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[Yojana Archive] Indigenous Culture

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Context

  • The culture and diversities of indigenous people in India are remarkable.
  • Regions such as Northeast India, Rajasthan, Odisha and West Bengal have large concentrations of such indigenous communities.
  • The traditional knowledge, cultural expression, knowledge about local flora and fauna, medicine, agriculture, textile, and food of the indigenous people is immense.

According to a World Bank report, “Indigenous Peoples own, occupy, or use a quarter of the world’s surface area, they safeguard 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity.  They hold vital ancestral knowledge and expertise on how to adapt, mitigate, and reduce climate and disaster risks.”

[1] Adis of Arunachal Pradesh

  • The literal meaning of “adi” is mountain top or hill.
  • Adis are known to have migrated from further north and have settled in various districts of Arunachal Pradesh. They speak the Sino-Tibetan language.
  • They are traditionally nature worshippers and follow the faith of Donyi-Polo.
  • Adis are hence dependent on nature and are fully self-sufficient in their livelihood and lifestyle and all their resources come from the forests.
  • Adis are famous for their age-old house-making skills, and they take just one or two days to build a house.
  • Adi men are good craftsmen and have a unique way of building houses using different types of plant materials.
  • The traditional houses are constructed with different types of bamboo, wood, canes, leaves, etc., and no nails are used in their construction.
  • These are also collected based on the phase of the moon and the materials collected just before the new moon are free from insects, and last long.
  • Once a house is complete, the Adis celebrate it with their traditional rice beer.

[2] Tangsas of Arunachal Pradesh

  • The Tangsa community inhabits the Changlang district of eastern Arunachal Pradesh, located in the Patkai hills.
  • The Tangsas have a rich cultural heritage and are well known for their traditional knowledge and skills of natural food processing and preservation, sustainable cooking, weaving, architecture and basketry.
  • However, they are most famous for their indigenous bamboo tea-making.
  • The Tangsas, along with the Singphos, are believed to be the original tea-makers in India, much before the British introduced it commercially.
  • Tangsas process tea leaves following their traditional methodology which provides for the natural preservation of the roasted dry tea for many years.
  • Tangsas believe that their indigenous tea has medicinal values.
  • The staple diet and cuisine of Tangsas, consisting of rice, meat, and fish, are all cooked using bamboo.

[3] Kalbelias of Rajasthan

  • Kalbelia is a unique nomadic community of snake-charmers and is also referred to as “ghoomantar”.
  • In their language, Kal means ‘snake’ and Belia means ‘friendship’.
  • Kalbelias are known for their “Kalbelia dance”.
  • The knowledge of their cultural forms and practices is passed down through generations orally.
  • The Kalbelia tradition is rich in indigenous music, songs, dance and handicrafts (embroidery and ethnic jewellery) all combined together to create a vibrant and colourful folk form.
  • The men play music with their main instrument being the wind instrument called Pungi that is accompanied by percussion instruments, Dafli and to the beats and tunes of which the Kalbelia women dance.
  • Kalbelia is inscribed in the UNESCO 2003 Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

[4] Rajbongshis of West Bengal

  • Rajbongshi is an indigenous community residing in West Bengal, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and other Northeast regions.
  • The word Rajbongshi literally means “royal community” and is believed to have hailed from the ancient Koch kingdom.
  • Rajbongshis are well known for art forms such as Bamboo and Dhokra crafts, performing arts like Gomira Dance (Mukha Nach) and the satirical folk drama, Khon.
  • Gomira Dance locally known as Mukha Nacli, is a form of ritualistic dance practised by this community by putting on Gomira wooden masks of different forms of deities.
  • Instruments include drums, dhak, shehnai and metal gong.
  • Gomira mask makers reside in the Kushmandi block in Dakshin Dinajpur and Kaliagani block in Uttar Dinajpur.
  • The Gomira dance festival is organised usually during the months of Chaitra and Ashad (April- July).
  • Dhokra crafts or mat weaving is an indigenous tradition practised by the Rajbongshi women.
  • Weaving is done on home-based back strap looms.
  • Jute, which is grown locally, is hand processed and hand-woven to produce the natural fibre products, making the products highly sustainable.

Conclusion

  • The indigenous communities have nurtured oral cultural traditions of songs, theatre, dance, and social customs to help them survive the test of time with faith and hope.
  • When the world is struggling for solutions and success in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, there are hundreds of indigenous communities across the country which do not have any carbon footprint of their traditional ways of living and are mostly self-sufficient.
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