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Droupadi Murmu, who is from the Santhal tribe in the Mayurbhanj district of Odisha, is the presidential candidate of the BJP. Her candidature has facilitated Biju Janata Dal support which is crucial for the BJP to get 50% of the electoral college votes needed to make her win.

Odisha has a rich tribal heritage. The tribes are a living example of the earliest history of humankind in India. Tony Joseph has stated in his book Early Indians: The Story of Our Ancestors and Where We Came From; “If you were to identify a single person who embodies us Indians the best, who do you think it should be? Ideally, it should be a tribal woman because she is most likely to be carrying the deepest-rooted and widest-spread mtDNA lineage in India today.”

Odisha comprises 80 tribes that can be divided into three main groups. These include the Austro-Asiatic tribes, the Dravidian tribes and the Indo-Aryan tribes. These tribes are spread mostly across districts like Mayubhanj, Jajpur, Bhadrak, Deogarh, Sundargarh, Kandhamal and more. Most of these tribes survive with the help of fishing, farming, hunting and gathering.

Dravidians have been known as the original inhabitants of India, but in recent times, a modified, if not an overhauled version of this notion has come to the fore. It is now believed that the pre-Dravidian aborigines, i.e. the ancestors of the present Scheduled Tribes, were the originals. Vikrant Kumar and corresponding author B Mohan Reddy, in their exploratory study on the Status of Austro-Asiatic groups in the peopling of India, have also pointed out, that “the communities affiliated to the Austro-Asiatic linguistic family are perhaps the first to settle in India”. Here’s a look at some of the Austro-Asiatic tribes of Orissa.

The Santal people, a part of the Austro-Asiatic tribes of Orissa.

Santhals, apart from forming a crucial part of Odisha’s tribal population are also the largest tribe in the state of Jharkhand. Santhals also occupy a considerable place in the tribal population of states like Assam, Tripura, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and West Bengal. Santali is the language they speak which is the most widely spoken of the Munda languages. A Santal script has now been developed.

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The 1855 Santhal rebellion is a testament to the tribe’s determination and solidarity against the exploitation that the zamindars and the British subjected them to. The rebellion, led by Sidhu and Kanhu Murmu, consisted of 30,000 Santhals who stood up to the zamindars and the British authorities, and though the rebellion was overshadowed by the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the impact of the Santhal rebellion was felt far and wide. As a result, the British ended up meeting all their demands, realizing the tribe’s importance as a tax-paying group.

The 1855 Santhal rebellion is a testament to the tribe’s determination and solidarity against the exploitation that the zamindars and the British subjected them to

The Ho people also called Hodoko and Horo tribe are the Austroasiatic Munda group of the country. The Ho people are the fourth most widespread tribe in Jharkhand after the Santhals, Kuruks and Mundas. Austroasiatic groups like the Ho people are known to report multilingualism, using both Hindi and English, apart from their original Austroasiatic language.

The women in the Ho tribe, post-marriage, occupy the position of a partner and companion. As a whole, the status of the women in the tribe is quite high and the population of the women is higher than that of men as well.

The book The Dravidian Tribes of Northern India by H. Heras states “Uraon, spoken in Chota Nagpur and Malto near the western frontier of Bengal. Kui, spoken west of Cuttack and Gondi, which is the language of the Gonds of Central India has also been supposed to be a Dravidian language.” Apart from these, within the Dravidian language family, there are nine languages in Orissa, namely, Pengo, Kisan, Konda, Koya, Parji and Kuvi. There are quite a few Dravidian tribes in Orissa.

Gond tribes (Credits: Giacomo Bettoni Flickr)

The Gonds, also called Gondi or Koitur, are the Dravidian ethno-linguistic group of the state of Odisha. Spread over states like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha, the Gonds are one of the largest tribal groups in India. The language that they speak is the Dravidian Gondi language which is related to Telugu. The language is spoken by close to 30 lakh people in the country. The Gonds are also known to be artistic, and Gond paintings are extremely popular in the country. In recent years, the tribe has seen women taking charge of the farming and watering practices in their villages.

One of the largest tribes of the state, they are the worshippers of hills, streams and nature as a whole. They are traditionally hunters-gatherers and dwell in both hills and plains. Khonds are speakers of the Kui and Kuvi languages and use the Odia script to write these languages. The tribe is also a designated Scheduled Tribe in other states like Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal as well.

The Gonds, also called Gondi or Koitur, are the Dravidian ethno-linguistic group of the state of Odisha. Spread over states like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha, the Gonds are one of the largest tribal groups in India

The Indo-Aryan people consist of a vast number of Indo-European ethnolinguistic groups. These groups usually converse in Indo-Aryan languages like Hindi-Urdu, Bengali, Odia, Punjabi, Gujarati and more. Boundless World History, authored by Boundless quotes “Indo-Aryans were a branch of the Indo-Iranians, who originated in present-day northern Afghanistan. By 1500 BCE, the Indo-Aryans had created small herding and agricultural communities across northern India.” Orissa was one such state in the northern region of the country.

Residing mostly in the Kendujar and Mayurbhanj districts of Odisha, the Sountis are one of the Indo-Aryan ethnic groups found in the state. The Sounti caste originated in the 17th century by Joygobinda Das from Puri. He renounced his birth caste to form the Sounti caste. Sountis are a part of outcastes from other castes who were allowed by the Kendujar ruler to settle in the region of Manata. The community’s sex ratio is 1001 females per 1000 males. Marriages in the form of mutual consent are also followed, signifying the importance of consent even in the tribes of Odisha.


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