eBook | Santals as a community: A brief introduction to their culture and approach to development

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A brief introduction of Santal life and culture and our approach to development

by Dr. Boro Baski | Read the full text (PDF, 130 KB): A brief introduction of Santal life and culture and our approach to development >>

Santals as a community

We, the Santals are one of the largest homogeneous tribal communities of India, counting more than 10 million people. Apart from India, Santals live in neighboring countries, in Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Despite this geographical distance, Santals share the same language, cultural tradition and values. Santals’ social and religious system is very complex and complete in itself. Each village has five representatives who are selected by the village community through consensus to run the village. They are ‘Manjhi baba’ the headman, ‘Jog Manjhi’ the assistant-headman, Naike, the priest, Paranik the youth guide, and Godet, the convener. All kinds of disputes, including any family and personal problems, are discussed in the village meetings and are settled through common consent. Santals have some classical song-melodies and various music- and dance-forms that are sung and performed the same way wherever Santals live. They have oral traditions, songs, and ritual play an important role in cultural maintenance and transmission. Some music tunes have been slightly modified due to the cultural influence of the various population groups that live near Santal villages. However, the musical instruments and the basic rhythms are the same as they used to be ages ago.

Originally Santals were hunter-gatherers and known for clearing forests for agriculture. Presently they are mostly farmers.  For centuries, Santals have been living as neighbors of other communities maintaining a cultural and social distance. The Santals are regarded as one of the economically poor communities of India.   They are known to be simple, honest, peace-loving, jovial in character, fond of their rice-wine and ready to crack a joke. They are also regarded as slow and lethargic people, reluctant to accept new ideas and changesThey are said to suffer from an inferioritycomplex. These are some of the broad ethnographic impressions that are prevalent about the Santals.

The characteristic features of Santal Identity 

Modern education allows for interaction between communities and this is where we first encounter our cultural differences. Education poses different choices to the Santals – either to be engulfed in mainstream culture or to remain marginalized. In both cases we are less than “complete” or ill equipped to take full advantage of educational opportunities. […]

Ghosaldanga-Bishnubati approach of development: 
Education in Our School: Understanding the paradox of Santal culture and modern development, some of our senior educated Santals have realized that our children will not receive the education that is sympathetic to Santal life from the Government schools. In those schools, our children will gradually become culturally marginalized.

Therefore, we have started a Primary School, Hostels for our senior students and a Museum of Santal Culture. […]

The schools and hostels are built in the village or within one kilometer radius of the village so that the students can visit their families to take part in the household work when necessary. This helps them to get exposure to the positive and negative aspects of Santal life besides absorbing modern education.

The Museum of Santal Culture is built at the end of the village in which more than 100 Santal ethnographic items like hunting materials, dresses and ornaments, musical instruments, house hold utensils and traditional medicines are exhibited. We believe that these items are not any old wooden or metal thing which our parents and grandparents once used. These objects tell us the history of our tribe and are a witness to the deep thought, intelligence and ingenious spirit of our forefathers. The role of the museum is to educate our children about the rich culture and tradition that our ancestors have given us. We also believe that the strength of our cultural roots can give support to a Santal to man or women in order to consciously reach out to the modern world. In this way, a museum can be one element for the community to move forward towards modernity without abandoning its Santal mentality. […]

It is through the conscious exposure to our culture and then by going out to the world to experience other cultures that we can realize the importance of our own culture. This helps us to find our own space in this multi-cultural society of India. […]

Traveling in India, our students consciously witness the glittering and competitive city life-styles. However, they also experience the good work social service organizations do among the poor. This helps them to make a choice in their lives in a critical way and by this we connect our Santal culture with the outside world.

Source: © Dr. Boro Baski (by email attachment 26 July 2018) for publication under the following Creative Commons licence: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

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 [email protected]

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