The Tribes PDF Print E-mail

India has entered the 21st century; there have been spacecrafts launched, but there are people who haven’t even seen a railway yet. Their life is a struggle in contrast to the luxurious life of modern urban India. Numerous tribes have inhabited this land since time immemorial, and the largest density is in Madhya Pradesh. Their remoteness from the outside world has caused these tribes to remain undeveloped.

According to the Indian census, the Gonds and Baigas are most significant tribes in the state. In comparison to the other tribes, Gonds are well settled and economically better than any other communities of the area.


The Gonds

Dressing – The men usually wear a dhoti. This is a piece of thin, long white cloth that is drawn from between both legs and tied at the waist. Women wear a half saree, usually of cotton with a tight fitting, short blouse. There was no real emphasis that they attached to ‘colours’. Most of the men wore white dhotis.

Architecture and Houses – A typical Gond settlement consists of small huts or hamlets that are made of mud and have thatched roofs. They arrange a khat (a small cot) outside the house and use mats for sitting comfortably and relaxing. They have a small living room, a bedroom, a kitchen and most houses have a verandah. They enjoy spending the evenings as well as the hot afternoons in the verandah. The layout of the house is not pre decided and the walls are constructed in a random fashion. After this, they allocate rooms according to which size suits the purpose better. The doors are small as compared to the height of the Gond’s. There are no windows and hence the inside of the house gets extremely dark. A special room is segregated and assigned to the women during menstruation.

Religion – The Gond people do not believe that they are Hindu. They also have Ramayana as one of their epics and the characters and story is similar to the one written by Sant Valmiki. However, the language in which it is written is different. They worship ‘Bahadeo’ that is Lord Shankar.

Marriage –The Gond’s choose their own partners, preferably outside of their clan. Widow re-marriage is allowed to the brother of the deceased. Dowry system is prevalent but it is of the type that the father of the son has to pay a price to the bride. They too walk around a post seven times and this is the most significant part of their marriage. Divorces are allowed and sometimes encouraged. They may elope but after time passes are expected to take the consent of the village council.

Death – When there is a death in the community, the body is usually cremated. The entire night following the person’s death, all the villagers spend time singing songs and playing music. Music is an integral part of their lives.

These are some of the observations that we made. The men were open and friendly and exhibited a readiness to talk. The women were comparatively shyer and did not give answers even after much persuading and pleading.


The Baigas

Appearance – Due to long hours in the Sun and outdoors, the skin of the Baigas is dark. The men and women get their hair cut once in a life time. If a Baiga is asked why he does not clip his hair, his instant response with immense pride is that it is a Baiga tradition. This tribe wears very few clothes. The men usually wear a ‘fatka’ to cover their private parts. This ‘fatka’ is very similar to the loin cloth used for the dhoti of the Gonds. Women wear a sari which covers their body but their blouses are short and chest hugging. It is evident from this that their style of clothing is simple and hassle free. Some of the Baigas tie a cloth around their head which looks similar to a turban.

Dwellings - Baigas create their hamlets on the hilly portion of the forests. A village consists of around 8 to 10 houses. However modern ways have brought a lot of changes in their lives. The Baigas construct their own huts with a unique mixture of mud where wet mud is mixed with dry grass. Men and women contribute equally in this activity. There are no windows in the house just like the Gondi houses.

Men and Women - At the break of dawn all the Baiga men and women immediately start with their work. Women manage the household along with helping the men almost equally. Women join hands equally during social activities too.

Daily Activities - Cows and buffaloes are their main animals and their main activities are poultry and pig rearing. They also collect honey from the bee hives. They live in harmony and give things without expecting cash or anything in kind in return. They use leaves which are smooth and sticky to clean the vessels. These leaves are dried and stored carefully. They clear the forest for agriculture by cutting and burning down the trees.

Tattoo Culture - There are different tattoos for different parts of the body and these tattoos are also inked at different times of their lives. ‘Chati Godai’ means tattooing on the chest which can be done any time after marriage. The tattoos extend from the elbows to the finger tips. It takes 20 to 25 years for the completion of all the tattoos prescribed. In the whole process of stretching the identity of their tribes on their bodies, the most attractive items are the 10 to 12 long pointed needles which pierce the skin. The process involves the use of a prominent grape of this area. It gives out carbon which is collected when the seeds are burnt. This is collected in small boxes. And after liquidation it is ready to be used as the ink to draw the pictures with a thin bamboo stick. After the outlining, the inking starts. The Godhna (the tattoos) prepares the girl of the pains of becoming a mother. This pain gives her the strength to face all the different challenges in her life. Second, it is their clan identity. And thirdly they consider Godhna to be the only earthly impression to accompany them in the life after death.

Family – The Baiga tribe respects the rules laid down by a man as prestigious. House hold decisions, decisions regarding justice and other societal issues are all taken only with the consent of the man. Disrespect to a woman is considered as disrespectful to the entire set of Baigas.

Religion -The Ramayana is completely different. In their story Rama, Sita, Lakshman and Bhim are all together in the same story.

Marriage - The Baiga women are promiscuous in nature. A Baiga can marry more than one person. He will run away with his suitor from the village and he will only inform his friends about this. In the mean while the friends will create uproar and tell the other villagers where they are to be found. Then the girl and boy return and put forth their wish for marriage.

If he is already married and he is smitten by a girl or vice versa, the girl will directly enter the boy’s house. The first wife will beat up this new girl and she has to take the beating. The husbands will not say a thing. This is their test. This is their custom.

Other significant facts about the Baigas

Every tribe looks at the river with a different angle. Some say it’s a small baby child, some say she is a young lady, some say ‘bhudi mahila’ or ‘BhudhiMaai’ (old woman), some say she is a mother ‘Ma’.

The parikramawasis say that there has been a considerable change in the visibility of these tribes as years ago they got to see a lot of the tribal dances and their arts. They stayed in their homes. But now city influences are slowly killing the traditional ways. The good effect of this is that now there are Primary Schools at such places and children are receiving education. Electricity too has reached all these places and hand pumps are available. This is a stark progress from the time when staying in dharamshalas which are usually constructed at a height compelled the people to go back and forth, up and down just to fill water.

All their festivals are connected with nature. For example a good harvest is a cause to celebrate. We celebrate Dusshera. The meaning behind this word is that after the monsoon, there is greenery everywhere in all the 10 directions making it a reason to be happy and sing ‘Dombulias’ (songs)

They do not keep money with them as they do not see the need to do so. There is one person, a moneylender in the village with whom all the money is kept. They take it from him as and when required.

They treat the tiger as their brother. They treat him as a member of the family. They keep water outside the village for the tigers.

The Baigas treat their own people. They do not go to a doctor. They have family planning measures as well. They have medicines for birth control and infertility. They will not give an outsider the ingredients for their medicines. But they will give him/her the medicine.

These tribal communities live in and around the forest. They prefer staying in the hills and forests and distancing themselves from the mainstream society. They have their own language, culture and traditions. They have their own problems too.

The Baiga is very simple. They have a lot of love and respect for others. But if you harm them or cause trouble for them then they are merciless. They are very protective of their own people. Unfortunately, they are used as labourers now. They are employed to fell the trees that they actually worship.


“You can learn a lot from a river; persistence and patience. In the beginning you go around an obstacle and over time you slowly break it down.”