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Gond

Gond

ETHNONYM: Koi


Orientation

Identification. The Gonds are an important and Numerous tribe, residing at the present time mainly in Gondavana, "the Land of the Gonds," the easternmost districts of Madhya Pradesh, formerly the Central Provinces of India. They were first called "Gonds" (hill men) by the Mogul rulers. They call themselves Koi or Koitūr; the meaning of the latter name is unclear.

Location. While the Gond live mainly in Madhya Pradesh, important clusters live also in the adjoining districts to the north, west, and south of Gondavana. Many of these subsections have assumed different tribal names so that their identity with the Gond tribe is not always clear.

Demography. The latest available Census figures are from 1971, when there were 4,728,796 Gondsone of the largest tribal groups on earth. In fact, the number of Gonds is really much higher, since many Gond communities have been fully accepted into the Hindu caste system, have adopted another name, and have completely abandoned their original tribal ways of life. While some Gond subsections thus have been lost to the tribe, some communities of different origin may have been incorporated into the Gond tribe. The Bisonhorn Marias of Bastar may be such a tribe.

Linguistic Affiliation. If the Gonds ever had a language of their own, they have lost it completely. Half of the Gonds speak a Dravidian language called Gondi at present, which is more akin to Teluga than to Karmada. In the southern parts of Gondavana the Gonds speak a language called Parsi or Parji (Persian), also of the Dravidian family. In the northern regions the Gonds often speak the local language, a dialect of Hindi or Marathi.

History and Cultural Relations

The racial history of the Gonds is unknown. From their physical appearance it is obvious that they differ from the Aryan and Dravidian speakers settled in the country. According to B. S. Guha, they are Proto-Australoids by race like the Oraons and Maler of Chota Nagpur Plateau. It is unknown when and by which route they arrived in this part of India. At one time they must have been settled in the hills between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, because their dialect, Gondi, is closely related to the languages of those regions. R. V. Russell and Hira Lal maintain that only between the ninth and thirteenth centuries a.d. did the Gonds come and settle in Present-day Gondavana. They became progressive and wealthy farmers and were gradually transformed into Ragbansi Rajputs. When the ruling Rajput dynasties in these regions Declined, Gonds established themselves as rulers at four centers. The zenith of their might was from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. Then the Marathas under a Bhonsle ruler of Nagpur overran their country and completely dispossessed them of their power except in the hill fastnesses, which held out against all invaders.


Settlements

The Gonds invariably live in villages. But in each village the Gonds live in a hamlet of their own. The hamlet is not a closed cluster of huts, for the Gonds' homesteads are spread over a large area within the hamlet. Each homestead houses a family, often a joint family consisting of the families of the married sons living with their parents. In the plains where the Gonds are more Sanskritized, or influenced by high Hindu culture, some have adopted Hindu ways and begun to live in closed villages, yet apart from the other castes and tribes.

Economy

All Gonds are in some way or other engaged in agriculture or work in the forest. They would not dream of accepting any other occupation. Originally they must have been nomadic hunters and food gatherers and then switched to shifting cultivation, retaining, however, their close connection with the forest. Shifting cultivation is not merely one type of agriculture but a complex cultural form, a way of life. It requires no draft animals and allows the cultivators more leisure time for work in the forest, hunting, fishing, and the collection of Jungle produce. However, most Gonds have been forced to abandon shifting cultivation by the government because it is harmful to the forest, and some Gond sections had already voluntarily changed over to plow cultivation and even to terrace cultivation. They prospered economically and acquired a high social standing.


Kinship

Kin Groups and Descent. The Gonds have a pronounced patrilineal and patriarchal clan system. They call it gotra or kur. A Gond clan comprises a group of persons who believe that they are descendants in the male line from a common ancestor. While a male can never change his clan, a woman on marriage is taken into the clan of her husband. The Gonds practice clan exogamy, considering intermarriage within a clan to be incest. They believe the gods would punish such a sin with a skin disease, worms in a wound, or leprosy. Offenders against the law of exogamy are excluded from the tribal community and can only be readmitted after separation. Many of the Gond clans bear animal or plant names, which suggests a totemic origin of the clans, and some Gond clans still observe totemic taboos. But generally, except for the observance of exogamy, the clan system has no important function. In the Mandla District at least, eighteen clans have been combined into a phratry. The combination of the clans varies locally, but the numbereighteenis always retained. The phratry too observes exogamy, but with the payment of a fine the marriage prohibition can be waived.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. A normal marriage among the Gonds is the monogamous union of a man and a woman based on mutual choice, sanctioned by the ceremonial exchange of vows, with the approval of the tribal council, witnessed by the relatives of the partners and the village community, and concluded with a festive wedding dinner. Although the Gonds have liberal views on premarital sex, they are strict in the observance of married fidelity. They believe that adultery is punished by the ancestral spirits that can cause crop failure or an epidemic among humans and cattle. A Gond wedding is solemnized with many significant ceremonies. The essential wedding rite consists of the groom walking with his bride seven times around a wedding post erected in the center of the wedding booth. Marriage is obligatory. Originally Gond boys and girls married on reaching physical maturity. Nowadays the Gonds increasingly follow the example of the rural Hindu population and parents arrange the marriage when children are still young. The father of the groom has to pay a bride-price, the amount of which depends on the position and wealth of the two families. Cross-cousin marriages are much preferred, so much so that a youth has to pay a fine if he refuses to marry an available cross cousin. A Gond can have more than one wife, polygyny being restricted only by the capability of the man to support a number of wives. The Gonds practice the sororate and the levirate. Widow marriage is forbidden only among the Sanskritized Gonds. Gonds who are too poor to pay the bride-price and the wedding expenses contract a Service marriage. Families with no sons prefer such a marriage arrangement. Other more irregular forms of marriage among the Gonds are the elopement of an unmarried girl with a boy or the capture of a girl and her forced marriage to her captor. Marriage by capture was in the past a popular form of Marriage among the Gonds. The marriage must later be legalized by the relatives and village councils of the partners. The Gonds permit divorce and easily resort to it for various reasons. For instance, a man may obtain a divorce if his wife is barren, quarrelsome, or negligent in doing her assigned work. Likewise, a woman may elope with another man if her husband is a bad provider, a drunkard, or a wife beater, or if he is habitually unfaithful. A divorce requires the legal sanction of the tribal council of the village.


Domestic Unit. Gond marriages are as a rule happy and lasting if the husband is able to provide a frugal livelihood for wife and children and if the wife is competent in her Household tasks and field work. Gond men and women are affectionate toward children and enjoy having large families.

Inheritance. Property, primarily land, descends patrilineally to the sons equally (unless one son should move elsewhere, in which case he forfeits his rights). Daughters inherit next to nothing from their fathers. A widow usually remains in the house, which is inherited by her youngest son (ultimogeniture) . If not too old, the widow may be remarried to a close relative of her deceased husband.

Socialization. The ambition of every Gond woman is to bear a son. Barrenness in a woman is considered a curse. Pregnancy and birth are surrounded with protective rites against magic spells and evil influences. Children are generally welcome and treated with affection. Although sons are preferred, daughters are welcome too. Children grow up without much restriction, but the community teaches them correct behavior. Children are early invited to take over some tasks, first playfully, then in earnest. Boys spontaneously seem to prefer male company, while girls seem to gravitate naturally toward other females. The change to adulthood is gradual; there is no initiation ceremony. The first menstruation of a girl is not specially celebrated, but she does learn in advance what prohibitions she has to observe. Only three Gond sections in the south have youth dormitories, and only the Murías use the dormitory for the education of youth in married and civic life. The other Gond sections have no dormitory system.


Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Since the Gonds are spread over a wide area, there are many local subsections that have no Social contact with each other. The more Sanskritized these sections are, the higher is the social rank they claim. But the highest rank is given to the descendants of the Gond rajas and their retainers, the Raj-Gonds and Katholias. Among these two sections we find the greatest number of Gonds with substantial landholdings. Other Gond sections outside of Gondavana are the Kisans, in the south of Bihar and in the neighboring districts of Orissa. The Gonds reached even the hills along the southern bank of the Ganges. There they are known as Majwars or Majhis (headmen). Akin to the Gonds are a number of other tribes, such as the Bhattras, Koyas, Konda Kapus, Konda Deras, and Halbas. The Khonds of Orissa, another important tribe, also may originally have been Gonds.

Political Organization. The entire Gond tribe was never a political unit. Tribal solidarity does not extend beyond the confines of a subsection. The basic political unit is the Gond village community. It is a democratic organization in which the headman and other officials are chosen by the villagers. Each village has its council, with officials like the headman, the priest, the village watchman, and four or five elders. More important affairs are discussed and decided upon by all the men of the community. A village has also its servant castes, such as the Ahir (cowherds), Agaria (blacksmiths), Dhulia (drummers), and Pardhan (bards and singers). At the towns of Garha-Mandla, Kharla, Deogarh, and Chanda, the leading headmen managed to rise to the rank of rulers (rajas ) and to establish dynasties that lasted for centuries. But the very fact that these rajas surrounded themselves with Hindu officials and eagerly adopted Hindu or Mogul methods of administration proves that royalty was alien to tribal democracy. In the present political situation the Gonds are, despite their numbers, politically powerless, which is partly because of this Tribal disunity but also because of their comparative lack of education and drive, and their great poverty. Those few Gonds who are members of the legislative assemblies or even the national parliament (Lok Sabha) are either alienated from their tribal culture or easily manipulated by other politicians.

Conflict and Social Control. In settling disputes the court of first instance is the village council (panch ), which is presided over by the headman. Usually it strives to restore harmony between the litigants rather than to implement customary law. A settlement commonly involves a fine, or excommunication in varying degrees. Those who offend against the rule of clan exogamy incur supernatural sanctions.


Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The religion of the Gonds does not differ much from that of the numerous other tribes in central India. Like them, the Gonds believe in a high god whom they call either by his Hindu name, "Bhagwan," or by his tribal name, "Bara Deo," the "Great God." But he is an otiose deity and is rarely worshiped, though his name is often invoked. He is a personal godeternal, just, merciful, maker of the fertile earth and of manthough the universe is conceived as coexisting with him. In the Gond belief system, besides this high god there also exist a great number of male and female deities and spirits that personify various natural features. Every hill, river, lake, tree, and rock is inhabited by a spirit. The earth, water, and air are ruled by deities that must be venerated and appeased with sacrifices and offerings. These deities and spirits may be benevolent, but often they are capricious, malevolent, and prone to harming human beings, especially Individuals who have made themselves vulnerable by breaking a rule of the tribal code. The deities and spirits, especially the ancestor spirits, watch over the strict observance of the tribal rules and punish offenders.

Religious Practitioners. Gonds distinguish between priests and magicians. The village priest is appointed by the village council; however, his appointment is often hereditary. His responsibility is to perform all the sacrifices held at Certain feasts for the village community for which he receives a special remuneration. Sacrifices and religious ceremonies on family occasions are usually performed by the head of the family. The diviners and magicians, on the other hand, are unofficial charismatic intermediaries between the supernatural world and human beings. The Gonds, like the other Tribals of central India, believe that most diseases and misfortunes are caused by the machinations of evil spirits and offended deities. It is the task of the soothsayers and diviners to find out which supernatural agencies have caused the Present sickness or misfortune and how they can be appeased. If soothsayers and diviners cannot help, magicians and shamans must be employed. Magicians believe that by magic formulas and devices they can force a particular deity or spirit to carry out their commands. Shamans are persons who easily fall into trances and are then believed to be possessed by deities or spirits that prophesy through their mouths. These frequent ecstasies do not seem to have any detrimental mental or physical effects on the shamans, who may be male or female. Magic may be "white" or "black": it is white if it counteracts black magic or effects a cure when a sickness has been caused by black magic. Gonds also believe in the evil eye and in witchcraft. A witch is usually a woman who by her evil power brings sickness and death to people in the neighborhood. When discovered, she is publicly disgraced and expelled from the village or even killed.

Ceremonies. The Gonds celebrate many feasts connected mainly with the agricultural seasons and with life-cycle events (birth, marriage, sickness, and death). On all festive occasions sacrifices and offerings are performed either by the Official village priest, by the soothsayers and magicians, or by the head of the family that is celebrating an event. All these Sacrifices are accompanied by appropriate ceremonies of symbolic significance. The offerings and sacrifices can be either animal or vegetable; it depends on the type of deity being addressed. Female deities generally demand that blood be spilled; the victims are usually chickens or goats, sometimes male buffalo, and, occasionally in the past, human beings. Vegetable offerings include fruits (especially coconuts), flowers, colored powder, and strings.

Arts. Like most tribals, the Gonds are accomplished artisans and can manufacture almost all the implements they require for their work on the farm and in the forest, all furniture in house and kitchen, and all of their ornaments and decorations. They are artistically gifted: they paint their house walls with artistic designs, and they carve memorial pillars in wood and stone for their dead. They have invented various original dances and are passionate dancers. They are good musicians on the drum, the flute, and other instruments. They are good singers, though the melodies of their songs sometimes sound monotonous and may not be of their own invention. They are inventive in composing new songs, folktales, legends, and myths and in retelling them dramatically. They have composed a great epic celebrating the origins and exploits of a Culture hero named Lingo.

Medicine. The Gonds are fully aware that certain diseases have a natural cause, and they know many jungle medicines to cure such diseases. But when these remedies remain ineffective, they resort to magical devices.

Death and Afterlife. After death an adult Gond man or woman is cremated; children are buried without much Ceremony. Ceremonies are performed at the funeral to prevent the soul of the deceased from finding its way back to its house and village. The Gonds believe in an afterlife. They believe each human being has two souls, the life spirit and the shadow. The shadow must be prevented from returning to its home, or it will harm the surviving relatives. The life spirit goes to Bhagwan to be judged and rewarded by reincarnation into a higher form or punished in a pool of biting worms; after a while the soul is reborn and begins a new life. Others believe that the soul joins the other ancestors of the clan, especially after a stone memorial has been erected. Still others believe that the soul is absorbed in Bhagwan or Bara Deo. The belief in the survival of the ancestral spirits is, however, quite strong. These ancestor spirits watch over the moral behavior of the living Gond and punish offenders of tribal law. Thus they act as strict guardians of the Gond community.

See also Agaria; Ahir; Baiga; Kond; Koya

Bibliography

Elwin, Verrier (1943). Maria Murder and Suicide. London: Oxford University Press. 2nd ed. 1950.

Elwin, Verrier (1944). The Muria and Their Ghotul. London: Oxford University Press.

Fuchs, Stephen (1960). The Gond and Bhumia of Eastern Mandla. Bombay: Asia Publishing House. 2nd ed. 1968. Bombay: New Literature Publishing Co.

Fürer-Haimendorf, Christoph von (1948). The Aboriginal Tribes of Hyderabad. Vol. 3, The Raj Gonds of Adilabad. London: Macmillan.


Fürer-Haimendorf, Christoph von, and Elizabeth von Fürer-Haimendorf (1979). The Gonds of Andhra Pradesh: Tradition and Change in an Indian Tribe. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House.

Grigson, William (1938). The Hill Marias of Bastar. London: Oxford University Press.

Russell, R. V., and Hira Lal (1916). "Gond." In The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India. Vol. 3, 38-143. London: Oxford University Press. Reprint. 1969. Oosterhout: Anthropological Publications.

Singh, Indrajit (1944). The Gondwana and the Gond. Lucknow: University Publishers.

STEPHEN FUCHS

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Gonds

Gonds

PRONUNCIATION: gAHNds

ALTERNATE NAMES: Koi; Koitur

LOCATION: India

POPULATION: Over 9 million

LANGUAGE: Gondi

RELIGION: Cult of the Persa Pen (clan deities); ancestor spirit worship

1 INTRODUCTION

The Gonds are among the largest tribal groups in South Asia and perhaps the world. The term Gond refers to tribal peoples who live all over India's Deccan Peninsula. Most describe themselves as Gonds (hill people) or as Koi or Koitur.

Scholars believe Gonds settled in Gondwana, now known as eastern Madhya Pradesh, between the ninth and thirteenth centuries ad. Muslim writers describe a rise of Gond states after the fourteenth century. Gond dynasties ruled in four kingdoms (Garha-Mandla, Deogarh, Chanda, and Kherla) in central India between the sixteenth and mid-eighteenth centuries.

Maratha power swept into Gond land in the 1740s. They overthrew Gond rajas (princes) and seized most of their territory. Some Gond zamindaris (estates) survived until recently. However, Gonds are similar to many tribal groups today in that they face severe economic hardships. Although some Gond groups own a great deal of land, others are classified as Scheduled Tribes, which means they need special social and economic help.

2 LOCATION

Gonds live all over central India, and in the states of Maharashtra and Orissa. As "hill people," they traditionally have been associated with hills and uplands in the Deccan Peninsula. Many Gonds live around the Satpura Hills, Maikala Range and Son-Deogarh uplands, and on the Bastar plateau. Many Gond tribes also live in the Garhjat Hills of northern Orissa. The upland areas generally lie between 2,000 to 3,000 feet (600 to 900 meters), with isolated peaks occasionally exceeding approximately 4,000 feet (1,200 meters). The region is drained by the head-waters of many of India's major rivers (such as the Narmada, Tapti, Son, Mahanadi, and Godavari). Forest cover is dense in places, and communications are generally difficult. February sees the start of the hot season, with temperatures rising to over 40° C (104° F) in early June. The summer brings the monsoon rains, with precipitation amounts varying from 47 inches (120 centimeters) to over 63 inches (160 centimeters) in the more southeasterly locations. Late September marks the return of the cool, dry weather of winter.

3 LANGUAGE

Gondi belongs to the Dravidian family of languages and is related to Tamil and Kannada. The language offers a cultural connection between the many Gond groups. Many Gonds also speak Hindi, Marathi, or Telegu.

4 FOLKLORE

Hereditary bards and professional storytellers called Pardhans tell stories about Gond legends and myths. This makes for a rich oral tradition. In these stories, it is said that when Gond gods were born, their mother abandoned them. The goddess Parvati rescued them, but her consort Sri Shambhu Mahadeo (Shiva) kept them captive in a cave. Pahandi Kapar Lingal, a Gond hero, who received help from the goddess Jangu Bai, rescued them from the cave. They came out of the cave in four groups, thus laying the foundations of the basic fourfold division of Gond society. Lingal also is responsible for creating a Gond kinship system and establishing a group of great Gond gods.

5 RELIGION

Persa Pen is the most distinctive feature of Gond religion. Like many other tribes, Gonds worship a high god known as Baradeo, whose alternate names are Bhagavan, Sri Shambu Mahadeo, and Persa Pen. Baradeo oversees activities of lesser gods. He is respected but he does not receive fervent devotion, which is shown only to clan deities. Each Gond clan has its Persa Pen, who protects all clan members. The Persa Pen is essentially good but can be dangerous and violent. Many Gonds believe that when a Pardhan (bard) plays his fiddle, the deity's fierce powers can be controlled.

Each village has its Village-Guardian and Village-Mother who are worshipped when villagers celebrate regular festivities. Gonds also worship family and household gods, gods of the field, and gods of cattle. Deities such as Shitala Mata, goddess of smallpox, help ward off disease. Spirits are also believed to inhabit hills, rivers, lakes and trees.

Village priests (devari), perform sacrifices and rituals for village festivals. The head of a household typically carries out family ceremonies. Clan priests (katora) tend the shrine and ritual objects of the clan's Persa Pen. These priests also guard the sacred spear point and organize annual festivals.

Most aspects of Gond life, from the greatest festivals to the building of a new cattle shed, are accompanied by sacrifice. Certain deities, especially female ones, demand chickens, goats, and sometimes male buffaloes. Every nine or twelve years, Gonds sacrifice a pig to the god Narayan Deo in an important ceremony known as the Laru Kaj (Pig's Wedding). Other rituals also involve offerings of fruits, coconuts, flowers, colored powder, and strings.

Gonds believe evil spirits and the gods' displeasure cause most diseases and misfortunes. They ask soothsayers and diviners to find out the cause of problems and to suggest remedies. Sometimes, magicians and shamans (healers) can provide this advice. Magicians use special formulas to control the actions of a deity or spirit that is causing a particular affliction. Shamans fall into a trance and give voice to the demands of an offended god or spirit.

6 MAJOR HOLIDAYS

Many Gond festivals are connected to agriculture. Pola, a cattle festival, and Nagpanchami, the snake festival, are very popular.

Dasahara is an important Gond holiday. A Gond custom is stick dancing undertaken by young people. Bands of young people travel from village to village, dancing and singing. The dancing is a religious duty. It is also an occasion for fun.

7 RITES OF PASSAGE

Gonds protect pregnant women against spells and evil influences, and perform several rituals after a baby is born. A mother's brother generally names a baby boy, while the father's sister names a girl. Children grow up as part of a family, clan, and phratry (one of the four main divisions of Gond society), and gradually learn the ways of their people. Both boys and girls help guard family crops from birds and monkeys. Males undergo a ritual shaving of the beard, mustache, and eyebrows as a sign of adulthood. Girls are considered full-grown at their first menstruation.

Gonds cremate or bury their dead. Children, unmarried persons, and individuals dying an inauspicious death (for instance, in an epidemic) are buried without much ceremony. Gonds believe humans have a life force and a spirit. On death, the life force is reincarnated into another earthly existence, but the spirit remains in the other world. Gonds perform death rituals to help the spirit move into the other world and to ease its acceptance by other clan spirits. This rite, known as karun, must be done to fulfill an obligation to the deceased. Memorial pillars honor the dead. Gonds believe ancestral spirits watch over the living, punish offenders, and guard Gond communities.

8 RELATIONSHIPS

Gonds welcome visitors with dried tobacco leaves, fruits, or other small gifts. Many villages have guest huts.

9 LIVING CONDITIONS

Each Gond village has a headman (known by local names such as mukhia, mahji, or patel ) and a village council (panchayat) chosen by the villagers. The council consists of the headman, priest, village watchman, and four or five elders. It helps keep the village running smoothly and upholds Gond customs. Villages also have service castes such as Ahir (cowherds), Agaria (blacksmiths), Dhulia (drummers), and Pardhan (bards and singers).

A typical Gond village has several hamlets. Each consists of homesteads that house extended families. Houses are usually built of mud and thatch. They consist of a living room, kitchen, veranda, a special room for women to use while menstruating, and a shrine for clan gods.

Gond houses contain cots and a few wooden stools; mats are used for sitting and sleeping.

10 FAMILY LIFE

Gond society is divided into four groups known as phratries or sagas in Gondi. Each saga traces its descent to one of the four groups of gods who emerged from the cave after their release by the hero Lingal. The saga is divided into several clans (pari). A clan consists of a group of people who believe they share a common ancestor. Generally, it is good to marry outside the clan.

Kinship and marriage customs among Gonds reflect broader regional patterns. The norm is cross-cousin marriage (for example, marrying one's mother's brother's daughter), which is typical in southern India. Gond groups that have been influenced by northern peoples such as Marathas, however, follow northern customs in determining marriage partners. Similarly, northern Gonds allow widows to remarry a brother of the deceased husband.

Gonds typically choose their marriage mates, and a tribal council approves the matches. The father of a groom pays a bride price. Gond weddings include many significant ceremonies. The main part of the wedding occurs when the bride and groom walk seven times around a wedding post. Newlyweds live with the groom's family until it is possible for them to move into a house of their own.

Sometimes, Gond matches are made when a groom and bride elope. These marriages must be approved later by relatives and the village council. The council also can approve divorces.

11 CLOTHING

Gond men typically wear the dhoti, or loincloth. The dhoti is a long piece of white cotton cloth wrapped around the waist and then drawn between the legs and tucked into the waist. Women wear a cotton sari (a length of fabric wrapped around the waist, with one end thrown over the right shoulder) and choli (tight-fitting, cropped blouse).

12 FOOD

The staples of the Gond diet are two millets known as kodo and kutki. These are either boiled to a broth or cooked to a dry cereal. Broth is preferred for the first two meals of the day and the dry cereal is eaten at night, often with vegetables. Vegetables are either grown in gardens or collected from forests along with roots and tubers. Honey is also gathered from forests.

Rice is a luxury item that Gonds enjoy during feasts and festivals. Most Gonds like meat. Animals sacrificed at ceremonies are eagerly consumed, and animals hunted in the forest supplement the diet. Gonds must abstain from the flesh of animals that are their clan totems.

Gonds grow tobacco for smoking and for celebrations make liquor from the mahua tree.

13 EDUCATION

Literacy (percentage of the population who can read and write) among Gonds varies from just over 25 percent in Maharashtra to less than 15 percent in Madhya Pradesh. Among females in Madhya Pradesh, it drops to about 4 percent. Few children attend school regularly, and girls rarely continue past primary school.

14 CULTURAL HERITAGE

Gonds celebrate most festive occasions with song and dance. In some instances, such as with the Dandari dancers, dances retell events from Gond mythology. At other times, dances are performed simply for fun. Dhulia are a professional musician caste and Pardhans (bards) preserve legends, myths, and history, passing these traditions on from generation to generation. Gonds also enjoy assembling on full-moon nights to sing and dance. Cockfighting is a favorite pastime.

Both men and women enjoy wearing heavy silver ornaments. Women also like to wear colored glass bangles and marriage necklaces made of small black beads. They often tattoo their bodies.

15 EMPLOYMENT

Gonds today are mainly farmers. Although some Gond communities have risen to the status of landowners, many are landless laborers.

16 SPORTS

No sporting activities are associated with traditional Gond society.

17 RECREATION

Gonds enjoy singing and dancing. Some also enjoy cock-fighting (battle between two roosters, with spectators placing bets on the outcome).

18 CRAFTS AND HOBBIES

Gonds have a rich arts tradition that includes pottery, basket making, body tattooing, and floor painting. They paint designs in red and black on the walls of their houses. These drawings often celebrate festivals and depict animals, birds, human figures, hunting, and dancing. Gonds make musical instruments. They carve memorial pillars in wood and stone for their dead. They often decorate houses with carved doors and panels.

19 SOCIAL PROBLEMS

Gonds face problems typical of tribal peoples throughout South Asia and much of the world. They suffer exploitation and discrimination, and often are forced to live on less productive lands in remote areas. They are experiencing increasing pressure on their land, a rise in the number of landless laborers, and high levels of poverty. Lack of education and low levels of literacy further reduce economic opportunity.

20 BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ardley, Bridget. India. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Silver Burdett Press, 1989.

Barker, Amanda. India. Crystal Lake, Ill.: Ribgy Interactive Library, 1996.

Cumming, David. India. New York: Bookwright, 1991.

Das, Prodeepta. Inside India. New York: F. Watts, 1990.

Dolcini, Donatella. India in the Islamic Era and Southeast Asia (8th to 19th century). Austin, Tex.: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1997.

Kalman, Bobbie. India: The Culture. Toronto: Crabtree Publishing Co., 1990.

Pandian, Jacob. The Making of India and Indian Traditions. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1995.

Shalant, Phyllis. Look What We've Brought You from India: Crafts, Games, Recipes, Stories, and Other Cultural Activities from Indian Americans. Parsippany, N.J.: Julian Messner, 1998.

WEBSITES

Consulate General of India in New York. [Online] Available http://www.indiaserver.com/cginyc/, 1998.

Embassy of India, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available http://www.indianembassy.org/, 1998.

Interknowledge Corporation. [Online] Available http://www.interknowledge.com/india/, 1998.

World Travel Guide. India. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/in/gen.html, 1998.

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Gond

Gond (gŏnd), ethnic group of central India. The group is now found especially in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and in neighboring areas of Maharashtra, Telangana, Odisha, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh and in NE Karnataka and Assam. In Madhya Pradesh there was a small but powerful Gond kingdom until the 18th cent. The Gonds, predominantly Hindu, speak a Dravidian language and are mainly organized into tribes in small villages.

See V. Elwin, Leaves from the Jungle; Life in a Gond Village (2d ed. 1958); S. Fuchs, The Gond and Bhumia of Eastern Mandla (2d ed. 1968).

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Gonds

Gonds

PRONUNCIATION: GAHNDS
ALTERNATE NAMES: Koi; Koitur
LOCATION: India
POPULATION: About 14 million
LANGUAGE: Gondi
RELIGION: Cult of the Persa Pen (clan deities); ancestor spirit worship
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 4: People of India

INTRODUCTION

The Gonds are numerically the most important tribe in South Asia. Strictly speaking, the term Gond is a generic one that refers to numerous tribal peoples who are found over wide areas of the interior of the Deccan peninsula of India. While they are by no means all alike, there is a limited measure of cultural uniformity among these groups. Most significantly, they all describe themselves as Gonds or, in the local Gondi dialects, as Koi or Koitur. The meaning of the latter names is uncertain. It was the Mughals who first used the name "Gond" (hill people) to describe the peoples of the area. Gonds have lent their name to Gondwana ("the Land of the Gonds"), the part of India in which they live. They are found over almost all of India except the northwestern states (Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir) and the extreme south, but have their greatest concentrations in the rugged hill country of central India.

Little is known about the origins of the Gonds. They belong to the strata of aboriginal peoples of India who pre-date the Aryan and Dravidian speakers of the country. They are usually classified as Proto-Australoids by race. As their language is Dravidian, the Gonds may have passed through lands to the south where the Dravidian languages are found. DNA evidence suggests they might have branched off from early Proto-Australoids who apparently traveled from Africa to Australia along the coastal margins of India. But Gond migrations before they reached their present homeland remain shrouded in the mists of time. Scholars believe that the Gonds settled in Gondwana between the 9th and 13th centuries AD. The core region of Gondwana can be considered to be the eastern part of the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, the parts of Madhya Pradesh immediately to the north of it, and parts of the west of Chhattisgar. From the 14th century onwards, Gond history comes into focus with Muslim writers describing the rise of Gond states in the region. Between the 16th and mid-18th centuries, when Gonds were at the height of their power, Gond dynasties ruled in four kingdoms (Garha-Mandla, Deogarh, Chanda, and Kherla) in central India.

Following the 1740s, the rising tide of Maratha power swept over the Gonds. The Gond rajas were overthrown and their territory annexed, except for some of the more remote hill areas that held out against the invaders. Local Gond zamindaris or estates survived in the region until relatively recent times.

The recent creation of two new states in central India, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, has increased the relative proportions of Gonds, who are classified as Scheduled Tribes in both states, in the population. Thus, in Chhattisgarh, which was formed in 2000 from sixteen Chhattisgarhi-speaking districts in southeastern Madhya Pradesh, Gonds number over 4 million people, of the current estimated state total population of c. 24 million people. They are concentrated in the south, especially in Bastar district, where they account for more than 20% of the district's total population. Jharkhand, created in 2000 from the southern areas of Bihar largely to fulfill the aspirations of its tribal populations (c. 89% of the total state's population), also contains a considerable number of Gonds among its estimated 40 million people.

LOCATION AND HOMELAND

The Gonds form the largest tribal group in the Indian sub-continent and perhaps even in the entire world. The Census of India 2001 did not enumerate caste, so the population figure should be regarded as approximate, since many Gond communities have become Hinduized and are no longer counted as Gonds. Nonetheless, even using conservative estimates of growth rates, the Gond population in India must exceed14 million today.

Gonds are found over a wide area of central India. Gondwana, their traditional homeland, lies in the eastern part of the state of Madhya Pradesh and western Chhattisgarh, though large Gond populations are also found in Maharashtra and Orissa States. Gond territory lies south and east of the upper reaches of the Narmada and Son rivers and extends to the Godavari River and the Madhya Pradesh–Orissa border. Within this area, there are numerous tribal communities who are designated as Gonds. Madhya Pradesh classifies over 50 Gond groups as belonging to the Scheduled Tribes (communities in India identified as needing special social and economic assistance). A similar number of Gond groups in Maharashtra are designated as Scheduled Tribes. By contrast, there are Gond groups such as the Raj Gonds and the Katholias who claim high social standing and have substantial land holdings. The Dhur Gond, Bisonhorn Maria (so-called because of their distinctive horned headdress worn for dancing), the Muria Gond, and the Paharia Gonds are some of the Gond groups found in the region.

As might be expected with Gond tribes dispersed over so wide an area, the environmental setting in which they live varies greatly. Yet their characterization as "hill people" identifies one of their underlying traits, namely their traditional association with the hills and uplands of the Peninsula's interior. The densest concentrations of Gonds are found in the eastern ranges of the Satpura Hills, the Maikala Range, and the Son-Deogarh uplands. South of this line of hills, the Gond population thins out in the Waiganga Valley and the Chhattisgarh plain. As one continues south, however, the highly dissected plateau of Bastar forms another stronghold of the Gond tribes. A distinct cluster of Gond tribes, somewhat isolated from the main Gond distributions, occurs in the Garhjat Hills of northern Orissa. The upland areas generally lie between 600 and 900 m (roughly 2,000-3,000 ft), with isolated peaks occasionally exceeding 1,200 m (approximately 4,000 ft). The region is drained by the headwaters of many of India's major rivers (e.g., the Narmada, Tapti, Son, Mahanadi, and Godavari). Forest cover is dense in places, and communications are generally difficult. The climate is typical of the northern interior Deccan. February sees the start of the hot season, with temperatures rising to over 40°c (104°f) in early June. The summer brings the monsoon rains, with precipitation amounts varying from 120 cm (47 in) to over 160 cm (63 in) in the more southeasterly locations. Late September marks the return of the cool, dry weather of winter.

LANGUAGE

Gondi is the mother tongue of the Gonds. It belongs to the Dravidian family of languages and is closely related to Tamil and Kannada. Clearly, the Gonds are not physically related to the Dravidian-speaking peoples of India, thus at some time they must have abandoned an earlier language in favor of Gondi. There is, however, no evidence of what this language might have been. It is the Gondi language, as much as anything else, that lends a sense of cultural uniformity to the diverse tribal groups that make up the Gonds. Even so, many Gonds are bilingual or trilingual, speaking Hindi, Marathi, or Telegu as well as their mother tongue. Some Gond groups have totally abandoned Gondi and speak the language or dialect common in their locality.

FOLKLORE

Gond myths and legends are preserved by hereditary bards and professional storytellers called Pardhans. All Gond traditions are oral and, consequently, numerous variations of the same tales are recounted. Yet it is in mythology and the deeds of Gond heroes that the social norms of Gond society are rooted.

According to the Gond creation myth, when the Gond gods were born they were abandoned by their mother. The goddess Parvati rescued them, but her consort Sri Shambhu Mahadeo (Shiva) imprisoned them in a primeval cave. They were rescued from the cave by the Gond culture hero Pahandi Kapar Lingal, with the assistance of the goddess Jangu Bai. When released from captivity, they came out of the cave in four groups, thus laying the foundations of the basic fourfold division of Gond society. Lingal is also held to be responsible for the creation of the Gond kinship system, as well as the establishment of the great gods (Persa Pen) who were to be worshiped by the Gonds.

RELIGION

The most distinctive feature of Gond religion is the cult of the Persa Pen, or the clan deities. Like many other tribes in the region, Gonds worship a high god known as Baradeo, or Bhagavan, or Sri Shambu Mahadeo (known sometimes, rather confusingly, as Persa Pen). Baradeo is the Supreme Being, creator of the universe and giver of life and death, but he is rather remote. He over3s the activities of the lesser gods and he is to be respected and worshiped, but he does not receive the fervent devotion reserved for the clan deities. Each Gond clan has its Persa Pen, who extends its protection to all clan members in return for their ritual offerings and worship. The Persa Pen is essentially good but can be dangerous and violent. Many Gonds believe that the play of the Pardhan bard on his fiddle is necessary to control the deity's fierce powers.

In addition to Baradeo and the clan deities, the Gond world is populated by numerous other deities and spirits that are to be worshiped at the appropriate time. Each village has its Village-Guardian and Village-Mother who must be worshiped whenever the village community embarks on ritual activities, such as a seasonal celebration or a sacrifice. There are family gods and household gods to be propitiated. Gods of the field and gods of cattle must receive their offerings to ensure a productive harvest. Disease must be warded off by appeasing deities such as Shitala Mata, Goddess of Smallpox. Every hill, every river, every lake, every tree is inhabited by a spirit who may be benevolent but may also be unpredictable and harmful. The ancestor spirits, who reside with the clan deities, are also to be worshiped.

Gond relations with the gods and the spirits lie mainly in the hands of priests and individuals with special supernatural powers. The village priest (devari), whose office is usually a hereditary one, performs the sacrifices and rituals for village festivals. Family ceremonies and sacrifices are carried out by the head of the household. The clan priest (katora) has the responsibility of tending the shrine and ritual objects of the clan's Persa Pen. He is the guardian of the sacred spear point, which is never kept in the shrine but rather is hidden in a location known only to himself and a few close kinsmen. He also organizes and officiates at the annual clan festivals.

Virtually all aspects of Gond ritual life, from the greatest festivals to the building of a new cattle shed, are accompanied by sacrifice. The offering depends on the particular deity involved. Certain deities, especially female ones, demand blood-sacrifice. Chickens, goats, and sometimes male buffaloes (and reputedly in the past, humans) are the sacrificial victims. Periodically (every 9 or 12 years), the Gonds sacrifice a pig to the god Narayan Deo in an important ceremony known as the Laru Kaj ("Pig's Wedding"). Not all Gond ritual requires animal sacrifice; offerings sometimes include fruits, coconuts, flowers, colored powder, and strings.

While the village and clan priests perform sacrifices, diviners and magicians deal with the supernatural in another way. Gonds believe that most diseases and misfortunes in life are caused by evil spirits and the displeasure of the gods. They turn to soothsayers and diviners to find out the cause of their problems and the appropriate remedies to be taken. If these practitioners cannot help, the services of magicians and shamans must be sought. Magicians believe that through magic formulas they can control the actions of the deity or spirit who is the cause of a particular affliction. Shamans are individuals who fall into a trance and give voice to the demands of the offended god or spirit. Like many tribes in the area, Gonds believe in the evil eye, black magic, and witchcraft. Witches, usually women, are held to bring sickness and misfortune to the community. They are widely feared and, when discovered, are driven from the village or even killed.

MAJOR HOLIDAYS

The details of the Gond festival calendar varies from region to region but, as might be expected of agricultural peoples, many of the important celebrations are connected with the agricultural seasons. Some Hindu festivals, such as Holi, Dasahara, and Divali, are celebrated, though often the Gonds have no real understanding of the significance of these feasts. The Gonds, however, have their own explanation for their observance and celebrate the feasts in the Gond manner, complete with sacrifices. Pola, a cattle festival, and Nagpanchami, the snake festival, are celebrated by the Gonds along with the other peoples of the area.

Some festivals, such as the feasts of village or clan deities, are specifically Gond celebrations. One particular custom is the Dandari stick dancing undertaken by young people in the two or three weeks following Dasahara. Bands of young people, dressed in their newest and best attire, travel from village to village entertaining the inhabitants with dancing, music, and singing. In doing so, they are perpetuating a custom initiated by the legendary heroes of the Gond epics. The dancing is seen as a religious duty as much as an occasion for fun and entertainment.

RITES OF PASSAGE

Pregnant women are subject to certain taboos as a protection against magic spells and evil influences. Various rituals, including sacrifice to the household gods, are performed after birth. The baby is named after three to four weeks, with the name-giver usually being the mother's brother for a boy, or the father's sister for a girl. Although sons are preferred, daughters are equally welcomed. There is little to mark the passage from childhood to maturity. Children grow up as part of a family, clan, phratry (one of the four main divisions of Gond society), and village community and gradually learn the ways of their people. At a certain age, they begin to assume some responsibility for household and agricultural chores. Both boys and girls help guard their family's crops from birds and monkeys. Males undergo a ritual shaving of the beard, mustache, and eyebrows as a sign of adulthood, although many boys undergo the rite long before they reach puberty. There is no comparable rite for girls, but a girl is considered full-grown at her first menstruation. Only the Muria Gonds of Bastar have youth dormitories (ghotul) that are used for the education of youth in married and civic life.

Gonds cremate or bury their dead, depending on status and the circumstance of death. Children, unmarried persons, and individuals dying an inauspicious death (e.g., in an epidemic) are buried without much ceremony. Elaborate and costly ceremonies, including sacrifice, are performed at funerals by those who can afford it. The Gonds believe that a human being has a life-force and a spirit. On death, the life-force is reincarnated into another earthly existence, but the spirit remains in the other world. All Gond death rituals are undertaken for the welfare of the spirit, performed to ensure its smooth passage through the spirit world and its acceptance by the ancestral spirits of the clan. In times of economic stress, the important karun rite may be postponed for up to three years but it has to be completed in order for an heir's obligation to the deceased to be fulfilled. Memorial pillars are erected to honor the dead. Gonds believe the ancestral spirits watch over the moral behavior of the living and punish offenders of tribal law. In this sense, they are the guardians of the Gond community.

INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS

Visiting customs vary throughout the region, though Gonds are normally a hospitable people. The visitor is welcomed and presented with small gifts, perhaps some dried tobacco leaves or fruits from the forest. Many villages and homesteads have guest huts where the visitor may stay with some degree of privacy.

LIVING CONDITIONS

Gonds live in villages scattered throughout central India. Each village has a headman (known by local names such as mukhia, mahji, or patel) and a village council (panchayat) chosen by the villagers. The council, made up of the headman, the priest, the village watchman, and four or five elders, is responsible for the smooth running of the village and upholding Gond customs and traditions. More important affairs are discussed and decided upon by all the men of the community. In addition to its Gond inhabitants, a village has its service castes such as the Ahir (cowherds), Agaria (blacksmiths), Dhulia (drummers), and Pardhan (bards and singers).

A typical Gond village is made up of several hamlets, each consisting of the homesteads of a group of closely related kinfolk. The homestead (which contains dwellings, stables, and sheds) houses a family, often a joint family, consisting of the parents, married sons, and their families. Houses are usually rectangular, built of mud and thatch. They consist of a living room, a kitchen, a veranda, and a special room to which women retire while they are menstruating. Among many South Asian societies, women in this condition are regarded as ritually polluted and are segregated from the rest of the family. In one corner of the house is the shrine to the clan gods.

Standards of living among the Gonds reflect socioeconomic status. Many Gonds are relatively poor farmers or agricultural laborers, and this is seen in their lack of material possessions. Gond houses contain little furniture, perhaps some cots and a few wooden stools, with mats used for sitting and sleeping. The kitchen contains an assortment of cooking utensils, brass and earthenware pots, and baskets for storage. Today, wealthier Gonds build their houses out of stone and furnish them more lavishly.

FAMILY LIFE

Gond society is divided into four exogamous, patrilineal descent groups known in anthropological terminology as phratries. Each phratry (saga in Gondi) traces its descent to one of the four groups of gods who emerged from the primeval cave after their release by the hero Lingal. The phratry is divided into a number of exogamous clans (pari). A clan consists of a group of people who believe that they are descended in the male line from a common ancestor. Thus, no one can marry a partner belonging to the same phratry or clan. Violation of the rule of exogamy is considered to be incest. Not only would offenders expect to be punished by the gods, but they are also excluded from the tribal community. Many of the Gond clans bear the names of animals or plants, which suggests a totemic origin. Some Gond clans still observe totemic taboos and avoid eating the flesh of certain animals.

Kinship and marriage customs among the Gonds reflect broader regional patterns. The norm is the cross-cousin marriage (e.g., marriage with one's mother's brother's daughter) so typical of South Indian society. Groups that have been influenced by northern peoples such as the Marathas, however, follow northern customs in determining marriage partners. Similarly, northern Gonds allow what are called "levirate" marriages, that is, a widow remarries a brother of the deceased husband. This is not allowed in southern India, and the southern Gonds conform to this prohibition.

Gonds traditionally married on reaching physical maturity, with the selection of mates based on mutual choice, subject to the approval of the tribal council. Nowadays the Gonds increasingly follow the Hindu custom of arranged marriages when the children are still young. A bride-price is paid by the father of the groom. A Gond wedding is accompanied by many significant ceremonies, although, in general, rites conform to the marriage customs of the locality. The central rite of the Gond wedding consists of the groom walking with his bride seven times around a wedding post erected in the center of the wedding booth. Gond society is patrilocal and the newlyweds reside with the groom's family until such time as they move into a house of their own. Although the extended family is traditional among the Gonds, the nuclear family is becoming more common. Inheritance passes down the male line, with all sons receiving equal shares.

In addition to the negotiated marriage, other forms of marriage among the Gonds include elopement of an unmarried girl with a boy, or the capture of a girl and her forced marriage to her captor. Such marriages must later be legalized by the relatives and village councils of the partners. Similarly, divorce is permissible among the Gonds and is relatively easily obtained, but it must be obtained from the panchayat.

CLOTHING

Gonds differ little from the other cultivating castes of their locality in the area of dress. Men typically wore a small loincloth, but many have now adopted the dhoti. This is a long piece of white cotton cloth that is wrapped around the body, with its end drawn between the legs and tucked into the waistband at the back. In the past, the torso remained bare, but today cotton shirts are worn with the dhoti. White or colored turbans complete the outfit. In winter, waistcoats or woolen pullovers are worn for warmth, and sometimes a coarse woolen blanket is used for extra protection. Women and girls wear the cotton sari. This is wrapped around the waist, with one end drawn between the legs and tucked in at the back and the other thrown over the right shoulder covering the breasts and stomach, which are left bare. More and more Gonds are wearing the bodice (choli) along with the sari, in the manner of Hindu women.

Both men and women wear heavy silver ornaments bought from professional silversmiths. Women also wear colored glass bangles, as well as several types of beads, including their marriage necklaces made of small black beads. They often tattoo their bodies.

FOOD

The staples of the Gond diet are two millets known locally as kodo and kutki. These are prepared either boiled to a broth or cooked until all the water has evaporated. Sometimes it is ground and baked into a flat cake. Millet is eaten three times a day, with the broth being preferred for the first two meals and the dry cereal taken with some vegetables in the evening. Vegetables are either grown in the garden or collected from the forest along with roots and tubers. Honey is also gathered from the forest.

Rice is preferred by many Gonds, but for most it is too expensive to purchase and their land is too poor to cultivate it. Rice remains a dish reserved for feasts or festival days. Most Gonds, except for those who have adopted Hindu dietary taboos, like meat. Animals sacrificed at ceremonies are eagerly consumed, and the diet is supplemented by animals hunted in the forest. Gonds must abstain from the flesh of certain animals, e.g., the tortoise, that are their clan totems.

Gonds are passionate smokers and grow tobacco for their own consumption. They also consume large amounts of liquor distilled from the mahua tree (Bassia latifolia) as a part of both religious and social celebrations.

EDUCATION

Education and literacy levels among the Gonds vary but are generally low. Literacy varies from 62.5% in Maharashtra to 50.3% in Madhya Pradesh. Among females in Madhya Pradesh, it drops to only 30.4%. Few children attend school regularly, and girls rarely continue past primary school. Only 1.5% of the population, mainly males, continues on to graduate level studies.

CULTURAL HERITAGE

Music, song, and dance play an important role in Gond society. Gonds are ardent dancers and all festive occasions are celebrated by song and dance. In some instances, such as with the Dandari dancers, dances celebrate the dramatic retelling of events from Gond mythology. However, dances are not necessarily associated with any particular event or festival and may be performed just for enjoyment. Many of the songs that accompany dances tend to be of a suggestive nature. The Dhulia is the professional musician caste serving the Gonds. Pardhan bards preserve the legends, myths, and history of the Gonds, passing these traditions on from generation to generation. Among the numerous myths of the Gonds, perhaps the most important is the great epic that celebrates the origins and exploits of the culture hero Pahandi Kapar Lingal.

WORK

The Gonds' ties with the forest suggest that, in the past, they were nomadic hunters or food gatherers who took up shifting cultivation. Today they are mainly plough-cultivators whose agriculture differs little from other farming castes in their region. Although some Gond communities have risen to the status of landowners, increasing pressure on land is reflected in large numbers of landless laborers among the Gonds.

SPORTS

There are no sporting activities associated with traditional Gond society.

ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION

Leisure time is passed with the family or visiting friends and neighbors. Gonds like to assemble on feast days or full-moon nights to sing and dance. Cock-fighting is a favorite pastime of some Gond groups.

FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES

Gonds have a rich tradition of tribal arts and crafts that includes pottery, basket-making, body-tattooing, and floor-painting. They are artistically gifted, painting designs on their house walls in red and black on a white background. The drawings are often done to celebrate festivals and include animals and birds, human figures, the hunt, and the dance. The Gonds make musical instruments, and they carve memorial pillars in wood and stone for their dead. They often carve doors and panels to decorate their houses.

SOCIAL PROBLEMS

The Gonds face problems typical of tribal peoples throughout South Asia. As a less sophisticated group, they have faced exploitation and discrimination from their culturally more advanced neighbors. They occupy less productive lands in some of the more remote areas of the country. They are experiencing increasing pressure on their land, a rise in the number of landless laborers, and high levels of poverty. Lack of education and low levels of literacy further reduce economic opportunity.

Beyond this, the very nature of the Gond community is in itself a problem. Despite their numbers, the Gonds are an assemblage of diverse tribal groups. Although they all see themselves as Gonds, there is little to unite them into a cohesive political force. Their wide geographical distribution and degree of tribal fragmentation works against the creation of a Gond political identity. Even if this were not so, the leadership to achieve this is sorely lacking. This places the Gond community at a major disadvantage in India today, where access to resources for socioeconomic advancement is often subject to political patronage.

For instance, some non-tribals, through political jockeying, have managed to gain legal tribal status, that is, to be listed as a Scheduled Tribe. The Gonds of Andhra Pradesh effectively lost their only advantage in trying to protect their lands when the Banjaras, a group that had been settling in Gond territory, managed to get classified in the state as a Scheduled Tribe in 1977. Their newly acquired tribal status made the Banjaras eligible to acquire Gond land "legally" and to compete with Gonds for reserved political seats, places in education institutions, and other benefits reserved for Scheduled Tribes. Because the Banjaras are not scheduled in neighboring Maharashtra, there has been an influx of Banjara emigrants from that state into Andhra Pradesh in search of better opportunities.

GENDER ISSUES

The status of women is markedly better among Gonds than in Hindu caste society. Women play an important role in the domestic economy of Gond societies, they are usually allowed to move freely, and have the right to choose their marriage partners or at least have a large say in this (it is always, at the very least, a family affair). Divorce is possible and much easier to obtain than in Hindu societies, and tribal widows—unlike their Hindu sisters—have no problem in remarrying. But, again, these are generalizations and there are indigenous societies in which child and forced marriages are common. In many tribal societies, paying a bride price is part of the marriage arrangement. This stands in contrast to the dowry practice in Hindu society, which means that the birth of a baby girl represents a heavy economic burden for poorer Hindu families, with enormous repercussions on the status of women, and on the sex ratio in the population. Studies have shown that baby girls are less well-looked after than boys in Hindu society, leading to a higher infant mortality rate among Hindu children. The possibility of pre-natal sex identification has led to a rapid drop in the births of baby girls. But the sex ratio of Gonds is higher than the national average, suggesting that discrimination against female children is totally lacking, or at least less than in other groups.

In hardly any indigenous society do women participate in formal political decision-making and this, too, is true of the Gonds, though women are often consulted, by their husbands or in community meetings. But they are not members of village councils and cannot become the village chief. Women also hardly ever play an important role in religion, although they may be spirit mediums or healers. Generally, Gond women are valued mostly for their productive and reproductive functions.

With the exception of a few matrilineal societies (such as the Garo and Khasi of Meghalaya in the north-east of India), women in the country do not inherit land. And even among the matrilineal societies, the land is in reality managed and controlled by men. But it is very important for unmarried women and widows. Ownership normally rests with their fathers, brothers or husbands. Men therefore tend to have greater control over agricultural production and products. However, Gond women do enjoy spheres in which they retain some control. In India, in particular, the gathering of forest products—which has been very much a female activity—is crucial for women to maintain at least some degree of autonomy since they have control over these products, i.e. they sell them themselves. However, poverty and lack of access to educational and health facilities remain major stumbling blocks in the way of Gond women bettering themselves.

Some Gond women have banded together to help alleviate poverty and promote female empowerment. For instance, in Orissa's Kalahandi and Nuapada districts, life is an endless nightmare of deprivation and hunger for Gonds. The men leave their homes in search of employment, often ending up as bonded labor in distant places. Left to fend for themselves, the women, the elderly and children have to eke out an existence or starve. Now, thousands of tribal women have, quite literally, spun themselves out of the web of despair in which they were trapped, thanks largely to a local livelihood initiative that employs Gond women to make handmade cotton fabric. Aptly called "Nuakala," which means "new craft," the name also incorporates the first two syllables of the districts Nuapada and Kalahandi where the program is based.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Banerjee, B. G., and Kiran Bhatia. Tribal Demography of Gonds. Delhi: Gian Pub. House, 1988.

Elwin, Verrier. Leaves from the Jungle: Life in a Gond Village. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Fuchs, Stephen. The Gond and Bhumia of Eastern Mandla. Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1960.

Fürer-Haimendorf, Christoph von, and Elizabeth von Fürer-Haimendorf. The Gonds of Andhra Pradesh: Tradition and Change in an Indian Tribe. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1979.

Grigson, Wilfred. The Maria Gonds of Bastar. London: Oxford University Press, 1949.

Sharma, Anima. Tribe in Transition: A Study of Thakur Gonds. India: Mittal Publications, 2005.

Singh, K. S., ed. "Gond." In People of India. Vol.3: The Scheduled Tribes. Delhi and Oxford: Oxford University Press with the Anthropological Survey of India, 1994.

—by D. O. Lodrick

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