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Society And Culture

1.Social Rules.

The Oraons do not now admit outsiders into the tribe. There is no offence for which a man is permanently put out of caste, but a woman living with any man other than an Oraon is expelled. Temporary expulsion is meted out for the usual offences. The head of the caste panchayat is called Pannu, and when an offender is reinstated, the Panna first drinks water from his hand, and takes upon himself


  the burden of the erring one's transgression. For this he usually receives a fee  of five rupees, and in some States the appointment is in the hands of the Raja, who exacts a fine of a hundred rupees or more from a new candidate. The Oraons eat almost all kinds of food, including pork, fowls and crocodiles, but abstain from beef. Their status is very low among the Hindus; they are usually made to live in a separate corner of the village, and are sometimes not allowed to draw water from the village well. As already stated, the dress of the men consists only of a narrow wisp of cloth round the loins. Some of them say, like the Gonds, that they are descended from the subjects of Rawan, demon king of Ceylon; this ancestry having no doubt in the first instance been imputed to them by the Hindus, and they explain that when Hanuman in the shape of a giant monkey came to the assistance of Rama, their king Rawan tried to destroy Hanuman by taking all the loin-cloths of his subjects and tying them soaked in oil to the monkey's tail with view to setting them on fire and burning him to death. The device was unsuccessful and Hanuman escaped, but since then the subjects of Rawan and their descendants have never had a sufficient allowance of cloth to cover them properly.

2.Social Customs

 But more often they go on all night. Mr. Ball mentions their dance as follows: "The Oraon dance was distinct from any I had seen by the Santals or other races. The girls, carefully arranged in lines by sizes, with the tallest at one end and the smallest at the other, firmly grasp one another's hands, and the whole movements are so perfectly in concert that they spring about with us much agility as could a single individual." Father Dehon gives the following interesting notice of their social customs: "The Oraons are very sociable beings, and like to enjoy life together. They are paying visits or pahis to one another nearly the whole year round. In these the handia (beer-jar) always plays a great part. Any man who would presume to receive visitors without offering them a handia would be hooted and insulted by his guests, who would find a sympathising echo from all the people of the village. One may say that from the time of the new rice at the end of September to the end of the marriage feast or till March there is a continual coming and going of visitors. For a marriage feast forty handias are prepared by the groom's father, and all the people of the village who can afford it supply one also. Each handia gives about three gallons of rice-beer, so that in one day and a half, in a village of thirty houses, about 200 gallons of rice-beer are despatched. The Oraons are famous for their dances. They delight in spending the whole night from sunset till morning in this most exciting amusement, and in the dancing season they go from village to village. They get, as it were, intoxicated with the music, and there is never any slackening of the pace. On the contrary, the evolutions seem to increase till very early in the morning, and it sometimes happens that one of the dancers shoots off rapidly from the gyrating group, and speeds away like a spent top, and, whirlwind-like, disappears through paddy-fields and ditches till he falls entirely exhausted. Of course it is the devil who has taken possession of him. One can well imagine in what state the dancers are at the first crow of the cock, and when she finds the girls straggling home one by one, dishevelled, too tired even to enjoy the company of the boys, who remain behind in small groups, still sounding their tom-toms at intervals as if sorry that the performance was so soon over. And, wonderful to say and incredible to witness, they will go straight to the stalls, yoke their bullocks, and work the whole morning with the same spirit and cheerfulness as if they had spent the whole night in refreshing sleep. At eleven o'clock they come home, eat their meal, and stretched out in the verandah sleep like logs until two, when poked and kicked about unmercifully by the people of the house, they reluctantly get up with heavy eyes and weary limbs to resume their work."


3. Subdivisions

The Oraons have no proper subcastes in the Central Provinces, but the Kudas and Kisans, having a distinctive name and occupation, sometimes regard themselves as separate bodies and decline intermarriage with other Oraons. In Bengal Sir H. Risley gives five divisions, Barga, Dhanka, Kharia, Khendro of other tribes, and Dhanka may be a variant for Dhangar. The names show that as usual with the tribes of this part of the country the law of endogamy is by no means strict. The tribe have also a large number of exogamous septs of the totemistic type, named after plants and animals. Members of any sept commonly abstain from killing or eating their sept totem. A man must not marry a member of his own sept nor a first cousin on the mother's side.


4. Branding And Tattooing

"When a boy is six or seven years old it is time for him to become a member of the Dhumkuria or common dormitory. The eldest boys catch hold of his left arm and, with burning cloth, burn out five deep marks on the lower part of his arm. This is done so that he may be recognised as an Oraon at his death when he goes into the other world." The ceremony was probably the initiation to manhood on arrival at puberty, and resembled those prevalent among the Australian tribes. With this exception men are not tattooed, but this decoration is profusely resorted to by women. They have three parallel vertical lines on the forehead which form a distinctive mark, and other patterns on the arms, chest, knees and ankles. The marks on the knees are considered to be steps by which the wearer will ascend to heaven after her death. If a baby cries much it is also tattooed on the nose and chin.

5. Marriage.

Marruage rituals in the Oraon community are similar to those of Santals and Mundas. Marriages are arranged by the guardians in the family, but the opinions of the brides and bridegrooms are also respected. Child marriage is not recognised. Divorce is allowed. Divorcees, as well as widows, can remarry. Both men and women can marry more than once but men are not allowed a second marriage unless they are widowed or are divorcees.

5.1. Pre-marriage Licence. Marriage is adult and pre-nuptial unchastity appears to be tacitly recognised. Oraon villages have the institution of the Dhumkuria or bachelors' dormitory, which Dalton describes as follows: "In all the order Oraon villages when there is any conservation of ancient customs, there is a house called the dhumkuria in which all the bachelors of the village must sleep under penalty of a fine. The huts of the Oraons have insufficient accommodation for a family so that separate quarters for the young men are a necessity. The same remark applies to the young unmarried women, and it is a fact that they do not sleep in the house with their parents. They are generally frank enough when questioned about their habits, but on this subject there is always a certain amount of reticence, and I have seen girls quietly withdraw when it was mooted. I am told that in some villages a separate building is provided for them like the Dhumkuria, in which they consort under the guardianship of an elderly duenna, but I believe the more common practice is to distribute them among the houses of the widows, and this is what the girls themselves assert, if they answer at all when the question is asked; but however billeted, it is well known that they often find their way to the bachelor's hall, and in some villages actually sleep there. I not long ago saw a Dhumkuria in a Sarguja village in which the boys and girls all slept every night." Colonel Dalton considered it uncertain that the practice led to actual immorality, but the fact can hardly be doubted. Sexual intercourse before marriage, Sir H. Risley says, is tacitly recognised, and is so generally practised that in the opinion of the best observers no Oraon girl is a virgin at the time of her marriage. "To call this state of things immoral is to apply a modern conception to primitive habits of life. Within the tribe, indeed, the idea of sexual morality seems hardly to exist, and the unmarried Oraons are not far removed from the condition of modified promiscuity which prevails among many of the Australian tribes. Provided that the exogamous circle defined by the totem is respected, an unmarried woman may bestow her favours on whom she will. If, however, she becomes pregnant, arrangements are made to get her married without delay, and she is then expected to lead a virtuous life." According to Dalton, however, liaisons between boys and girls of the same village seldom end in marriage, as it is considered more respectable to bring home a bride from a distance. This appears to arise from the primitive rule of exogamy that marriage should not be allowed between those who have been brought up together. The young men can choose for themselves, and at dances, festivals and other social gatherings they freely woo their sweethearts, giving them flowers for the hair and presents of grilled field-mice, which the Oraons consider to be the most delicate food. Father Dehon, however, states that matches are arranged by the parents, and the bride and bridegroom have nothing to say in the matter. Boys are usually married at sixteen and girls at fourteen or fifteen. The girls thus have only about two years of preliminary flirtation or Dhumkuria life before they are settled.

5.2 Betrothal. The first ceremony for a marriage is known as pan bandhi or the settling of the price; for which the boy's father accompanied by some men of his village to represent the panch or elders, goes to the girl's house. Father Dehon states that the bride-price is five rupees and four maunds of grain. When this has been settled the rejoicings begin. "All the people of the village are invited; two boys come and anoint the visitors with oil. From every house of the village that can afford it a handia or pot of rice-beer is brought, and they drink together and make merry. All this time the girl has been kept inside, but now she suddenly sallies forth carrying a handia on her head. A murmur of admiration greets her when stepping through the crowd she comes and stands in front of her future father-in-law, who at once takes the handia from her head, embraces her, and gives her one rupee. From that time during the whole of the feast the girl remains sitting at the feet of her father-in-law. The whole party meanwhile continue drinking and talking; and voices rise so high that they cannot hear one another. As a diversion the old women of the village all come tumbling in, very drunk and wearing fantastic hats made of leaves; gesticulating like devils and carrying a straw manikin representing the bridegroom. They all look like old witches, and in their drunken state are very mischievous."

5.3. Marriage Ceremony The marriage takes place after about two years, visits being exchanged twice a year in the mean time. When the day comes the bridegroom proceeds with a large party of his friends, male and female, to the bride's house. Most of the males have warlike weapons, real or sham, and as they approach the village of the bride's family the young men from thence emerge, also armed, as if to repel the invasion, and a mimic fight ensues, which like a dissolving view blends pleasantly into a dance. In this the bride and bridegroom join, each riding on the hips of one of their friends. After this they have a feast till late in the night. Next morning bread cooked by the bride's mother is taken to the dari or village spring, where all the women partake of it. When they have finished they bring a vessel of water with some leaves of the mango tree in it. Meanwhile the bride and bridegroom are in the house, being anointed with oil and turmeric by their respective sisters. When everybody has gathered under the marriage-bower the boy and girl are brought out of the house and a heap is made of a plough-yoke, a bundle of thatching-grass and a curry-stone. The bride and bridegroom are made to stand on the curry-stone, the boy touching the heels of the bride with his toes, and a long piece of cloth is put round them to screen them from the public. Only their heads and feet can be seen. A goblet full of vermilion is presented to the boy, who dips his finger it and makes three lines on the forehead of the girl; and the girl does the same to the boy, but as she has to reach him over her shoulder and cannot see him, the boy gets it anywhere on his face, which never fails to provoke hearty bursts of laughter. "When this is complete," Dalton states, "a gun is fired and then by some arrangement vessels full of water, placed over the bower, are upset, and the young couple and those near them receive a drenching shower-bath, the women shouting, 'The marriage is done, the marriage is done.'They now retire into an apartment prepared for them, ostensibly to change their clothes, but they do not emerge for some time, and when they do appear they are saluted as man and wife."

5.4. Special Customs marriage Meanwhile the guests sit round drinking handias or earthen pots full of rice-beer. The bride and bridegroom come out and retire a second time and are called out for the following rite. A vessel of beer is brought and the bride carries a cupful of it to the bridegroom's brother, but instead of giving it into his hand she deposits it on the ground in front of him. This is to seal of tacit agreement that from that time the bridegroom's brother will not touch his sister-in-law, and was probably instituted to mark the abolition of the former system of fraternal polyandry, customs of an analogous nature being found among the Khonds and Korkus."Then," Father Dehon continues, "comes the last ceremony, which is called khiritengna handia or the handia of the story, and is considered by the Oraons to be the true form of marriage which has been handed down to them by their forefathers. The boy and girl sit together before the people and one of the elder men present rises and addressing the boy says: 'If your wife goes to fetch sag and falls from a tree and breaks her leg, do not say that she is disfigured or crippled. You will have to keep and feed her.' Then turning to the girl:'When your husband goes hunting, if his arm or leg is broken, do not say, "He is a cripple, I won't live with him." Do not say that, for you have to remain with him. If you prepare meat, give two shares to him and keep only one for yourself. If you prepare vegetables, give him two parts and keep only one part for yourself. If he gets sick and cannot go out, do not say that he is dirty, but clean his mat and wash him.' A feast follows, and at night the girl is brought to the boy by her mother, who says to him, 'Now this my child is yours; I do not give her for a few days but for ever; take care of her and love her well.' A companion of the bridegroom's then seizes the girl in his arms and carries her inside the house."

5.5. Widow-Remarriage And Divorce It is uncommon for a man to have two wives. Divorce is permitted, and is usually effected by the boy or girl running away to the Duars or Assam. Widow-remarriage is a regular practice. The first time a widow marries again, Father Dehon states, the bridegroom must pay Rs. 3-8 for her; if successive husbands die her price goes down by a rupee upon a fresh marriage, so that a fifth husband would pay only eight annas. Cases of adultery are comparatively rare. When offenders are caught a heavy fine is imposed if they are well-to-do, and if they are not, a smaller fine and a beating.


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