohapatra, the linguist, has also made significant contributions to the development of Ho language and culture.

He thanked everyone as it was the international mother tongue day, and the festival was taking place to celebrate this very significant date on the calendar. He suggested that it would be better if the discussions were kept confined to the language issue only because if one tries to discuss everything, then one might not be able to do justice to these. He said that he has joined TALF for the first time, but had come to know about this festival in the previous year. When he got the invitation letter from Sikshasandhan, he said he read it and tried to understand it in his own way. He read a line from the letter which said, ‘to create an opportunity to bring together writers, singers, painters, musicians and dancers from different nooks and corners from Odisha.’ So he thought that he will go but will also try to take writers, singers, painters, musicians, and dancers from his community. So he gathered them, especially the dancers, and brought them here. He informed that as they don’t perform solo dances, he has brought the entire group of girls with him. He expressed hope that they will be given a chance to perform.

Next he returned to the language issue and said that he would discuss the possible strategies to keep their mother tongue alive and the condition of their language today. He said that Dr. Devi Prasanna Patnaik always emphasises one thing both in his speeches and in his writings. He quoted Mr. Patnaik and said that according to him languages are of two types: languages that are recognised and those which are not. The recognised languages are those which are included in our constitution and those not included are the languages which are not recognised. Dr. Patnaik in his writings mentions that the recognised languages are the main obstacles in the path of the languages not recognised in the constitution of India. To make it simple, the recognised languages eat the non-recognised languages. For example, he continued, if we consider Hindi or English, both of them are recognised languages. We generally think that we cannot progress without knowing them, and that if we know our own languages without knowing these dominant languages, then we’d face problems.

The government has followed a trilingual policy in education that has gradually become a part of our mental make-up. In this trilingual system we have no place for tribal languages. We are forced to learn Odia, Hindi, and Bangla etc. This is the situation now, and we can’t change the system. So our institutional attempts to resolve the language problem has become another problem in itself. He informed that when the constitution was written, Dr. Br Ambedkar wrote in Article 29 that any people having a distinct language, script and culture have the right to conserve the same. In article 30 he wrote that people having distinct languages and scripts have the right to establish educational institutions of their choice. He wrote in Article 350 of the constitution that if a community wants to provide education in their mother tongue, they will be provided with every facility for primary education by the state government.

However, he said, we have never experienced such privileges even after so many years of independence. But now-a-days people are becoming aware of these provisions of the constitution. The seminars which we have attended on multilingual education have made us aware of the fact that these provisions are in consonance with the resolutions of UNO. UNO have decided to provide education in mother tongues. So this is a law not only in India but also in Africa and Nepal. He said that when Dr. Mahendra Mishra invited them to relevant seminars, he also invited professors from England and Africa who provided them many innovative ideas. Mother tongue education is being propagated now-a-days, and he said that the Adivasi people now think that their languages might be saved now as at least their children are getting education in their own mother tongue.

The professors who came to these seminars said that they have been researching for quite a long time to find why, comparatively speaking, very little educational development is seen in the Adivasi children. It is seen that many ashram schools are being established where Adivasi children can gain an education; they are also being provided with food, stipend, books and other facilities. But the question remains to be answered as to why very little development is seen in the lives of the Adivasi people. When they researched into this issue, they found that children are not taught in their own languages (in which they speak at home) in the schools. So they find the school, its teacher, and everything else there as foreign. They, thus, keep on waiting even for the slightest of the opportunities to slip away from the school. It becomes almost impossible to catch the child and bring him back to the school. This is the real situation.

But now it has been decided that the Adivasi children will be provided education in their mother tongue. To implement this educational venture, the Government of India has also taken a few necessary steps including the passage of the Right to Education Act of 2006. RTE guarantees free and compulsory education, and has provisions for imparting education to Adivasi children in their mother tongues. By teaching in Munda language, one can help it develop. Similarly Ho language, Santali language etc. must be used in teaching, and thereby these will develop. This will profit these languages. If a person of another language tries to teach in our language, she might not be able do so properly. So by this scheme Adivasi people will get a chance to be employed to teach the language properly. Thus, employment opportunities for educated tribal people will also increase.

He said that they have been involved in the programme for multilingual education in Mayurbhanj since long. Munda means both Munda and Ho, both the communities therefore applied for the posts of teachers. When books of class one were distributed in Mayurbhanj, at that time five schools of Munda and five schools of Ho were selected. As it was divided into two groups, so again they faced problems. Questions were raised as to Munda means Munda only or both Munda and Ho. So they took a joint decision that Munda will go along with Munda language and Ho will go with their Ho language. He argues that one must be clear regarding the name of the language. If these things get resolved then everything will fall into its place.

There were two main aims of this kind of educational system. The first aim is to lessen the percentage of school drop-outs and to see that there is 100% attendance in schools. The second is to ensure that teaching continues in the mother tongue. As it was examined earlier and found that students were not taught in their own mother tongue. Now it is seen that as the students are taught in their mother tongue, they score very good marks. They do not feel foreign at schools, they feel quite at home. Their parents speak the same language in which their school text books are written. Dropouts have declined to almost zero. He wished this multilingual programme to continue. One can’t be sure whether the language is developing through MLE or not, but one can be sure that the children are getting educated.

It is said that if one learns one’s mother tongue properly, then she can learn other languages easily. But if one starts learning English without learning the mother tongue from the very beginning, then the child can’t socialise with her own family members properly and at last leaves the village. So, he said, it is better to teach one’s own language to one’s own children. Similarly people go and get jobs in cities and then they forget their own language. They are highly qualified and they will not listen to anybody. He again quoted Dr. Devi Prasanna Patnaik that one language is eating the other. This, he said, is happening in his own village as well. For example, the people in his village thought that they should educate their children in Odia medium schools. But, he continued, when they do it they leave their mother tongue. In this way their languages are disappearing.

Another main problem is the issue of scripts for tribal languages. He expressed his eagerness to give his own impression on this. Being an Adivasi person, he said, if they use Odia script to write their language, what happens is that they can’t express their emotion clearly with it. There are many letters in Odia whose pronunciation does not match with the pronunciation of their language. The problem deepens there. As they don’t have any other way out so they use the Odia script to express their thoughts. This type of problem is persisting because the way in which their language is spoken is different from that of Odia. Their language can be written properly only if they have their own script. He argued that they are developing their scripts keeping these things in mind. But the number of scripts adivasis have to learn are huge. For example, a Ho speaking person has to learn English, Hindi, Odia, Ho etc. He questioned as to how many scripts a person can learn and said that still if these things are required to be known, they will learn, but they will also develop their own scripts. He believed that if one uses some other language’s script then their language will grow ungainly. One also has to keep in mind that languages change according to the place. For example Pahadia Kui and Sadaria Kuiare are spoken quite differently.

Intervention by Mr. Birabhadra Majhi

Mr. Majhi said that he had gone to Ranchi where Devnagri script is taught even in graduation. He said that people are facing many problems there. They are asking, ‘we have learnt the language but where are the jobs for us? What will we do after we complete our graduation?’ He made a point that if one completes graduation or post-graduation in Mundari language and someone else does an M.A. in English, Hindi or Odia, obviously the student belonging to the second group will find a job more easily. If one does Mundari language, he might not find any job. This is the problem, he said, for which one can neither leave their language nor can they accept it without a sigh. Lastly, he said that when people were confused whether the sun revolves around the earth or the earth revolves around the sun, till then the whole world knew that the sun goes from the east to the west. When Copernicus showed that the sun is static and the earth revolves around the sun, he was killed. After that, when Galileo claimed the same by saying that his teacher was right, the whole world believed him. Similarly what Hoffmann had written is not authentic but till no one counteracts him, everybody will believe him. He said that let our Munda youths destroy themselves by following the writings of Hoffmann. But the educated mass like us should counter Hoffmann (as Galileo and Copernicus did) to prove that Hoffmann is wrong. This should happen in Ho community and Kui community.

Proceedings of the Second Day

The session started with the recapitulation of the inaugural function held on the previous day. Anil Pradhan welcomed Jatindra Kumar Nayak, Professor, Utkal University and then narrated the events of the inaugural day. He recounted some basic questions regarding the ‘Tribal Art and Literature Festival’. These were: what is the importance of this festival? Why is this celebrated? This was followed by a discussion on tribal language and culture, focusing on the greatness of these cultures and languages. The discussion also highlighted the reasons to preserve the language. These discussions were often punctuated by readings of poems and other writings brought by the assembled people. In the evening various groups performed many tribal dance forms. He, then, mentioned that the people who couldn’t read their writings or poems yesterday can do the same today. He emphasised that the ‘Tribal Art and Literature Festival’ should not be celebrated once a year just as a ritual. It should be designed as a detailed plan over the year to inspire the people present to preserve, protect and develop tribal languages.

Remarks by Prof Jatin Nayak

Prof. Jatin Kumar Nayak started with his good wishes to the assembly and expressed his happiness to see a large gathering present that exemplified their interested for the cause of tribal art and literature. He said that they had thought of organising this festival from much before but were waiting for an opportunity. Now a days the promotion of literary festivals by English newspapers has become a common phenomenon in Bhubaneswar. He mentioned that this promotion involves celebrating various literary festivals in English, neglecting our own rich languages and cultural traditions. Various national and international figures are generally invited to these literary festivals organised in big hotels. They thought of organising a literary festival by bringing together the rich heritage of tribal culture, art and language. For the first time when it was organised, there were approximately sixty to seventy persons gathered. But this time, he said, he was glad to see such a large gathering. He invited the benign cooperation and best wishes of the audience to make it a great success in the years to come. With everyone’s cooperation, he said, this can grow into a national festival within three to four years. The people from tribal communities from other states would be invited. He was hopeful that intellectuals, artists and musicians would transform this mission into a famous international festival within five years.

He said that he can see many tribal youths in the audience and it is their earnest desire that has made all these things possible. He requested everyone to keep cooperating with the organisation for organising this festival. He also encouraged the youth to attend the festival in ever-increasing numbers, and ascertained that they would be provided all the required facilities and opportunities. He suggested that they collect their stories, songs, dance, village histories, and children’s stories etc. throughout the year. At times they can also arrange small meetings of about ten people. He quoted Ajay babu and gave the suggestion of not confining this to a ritualistic annual festival. Instead of one grand annual meeting, he clarified, there is a need to organise smaller meetings throughout the year to discuss ways to preserve, protect and develop tribal art and culture. Finally he expressed his gratitude for spending some time together, and wished them all the best for the remaining part of the function.

Performances and talks by participants from various tribal communities

After these deliberations, a group from Mayurbhanj performed a song. Another group belonging to Jhadia tribe from Kashipur sang a song concerning singing and dancing under moon light by young girls and boys. After that a man named Sanatan, from Mayurbhanj, told that the language learnt from one’s mother, i.e. one’s mother tongue, can’t be ignored. He mentioned that when one comes to a city and learns many languages that become a source of pride for them, but one’s mother tongue is greater than any other languages one acquires. He strongly asserted that in order to protect one’s culture, it is necessary to protect one’s mother tongue at first. He pointed out that it is necessary to spread literacy among people to develop one’s culture. He ended his speech with a request to develop love for one’s own culture, language and nation.

Next, a person from Nabarangpur district, said that he belonged to the Gond tribe. He said that he was not sure if the people of Gond tribe live in the districts of Nuapada or Sundergarh as well. He said that outside Odisha they live in some regions of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. They have their own language but don’t have any script. The younger generation does not use the language that much because of the influence of the local languages of Chhattisgarh and Odisha.

Here Ajay babu intervened that the Gond tribes inhabit almost every district of Odisha. They are even found in his own village, but their language has become almost obsolete. They speak Odia and have adopted Odia culture. Ajay babu gave an example of Bonda tribes performing rituals by taking Brahmins and Barik which is not yet adopted by other tribes. He asked if Gond tribes do such rituals or not. The person from Nabarangpur was unable to answer this question when another person named Panchanand of Gond tribe from the same place came forward to answer it. He informed that they don’t call Brahmins to do the rituals if someone dies in their tribe, but they themselves do it. The people not belonging to the family of the deceased perform the rituals. He even informed about the festivals celebrated by them, most important of which is Nuakhai. The villagers gather one day and decide on the date on which to celebrate Nuakhai, after which decorations and preparations for the festival starts. Again a meeting is held on the eve of Nuakhai. On the day of this festival, villagers wear new clothes in the morning and then worship the deities before sitting together to have food together as a community. The new crop of the year is at first offered to the deity, and then the villagers share the prasad. After the community lunch, young people roam around the village and touch the feet of the elders to get their blessings. The evening is celebrated with songs and dances.

Talk by Mr. Ningri Mundari

Ningi Mundari from Sundargarh district described the culture of the Mundari tribe. He narrated that in Mundari tribe when a baby is born, the name-giving ceremony is generally held on the 9th or the 21st day. This is called Ekusia or Khuntiaria. In the third or the fourth year, the ear-piercing ceremony of the baby is held which is called Kana phoda or Kaanbedi. This ceremony makes the child a part of the Mundari tribe and its traditions. According to Mundari culture, without this ceremony the child is not eligible for marriage. He continued that marriage is held in the presence of the Bhandari and the Brahmin. The ritual on the death of a person is also held in the presence of the Dhoba, the Bhandari and the Brahmin.

He also informed that they have songs and dances in their culture. Marriage songs, Korma jadur still prevail but not with much splendor. After that he said a few words about Mundari language. He knows his own language and the languages of the Bhuinya, Kho Munda, Christians and other communities surrounding his region. His interest, he asserted, in many languages exists because he believes that it is necessary to know many languages as it can help him when he goes to new places. He feels grateful for knowing so many languages as this has helped him to become a language teacher in MLESS. He mentioned that in 2012 when interviews were being conducted for the post of MLE volunteers, the interviewers spoke in Christian language and he was selected because he could answer well in their language. On that day he realised that if he had not known the language he would not have been selected as a teacher. On being asked about the language and religion of the students in the school in which he is teaching, he informed that the students are generally Christians and OBCs belonging to castes such as Routia, Kumbhar, and Munda etc. He also informed that he does not have students who speak his own language, but as he knows the Christian, Routia and Kumbhar languages he can communicate and educate the students speaking these languages easily.

He was succeeded by a person who gave an example of an Adivasi man of his own area who went to Kolkata for a job. There he forgot his own mother tongue and married a Bengali girl. Now, he emphasised with regret that both that man and his wife talk to each other in English. Their child also speaks in English. He quoted Mr. Sanatan Munda and asked that if the language learnt from the mother is mother tongue, then what will be the mother tongue of the child born in this family? Can Adivasi language be the mother tongue of the child?

Intervention by Prof Jatin Nayak

In reply to this question Prof. Nayak said that it is generally regarded that a language learnt from one’s mother is the mother tongue, but as is evident from the example of this Adivasi couple, now a days, for many, English is the preferred language of expression. Even in North East India many people prefer to speak English for communicating. This language is not called the mother tongue of the people but is termed as the language of the social milieu. He continued that this sometimes makes us think that perhaps the language of the people has become English but if we look at today’s newspapers we can find that six lakh fifty thousand students have appeared for matriculation examination under the Odisha State Board. This means, these number of students are appearing for their matriculation examination in Odia language. This shows that in our social phenomena Odia is our language. He claimed that we should not bother about the microscopic minority that migrates to Kolkata or Delhi and change the language in which they speak. They don’t create any impression on the larger masses who speak in their mother tongue.

Prof. Nayak gave the example of Canada where two languages i.e. French and English exist. He said that the Canadians faced a lot of problem in trade and commerce because of this. But the people speaking French didn’t agree to stop using French; thus, French remained their national language. All the legal documents are written in both French and English. He cited another example of nineteenth century Russia where just 10% people were literate. Great writers like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky spoke French at home. Still then, he asked, how did the great Russian culture and literature evolve? He concluded that the mother tongue is the language spoken by a wide number of common people. He believed that one or two people leaving the culture and language can’t make any difference.

He again made the point that English medium schools are mushrooming in the state but still sixty thousand students are not enrolled into these schools, but, six lakh fifty thousand students are sitting for matriculation examination in Odia language. He asserted that these six lakh fifty thousand students sitting for examination in Odia are our future. He further maintained that three students leaving the country and going aboard doesn’t mean that the language they are leaving will die. He then continued that we are not completely aware of the problems faced by the tribal people. So he again suggested the audience to write their experiences and search for the solutions problems faced by them. He ascertained that the purpose of this meeting is to know about them, to make them aware of these problems regarding their culture and language so that they can work together and find solutions.

Next, a person from Mayurbhanj pointed out that many things have been discussed to protect tribal culture. He said that he loves to mention that he is a Munda and an Adivasi. He raised a point that nobody knows how much percentage of alcohol is present in foreign liquor and how much alcohol is there inHandia. He explained that foreign liquor consists of almost 70 % alcohol but in Handia there is very little alcohol. He claimed that Handia has medicinal properties. He described his own experience when once he was ill and was advised to take Handi to recover. He did so and recovered. This, he continued, doesn’t mean that one should take Handia in large amounts; one must use it in a limited fashion, like a medicine. Handia is a very old Adivasi tradition, and a historical practice. If someone forces them to leave this tradition, it is not possible, and Handia will remain a part of their tradition forever.

He then showed three paintings made by him. The first was about Birsa Munda. The second painting was of the Munda custom of kadoghanta i.e. people playing with mud, a day after marriage. It is a game of hiding a pot in the mud, he explained. The third painting showed yet another Munda ceremony of marrying a child to a dog on his/her ear-piercing ceremony. This is observed after the baby start growing the first milk teeth. This painting showed as if the marriage is being held in the sky. The picture showed the child being married to a dog, some children dancing to the tune of the drum, others gathered to drink Handia, two goats standing nearby, some people as spectators and the houses as clouds.

Intervention by Mr. Tularam Singh

Next, Mr. Tularam Singh, a person belonging to the Munda tribe brought a musical instrument made with a dried gourd attached with threads to a stick. This, he said, is called Tuda. He expressed his desire to play the instrument and sing a song and proceeded to do so.

Intervention by Mr. Sunari Hembram

Mr. Sunari Hembram from Mayurbhanj said that they discussed about many things related to their language and culture; but now he’d focus on the future course of action to protect tribal art and culture. In the year 1964, when he was still a student, he came in touch with Pandit Raghunath Murmu. As he is a Santal, he told him in Santali, ‘if you have any hopes to develop yourself, at first you should develop your mother tongue’. From that day onwards Mr. Hembram tried to develop his mother tongue. Previously Santali language had no script. Pandit Raghunath Murmu developed an alphabet for Santali and wrote books in Santali language with this script. Along with his studies, Mr. Hembram said, he started his mission of delivering free education in Santali language, travelling from village to village. He mentioned that during his mission he ate pakhala, played the Madal and danced to its beats with others. He informed the villagers about the development of Adivasi culture from ancient times and its relevance. He also mentioned that he had collected many extinct dance forms of Adivasis and had analysed them. He ended by saying that the Adivasis should stand up for themselves and take the initiative to protect their languages and cultural traditions. He expressed his gratitude to Mr. Anil Pradhan for his support. He further emphasised that if they themselves do not participate and take responsibility, then no one can help them. He requested his people to know their language, to read their literature and to analyse their culture, literature and language. This is the only way to discover one’s heritage and help one’s languages develop.

Another person said that during Raja festival the tradition of Munda people is to sing and dance and worship various gods and goddesses. These continue from Raja festival to Makar Sankaranti, the month of pausha. He then sang a song to the tune of a drum.

Interview of Mr. Sunari Hembram by Prof Jatin Nayak

Prof. Nayak interviewed Mr. Sunari Hembram. He asked Mr. Hembram why he started his mission for protecting Adivasi culture and how he succeeded in doing it. Mr. Hembram replied that he was studying in high school when he and his friends made the acquaintance of Pandit Raghunath Murmu. He quoted Pandit ji and informed the audience about his thoughts. Pandit ji had said to him, “even if you are studying in Odia, English, Hindi and other national and international languages, remember that for your real development you should at first develop your own mother tongue. Only by this you can become a great person one day. I do not suggest that people need to follow my footsteps and start propagating my words, but you should study the mother tongue whole heartedly.” These words, claimed Mr. Hembram, had changed his mind, and from then onwards he had started exploring his mother tongue.

He said he had visited villages, interviewed many elderly persons, engrossed himself in the songs and dances and documented the songs sung by the people. He even went to the cremation ground and noted down all that happened there. He went to the place where a child is born and noted the sayings of people in a notebook. Then, he said, he along with few companions travelled from village to village, wrote the script developed by Pandit ji on the walls of the huts. They wrote the letters at first, their Odia versions and then the English version so that people can know the letters and read them. They travelled from street to street, ate pakhala, and sang and danced in the evenings. They collected information about various dance forms, talked to elderly people, and learnt that these dance forms too have some internal meanings. In this way his explorations into tribal language, literature and heritage began.

Here Prof. Nayak asked whether Santali language has been well incorporated into the school educational system. Mr. Hembram replied that he had discussed this matter many times with the Government of Odisha. When Mr. J.B. Patnaik visited their place he (Mr. Hembram) made a speech in Santali language. Mr. Patnaik asked if these people do not know Odia. He replied that their people do not know or understand Odia. After that when Biju Patnaik visited, he was informed that Santali people want to learn in their own language. Mr. Patnaik promised to look into the matter. When they visited Bhubaneswar on a follow up meeting, Biju Patnaik at first became angry and asked them regarding their knowledge of Santali language. He replied that he knows the language and its script. Then Mr. Patnaik agreed to incorporate the teaching of Santali language in schools.

During that period, he continued, Mr. Chaitanya Prasad Majhi was the education minister. There were 85 sections and they gave only 35 schools. The people, who were first posted there, taught Odia after completing CT. So again they had to complain that their plan didn’t work. They demanded for CT training which can be done in Baripada and Mr. Naveen Patnaik agreed to that as well. Now almost 100 moblisers have been posted, and they have decided to let the things as it is for the time being. He noted that now the trend of multilingual teaching is in progress for which he has designed the books for classes one and two. He informed that he also has made one point clear that while doing this he didn’t intend to separate one language from the other, but tried to integrate the culture into the syllabus so as to develop both language and culture in an integral manner. Till date, books till class five have been prepared.

Prof. Nayak thanked Mr. Hembram for attending the tribal art and literature festival. He then requested him to share his experiences of attending the function and asked for suggestion for further development. Mr. Hembram suggested that if they want to develop one’s language it is a wrong notion that it will harm another language. He continued that if one is able to express oneself in one’s own language then it is only natural that one will try to develop that language. Further, he emphatically said that teaching by experienced teachers (fluent in the language of the students) in high schools and colleges would certainly help the students to develop their own language. With this the interview concluded and Prof. Nayak thanked Mr. Hembram for participating in the interview process.

Interventions by other participants

Another participant discussed about the steps which could be taken to breathe new life into endangered Adivasi languages and traditions. He mentioned that he was not interested to give any comment on the steps taken by the Government of Odisha to protect tribal languages. It is, he continued, known only to the government and the people involved in the government’s activities. He said that it would be very helpful if Ajay Bhai extend his helpful hands to his community. Other participants also expressed similar sentiments as to the need of preserving one’s own culture, tradition, and literature.

Anil Pradhan called out the names of the various committee members, i.e. of people from various tribes attending the festival and said that the organisation will keep in touch with them over the phone. He said that they failed to get representatives and participants from all the tribal communities of Odisha, though they have invited them to the festival. So he asked the audience to spread information about the festival to help the organisation reach out to potential participants from those tribal communities who have not become a part of the festival yet. He pointed out that they must start working to bring more members from other tribal group from now onwards so that the efforts bear fruit on time during arranging the next tribal art and literature festival in 2016.

He said that many tribal communities have requested for financial support for developing their languages. He feared that since the organisation functions under many constraints, this is not possible. He said they can help them in bringing their communities together. The organisation can also help them in publishing some of their poems, stories etc.; but it is impossible for Sikshasandhan to provide financial support for developing tribal languages and scripts. He also expressed his helplessness in the inability to support the publishing of textbooks in tribal languages as these are surrounded by controversies and language politics. He and his team members will definitely try and help in each field, but because of these controversies, the organisation can’t promise anything. He continued by saying that the organisation can possibly help to document the use of tribal musical instruments. A two-day programme could be conducted where people can bring their musical instruments and play these which can then be recorded. Or they can ask them to tell stories and sing songs that can be documented and published as books. He repeated that they couldn’t guarantee anything but will definitely try to help in each of these fields.

Another person from the dais asked the audience to make a list of young people from their own community who are either good students or have started working. He expressed his interest to talk to them and make them aware of the importance of the mother tongue. He argued that because of our educational system, young minds are changing and getting away from their own culture and language. He thus wanted to take the responsibility for attracting them to their own language and culture. He requested the audience to make a list of the good students of their community along with their addresses and mobile numbers and provide it to him. He said he would take the help of the organisers of this festival and try to find a way to attract the students towards their language and culture. He claimed to take the responsibility to contact and motivate them and to even provide help in their studies. In the process, he said, he would try to understand why they are becoming dissociated from their language and culture. That was his earnest request to the audience.

The function concluded with a vote of thanks by Anil Pradhan, followed by playing of flute and a group song.


The two-day Tribal Art and Literature Festival in its second avatar in 2015 was a resounding success. It provided both food for thought and sustenance for the soul. By providing a meeting ground for the tribal communities of Odisha for holding discussions on their language, culture and identity, it fulfilled its mandate to a large extent. It generated debates and demands for similar functions at the district and the sub-district levels. It is in this that its success is to be found. If the festival continues to be organised every year with the dedication that has gone into it in the last two years, then it promises to become one of the most important events in the state’s social and cultural calendar.

Secretary, Sikshasandhan, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India

Annexure I: Programme Schedule

Day I

Inaugural Session (10.30- 12.20)

  • Welcome address, objectives, context setting by Anil Pradhan, Member-Secretary, Sikshasandhan
  • Chief Guest: Dr D.P. Patnaik
  • Guest of honour: Dr Khageswar Mohapatra
  • Guests: Dr Mahendra Kumar Mishra
  • Guest: Mr. Surai Hembram
  • Guest: Dr Aurobindo Behera
  • Presided by Dr Sangram Jena, Member, Governing Council of Sikshasandhan
  • Songs and Music by participants

First day: first session (12.30 to 1.30 P.M.)

Discussion on the status of tribal language and culture and future perspectives

  • Mr. Birabhadra Majhi, Former Minister and MP
  • Dr.Sanatan Munda
  • Mr. Surai Hembram
  • Mr. Shreedhar Singh
  • Mr. Mathai Singh and others

Lunch Break (130. PM to 2.30 PM)

First day: second session (2.30. to 5 PM )

  • Performance by artists (group songs, music, etc.)

First day: third session (6 PM to 8 PM)

  • Group dance by various groups


  • Recap of the first day’s proceedings
  • Prof Jatin Nayak
  • Performances, discussions and future planning