Making Our Living : Implements and their Linkage to the Forest

Kondh people are master craftspeople. It is said that they can make everything that they need to survive with their own hands and do not depend on anyone else for anything. One such crucial component of Kondh culture is the knowledge of making and using implements. Let us know what implements Kondhs make and how the knowledge of making these implements is closely linked to the diversity and density of their forests.

“There are basically six category of implements that we use in our farming systems. These are :

  • Implements used in readying land before sowing : nangal, juada, hisso, palpa and jata
  • Implements used in levelling the land and clearing grass and weeds : kurli
  • Implements used in levelling the land post the sowing : pata
  • Implements used in mud levelling before transplanting saplings : kampar
  • Implements used in making bunds and water channels : kuddi or kodgi
  • Implements used in weeding : weeder (this is the only implement that is bought from the market at a cost of INR 400 per piece)

We need the weeder because everyone is doing line sowing in our village as in this process we use less seeds, less labour so expenses are also less and we find that the rice plants are healthier and have thicker panicles. But line sowing was adopted by villagers when we stopped growing our indigenous seeds. This happened almost 20-25 years back so don’t really know why we lost our indigenous seeds and when did these ‘outside’ seeds enter our farming systems.

For making a nangal any wood log will do. Each one of us makes our own nangal. But some people who don’t know how to make one also buy from weekly market or ask someone in the village to make it for them in return for money or paddy. In such a case the person who makes the nangal has to get the wood as well. People sit together to make the nangals so when you sit in a group you learn from seeing others and elders also help if anyone is making any mistake. Actually it is a difficult task to cut the log to make this nangal and needs a skilled craftsperson. If the log is not cut properly it will break while ploughing the fields and will not last long. We do not use lightweight trees for nangal. Logs of trees like sargi, bandana and kasana are heavy and strong and so they are best for making a nangal. Some people are forced to use logs from mango trees because sometimes it is difficult to find an appropriate tree cutting a log to make a nangal.

For making a juada we prefer sing logs from gambhar or charu koli trees. The wood used in juada cannot be of heavy weight as the cattle have to take the load of the juada on their necks and a heavy juada will injure the cattle while ploughing and they will bleed. The juada is a little easy to make and so we can do it by ourselves with a little help from others. The wood for a juada has to be selected carefully and cannot have any small crack otherwise it will also break into two while ploughing and not last long, not even for one season.

For making a hisso, which is a part f the juada, we need a heavy and strong log so that it does not break easily. The hisso joins the juada to the nangal and is a small piece of wood but very crucial to the entire plough. If we make a strong hisso it can almost last for ten years. In fact since it is the main part of the plough it has to be done with utmost care.

The palpa is the rope that binds the juada to the nangal. Earlier we made the palpa with ropes made from siadi or pita branches. These trees are creepers. But now everyone is using plastic ropes which they buy from the weekly markets. The siadi and pita rope making process is quite lengthy and so most farmers now don’t feel inclined to make these ropes. But I still make my own palpa. My wife and me we go to the forests and collect as many branches of siadi and pita as we can. Then we soak these branches in water and then shred them into thin pieces and twist them together to make into ropes. Siadi and pita creepers are available in the forests but people are too lazy to go and cut them and so just buy from the market or make by tearing cement bags.

The jata is another set of ropes that we use to tie the hisso to the nangal and it can also be used as a dain or the rope to tie cattle in the shed or while thrashing the paddy and millets. The jata is also being bought these days from the markets and is made of plastic. But like the palpa it can be made with siadi and pita ropes or by tearing cement bags and weaving the strings into a rope.

For making kurli we need a strong and heavy weight tree log so we use sargi or bandhan logs and the teeth of the kurli is made of the dho tree since it is heavy but easy to cut through and carve the teeth of the kurli. The kurli also has a art called medi which is the linking piece of wood between the kurli and the teeth of the kurli. The kurli is used not only to level land and make it even at all corners of a plot but it is also used as a weeder since its teeth hold the grass and weed and pull it out from the roots while levelling land. The kurli can be used by women. Earlier women used to do almost everything but gradually girls were not allowed to plough and use other kinds of implements. But in our area there is still an old woman who ploughs and uses all the agriculture implements mentioned though she doesn’t know how t make them.

For making pata we need again a strong and heavy wood so we use sargi or bija tree logs for this implement. There are two types of patas that we make. One is used for levelling land or pulling earth from one end of a plot to the other end and the other is used as a lightweight land leveller just to cover the seeds sown with a thin layer of soil so that birds and insects do not eat or attack the newly sown seeds. This kind of a pata is usually a thin and round log to which dry leafy twigs are tied and pulled along the land so that it does not pull away too much soil while being dragged on the land. The first kind of pata is also made in a way that it can be used as a two-way tool – one side is used as pata to level land and the other side is used as a kampar or a wet mud land leveller and has teeth on this side. The second kind of pata which is lightweight is generally used by women. And the second one has to be a heavy weight one since it works as a pata and as a kampar which is tied to the bullocks and hence used by men.  

For making a kampar we use light weight wood like bija. This tool is used by those who have lowlands that are irrigated and where there is water logging. This cannot be a heavy implement as it has to go all over the lands and pulled by bullocks in a muddy or water logged plot. The kampar is a semi circle implement used by us to level muddy or waterlogged lands before starting transplanting. If we use heavy wood then while carving it will be difficult to bend it into a semi circle. Sometimes if we do not get the appropriate tree log then we get a huge heavy weight tree trunk and then carve it by chiselling it into a semi circle. It is the most difficult tool to make.

For making a kuddi or kodgi we purchase the iron spade from the local ronsmith or from the weekly market and then make the denta or handle of kuddi with wood. For the denta we need strong and heavy wood. The branch has to be first smoked in fire to make it unbreakable and hard. The damna tree is best for all kinds of dentas. The kuddi is used to make bunds of farm plots and repair the old bunds if they get eroded over time. The length of koddi dentas or handle depends on the height of the user and the purpose for which it is made. We also make dentas for tangia or axes, gainti or pick axes and other smaller implements like the barsi. The barsi denta or handles have to be small as these are used in the fields to crouch and work.

We also make lodka or wooden bells for tying around our cattle so that we can identify our own cattle in a herd or trace them if they get lost in the forests and mountains. Our grandparents used to make some beautiful bells that we could hear from very far. But slowly thieves began to steal these lodkas in order to steal the cattle so our grandparents stopped making these bells and began to buy brass bells available in the weekly markets. There are again different kinds of bells. One kind of bell is like the normal bell with a small tongue inside that hits against the bell to make sounds. The other kind of bell is three sticks of different lengths that are tied together and make a sound when they hit against each other when the cattle walk.

Apart from agriculture related implements we also make wooden khata or charpoys of bandhan trees. The making of a khata or charpoy is a very skilled work as t is has several joints and if they do not join together well then the user of the khata will get backache and the khatas will not last long. Most of our khatas last for about 20-25 years. I made one for my marriage which I am using even now and it is more than 25 years old. There is a rule that we cannot use bija tree for making a khata as t is considered inauspicious for women and girls.

We also make wooden implement for processing our paddy and millet grains like kotni, parana, dhenki and ghuruna. Of these the skill of making dhenki is lost to us after the death of an old Sabar adivasi man. He was the only one in our area who knew how to make a dhenki and unfortunately none of us learnt this skill from him. The dhenki used to be made of sisua tree. A few people still know how to make a dhenki in other areas of our district. We use sargi or mohul wood for making the kotni and ssua wood for making the paran). The kotni is a thick and wide mouthed jug like wooden piece dug into the earth and the parana is a long piece of wood with an iron cap at one end which is made by the ironsmiths. When we process millets of paddy we put the grains inside the kotni and pound it with the parana end that has the iron cap. The force of hitting grains inside the kotni with the parana dehusks the paddy or the millets. Similarly the ghuruna is made of two thick and round stone pieces where one piece is dug into the earth and the other is placed on top of it and both are held together by a small wooden or iron denta. The ghuruna is used to grind paddy, pulses and millets. The stones for the ghuruna are either bought or made by chiselling stones got from the mountains. Most adivasi women now how to make the ghuruna. This is one of the only implements that are made by almost solely by wmen.

From mud we make two things – jhikar or roof tiles and mud bricks which we either just sun-dry or burn if we can get enough twigs and paddy husk to burn. Earlier we all knew how to do everything, even the work of an ironsmith. We could also make crude pistols for hunting. But gradually ironsmiths began settling in our area and so we gave them the work of making our iron implements. But then in the last ten years or so the ironsmiths have shut shop as their children have not taken up their work and migrated to cities looking for jobs. So now we only know how to sharpen our own implements but we cannot make the iron implements and we buy most of these from the weekly markets or the town and city markets.

Women have separate iron tools especially axes and other field and hunting implements because the women use these for different purposes. The kutra kati is a small iron tool used for clearing grass and cutting leafy greens and fruits from the forests. This is used specifically by women but it is bought from the market as we don’t know how to make this iron tool.

Another material from which we make many of our household and farm tools is bamboo. We make jhudi, tati, boundary, kula, changudi, haddeni, etc from bamboo. Most adivasi people can make these and don’t buy them from the markets. The bamboo making skills are learnt by women and men alike and most of it is learnt by seeing elders and others.

The implements required in the kitchen, like the chatu, pitpatia, lau tumba danka, hetki, etc used to be made of either of bamboo or wood. But now all these are being bought and nothing is made of wood. Some people still use wooden and bamboo kitchen implements but those were made much earlier by their parents or grandparents. Any wood can be used to make these.

The adivasis believe that all skills required for making a living are there with someone or the other in the village so we don’t need training for learning anything. All we need is observation skills and with that anything can be learnt between one week and one day ! So we say that “maa pachchare jhia jiba ta sikhiba au bapa pachchare pua gale siye sikhiba” This means that if a girl follows her mother everywhere then she can learn all the skills gain all the knowledges and if a son follows his father everywhere then he can learn all the skills and gain all the knowledges. For example, the kereda tree is a very useful one that can be used in place of bamboo while making the implements if bamboo is not available in the nearest forest. But young boys don’t know this because they do not follow their fathers.

We learnt the skills of making these implements by seeing others. Parents do not need to teach us anything. In fact if you live in the village you automatically learn these skills and knowledges that are passed on from our elders to us when we work together with them. Our Adivasi people actually learn everything by using senses of seeing together, working together, talking together and living together. Thus those who stay at home are learning these skill and those who are going to school are not learning and even don’t want to learn. The village for us was our school but now our children go to this separate place called school where they learn none of our skills !

Why are your children not interested to learn ? We don’t know and we cannot understand them. But there is a saying in Odia “swargaru padiba ta khaibe” meaning that if it falls from heaven then only they will get to eat. This is what will be the future of our children as they don’t want to learn anything from us. Aged parents of such children will suffer lot. These young children study and only want to go for jobs but is it possible for everyone to get a job ? I learnt these skills from my uncles so now even if no one helps me I can manage my farming and every other need by myself. But those who are not learning, how will they manage if they have to start living in the village and do farming ? That is why young boys are running off to cities in search of work !

I have two sons. One is working as a helper in a commander. They don’t know how to run an axe. I cut the wood and timber and they just go and lug it back to home. My sons don’t help me at all. He doesn’t study nor does he do farming. He stays in my other house inside the village and does not come to see me. He eats in my brother’s house. Both my sons stay there and don’t come to help me and my wife in farming or anything else. There are some boys, in fact many f them, who go to school or college but in the mornings they get up and help their parents in the farming and their mothers in other works. They also miss school or college if there is a lot of work at home. But still these boys also do not have the skills of making these implements or constructing a bamboo fence around their farms or house. They just like to roam around.

Will this knowledge and skill get lost ? No it will not get lost. We may not be able to see, may not be able to fetch anything and our strength to work may get reduced and then only maybe we may not be able to do so many things like we are doing now. But yes I do fear that when I am dead my sons will sell the land and the cashew plantation I have created with so much pain and hard work. They will sell all this land and buy bikes and roam around without any responsibility towards anyone in the family. It will be like the cat sleeping near the fire but not feeling hot. I fear then that after riding the bikes they will hit somebody in some accident and then sell their bikes and sit at home and cry but not know what to do.

My parents died when I was small. My uncle brought me up and taught me every skill that is needed to run a household. I got a job as a driver at Kotpad but I realised that if I go there and earn a lot of money by driving, I will get a lot of money but I will not feel like taking care of my land. I will get money but my land will lie fallow, my forest will remain untended and the stream waters will flow without being used. This will be my loss so I decided not to go to Kotpad. And I would also raise a family wherever I stayed but my children will never be able to recognise their village or their lands. So I thought I will stay near my lands and die here but not go anywhere else to look for work. I have never stepped out of my village to migrate to Kerala or Bombay in search of work because the forest and the lands have given me everything I need.

Once during a public meeting in our Panchayat someone asked me what will do with these trees and forests ? I asked him in return what will you do with these people ? I said both are not needed, people and forests. No, it is not like this. We need people and we need forests. Each cannot survive without the other. Then I told them that let us have a meeting in an open place after clearing all these trees and bushes. The people said that we cannot sit as it is too hot. So I said that you only want to cut the trees so why do you then need their shade ? You want to clear the forests but you also want the shade. I explained to them that just like this we need the forest and the forest needs us. She is our Mother and we are her children. So don’t say you don’t need trees. If the trees live then they help fertilise the soil by shedding their leaves and dropping their old fruits. We survive by eating their fruits. We get so much peace after eating a fruit from a tree and sitting under its shade. Then everyone in the meeting understood what I was trying to tell them. Even if we have the money to buy everything we need we cannot get the same peace of mind as we get when we eat fruits from our forests or rice from our lands.”

Profile of Village : 25 households, All Kondhs, Tala Sahi has 28 households, All Kondhs
Village Details : Hembur, Turiguda Panchayat, Chandrapur Block, Rayagada District

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