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Tribes of Odissa

Out of 437 varieties of Tribes in India, 64 belong to the state Odissa. Linguistically, tribal population is divided into 4 categories;

(1) Austric speakers, (2) Dravidian speakers, (3) Tibeto-Burmese speakers, and (4) Indo-Aryan speakers.

Except the Tibeto-Burmese speakers, rest of the varieties are present in Odissa. Major portion of tribes dwell in the hilly and the forested regions. Their Subsistence economy is mainly based on a combination of hunting and collecting with shifting cultivation (e.g., the Juanga,, Hill Bhuyan, Lanjia Saura, Kandha etc.) or collecting, hunting and fishing (e.g., the Birhor, Hill Kharia). Today with rampant industrialization and mining operations, uprooting of tribal villages has resulted in millions of nomads deprived of their natural habitat surroundings. They have lost their traditional occupation, agricultural land, homes. With increase urbanization, their simple life has been affected by unequal access to resources, inadequate educational opportunities, persistent and increasing burden of poverty and inequalities in access to health.

In Odissa each tribe is identified by a unique trait ;

(1) In Northern part the Juanga and Bhuyan, and in southern part the Kandha, Saura, Koya, Parenga, Didayi, Dharua and Bonda practise shifting cultivation. They supplement their economy by food-gathering and hunting.

(2) The Koya belongs to a cattle-breeder tribal community. This tribe inhabits the Malkangiri District and has been facing crisis for lack of pasture in the recent past.

(3) The Mahali and Lohara tribe practise crafts like basket weaving and blacksmithery respectively. The Loharas with their age old skills and primitive tools manufacture iron and wooden equipments. Like wise the Mahalis earn their living by weaving baskets.

(4) The Kharia, Mankidi, Mankidia and Birhor tribes live in the forests of Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar and Sundargarh districts. They primarily depend on forest resources for their livelihood. They also practise hunting, gathering and collecting. Their entire lifestyle revolves around the forest. Their survival is fully in harmony with the forest eco-system. Socio-politically they have remained inarticulate and in comparison to others they have remained in a relatively more primitive stage, and are extremely neglected.


They say its not the stone that killed Goliath. The abominable ecological crime (Mine Blasting, deforestation etc) could wipe out the biodiversity and the cultural richness of Odissa. We need to gird our loins before it too late !!! A quote I couldn't stop jotting down-

Only after the last tree has been cut down,
only after the last river has been poisoned
only after the last fish has been caught..
only then will you know
that money cannot be eaten.

Contributing Author: Priya Naresh Kumar - I am based in Singapore. Professionally, work for an IT MNC as a Business Controls Analyst. Writing is a passion that quench my thirst for continuous learning. Email: [email protected]





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