Life and Economy of Orissa Tribal
Tribal economy in Orissa is subsistence oriented based mainly on collecting, hunting and fishing (e.g., the Birhor, Hill Kharia), or a combination of hunting and collecting with shifting cultivation (e.g., the Juang, Hill Bhuyan, Lanjia Saora, Kondh etc.) The Subsistence economy is characterized by simple technology, simple division of labor, and small-scale units of production and no investment of capital. The social unit of production, distribution and consumption is limited to the family and lineage. This also explains the existence of barter trade in the tribal economy.
Going by the general features of the (i) eco-system, (ii) traditional economy, the tribes of Orissa can be classified as:
(1) Hunting, collecting and gathering type,
(2) Cattle-herder type,
(3) Simple artisan type,
(4) Hill and shifting cultivation type,
(5) Settled agriculture type and
(6) Industrial urban worker type.
Each type has a distinct style of life which could be best understood in the paradigm of nature, man and spirit complex, that is, on the basis of relationship with nature, fellow men and the supernatural.
Tribal of a particular category depends exclusively on the forest resources for their livelihood. These include Kharia, Mankidi, Mankidia and Birhor who dominate the forests of Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar and Sundargarh districts. They earn livelihood by practicing hunting, gathering and collecting. These Orissa tribal live in tiny temporary huts made out of the materials found in the forest. Under constraints of their economic pursuit they live in isolated small bands or groups. With their primitive technology, limited skill and unflinching traditional and ritual practices, their entire style of life revolves round forest. Their world view is fully in consonance with the forest eco-system. The population of such tribes in Orissa though is small, yet their impact on the ever-depleting forest resources is very significant. Socio-politically they have remained inarticulate and therefore have remained in a relatively more primitive stage.
Another group of tribal practice catlle breeding for livelihood. The Koya tribe is the lone pastoral and cattle-breeder tribal community in Orissa. This tribe which inhabits the Malkangiri District has been facing crisis for lack of pasture.
Practice of various crafts is another profession that is widespread in the tribal economy of Orissa. Mahali and Kol-Lohara tribes of Orissa fall into the category of artisans and they practice crafts like basketry and black-smithy. The Loharas with their traditional skill and primitive tools manufacture iron and wooden tools for other neighboring tribes. Similarly the Mahalis earn their living by making baskets for other communities. Existence of both these tribal group is under threat as the tribal market is today flooded with cheap industrial goods.
Also prevalent among the tribes of Orissa is the practice of agriculture. Among the different tribes that practice hill and shifting cultivation include the Juang and Bhuyan in North Orissa, and the Kondh, Saora, Koya, Parenga, Didayi, Dharua and Bondo in southern Orissa. They supplement their economy by food gathering and hunting. Shifting cultivation is essentially a regulated sequence of procedure designed to open up and bring under cultivation patches of forest lands, usually on hill slopes. In the agricultural operations all the members of the family are involved in some way or the other. Work is distributed among the family members according to the ability of individual members. However, the head of the family assumes all the responsibilities in the practice and operation of shifting cultivation. The adult males, between 18 and 60 years of age under-take the strenuous work of cutting tree, ploughing and hoeing, and watching of the crops at night where as cutting the bushes and shrubs, cleaning of seeds for sowing and weeding are done by women.
Shifting cultivation is not only an economic pursuit of some tribal of Orissa, but it accounts for their total way of life. Their social structure, economy, political organization and religion are all accountable to the practice of shifting cultivation. In certain hilly areas terraces are constructed along the slopes. It is believed to be a step towards settled agriculture. Terrace cultivation is practiced by the Saora, Kondh and Gadaba. The terraces are built on the slopes of hill with water streams.
The position of priest, village headman and the inter-village head-man are hereditary. The village headman is invariably from original settlers' clan of the village, which is obviously dominant. Punishments or corrective measures are proportional to the gravity of the breach of set norms or crime, and the punishments range from simple oral admonition to other measures, such as corporal punishments, imposition of fines, payment of compensation, observance of prophylactic rites and excommunication from the community. Truth of an incident is determined by oath, ordeals and occult mechanism.
Marriage is an important institution for tribal community. Different method for getting the brides exist in Tribal community that include capture, elopement, purchase, service and negotiation are also there. With the passage of time negotiated type of marriage, which is considered prestigious, is being preferred more and more. Payment of bride-price is an inseparable part of tribal marriage, but this has changed to the system of dowry among the educated sections.