Santals are the largest homogeneous tribal community in Eastern India. In the 1991 census, more than 5.2 million Santals were counted. People of this ethnic group are also found in neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.
Santals have an oral tradition; songs and rituals play an important role in cultural maintenance and transmission. Originally, Santals were jungle-dwelling hunter-gatherers, who occasionally cleared forests for agriculture. Presently, they are small- and medium-scale farmers. The Santals have been living for centuries as neighbours of other communities, maintaining a cultural and social distance. Economically, the Santals are among the poorest communities of India.
The social organisation of the Santals is very clearly structured. Each village has its headman (Manjhi), supported by his assistant (Paranik); the Jogmanjhi is in charge of the young men and women; the Naike is the village priest; the Godet is the village convener. A group of villages is controlled by the Pargana or tribal chief, and a group of Parganas is controlled by the Disom Pargana. Santals are divided into twelve exogamous clans and sub-clans, and they observe complex social rules, relating to different age groups, clans et cetera.
Santals are nature worshipers. In their worldview, spirits (bongas) are everywhere around them: spirits of their ancestors, the spirit of the house, the spirits dwelling in the patch of primeval forest preserved in each village. Every hill, tree and rock may possess a spirit. These spirits are propitiated by elaborate ceremonies and sacrifices, which generally end in dancing and rice beer drinking. The Santals are great storytellers too. (bb)
Boro Baski is a research scholar at the Department of Social Work of Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, West Bengal. He grew up in Bishnubati and was the first person from this Santal village to obtain a master’s degree. He is member of the Goshaldanga Adivasi Seva Sangha (GASS) and co-founder of the Rolf Schoembs Vidyashram (RSV).
D+C, 2009/07, Focus, Page 280-282
Source: D+C 7-8/2009 – Focus – Long-term success of non-formal Adivasi school in West Bengal – Development and Cooperation – International Journal.
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