The dance went on: Adivasi self-assertion and networking during tribal cultural festival in Ranchi – Jharkhand

Shanthi Kunjan with mother © Priti David in 
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Watching tribal dancing live and up close is a hugely different experience from watching it on telly. For the 40-strong Gudalur adivasi group, recently invited by the Central University of Jharkhand to the Tribal Cultural Festival in Ranchi, the face-to-face with similar groups from all over India was mind boggling. For over 25 years, Stan (my husband) and I have explained to our adivasi friends in Gudalur that although they are a tiny minority in south India, there are entire states which are completely adivasi. Most people from rural India know little about the rest of the country, since books and pictures are not a part of their lives. It’s difficult to imagine how isolated people are. Poverty does not permit travel. The school curriculum is basic – if you’ve gone to school all. [….]

Even for those of us who’ve watched tribal dances on telly, the experience of being at the Tribal Cultural festival, a few feet away from Naga people (from northeast India) performing the Hornbill dance, or younger Nagas doing the cockfight, was surreal. That’s India. We in the south have so little contact with the northeast; even the average educated, Indians are totally ignorant about the landscape, the people, customs and geography.

The Naga people were colourful in glorious reds. They were majestic, their movements mesmerizing. The older people had faces full of character and wisdom, like some ancient, archetypal paintings. When they started dancing there was a hushed silence, although the open-air audience comprised hundreds of spectators, including little children. There were Manipur and Arunachal people too, also from the northeast. And their dances had a different rhythm and beat from the adivasis of central India, who have much in common with the southern adivasis. Santhals, Hos, Mundas  and Oraons: our Jharkhand hosts were out in full force. As were people from Orissa and Bengal.

For the Gudalur group we were with, it meant being able to understand finally, that they are part of an enormous ancient heritage spread all over India. As well as all over the world. For the first time, they could see with their own eyes that the word adivasi, first introduced to them by Stan 28 years ago, was real. Here were people speaking different languages, unintelligible to each other, yet with a commonality that was immediately apparent. […]

There was an academic part to the festival too, criticized because of the dominance of non-adivasis. But for adivasis, seeing Dr Khathing, a northeastern tribal person, as Vice Chancellor was another plus. […]

In the background loomed the sombre crisis of adivasis all over India being pushed to the brink, annihilated, as governments and mining companies usurp their land in the name of development. The stories are gut-wrenching. It was hard to put that fact out of my mind as the dance went on. […]

Source: “Jharkhand – an adivasi extravaganza” by Mari Marcel Thekaekara (The New Internationalist, 13 November 2012)
Date Visited: 4 September 2021

Nehru was fascinated by the spontaneity of tribal culture and their capacity of joy and heroism in spite of their appalling poverty, destitution, and ignorance. […] In Nehru’s view, the process of modernization must not be taken as forcing a sudden break with the tribals past but help them build upon it and grow by a natural process of evolution.

Dr. Chittaranjan Mishra in “Tribal Philosophy and Pandit Nehru” (Odisha Review, November 2017) | Learn more >>
Jawaharlal Nehru >>
Photo © Indian Express

“There is a need to explore the tribal consciousness in the backdrop of climate change, development, and deforestation.” – Deepanwita Gita Niyogi in “India’s Adivasi Identity in Crisis” Pulitzer Center May 27, 2021 | Learn more about climate change and illegal mining | United Nations on climate change | Find free publications on India’s hunter-gatherers in the Unesco Digital Library >>

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