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ETHNONYMS: Bhui, Bhuihar, Bhuiyar, Bhumia, Bhumiya, Bui


Identification. The Bhuiya are one of the most widespread tribes of India. Their name is derived from the Sanskrit word bhumi, "land." The ethnonyms are applied either in the sense of autochthons or of some connection with land. The Bhuiya are classified into a southern division, with Orissa State as its center, and a northern, with Bihar State, particularly the Chota Nagpur region, as its center. The southern division of the tribe is more backward than its northern counterpart. The two divisions together contain various groups. For example, the Katti, Dandsena, Hake, Dake, and Naksiya are just descriptive names. The Musahar, Rajwar, Rikhiasan, and Pawanhans are distinguished on the grounds of their varying mythical origins. Some groups, such as Bhatudi, Saonti, and Santali, share many common social and cultural traits with the Bhuiya and long ago attained the status of separate Communities. The other groups are the Das or Mal (Pauri Bhuiya), who are swidden cultivators; and the Paik, Rajkoli, and Parja, who are agriculturists, farmers, and agricultural laborers, respectively. The Ghatwar or Tikait is a landowning community. The economically most backward group, the Hill Bhuiya (Pauri), are the focus of this entry.

Location. The Bhuiya tribe is found in the states of Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. The main concentration of the tribe is in the former northern princely states of Orissa. The tribe represents various stages of cultural development, ranging from the primitive Hill Bhuiya to the Hindu-influenced Bhuiya landowning sections. The Pauri group is located roughly Between 21° and 22 ° N and 85° and 86° E. Jungle-clad hills and high woodland valleys in the northwest of Keunjhar, northeast of Bonai, and north of the Pal Lahara subdivision in Orissa form their home. The settlements are situated Generally on higher elevations at about 600 to 1,050 meters above sea level. The climate is at certain times unhealthy. Lack of roadways has kept most of the inhabited Pauri villages cut off from the outside world. During the monsoon, approach to most of the villages is difficult.

Demography. In 1971 the population of the tribe was 1,312,472 (probably an undercount), making it one of the largest tribal groups in the world. The literacy of the tribe as a whole in 1981 was 22.5 percent, but only about 5 percent of the hill group were literate at that time. The economic benefit of education is still not appreciated by that group.

Linguistic Affiliation. Opinions differ about the linguistic affinity of the tribe. The Bhuiya speak an Indo-Aryan language.

History and Cultural Relations

The Bhuiya tribe believe that they were born out of the mother earth and have several legends about their origin. According to a legend, the goddess chose the Bhuiya tribe to be the owners of land and cultivation to be their livelihood. Another legend suggests that formerly all sections of the tribe were of royal origin and enjoyed equal status, but some of them lost the purity of their royal blood and were degraded to a lower status. Social mobility both up and down is indicated. Some sections of the Bhuiyas disclaimed the tribal name and assumed names indicative of higher social status, while others sank lower in social position than most of their congeners elsewhere. Some tribes ethnoculturally distinct from the Bhuiyas, and also a few Hindu castes of high social status, take pride in adopting Bhuiya nomenclature. The latter are titular Bhuiya.


The settlement is generally surrounded by hills and forests. Villages are located either in valley regions, on hill slopes, or on tableland. Each village has preferentially chosen a large tract of forest land within which the village shifts from time to time to facilitate swidden cultivation, food gathering, and hunting. A village or a small group of villages is separated from other villages by a considerable distance through jungles or ravines. A few villages recently have been connected with main routes by jeep tracks for mining, quarrying, and forestry works. Depending on the site, villages are either arranged lineally or are dispersed in a pattern. The size of a village also usually depends on its location. Plains villages are bigger, with sixty or more houses; however, villages located on a hilltop or on its slopes may be smaller, with perhaps only five to twenty houses. A grouping of three or four huts on a rectangular courtyard, a backyard kitchen garden, and a cattle shed on one side together constitute a Bhuiya house. Rectangular huts with thatched, sloped roof, and mud walls are common. The homestead is kept clean. Not only the size and the plan of a Pauri house but also its inner arrangements are determined functionally. A hut is divided into three distinct portions: an innermost part, for storage of grains and sheltering small domestic animals and birds; the middle part, with a family hearth and a secluded place (bhitar ) meant for ancestral spirits; and the outer portion, used as a livingroom. The council house, an occasional guest house, as well as a bachelor's dormitory, all grouped in one commodious hut called the mandagahr or darbar gahr, are in the center of a village. The village tutelary goddess represented by a carved wooden pillar on one side, musical instruments used by the unmarried boys, and straw-packed bundles of grain are all common sights inside the manda garh. The dormitory organization is weakening in some areas. Very near to the manda garh is the seat of the village mother goddess. The Pauris change their village site occasionally for economic considerations connected with swidden cultivation, successive crop failure, epidemic deaths, and menace from wild animals, as well as for religious reasons. Some villages have definite sites to which they shift on rotation. The selection of a new site for habitation partly depends on the suitability of water sources and the number and size of hill forests for cultivation; but, above all, the proposed site must withstand several tests for good omens.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The main Economic activities are tuned to swidden cultivation (kamani ) of paddy, other cereals, lentils, and vegetables. The livelihood is supplemented by food collection, hunting, fishing, and wage earning. Minor forest products, such as resin, 1ac, honey, firewood, wild creepers for rope, etc., also supplement the Economy for both trading and domestic use. There has been Recent change in the direction of permanent wet cultivation in the valleys. The cultivable land falls into several categories depending on duration of its use, water management, location, and purpose. A family generally cultivates a patch of Forest land consecutively for a period of three years, and then leaves it for ten to fifteen years, depending on the availability of forest land and demographic pressure, to renew itself sufficiently for a fresh cycle of cultivation. Pauri livestock include cows, bullocks, buffalo, goats, sheep, and poultry. The first two categories of beast are used for draft; the others are used for nonagricultural purposes, namely, as sacrifices for the propitiation of deities, as provisions for a family's own consumption and the entertainment of guests, and as resources to be sold in hard economic times.

Industrial Arts. The crafts of basket and mat making are common in the Pauri country for both domestic consumption and trading, primarily through the tribal markets.

Trade. The Pauri Bhuiyas live at a subsistence level; hence, trading activities are very limited and are restricted to products they grow on their land and some minor forest Products they collect.

Division of Labor. The family's economic and other activities are shared by able-bodied adult members. Children also assist in the domestic chores in several ways. Lighter work is generally assigned to elderly persons and the women. The women are prohibited from plowing, sowing, leveling, roof thatching, tree climbing, and hunting. Daily cooking and many other indoor household activities are women's jobs. The periodic employment of outside labor on a wage basis becomes necessary, particularly during the cutting of trees for cultivation and weeding and harvesting operations.

Land Tenure. Except for permanent paddy plots and kitchen gardens, the Pauri right to land use is usufructuary. Some virgin forest patches are controlled by the village Community. Land disputes are rare, but if one does occur it is settled through divinatory methods and collective judgment.


Kin Groups and Descent. All members who are related to each other by birth or by marriage, even if they are not all living together at the same place, form the kin group. Descent is patrilineal, and the members of each kin group believe they have descended from a common ancestor. The clan or maximal descent group (khilli ) is divided into lineages and sublineages.

Kinship Terminology. A classificatory system for addressing kin is used. Thus the same relationship term is used for addressing persons of the same generation and sex in many cases.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Monogamous marriage is the rule. A second marriage is normally permissible after the death of the first wife. The tribe is endogamous, but villages inhabited by the tribal community are exogamous, since most villages are peopled by one khilli. Marriage within the same khilli is forbidden. The marriageable boys and girls of agnatic villages are wedded only to those villages where suitable cognitive partners are available.

Marriage by elopement and capture are both common and marriage by arrangement has become more frequent Recently. Cross-cousin and sororate marriages are uncommon, but not widow remarriage.

The patrilocal Pauri family is nuclear, composed of Parents and their unmarried children. The grown-up sons live separately with their wives after marriage. A man may divorce his wife on grounds of neglect of household duties, quarrelsomeness, and carrying on intrigue. Children born out of wedlock are taken care of by their father. A divorced woman may remarry.

Domestic Unit. Members who live under the same roof and share food from the same kitchen form the domestic unit. More often it is the smallest unit, the family, which also performs economic and ritual functions in common. Pauri families vary between three and ten members. Some family democracy is maintained, but the authority is patripotestal.

Inheritance. Sons inherit property equally after the death of their father. Unmarried daughters of a deceased person are maintained until marriage and then marriage expenses are met by their brothers. A son adopted from agnatic kin only is eligible to inherit the property of a deceased person.

Socialization. Children are reared up to the age of 7-8 years by their parents within the family, after which boys and girls are encouraged to join the respective dormitory organizations. The latter occupy an important position in Pauri Society and play a significant role in sociocultural life. The dormitories act as schools where the young people are initiated into tribal tradition and the art of community living.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Three most important components of the Pauri Bhuiya social organization are family, descent group (khilli), and village. People relate to each other in a network based on consanguinity and affinity. They also differentiate themselves in many other ways. The eldest male member of the family functions as its head and exercises Control and authority, commanding respect from all other Members. The control and authority passes down to one's eldest son. The head enjoys special status both in his family and in the village, as other elders do. A number of smaller lineages constitute a khilli. The lineage members are obliged to help each other in social, economic, and ritual pursuits. Marriage is prohibited between boys and girls of the same khilli and also within the same village. Every Pauri village has a definite territory with a boundary and is a well-knit social entity. Village cohesiveness continues in spite of the recent introduction of private property in land in the plains area. Established intervillage relationships for performing various sociopolitical functions are common among the tribe.

Political Organization. When occasional disputes arise within and between villages, the council of elders decides the course of action. Intravillage disputes are settled by the elders, including the sacerdotal head (dihuri ), under the chairmanship of the village headman (naik ). Intervillage disputes either are decided by the elders of disputing villages or are referred to the larger territorial organization. Everyone participates in decision making until a consensus is reached. The political organization, in conformity with the value system of Pauri society, regulates the behavior pattern of the disputants and transgressors. The office of village head is hereditary. The village panchayat, a new statutory body, has recently been introduced side by side with the traditional council of elders, primarily for village welfare activities. The waves of national party politics have not reached Pauri country.

Social Control. Several recent changes in interpersonal Relationships are the result of a change in the social setting from ethnic homogeneity and village exogamy to ethnic heterogeneity and village endogamy. The common ownership of land under swidden cultivation and private ownership of valley land for cultivation are acknowledged. Common ritual practices bind Pauri society into a single entity. The organic Control of community life is guided by an egalitarian outlook of the people.

Conflict. Except for conflicts of a minor nature, harmonious relations between persons and also between social groups are maintained. Still, when disputes over land control, incestuous relations, adultery, divorce, or homicide do arise, the village council of elders and the larger territorial councilfor intravillage and intervillage disputes, respectivelydecide the issues through deliberation.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The universe is dominated by numerous deities and spirits, both good and evil, and these possess unequal powers. These supernatural beings are ordered hierarchically and are classified as supreme, nature, and village deities, general tribal gods, and ancestral spirits. Both male and female deities exist. The sun god and his consort, the earth goddess, are supreme deities. They are remembered on each ritual occasion, but there is no specific ceremony for their worship. The Pauri Bhuiya have adopted many Hindu deities.

Religious Practitioners. Priesthood is hereditary and is held by a male who represents the seniormost branch of the original village family. The priest propitiates the deities on behalf of the villagers and is the chief official in all communal worship.

Ceremonies. Most of the festivals are closely associated with different aspects of economic activities. Some festivals are borrowed from the Hindus. Social and religious Ceremonies are occasions when interactions and meetings of people take place. Almost all rituals have sacred and secular aspects, yet they are extremely stereotyped in their details.

Arts. Dancing and singing, especially by the youth, are an integral part of Pauri life. External influences have affected many aspects of the cultural heritage. Yet the vibrant changa (tambourine) dance of the villagers in front of the Community hall is very common after the day's toil and particularly on festive occasions.

Medicine. People, crops, and cattle are believed to be protected from diseases by the village tutelary deity. The propitiation of other deities also is thought to help protect people from diseases. The men have great inclination for folk doctors and their medicine. Most diseases are due to malnutrition and unsanitary conditions. Modern methods of treatment, though mostly beyond their reach, have begun to influence the hill tribe. Many curative rituals are performed by the shaman. The black magic of a sorcerer that afflicts individuals is countered either by the medicine man or by a more powerful sorcerer.

Death and Afterlife. The Pauri Bhuiyas believe that death occurs when gods and goddesses are utterly displeased or when black magic is performed by a sorcerer. They also believe that life does not come to an end with death. The soul is called back into the house to rest in the family's inner tabernacle, which is meant to propitiate ancestral spirits, and is offered food and water during auspicious occasions. The blessings of ancestral spirits are invaluable in the life of the Bhuiyas.

See also Baiga


Dalton, Edward Tuite (1872). "Bhuiyas or Bhuniyas of Keonjhur." In Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal Calcutta: Superintendent of Government Printing. Reprint. 1960. Calcutta: Indian Studies Past and Present.

Patnaik, N., Almas Ali, S. P. Rout, and K. B. Debi (1980). Handbook of the Pauri Bhuiya: An Anthropological Study of the Bhuiya Tribe of Orissa. Bhubaneswar: Tribal and Harijan Research-Cum-Training Institute.

Roy, Sarat Chandra (1935). The Hill Bhuiyas of Orissawith Comparative Notes on the Plains Bhuiyas. Ranchi: Man in India Office.

Russell, R. V., and Hira Lal (1916). "Bhuiya." In The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India, by R. V. Russell and Hira Lal. Vol. 2, 305-319. London: Oxford University Press. Reprint. 1969. Oosterhout: Anthropological Publications.