The Santals by Boro Baski

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.

Source: D+C, 2009/07, Focus, Page 280-282– Long-term success of non-formal Adivasi school in West Bengal – Development and Cooperation – International Journal.
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Date Visited: Sat Jul 16 2011 21:46:06 GMT+0200 (CEST)

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Dr. Boro Baski works for the community-based organisation Ghosaldanga Adibasi Seva Sangha in West Bengal. The NGO is supported by the German NGO Freundeskreis Ghosaldanga und Bishnubati. He was the first person from his village to go to college as well as the first to earn a PhD (in social work) at Viswa-Bharati. This university was founded by Rabindranath Tagore to foster integrated rural development with respect for cultural diversity. The cooperation he inspired helps local communities to improve agriculture, economical and environmental conditions locally, besides facilitating education and health care based on modern science.

He authored Santali translations of Rabindranath Tagore’s Vidyasagar-Charit and Raktakarabi (Red Oleanders), published by the Asiatic Society & Sahitya Akademi in 2020.

Other posts contributed by Boro Baski >>

Ghosaldanga Bishnubati Adibasi Trust
Registration under Trust Registration Act 1982
P.O. Sattore, Dist. Birbhum
West Bengal-731 236

For inquiries on Santal cultural and educational programs, please contact:
Mob. 094323 57160 or

“The notion of ‘mainstreaming’ needs to be challenged not just because Adivasi culture is being crushed, but also because Adivasi values and ways of life offer insights that the ‘mainstream’ needs. If we are to halt the destruction of ecosystems, we need to understand how closely biodiversity and cultural diversity are intertwined. Perhaps it is time to reverse the gaze and begin to learn afresh from Adivasis.” – Felix Padel & Malvika Gupta in “Are mega residential schools wiping out India’s Adivasi culture?” (The Hindu, 13 February 2021) | More about the role of tribal communities in preserving India’s biodiversity and ethnobotany >>

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To locate the Museum of Santal Culture in Bishnubati village (near Santiniketan) on the map seen below, open by clicking on the left button:

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