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Socio-economic life of the Lodhas: A primitive tribal group of Odisha

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This article presents the details about the Lodhas – a rare primitive tribe of Odisha who have a distinct life style of their own. More specifically this paper aims to provide an empirical analysis of their socio-economic life i.e. their physical feature, principal food, their marriage, their settlement, their house types, their political organisation, their agriculture, customs, traditions and so on.

Key Words: Primitive Tribal groups, mesoprosopic face, patriarchal, political organization, work participation, plausible panacea, indigenous ethnic group, anthropological.

Odisha is one of the most fascinating states of India from anthropological point of view. It is the second largest tribal dominated state in the country with the largest number of tribal communities (Sahoo-L.K-2001, P-63). In 1956 the President of India declared sixty two (62) different tribal communities in Odisha to be scheduled tribes. (STs) Out of sixty two notified scheduled tribes, only eight (08) are declared as primitive tribal groups (PTGs) by the Govt. of India. (Nayak A.N., 2010, P-203). Those tribes are namely the Juang, the Bondoparaja, the Lodha, the Didayi, the Mankidia, the Birhor, the Kharia and the Soura. This paper aims to discuss about the Lodha – a Primitive tribal group among the eight notified PTGS. It is noteworthy to mention that the PGTS constitute 22.13 percentage population of Odisha and almost 44.25 percent of the total land of Odisha is scheduled area.

Lodha means a piece of fish named after their ancestor. It a small tribe having a total population of 8905 as per census 2011. They are mainly found in the Suliapada and Morda Blocks of Mayurbhanj district. They claim that they are the descendants of Zara Sabara who are the only worshipers of Lord Jagannath and till today they have been performing important role in the religio-cultural norms of Jagannath temple. So it is justified to say that the Jagannath cult of Odisha is interwoven with the tribal religion especially the Lodha community. Based on these beliefs the Lodha regard themselves superior in social status than any other tribes in Odisha. It is therefore they identify themselves as Lodha Sabara. The Lodhas belong to the North Munda group speaking Mundari language as their mother tongue. By virtue of their long association and contact with the Hindi neighbours, they have forgotten their Mundari speech. Now they are speaking a dialect which is mixture of Bengali, Odia and Mundari.

Lodhas have been in the focus of anthropologists and social activists. If any that revolted against the British in India first, it was the tribal’s and the Lodha communities who were on the front ranking. They were ruthlessly suppressed by the British and branded by them as criminals. It is sad to note that the Govt. of India, even after independence continues to brand them as criminal tribe instead of honouring them for the revolt they had pioneered against the foreign invaders. In India Lodhas are known as criminal tribe until the revocation of the Criminal Tribal Act 1962. Such attempt of the Govt. in free India left the Lodhas having no alternatives to earn their bread as they have no landed property. So the Lodhas are forced to become pretty thieves and earn their bread by stealing. As a result they are not accepted in the society to live with dignity.

In the present context it is important to discuss the physical features of the Lodhas. Of course their physical characteristics are accepted only by observation and so we observe a little variation in their characteristics. The Lodhas are coming from Austro-Asiatic group but they have exhibited a rare characteristic in general. The colour of their skin and hair are brown to dark brown. They exhibit a medium (mesoprosopic) face and medium to flat nose. Both the male and the female of the Lodha group have normal height. The approximate height of both the male and female are 5’6’’ and 5’1’ respectively. They normally posses good health.

As special attempt has been initiated to discuss both the social and economic life of the Lodhas in this paper, it is pertinent to focus on the same in detail.

Social Life: The Lodhas stand separate from all other tribal groups. Therefore their social life is interesting to reveal. Their social life include their settlement, their house types, their literacy and education, their social organisation, food habits, social customs, work participation, their love for art, their political organisation and so on. It is imperative to discuss these one after another.

Settlement: The Lodhas settle in villages either separately or with other communities. It is obvious that most of the Lodha villages are situated far away from the human reach inside the dense forest separately. However some of them are found living within multi caste villages. In such cases even they have their houses far away from the village dominated by other castes.

House Types: The Lodhas build their house here and there in scattered manner. These houses appear as a shapeless cluster. They build single roomed house made of mud and straw-thatched. Some well to do Lodha families of course, have multi roomed houses with country yards and gardens fenced with bamboo poles and twigs. (Dash and Mohanty 2012, P-100). They live with their pet animals. They never mind to spare a portion of their single room to keep the goats and cattle. In one corner of the house on a raised platform near the hearth, the seat of the ancestral spirits is located. The Lodha families in the past did not know the use of modern utensils. They used mud pots, leaf plates and cups as their utensils. But today they are using steel plates, plastic bags and aluminum.

Literacy and Education: The social life of the Lodhas is reflected through their discouraging literacy position. The following datas prove the point. The literacy situation of the Lodha is below the state average in case of both males and females. The literacy rate of the Lodha as reported in 2001 census is 27.0%. The percentage of matriculates among the Lodhas is below 3% in case of males and below 1% among the females. (Nayak A.N., 2010, P-204). The number of graduates and diploma holders are negligible among the Lodhas till today.

Social Organization: The Lodha tribal group emerges out of clan organisation. There are nine different clan groups having totemic origin each who start living as a community under one chief. Afterwards they are known as Lodha tribal group. After clan, the Lodha tribe becomes the largest social unit.

Family: Family is the smallest social unit in the Lodha society. The family comprise of parents and their children. The Lodhas prefer to live in joint and extended families. The father being the senior most male member is regarded as the head of the family. The family property is inherited along the male line. After marriage, a daughter leaves her parental house and joins the family of her parents-in-laws. This custom shows that the Lodha family is patriarchal.

Observance of Social Customs:   Like Hindus the Lodhas observe certain customs during birth and death. Goats and fowls are offered to the local God to ensure smooth birth and welfare of both the mother and baby. Birth prohibition is observed for twenty one days and during this period the mother and the baby remain confined to the house. The baby is breast fed by the mother upto the age of six months. After six months two ceremonies namely the hair cutting and rice feeding are observed. As per custom the Lodhas used to berry or cremated the dead body. Death prohibition lasts for ten days. Purificatory rituals are observed on the tenth day as well as on the eleventh day. On the day of purification, the relatives and the co-villagers are given with a feast arranged by the members of the family of the dead.

The custom of marriage in Lodha society is another important social event. Adult marriage is common among the Lodhas and mostly it is performed by negotiations. A mediator is engaged by both the bride and groom sides to carry on negotiation and settle the bride’s price. Cases of child marriage, love marriage and marriage by exchange of sisters are also found in the Lodha society. Widow re-marriage is prevalent among the Lodhas and divorce is allowed.

Observance of religious rituals and festivals: Like other communities the Lodhas observe certain religious rituals and festivals. They worship many Gods and Goddesses. Among them Dharam Devta is supreme. They worship Basumata, the mother earth. Goddess Sitala is worshiped as Goddess of epidemics. Lodhas observe a number of magico religious festivals and rituals round the year. The important festivals are Sitala Puja and Chandi Puja. These festivals are observed to ward off the evil spirits. Besides every year ancestor worship is performed in the month of Chaitra  (March-April).

Food, drinking and Smoking: The principal food of the Lodhas is rice. They take meals twice and thrice a day. In the morning they eat soaked water rice of the previous night. They take it with burnt potatoes and tomato with mustard oil, roasted drum stick leaf. During lunch they take boiled rice with different vegetable items. Sometimes they take roasted fish with mustard oil. In the night they eat the same food prepared for the lunch. They prefer to ear vegetables they grow from their land like potato, tomato, drum stick leaf, chilly, cauliflower, cabbage, bitter guard, ladies finger, radish arum and brinjal etc. l (Dash and Mohanty, 2012, P-102). Besides vegetable food they also eat non-vegetable food like chicken, mutton, fish and dried fish. The food habits of the child and the old in the Lodha society is interesting to describe. The old usually avoid taking fried or spicy curry as these are not digestive. Children are given soft food like boiled rice, boiled vegetables such as potato and tomato. They fry drum stick leaf (Saga) with mustard oil to feed the children and sometimes they give boiled eggs to their children. Consumption of liquor is more or less a part of their food habits. Both male and female drink country liquor when they feel tired. Both men and women are having the habits of chewing the betel leaves along with tobacco. Men are smoking bidi and cigarette for pleasure.

Work Participation: The work participation rate among the females is higher than males in case of primitive tribal groups especially the Lodhas. In 2001 census the work participation rate of Lodha is reported as 47.3% in case of male and 47.7% in case of female. The percentage of male non-workers is reported from Lodha 44.3% as per 2001 census. (Nayak A.N., 2010, P-204).

Love of Art: The Lodhas are patrons of art. Tattoying gives testimony to the love of the Lodhas for art. They have special attraction towards this kind of personal adornment. They adorn their body with a kind of paste prepared by mixing castor oil (Jada Tela) with pen ink. They mark their body with the paste by puncturing and inserting pigment. Lodha women are fond of making tattoo marks in their body with different forms like flowers or names of their beloved on their hand. Unmarried girls like to design their left hand, right hand, forehead, arm and left leg with tattoo which is regarded as “Khoda”. When on the other hand male persons are tattooing their name on the hand, it is called “Sikha” (Das and Mohanty, P-104). It is a general believe among the Lodhas that the women who died without tattooing is impure and is punished by Jamraja.

Political Organization: Like other communities the Lodhas depend on the political institution for discipline and smooth run of their tribe. The Lodhas have their village Panchayat which is called Desh. All adult male persons are members of the village panchayat. The village headman is called Mukhia or Sardar. The Mukhia presides over the village panchayat and decides cases relating to breach of social customs, norms and taboos. The judgement given by the Mukhia is to be obeyed by one and all. Dakua, a village messanger assists the Mukhia.

Economic Life: Economic condition of the Lodhas was not prosperous. It was mostly pathetic. Since the Lodhas are mostly forest dwellers, their economic activities  centre in and around the forest. Their primary occupation was rearing the tussar silk worm in the host trees of Sal and Asan. Besides tussar cultivation they pursue hunting, food gathering, collecting forest products in the forest. Apart from collection of fruits and roots for their own consumption, they collect Kendu leaves to make bidi. They used to collect Sal and Siali leaves to make leaf cups and plates and Sabai grass to make ropes. They also collect forest products like honey, Lax, Sal, Seeds, Mahua flowers and firewood which they sell in the market to earn a livelihood. However it is a matter of regret that persistent deforestation throws the Lodhas out of their traditional source of livelihood and turns their economic condition pathetic.

The Lodhas are the most backward indigenous ethnic group of Odisha. Govt., non-Governmental organizations are working for their development since long. But the fruits of development have not yet been achieved as expected. Therefore efforts should be taken to publish socio-economic data about the Lodhas separately, as a result of which plausible panacea can be developed to address their problem scientifically. (Dr. Nayak A.N., 2010, P-205). In India census organization is the only authority who retains socio-economic data of different communities historically. May this organization take care and show interest to publish both quantitative and qualitative datas on the Lodha in the ensuing census.

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