The Story of Us : Creation myth and clan systems among Kondhs

Every adivasi community has a creating myth and from the myths emanate the different clans and their deities. There are numerous versions of creation myths so here is one of them !

“In our village we are 34 Kondh families and one Domb family which migrated to Baberi from Kidimati village. There are 5 clans in our village namely Palaka, Mambalaka, Dakapraska, Biusika and Hikaka or Hikabadi. The Domb family from Kidimati settled in our village since one year. The grandfather of the Domb had migrated to Kidimati from Baberi many years back to tend to cattle of the Kondhs of Kidimati. But after his grandfather died, the grandson decided to return to Baberi and he and his family is now living off daily wage work.

We feel sad that today there is no elderly people in most Kondh villages to tell our stories. In our village there are only two very old men of whim I am one, who know that there was a creation story about the Kondhs. The story of our creation that I know of I learnt from my father.

Our creating myth says that Kondhs came out from the ‘fruit of future’. The ‘fruit of future’ was left to drift in the river. An old man found it while bathing and wondered what it was. When he examined it he realised it was the ‘fruit of future’. One adivasi boy and one girl were born out of the ‘fruit of future’ next day. But as they were born there was a huge earthquake and everything just got destroyed except for the dekadedi or semili tree. Besides the tree there was no nothing anywhere, no flora, no fauna and no forests. But after the boy and girl survived the earthquake they became brother and sister. Seeing that everything ear them was destroyed they decided to search for any signs of life and food. The brother became a rooster and flew towards the North while the sister became a hen and flew towards the South. They went everywhere but found no one. Both of them came back and acknowledged that they were the only two persons in the world. Then they decided to live in a boat made of the simuli tree as there was water everywhere. Soon a mango tree was born and in early winter, the sister saw a mango on the tree. The sister wanted to eat the mango and asked her brother to get it. They cut the mango into two pieces and each of them ate a piece. Then they realized that the world will not sustain if they continue to live like brother and sister. So they decided to live as husband and wife and had children.

As husband and wife they had seven sons and three daughters. The sons became the hunters, the gatherers, the cultivators and the wise men. The sisters became female deities namely Majhigouri, Manikeswari and Jhankeri and began to live in the villages of the children. The seven brothers took different occupations to survive, one became house builder or mud mason, one a carpenter, one a farmer, one a hunter, one an iron smith and two others became Brahmin priest and a Paika or soldier. The last two brothers did not speak Kui and spoke only Odia so they left the village and settled elsewhere and their social systems became very different from that of the Kondhs. The other five brothers stayed in the village and began worshipping the Jhankeri deity and hence their social systems were all similar to each other.

The seven brothers formed the seven main Kondh clans. The youngest brother who made boat from the simuli tree or simuli danga was called the Dakapraska clan. The brother who became a helpful person and made other people’s homes of mud and thatch was called the Biusika. The one who became farmer and cultivated the lands for food was called Palaka. The man who could not hide anywhere and would be seen by everyone was called Mambalaka. The man who could not make a wooden charpoy and instead made a bed of hay and slept was called Hikabadi or Hikaka. Each clan again has its own story of creation like the Kilaka who believe that their clan was created from the shrill cries of a child when it is born. We do not know how many clans there are among the Kondhs because no one has counted.  

The clan system was created based on nature of work performed by some members. We think that this clan system is there among Odias and other tribes too like for example those whom we designate as Palaka or cultivators is known as Pradhani among other tribes and Padhi among the Brahmin Odias ! All clans have same social standing in a village and social hierarchy is based on nature of responsibilities taken up in village affairs. However Jani’s family or one who performs the rituals at the Jhankeri and the Naik or Majhi’s family or the one who is the social head of the village have more social power than other families in the village. The Jani collects seeds from all villagers for the seed festival and he also distributes the seeds among the villagers for cultivation after it is offered to the Jhankeri. The Naik has to first sow the seeds offered to the Jhankeri on his farm lands and then only the villagers sow their seeds on their respective farm lands.  

There is no social or any kind of discrimination practiced among the Kondh people. However there in one social restriction about visiting and eating in the house of another clan based on one particular kind of marriage relation wherein if any man takes a married woman as his wife by force or by eloping with her, then clans-people of the man cannot visit or eat in the village of his wife. However they will be allowed to enter the village and eat at the house of the man’s wife only if another married woman relation of the man’s wife pours water in the doorway of the wife’s first husband’s house. This water is called pita paani and we say that if pita paani is shared then the clans-people of the man have been forgiven by the clans-people of the first husband and will be allowed entry and food in the house of the man’s wife. But this restriction does not apply to any unmarried girl’s marriage.

But outside of Kondh society, we practice some social discrimination like we do eat in the homes of other communities like Kumuti, Ghasi, Reli, Teli, Medri and Domb. We do not even drink water from them but we can however enter their homes and sit together in any place. On the other hand we eat and drink in the homes of Sundhis and Goudas because with the first we do business of our farm products and the latter carries the water for our village feasts.

In the old days, when there was a marriage or funeral, the feast was prepared in the house of the family hosting the marriage or funeral feast because only family and clan elders were invited to eat. But now families invite a lot of guests and send a lot of money so now all feasts are served outside the house, generally in the village’s mango orchard ort any big common place and every family in the village, irrespective of clan and caste, is invited to eat.

The majority of rules and regulations among Kondhs relate to marriage practices between clans. Our ancestors have set these rules and hence we follow them with utmost respect. The first rule is that one cannot marry into her or his father’s clan but can marry from her or his mother’s clan. For example, a Palaka cannot marry a Kilaka because we believe that if a Kilaka and Palaka marry then their children will not be born healthy. The second rule is that marriage with sisters and daughters is not permitted. For example while a boy can marry his paternal aunt’s daughter, he cannot marry his maternal aunt’s daughter. Then third rule is that marriage within the village is permitted but it has to be outside their clan. The fourth rule is that a girl takes on the clan identity of her husband so if a Kilaka girl marries a Hikaka boy, she will become Hikaka. 

Kondhs believe that each clan inside a village is a united social group. Every Kondh approaches their clan leaders and elders in case of any crisis if it cannot be resolved within the family. The advantages of this kind of unity is that we share every kind of information, support each other in all kinds of crises, ensure mutually respectable conflict resolutions, help each other in medical emergencies like doing hospital duty, sharing hospital expenses, etc and share all the work and expenses in any marriage within the clan first and then reach out to the villagers. Also if someone dies in a family, clan members are first to be informed and would reach out first to the bereaved family and take care of their food and other basic needs for all the days till the death rituals are over. Clans-people also help each other out financially and clan elders preside over any dispute related to marriage and other social and family problems as and when sought. However the other clans-people in the village may help if the clan elders cannot resolve any matter. If the village elders and leaders cannot resolve the problems, the matter would go to the village panchayat and even if it is not resolved there then it goes to the police or court finally. But the primary goal is to avoid taking any issue outside the clan and maximum outside the village panchayat. We do not like to take our matters to the police or the courts which do not respect or understand our issues.

Every village has been created and settled by people from one clan and they continue to the village leaders. Earlier every Kondh village was homogenous and had people from only the clan that settled the village. But gradually other clans-people came in seeking land, seeking shelter, seeking support in case of social boycott, seeking residence after marriage as ‘ghar juain’ or house husbands. Then people from other communities were also settled in if the villagers felt they needed a family to take care of the cattle, work as village informer, etc. So people from Domb and Barik communities were allowed to settle in the village.

Land for farming in a Kondh village is distributed among families based on clan system as well. The Jani and Majhi clans will be given an extra land as they perform religious and social duties for the villagers. Also the Jani gets 3 mana paddy (about 45 kgs) for worshipping the forest hills where the Kondhs do their poddu chaas and gudia chaas. However if a boy gets married within the clan, he will not be able to inherit his ancestral lands and other properties. Also he has to leave the village and settle down elsewhere. Salap trees anywhere in the village or even forest pr poddu lands belong to a family or a clan and the salap sap is shared among the clans-people. But mahul trees outside the village and farm lands belong everyone so the mahul flowers and tola or fruits can be picked and cooked or sold by anyone.” Thus it is obvious that Kondh clan system is an organised social institution that has survived despite incursions of many individualised social relations. Further, the clan system has been able to keep the Kondh way of life a far more communitarian one than among other tribal societies.  

Profile of the Village : 35 Households, 34 Kondh and 1 SC Family
Village Details : Baberi, Rasakola Panchayat, Bissamcuttack Block, Rayagada District

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