The Santals by Boro Baski

Banam © Boro Baski | eBooks:
Banam | Museum of Santal Culture >>

Santals are the largest homogeneous tribal community in Eastern India. In the 1991 census, more than 5.2 million Santals were counted [5.8 million in the 2001 census]. 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. […]

Teaching Santal children

India is seen as an emerging major player in the global economy, but this progress has not yet reached the country’s tribal people. They comprise eight percent of the population. Many tribal children cannot cope with the dilemma of either sticking to their own culture or accepting schools’ middle-class values. This conflict results in high dropout rates, low educational aspirations and degraded self-esteem. A non-formal school project run by an NGO of tribal Santals in West Bengal proves that matters need not be that way. | Read the full articleby Boro Baski >>

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.
Address :
Date Visited: Sat Jul 16 2011 21:46:06 GMT+0200 (CEST)

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

Backup | Read or download the full article (PDF, 80 KB)

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 two major works by Rabindranath Tagore, the essay “Vidyasagar-Charit” and the drama Raktakarabi (English “Red Oleanders”), jointly published by the Asiatic Society & Sahitya Akademi (India’s National Academy of Letters) in 2020.

Other posts contributed by Dr. 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

“Tribal languages are a treasure trove of knowledge about a region’s flora, fauna and medicinal plants. Usually, this information is passed from generation to generation. However, when a language declines, that knowledge system is completely gone.” – Ayesha Kidwai (Centre for Linguistics, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi) quoted by Abhijit Mohanty in “Seven decades after independence, many tribal languages in India face extinction threat” | Learn more about the work done by the People’s Linguistic Survey of India and endangered languages worldwide >>

“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 (The Hindu) | Learn more about the role of tribal communities in fostering biodiversity, ethnobotany and cultural diversity | Success stories | Tribal identity >>

“I think that by retaining one’s childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and … toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable, and that by preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except steel and concrete, one merely makes it a little surer that human beings will have no outlet for their surplus energy except in hatred and leader worship.” – George Orwell | Learn more: Childhood | Customs | Games and leisure time | Literature – fiction | Storytelling >>

“The theoretical debate on caste among social scientists has receded into the background in recent years. [C]aste is in no sense disappearing: indeed, the present wave of neo-liberal policies in India, with privatisation of enterprises and education, has strengthened the importance of caste ties, as selection to posts and educational institutions is less based on merit through examinations, and increasingly on social contact as also on corruption.” – Harald Tambs-Lyche (Professor Emeritus, Université de Picardie, Amiens) in “Caste: History and the Present” (Academia Letters) | Learn more: Accountability | Democracy | Education and literacy >>

Related posts