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ETHNONYMS: Bonda Gadaba, Bondo Poroja, Porja, Remo


Identification. The Bondo are an Austroasiatic people who inhabit the area northwest of the Machkund River in the state of Orissa, India. While the cultural relationship between the Bondo and neighboring peoples (e.g., the Poroja and Gadaba) has been debated, largely because of substantial differences in appearance, personal adornment, social norms, and religious beliefs, Verrier Elwin has concluded that a sufficient degree of cultural commonality exists between the Bondos and Gadabas to warrant the suggestion that both groups are descendants of a common ancient Austroasiatic progenitor. The classic ethnographic account of Bondo Culture is Elwin's 1950 study.

Location. The locus of Bondo culture extends from approximately 18° 20 to 18° 30 N and 82°20 to 82°30 E. The Bondo homeland (sometimes known as Bara-jangar-des) is a hilly habitat that overlooks the Machkund Valley and the Malkangiri Plain. The average annual rainfall is approximately 150 centimeters. Settlements fall into three geographic groupings: the Bara-jangar group (also known as Mundlipada or Serayen); the Gadaba group (northeast of Mundlipada); and the Plains group. The first of these areas is the most important. It is the Bondo capital and is also believed to have been the ancient Bondo homeland. It has also been suggested that the twelve villages that bring yearly tribute to the ruler of this place are the original Bondo settlements (each having been founded by one of twelve brothers).

Demography. In 1971 there were 5,338 Bondos, 75,430 Gadabas, and 227,406 Porojas.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Bondo speak a language of Munda Stock belonging to the Austroasiatic Phylum.

History and Cultural Relations

The early prehistory of the Bondo is unclear because there exist no physical remains upon which to base a reconstruction of their origin. It is believed that their original home is northeast of their present habitat. Elwin concurs with Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf's suggestion that the Bondo belong to the group of neolithic Austroasiatic peoples who cultivated rice by means of irrigation and terracing, domesticated cattle for sacrificial and dietary purposes, and erected megaliths (e.g., dolmens, stone circles, and menhirs).


Generalizations regarding the nature of Bondo villages are not easily made. The typical Bondo village is built either along or ascending a hillside, reasonably close to a spring. The placement of individual domiciles follows no set pattern and there are no regular thoroughfares within village boundaries. The grouping of houses according to clan obtains at times, but for the most part social and other distinctions have no impact on the arrangement of houses. The sindibor (the stone platform that is the locus of village social and religious ceremonies) is placed at some shady spot within the village. Villages are not fortified and tend to be surrounded by gardens containing an assortment of trees, spice plants, and other plants. Fields for cultivation are located in the general proximity of the village. Public structures within the village confines include manure pits and male and female dormitories. The typical Bondo house, composed of mud, wood, and thatching grass, contains two main rooms and a veranda. Attached to the outside of the house is a place for pigs. Cattle, goats, and chickens are also housed in the vicinity of the house.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Bondos engage in most of the major subsistence activities. Wild birds are caught, rats and hares are hunted, fish and crabs are netted or trapped, pigs, cattle, goats, and chickens are domesticated, and crops are grown. Roots, tubers, wild vegetation, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, fruit, red ants, date-palm grubs, dung beetles, and silkworms (for medicinal purposes) are collected for consumption. However, the most important part of the Bondo subsistence cycle is agriculture. Three types of cultivation are practiced: dry cultivation of plowed fields on a level grade; shifting (slash-and-burn) cultivation on steep hills; and wet cultivation (of rice) on terraced and irrigated fields. The following crops are planted in the hill tracts: pulses, cucumbers, castor-oil bush, and millet. Dry rice, ragi, and Niger seed (Guizotia abyssinica, a native of Africa that yields cooking oil) are grown in level ground. Axes (to cut trees and brush), hoes (for turning soil after the sowing of seeds), and dibbles (for drilling holes to plant various seeds) are used in the cultivation of hillsides. The plow is the major implement used in dry cultivation. Canals, gutters, plows, and levelers are the implements for wet cultivation. A few necessities and luxuries are obtained by the Bondo from outside sources (e.g., a small number of cooking vessels, iron implements, personal ornaments made of beads, and a small quantity of colored cloth).

Industrial Arts. The Bondo community is almost wholly self-sufficient. The following are manufactured internally: cloth, personal ornaments (made of bark and leaves), gourds, alcoholic beverages, pipes (for tobacco smoking), coats (of bark or leaves), and umbrellas (of bark or leaves).

Trade. The following are procured through trade: pots and cooking vessels (in limited number), brass and bead ornaments, iron implements (from local blacksmiths), and Colored cotton.

Division of Labor. Men and women share various tasks. According to Elwin women assume a disproportionate share of this commonly shared labor. The clearing of fields, carrying of water, care of children, weaving of cloth, husking, grinding, preparation of household floors, bearing of wood (during the Hindu month of Jeth), extraction of fiber from kereng (Calotropis gigantea ) bark for yarn, and the cutting of hair (of adult women) are among the duties assumed by women. Women are also allowed to divine the causes of sickness, but they are not permitted to prescribe treatment for specific maladies. There are ritual restrictions that prevent men from performing some of these duties. Men plow, bear burdens requiring the use of a carrying pole, make mats, hunt, offer sacrifice, divine and treat sickness, cut trees, and play drums and the majority of other musical instruments during festival observances. Correspondingly, there are ritual prohibitions that prevent many of these tasks from being performed by women.

Land Tenure. Individual families are considered by other Bondo to "own" several tracts of land on the hillsides, which they cultivate in rotation. They have no real legal title to this land, even though they sometimes mortgage it or sell it to others. In the recent past poor people sometimes rented such hillside clearings by paying meat and liquor to the supposed owner.


Kin Groups and Descent. At least three exogamous affiliations have been noted within Bondo society: the soru (that division represented by all of the members of a particular Village); the kuda (exogamous patrilineal clans of which several exist within a village, and the names of which are drawn from the titles of village officials); and the bonso (totemic divisions of which there are twothe ontal, "cobra," and the killo, "tiger"). Elwin considers this subdivision of Bondo society into two large moieties to be the oldest and most basic of Bondo subdivisions, the kuda and soru systems having been adopted or developed secondarily. Exogamy at the soru and kuda levels is strictly observed. Freedom of choice in the selection of mates and the numerical inequities characteristic of the two bonso divisions (the ontal being the larger of the two) have led to the ignoring of the rule of exogamy at this level.

Kinship Terminology. Iroquois kinship terminology is employed for first cousins.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Young men and young women are permitted freedom of choice in the selection of mates. The female dormitory serves as the locus in which male-female relationships are established and nurtured. A female dormitory in a village is generally off-limits to the young men of that village. As a result, part of the male courting ritual involves intervillage travel. While parental consent is required, Bondo unions are based upon the mutual affection of the marital partners. Bondo women prefer men several years younger than themselves as marital partners. Elwin cites the desire not to wed an older man, the belief that a younger man would be either a harder worker or a more obedient partner, and the fear of defloration as possible reasons for this. Extramarital liaisons do occur. Such a relationship between a man and his younger brother' s wife is not ritually prohibited. It is believed that the age disparity in Bondo marriages has led to the acceptance of this type of extramarital relationship because the parties involved would be closer in age than those in the marital union. Marital dissolution is rare, though divorce is allowed and may be initiated by either party. The remarriage of widows is not prohibited. Postmarital residence is patrilocal. Polygyny is sanctioned.

Domestic Unit. The typical domestic unit consists of a nuclear family (with limited evidence of polygyny).

Inheritance . Anecdotal data suggests that real property is inherited by sons from their fathers.

Socialization. The socialization of children is shared jointly by parents, though women are in fact the chief agents of socialization. Children are also allowed a considerable amount of freedom from a young age. The ingersin (girls' dormitory) and the selani-dingo (boys' dormitory) are important social institutions. Young men assist at ceremonies associated with life crises (e.g., weddings and burials) and the hunt, while young women prepare cups and platters manufactured from leaves, cook, and prepare rice beer. Of these, the ingersin also serves as a center for mate selection. It is here that young men come in search of spouses.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Bondo life is centered on a cycle of yearly agricultural activities. Stratification by age or other categories does not obtain. Although it is likely that some method exists for achieving status within the community, Elwin has not devoted much attention to it. Instead, he has characterized Bondo society as one in which freedom and independence act as leveling forces that reduce the importance of the hierarchical ranking of individuals in the social order. One important Bondo social institution, that of the moitur/mahaprasad friendship, must be noted. This is a ceremonial alliance established for mutual support.

Political Organization. The autonomous village is the most basic of Bondo political units. Village officials include the naiko (headman), bariko (village watchman), and the sisa (village priest). The headman is assisted by a council of elders. Officials in a Bondo village, according to Elwin, encounter certain difficulties in the carrying out of their duties because of the emphasis placed on the rights of the individual in Bondo society. Officials are appointed by the populace on an annual basis. Provision is also made for their removal from office should their work prove unsatisfactory to the electorate.

Social Control. In addition to the means usually employed by the state to maintain order and to discourage antisocial behavior (e.g., legal prosecution and imprisonment), Bondo cosmology uses the potential retribution of supernaturals for offenses against tribal customs (e.g., customs relating to exogamy, incest, and marital fidelity) as an additional means of social control.

Conflict. External relations are stable, though historically tensions have been noted between the Bondo and both the Didayis (whose villages were at one time targets of Bondo raids) and the Doms (upon whom Bondo robbers formerly preyed). Antagonism toward the Doms may have been caused, at least in part, by Dom attempts to force the Bondo to adopt Hinduism and abandon aspects of their traditional culture.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Hinduism has had a profound impact on Bondo religion. Its impact may be noted in the structure of the pantheon and the nature of ceremonial. The Bondo religious system represents a syncretic blending of indigenous beliefs with Vaishnavite Hinduism. Bondo retain belief in a supreme being (Mahaprabhu) who is identified with the sun, under whom is arranged a hierarchy of demigods, who exercise influence over natural phenomena (e.g., streams and forests) and domestic habitations. Furies and the spirits of the recently deceased are believed to have the ability to destroy crops, send wild animals, disturb cattle, and inflict disease on humans. It is believed that the demigods dwell in trees and stones and so the Bondo have erected stone shrines in their honor. The most important of all stone shrines is the sindibor, dedicated to mother earth, which is the site of most important social and religious ceremonies. The services of a shaman are used to discern the nature of any difficulty when the malevolent activity of supernaturals is believed to be the cause. Priests officiate at the rituals necessary to alleviate this distress and restore prosperity. Religious ceremonial includes an array of magicoreligious acts (e.g., incantations and manual gestures) and ceremonial accoutrements (e.g., decorated altars, booths, leaf cups, plates, ceremonial dolls, and carts).

Religious Practitioners. The egalitarian spirit of Bondo society, according to Elwin, has prevented a proliferation of sacerdotal officials from taking place. There exist, nonetheless, two levels of priestly activity. The first takes place at the household level (e.g., at funerals and certain festival observances), while the second takes place at the village level. Those that fall into the latter category are the responsibility of the sisa. Each village has at least two such priests (a chief priest and his assistant) and at least two unmarried boys who serve as liturgical assistants. The sisa's authority is limited to his own sindibor. His duties include the performance of sacrifice on public occasions and during festivals. His home houses the kinding-sagar (sacred drum) and his spouse has ritual duties associated with the brewing of a special kind of rice beer. She is also associated with the hunt. The sisa must be appointed annually (by popular election) and may be removed from office should he fail to dispatch his duties properly. The dissari (shaman/medicine man) also plays an important role in the religious life of the Bondo. The individuals who function in this capacity are believed to be descendants of the original inhabitants of the land and as such are felt to be acquainted with the deities indigenous to the area. The claim to the dissari title must be substantiated by the quality
(i.e., accuracy and efficiency) of the claimant's counsel and prognostications. This is not an institution unique to the Bondo. This office is found among many of the Bondo's neighbors (e.g., the Gour, Didayi, Gadaba, and Kond). The ministrations of the dissari are required for the most part during times of distress (e.g., sickness and domestic trouble). The dissari determines the nature of a problem by means of trance and prescribes measures for the alleviation of the problem. These may be performed by a member of the afflicted party's household or by the dissari. While the hereditary transfer of the offices of sisa and dissari is possible, there is no Bondo law mandating that such action must occur. Sorcerers (usually male) are also known among the Bondo. Among their supposed repertoire of powers (which are believed to be largely evil in nature and negative in manifestation) is the ability to conjure up violent storms.

Ceremonies. Magicoreligious ceremonies accompany almost all stages of the Bondo agricultural calendar. Some of the more important of these are: the Sume Gelirak festival (held in January and associated with the reaping and threshing of the rice harvest); the Giag-gige festival (held in April and associated with the completion of work in the fields); the Gersum-gige festival (held in July and associated with the weeding of the fields); the Feast of First Fruits (held in August or September and associated with the maize crop); the Dassera festival (held in October and associated with the reaping of millet); and the Gewursung festival (held in October or November and corresponding to the Hindu festival of Diwali). In form and practice, Bondo ceremonial includes the following elements: the construction of ritual appurtenances (e.g., booths, carts, dolls, and altars); the presentation of sacrifices (e.g., fruit, grain, eggs, fish, crabs, fowl, cattle, goats, and pigs); a sacrificial feast; the use of special gestures (on the part of the officiant); and repetition (presumably of manual acts and spoken formulas) in order to guarantee the efficacy of the ritual.

Arts. Dance is an important element of certain Bondo ceremonial observances (e.g., weddings, festivals, and funerals). Instrumental music accompanies dancing on these occasions. Instruments include drums, gongs, horns, and flutes. Vocal music is also included in these rites. The corpus of Bondo songs is substantial. Compositions reflect usage in a variety of social settings (e.g., the hunt and courtship). The visual arts include carving, decorative weaving, and tattooing (to a limited extent). Items for personal adornment (chiefly bracelets and necklaces) are manufactured for the Bondo by Ghasia and Kammar metalworkers. Finally, Bondo oral literature also contains a substantial number of folklore motifs.

Medicine. The Bondo acknowledge the existence of several disease-causing gods (e.g., those related to smallpox, pneumonia, cholera, and stomachache). These show evidence of Hindu influence. In addition, even Mahaprabhu, who is seen as a benevolent force primarily, may also cause sickness. It is the responsibility of the dissari to diagnose and prescribe the ritual means of relief for illness.

Death and Afterlife. It is believed that after death, the human sairem (ghost) and jiwo (soul) are separated from the body. The sairem wanders aimlessly in the afterlife until the gunum ceremony (in which a stone memorial is erected) is performed. Upon the performance of this ritual, the ghost is admitted into the company of the Bondo departed. The jiwo rises to dwell in the presence of Mahaprabhu until it is reincarnated. These beliefs show a blending of indigenous and Hindu elements.


Elwin, Verrier (1950). Bondo Highlander. London: Oxford University Press.

Elwin, Verrier (1964). The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin. New York and Bombay: Oxford University Press.