Koya Tribal of Orissa
The Koyas form a major chunk of the tribes in Orissa. They inhabit the hills of Malkangiri District. They have a tradition of about 200 years and it is believed that they were driven from the plateau in the Bastar region of Madhya Pradesh by famine and disputes. They are fun loving people and songs and dances punctuate their individual and social life. They believe in observing totemic rites, taboos and special rituals for invoking rain and elimination of diseases. They speak a different Gond dialect of the Dravidian group which more or less resembles the Telugu language. By plainsmen and officials the Koyas are regarded as the major supporters of the Naxalites.
Despite the march of civilization, the Koya village is regarded as a political unit for handing out justice. Their villages are situated on the patches of clearings in the midst of forests. The Koya tribal do not settle at any place permanently because of their belief that there may be some supernatural elements which cause some natural calamities or the local God will be displeased. They live in low thatched houses. There are some rituals which they observe at the time of establishing a new village. Soil is taken from the new land to present it to the chief mentor and the ’guru’ tests it to determine the auspicious movement, day and future course. The community shifts to the new land at the auspicious moment. It takes more than one year to complete the formalities. The head of the Koya village is called ’Peda’ and it is hereditary. According to his advice, homestead and arable lands are provided to the people. Few villages constitute a ’Mutha’ or ’Panchyat’ and the head of the Mutha is called ’Muthadar’. A ’Katual’ is there to help Muthadar in the village.
Animal rearing is the main activity of the Koyas. They rear Pigs, Goats, Cows and Hens. The main festival of Koyas is "Bijapandu" festival celebrated in the month of Chaitra. They live in low thatched houses. They cultivate Tobacco leaf, Mandia, Maize, Bhatta Paddy. Mahula and Salapa is their ideal drink. This tribal of Orissa believe in puja and local medicine for their illness and disease and moreover they use very little quantity of milk. Alcohol (Salap) consumption is very common among the Koyas.
The Koya dormitory assumes a unique place in their social life. Monogamy is preferred by most Koya male. But, now a day’s polygamy is gaining favor among some Koyas. As younger males marry older females, they take up several females with a view to gaining sexual pleasure and property. The liberty to choose a life companion is restricted among the Koyas. At times, a grown up male with his friend’s, kidnap a female and afterwards he pays bride price to the female’s father and the marriage is solemnized. It is known as ’Karsu Pendul’. Instances where grown up Koya female forces her way into the house of her choicest male are also common. In such cases, male’s father gives a small bride price to the female’s father and it is known as ’Lonadi Pendul’.
For good crop, the deity is prayed to and seeds are kept before the God. It is believed by the Koya tribal that on the touch of the deity, the seeds will yield more. The festival of consuming new crops is observed in the months of Bharava and Ashwina and this festival is known as ’Kusem Pandu’. While ’Sikud Pandu’is observed in the months of Ashwina and Kartika and newly harvested rice is eaten. The rain god is worshiped in the months of Magha and Phalguna. During this festival, the images of a male and a female are married under a ’mohua’ tree. It is believed that the rain god is thus married and he would give ample rain. Than, the priest sprinkles water on the images and the marriage of the rain god is said to be solemnized. Dance and songs starts from there. The Koyas have an interesting dance style. The Koya tribal dance involves the men tying the buffalo or bison horns on their heads and engage in mimic fights, while the women wearing traditional costumes dance prettily in a ring with their hands on each other’s shoulder.
Every aspect of Koya life is charming and colorful. But the place of honor is occupied by their dance and music. The invigorating dances set to the beat of tapping music of traditional instruments are a way of life for the Koyas. In all seasons and occasions, the Koya people sing and dance. Like other tribes, the Koyas draw the attention of the people for their festivals and mode of amusements. Festive fervor sweeps the Koya villages right from the beginning of Baisakh month. They observe four important festivals like, Bija Pandu, Kodta Pandu, Bumud Pandu and Ikk Pandu.The festival of Bija Pandu is observed in the months of Baisakh and Jyestha and choicest deity is offered pigs, fowls, eggs and mango. Although an important festival of most of the tribes of Orissa, it is celebrated with unmatched enthusiasm by the Koyas.