Bringing to Being : Setting up a Kondha Village

Profile of the Village : 27 households, All Kondhs
Village : Sunkrupada, Hata Muniguda Panchayat, Bissamkatak Block, Rayagada District

Every Kondh village has a unique name and a history but one thing that is common among all Kondh clans and communities is rules and cultural practices around setting up a Kondh village. Let us hear how the Kondhs bring into being a new village.

“If we want to set up a village, then first we have to inform our Bejuni or Gurumai and then the Bejuni and Disari will go to see the place selected as the site for the new village. They will tell us whether it is possible to establish a new village or not. The place where we want to build the first house would be cleaned up with cow dunk water and tamarind water first. Then, we would put raw rice over there wrapped in a leaf. The rice would be kept overnight. Next day, if the rice will be scattered and strewn around, then it means that the place is not suitable for setting up a new village. If the rice is left as it is inside the leaf and all grains are in one place, then it means that the place is suitable for setting up a new village. Along with announcing this, the Bejuni and Gurumai also tell the time of starting construction on the new house.

Once the place for starting the village is settled, then the village elders go out and look for four unique stones from four directions – east, west, north and south of the new village site. Then the Disari or Bejuni go to the nearby forest to look for specific medicinal roots. With these roots and after sacrificing a rooster for each of the four directions, the boundary of the village is set up and collectively decided by the villagers present during the ritual.

The Kotavali stone that represents the ancestral spirits that protect the village is collected by the Bejuni and Gurumai from any one of the four directions. This stone is then installed ether in the middle spot of the village or in any one of the corners and designated as the village’s sacred place where the village’s rituals and functions will be held. All the houses are then built around that. After this the Jhankeri or village deity is installed. For the Jhankeri, a chchamunda or a leaf and sticks shade is made consisting of a neem log, a bel log, a sargi log and any other tree wished by the villagers over the stone which is also buried half into the earth under the shade. One more stone would be put over it and three stones are put around the two main stones. These stones are strictly prohibited to be every moved or replaced. Once these stones are installed rice and curry is prepared using locally grown rice and vegetables and offered to the Jhankeri by the Disari and Bejuni after some rituals. The other families who wish to live in the new village also look out for availability of forest and water near the new site and then build their houses. Every village has to keep aside some land for the family of the Jani who will cultivate the land and live off it till they provide the religious services to the villagers. If they leave the work of Jani then they cannot cultivate those lands and the lands will go to the next Jani family.

Every Kondh village’s Jhankeri has a wooden pillar or wooden menhir fixed beside the Jhankeri stones. For fixing this pillar or menhir at the Jhankeri or Kotavali, the Disari generally tells about the place where the pillar or menhir will be available. He dreams of it and then informs villagers who go in search of the pillars or menhir. And he also tells about the size of the pillar or stone and any other information through which they can identify the stone or wooden log. The pillars or menhirs are decorated with specific designs in dots with nails or carved so every Jhankeri’s pillar is unique and can be identified by the villagers. During festivals the Kondhs guard these pillars or menhirs as they are deemed very auspicious and if they are damaged or stolen them the Kondhs believe that misfortune will fall upon the whole village. And the Kondhs also believe that if some other village installs the pillar or menhir of another village then the original village will get destroyed and that is why the Kondhs guard their pillars or menhirs with such care.

What are reasons of setting up new village ? If any family member is facing any dispute in the village or does not follow the collective norms of the village then that person may either be asked to leave or forcibly thrown out. Such people move out to a new place and set up a new village. If someone is suspected as a witch hunting man or woman, then she or he would be told to leave the village but can go and set up a new village of her or his own. If population or households is increased and there is no space to expand the village and create homestead lands, then a new area can be selected to establish a new village. If the villagers do not conduct traditional festivals and worship rituals and if they won’t worship their traditional gods and goddesses with sincerity, then Bejuni and Disari sometimes indicate that everyone in the village has to leave their place and set up village in another place as the earlier place may be creating negative influence on the Kondh families and may lead to disaster on the village as a whole.

We know of a village called Nuapada or Nuagan, we can’t exactly remember the name of the village but it was in Chandrapur Block of Rayagada District. The entire village got extinct as the village elders did not perform the mandatory Kondh festivals and rituals with sincerity. So one by one people in the village began to die and soon only few families were left so they abandoned the village and shifted two another new village. Similarly there is the story of Panihipaya village in Bissamkatak Block. The villagers performed meria or human sacrifice in their village to please their Jhankeri but there was a huge conflict among the villagers over the justification of conducting meria. Soon over this dispute the village got divided and each faction moved away from the village abandoning it to set up two villages.   

Who and how this village was set up ? Two old Kondh elders called Denga Budha and Shyama Budha came to this lace from Kannadi vllage in Therubali area and after worshipping the deities like explained earlier they set up this village. One Dalit man also came to that village and asked them to look after their cattle. So they recruited him as the village’s cattle and sheep herder. But within few days they felt that he was stalking the wife of Denga Budha so they asked him to leave the village immediately but he refused to leave. However after a few weeks one Sulera Budha came and settled there and he began to take care of the villagers’ cattle and sheep. And then the three old men, Denga Budha, Shayama Budha and Sulera Budha worshipped to their deities to bless the village so that no one other than Adivasi Kondh families will be able to stay alive in the village and that has happened ever since. Till now no non-Advasi Kondh family which has come to settle in the village has been able stay here for more than 3-4 months. These non-Adivasi family members are either bitten by snakes or eaten by tigers because of this spell bound on the village by the three old men. Few outsiders have tried to live in the village but did not sustain for more than six months or a year.

There is this story told to us by our parents about a Christian missionary who came to convince the Kondh people of our village to convert to Christianity but the villagers were not willing to and asked him to leave. Some elders say he was driven out of the village and since then no missionary ever came back to our village so no one in the village is Christian. Now, there are 27 families in the village and we believe that there is one god for all the religions. We respect all the religions but we cannot leave our deities and goddesses because they have protected us here since the last three generations and so we will continue this tradition.

We have not seen a woman or an old woman set up a new village. Though there are not many rules or regulations to set up a new village, we do know that a woman can stay in any village but she cannot set up a new village. If a new member (Adivasi or non-adivasi) comes to the village, then all the villagers will call a meeting. But the person has to show her or his interest to live off their own either by doing some business or cultivating the hills and farms. Then only they will be allowed stay together with the villagers. If they show any sign of living in the village without doing any work then they may be asked to leave the village. Before providing farm land to any new family, enquiries would be made about the family members, in particular the men. The elders would try and understand properly why the family left the earlier village, what were the reasons and other information about the family members. This goes on for about 2-3 months. Meanwhile the family would be provided with a shelter and food by the villagers. We never allow anyone in our village to sleep without food and so villagers take care of the new family.

Just like setting up a new village, same process is followed while deciding the place for building a new house within a village. Most families move to a new house if they feel that their old house is having a negative influence on them leading to loss of good harvests or all family members are plagued with heath issues, financial losses, family quarrels and conflicts, etc. First the family elders conduct several ceremonies to ward off evil spirits bringing them bad fortunes. Even if after this things do not improve then the family breaks down their old house and builds a new one in another suitable place inside the village. Sometimes every family in the village faces bad fortunes and so all families get together and perform rituals to appease the ancestral spirits in all the four directions for the better fortune of the villagers. But if things do not improve then they may decide to leave the village and set up a new village after worshipping the Jhankeri and the Kotavali before leaving their village. Also if agriculture land is in shortage some families decide to leave the village but generally families do not leave the village. Rather they either purchase new lands in any nearby village or lease land from others in nearby villages. A few people also take up lands in 2-3 villages simultaneously.”

But the current situation is that these rituals around setting up a new village are hardly in practice as Kondh communities hardly get the opportunity to set up a new village. The reason being that with coming of the revenue patta system and villagers getting permanent pattas for farm lands and homesteads, they cannot afford to move out of their old settlements. So the whole practice of abandoning a village or a house is now almost a story to be told but not one that happens.

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