Animal Kingdom Cometh: Livestock management practices among the Kondhs

Domestic animals are one of the lifelines of adivasi farming systems. While hunting is the Kondh peoples’ connection to animals for food, tending to domestic animals is their connection to farm and non-farm based livelihoods. In both cases the Kondhs have a deep sense of love and respect for animals and this conversation reflects their relationship to domestic animals. 

“Almost every Kondh household keeps livestock and primary among them are draught cattle which then include bullocks, cows and some even have buffalos. Then we also keep goats, sheepand poultry. Some also raise roosters for the local cockfights in the months of March and April. As for numbers, we need at least two bulls for ploughing and for pulling the bullock cart and we can have or not have cows as it is optional. Those who keep cows rear them for selling their milk and for procreation. The number of cows depends on how many we can afford and on area we have for making their cattle shed. The calves born to cows are generally sold at the weekly animal market. We also do not keep pigs though Dalits in other villages rear pigs to sell in the markets.

In our village every man in the house used to keep a dog which would go with him to the forests and for the hunting expeditions. But a few years back the dogs kept biting the sheep and killing them so we have now stopped keeping dogs. But some households do have pet cats which they keep for chasing away the rats and mice in the houses which attack the stored grains. 

We do not eat beef now. Our elders used to eat beef about 40 years back. Now if a cow falls sick or dies, then we call a Domb or Dalit manand he takes away the sick or dead animal. They either eat the dead animal or bury it. If we cannot find a Domb man then we bury the dead animal ourselves. We buy our cows, bullocksor buffalos from local animal market at Hata Muniguda or from anyone who wishes to sell their cows, bullocks or buffaloes.We do not buy directly any animals or sell any animals. Since both Kondhs and Dombs come to the animal market, we ask the Domb middleman to negotiate the rate of an animal and then give him money to buy it and give it to us. We stand in the market and watch the trading that is going on.

Kondh people do not eat buffalos and purchase them if they have any lowlands. We use female buffalos for ploughing in the lowlands as bullocks are not strong enough to plough in muddy and water logged lands. Cows and bullocks also do not like rains and mud so they tend to run away and hence we use buffalos for lowland ploughing. And cows are not strong enough to take the strain of ploughing so we never use cows for any kind of ploughing.

We rear goats mainly for sacrifices, for income and then lastly for meat. We like to sell our goats to Muslimtraders as they offer us better price than the Dombs and they don’t cheat on weight. Muslims know the weight of a goat by just holding it and never cheat in weight or money.We generally sell our livestock when any need arises, like festivals, marriages,health emergency or any other requirement. We sacrifice roosters in most of our festivals like balani, kandula bhaja parab, etc and offer the rooster to our deities.Sheepare sacrificedmainly for death rituals of any family member and goats if a ‘manasika’ or long desired wish has been fulfilled. Also sheep are cooked for meat during marriage feasts especially the feast that is given to the villagers by the daughter’s father after his daughter leaves for her in-laws’ house. The in-laws’s give the sheep to the girl’s father for the village feats and it is called the ‘halia bhoji’. Sheep are not sacrificed in religious festivals and hence their cost is less than goats. Sheep meat is also not as tasty and hence fetches a lower price as well. And hence sheep rearing is not very popular among Kondhs.

Every household has poultry as roosters and even hens, especially black and white ones are needed in every celebration, festivals, etc. Roosters are sacrificed in the festivals where the village deities are worshipped. But there are specific colours of roosters and hens for sacrifices made if any ‘manasika’ or long desired wish has been fulfilled or if the rituals are done to ward off any evil on any member of the family. The Bedjuni or Disari will decide the colour of the hen or rooster to be sacrificed and generally red, white and black hens or roosters are preferred for sacrifice. Therefore a Kondh family tries and rears different colour of hens and roosters. We also eat eggs that our hens lay and do not sell them. We have to rear the poultry with a lot of care as diseased rooster or hen cannot be sacrificed or it cannot be defective as well like having a broken leg, a blinded eye, etc. In that case we believe that the evil cast on us will get stronger and the wish we sought will never be fulfilled or will turn into bad luck soon again !

However these days many Kondh farmers are growing vegetables in their kitchen gardens and hence do not prefer to raise poultry as the latter damage the vegetable plants, flowers and fruits. So now we have begun to face a lot of problem getting the right kind of hen or rooster if we have a sacrifice to make ! And also because if this rates of specific colour of hens and roosters has gone up very steeply as they are not available abundantly. 

Dung from all animals are used as fertilisers for farm lands by Kondhs. We do not throw away any waste from any of the animals we rear. And goats and sheep are taken to graze separately from the cattle and again buffalos are also grazed separately. But in some big villages the animals are taken in groups by separate groups of people based on clan affiliations or family relations. In our village they are taken for grazing in different herds. One herd of goats and sheep, one herd of buffalos and one herd of cows and bullocks. This is done so that all the animals get sufficient to graze and eat. We assign three people every day for the three different herds. Those who have goats and sheep take turns on rotation basis among themselves and same with buffalos. But for cattle one person from every family has to go on rotation basis since all families have cattle.

Earlier the villagers would pool together rice, paddy, millets, cash, etc and hire one Domb man to herd the animals of the village. He used to take the herd of cows for grazing and paid annually by the villagers in terms of paddy, millets and sometimes cash. The amount to be paid to the Domb was decided by kutumb or clan group.But now grazing lands have reduced tremendously due to cotton and nilgiri or eucalyptus plantation. And also the Dombs have now begun to migrate to Kerala and Tamil Nadu for work and do not want to herd adivasi people’s animals. As the grazing lands are vanishing, we are being forced to take our cattle to graze at the funeral grounds, hill forests or uncultivated fallow lands in the village.Now only male members of the family take cattle for grazing as we are going to funeral grounds or far away hill forests. When the Dombs used to grace our animals they used to take them from 8 in the morning to 5 in the evening. But now we take the animals out at 10 or 11 am and get back by 6 pm or so.

Before the train line and national highway were built on ether sides of our village we used to have four to five months of open grazing. But now fear of our cattle being run over and killed by wither train or vehicles forces us to herd cattle for the entire year. In fact other Kondh villages continue to begin their open grazing period after Pus Parab in mid-January after all harvesting is over and go back to group herding after Rath Yatra or mid-July. Before ending open grazing we offer special food to our cattle, especially bullocks and worship them. This food is cooked in earthenware and offered to the cattle in banana leaves. We do this to appease the bullocks as after the Rath Yatra the ploughing will start and till November end the bullocks will have a lot of hard work to do like ploughing, harvesting, thrashing, pulling bullock carts, etc. So we believe that they have to be in good health and spirits and the worshipping is one way of ensuring this.

Before making the cattle shed, and this is not followed for a goat or sheep shed or poultry shed, we select a spit and leave some rice grains wrapped in a leaf at that place and place a stone on it. The next day we go there to see if the rice is still left over there or not. If the rice grains are broken or shattered, then we do not construct our cattle shed there. If the rice grains are as they were left the night before then we consult our Disari foran appropriate day and time to start construction. Animal sheds for each livestock is made separately. For cattle there is a shed, one for buffalos, one for sheep and goats and one for poultry. The poultry and goat-sheep sheds are built close to the home as they are more vulnerable to theft or attack by wolves, jackals and even leopards. We do not have tigers here anymore. And sheds for cattle and buffalos are built further away from the home and one beside the other in a row.

We do not keep jersey or any non-indigenous breed of cattle. We only keep indigenous breeds of cattle and even other animals. We cannot offer any non-indigenous breed as sacrifice and also don’t like the taste of broiler poultry so we do not keep those kinds of animals. But our animals are prone to few common diseases like cattle fall to fatua or foot and mouth disease and sheep and goats fall to a disease where they keep crying and don’t eat anything and then just drop dead.If a goat dies, we donot eat it and just bury it. Poultry also get affected by loose motions, drowsiness disease where they keep dozing off for a day and then die or get infested with poultry lice which can kill them if the lice grow uncontrollably.

There are few traditional ways of treating these diseases like smoking cattle and goat-sheep sheds with jhuna or a tree resin when they have fever, cold or even fatua. For fatua, which is a communicable disease and can spread very fast from one animal to the other, we make affected cows or bullocks trample in a knee deep mud pit so that mud enters the hooves and kills the eggs that some kind of flies lay inside the hooves and which leads to spreading of fatua. Besides that the cow urine, when mixed with mud, acts like a disinfectant and kills any eggs that may have hatched. Also kerada (bitter leaf) paste of its leaves and fruits is applied to the mouth of the goats affected by the ‘crying disease’. For this disease we also put mandia (finger millet) powder on the mouth of the affected goats. For any diseases that affect the poultry we make the hens and roosters drink strong mahua liquor or make them eat mustard seeds or rice mixed with turmeric powder. For poultry lice we have three kinds of treatment – one, where we spread bitter leaves or leaves from any kind of wild creepers on the poultry shed floor, two where we wash the poultry shed with water left after washing sukhua (dried salted fish) and three by burning leaves of a wild tulsi plant called ghoda or bana tulsi. But sheep and buffalos are sturdiest and hardly ever get affected by any disease so it is always hassle-free to rear these animals.”

Thus, festivals, farming and food are the reasons why Kondhs rear domestic animals.They also shared that they like to give names to their cattle and dogs and not to the goats, sheep or poultry. But some people so name their goats and sheep out of affection and only if they have a few !

Profile of the Village : 22 Households, All Kondhs
Village : Chintaliguda, Chanchraguda Panchayat, Bissamkatak Block, Rayagada District

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