We have always been fascinated by tribes, primitive ones that have given a lot of inferences on the way man has evolved. Their way of living, the way they have sourced their livelihood, have drawn historians, archaeologists, anthropologists and scientists for centuries.
The tribes in the eastern states and north eastern states hold more fascination with their way of living, their customs, and their culture and in general their way of life.
The Tribal Research Institute in Ranchi showcases the lives of all the 32 tribes that include eight primitive tribes inhabiting the state. All these will be displayed as models in different glass chambers with added displays to aid people in perceiving the kind of customs their language and their way of living that is marked contrast with ours.
The Museum was inaugurated by the Chief Minister of Jharkhand recently. Though only some sections of the museum have been completed and opened for public view, the eleven sections that are on display have been enriching many tourists from all over the world.
Details of those tribes that are on display in the museum have been given below:
The Birhor Tribe:
A typical Proto-Australoid tribe (having deep dark-brown skin color and wavy, curly or frizzy black hair), the Birhor tribe of Jharkhand, are believed to have linguistically originated from the Austro-Asiatic (are a large language family of Southeast Asia, scattered throughout India and Bangladesh) group. This group also interestingly claims that they are the direct descendants of the Sun and thus have affinities with the Kharwar tribe of Rajasthan.
The Birhor tribe is divided into two major sub-tribes, the Jaghis Birhor and Uthalu Birhor. The Jaghis Birhor practice shifting cultivation and are nomads who keep shifting from one jungle to another. The Uthalu tribes also follow agro-based economy like the Jaghis Birhor.
The Birhor tribe lives in groups known as Tanda. A tanda is a cluster of six to seven cone-shaped huts known as a ‘kumba’ or hutments made of leaves and branches. The family set-up of the Birhor is patriarchal in nature, supporting monogamous, polygamy or even trigamy in marriages.
The most natural setup for the Birhor tribe is the forests and are therefore dependant on it. While the Uthalu Bihors depend completely on the forests for all their needs, for the Jaghis Birhors agriculture is the only main stay. The agricultural lands of the Jaghis Birhor are in turn divided into Tanr and Don. The Tanr lands are for dry cultivation and the Don lands for wet cultivation having water retaining capacity.
The Birhor tribes depicted in the museum are shown twisting ropes from fibres and, weaving baskets from bamboo with some hunters and wood gatherers as well.
The Munda Tribe:
The Munda an indigenous tribe of the Indian subcontinent, that also calls themselves as ‘Hodoko’ or human beings. It is only through oral stories, myths, ballads and songs that historians have been able to gather knowledge about this tribe. The social arrangement of these people is very simple but progressive with no trace of any caste or sub castes dominating their social fabric.
Their guardian spirits are their ancestors who are symbolized by a burial stone, that are placed flat on the ground, while the bones of the deceased, kept in an earthen pot are buried under those stones. They are kept there from the time of the cremation or burial till the actual placing of bones in the sasandiri or the burial stone can take place. There are other stones for these ancestors as well, like the memorial stones (bhodiri, headstones), that are placed in an erect position, usually closer to the tanda. The region of Chotanagpur is dotted with such stones throughout its landscape.
The Mundas are shown in the most natural form of conducting their daily living in the museum.
The Birja or Birjia:
The Birjia tribe is found in the districts of Ranchi, Gumla, Palamu and Lohardaga. The Birjias are found mostly on the hills, in small huts. The peculiarity of these huts are they are devoid of any windows, are constructed of bamboo, wood or mud and have a small gate which is closed with a tati or a mat.
A patriarchal society following monogamy, the Birjas have strict laws that are to be followed by one and all. The Birjia tribe is perhaps the oldest tribe following the panchayat system. The head of the Birjia society is the Baiga , who looks after the social laws and customs. But, the Birjia clan has largely evolved in recent years with the modern gram panchayat elections making their presence in the distant tribal community where women too have a role in conducting the daily affairs of the village.
It goes without saying that this tribe too is dependent on agriculture and forests are their mainstay or main source of income. Hunting, fishing and labor are their common sources of earning income.
The model of a Birjia tribe in the museum showcases the modern as well as their indigenous tribal side.
The Lohra tribe:
The Lohra is one of the Adivasi Groups of Jharkhand. Found in the districts of Ranchi, Singhbhum, Palamu, Hazaribag and Santhal Pargana, the Lohra as the name of the tribe denotes are associated in the manufacture of iron tools. One legend regarding the caste’s origins as brought forward by ethnologist R.E. Enthoven in his work titled ‘The Tribes and Castes of Bombay, 1922’ states that the Lohra of Gujarat claim descent from Pithuo, who was created from dust by Parvati, to make weapons for her husband, Shiva, which were then used by him to fight two demons, Andhir and Dhamdhkar. The Lohra of Orissa, have a similar tale to tell. Kamar, the celestial architect, had twelve sons. The eldest, who was accustomed to initiating the family deity by offering wine, once drank some of the wine himself which led to his rejection by his siblings. He then became a worker under an ironsmith and with great anguish laid a curse upon his brothers that they too should need the implements he made and will not be able to practice any of their trades unless they made use of those implements.
But most of the Lohra tribes attribute their origin to the architect God Lord Vishwakarma. It is from him that the Lohras got their talent at making and repairing agricultural implements like the sickle, spade, hoe, axe and plough, as well as buckets, pans, knives, scissors, grills and cages. They also fix iron shoes on the hoofs of bullocks.
The display glass in the museum depicts the Lohra homes and most importantly their implements. Their houses are made of mud, bamboo and branches of tree, leaves, khar grasses and tiles. The houses are rectangular in shape with each home having two rooms, a veranda, courtyard and a room for workshop.
The Lohra women are shown decorated with ornaments made of brass, bronze, steel, nickel, thread, shell, seeds, glass etc. Some ornaments are of silver and imitation of gold or silver.
The family structure of the Lohras is nuclear with the married children setting up their own homes, living and cooking separately.
The Korawa tribe:
The Korawa Adivasi lifestyle that is displayed in the museum is to be found in the districts of Palamu, Latehar, Ranchi, Dhanbad, Hazaribag and Santhal Pargana in Jharkhand State. They are Proto-Australian racial group with their dialect being Korawa belonging to the Austric linguistic family.
The Korawa villages are generally found on the top of hills or on a mound covered with thick forest. The huts are erected with wood, bamboo, and plastered with mud. They are thatched with ‘kher’ or straw. The huts are 10 to 12 ft. long and 8ft. high.
The material culture of the Korawa is humble and modest. They have few earthen pots, aluminum utensils, iron knife and bronze lota. Being hunters they have hunting and other implements that are needed during a hunt.
The Korawa society is patriarchal, small and nuclear. They have a marital and kinship relation with the Korawa of other villages and follow social rules to the core. Those who break these laws are ousted from the society.
The Korwa livelihood is dependent on a mixture of hunting, gathering shifting cultivation, domestication of animals, craft making and wage earning. The Korwa have been hunters since time immemorial. Since hunting has been prohibited, they have taken up different related professions. But they do trap rat, rabbits, snakes, turtle, fishes, birds etc. for the purpose of eating. They collect forest produce like leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, honey, bamboo etc. for eating, craft-making and selling them in the local market. The collection of forest produce is done in different seasons round the year. The Korwa men, women and children are knowledgeable enough to know in which season what type of forest produce is in abundance. Collection of forest produce is an integral part of socialization in the Korawa children. They collect honey and wax for selling in the market. They also collect bamboo for making mats, baskets, brooms, fibres for making rope for use in houses and also for being sold in the market.
The museum also holds scenes of the Asurs, considered to be one of the most important tribes of Jharkhand.
The Asur Tribe:
One of the most primitive tribal communities, they are known for their centuries-old "iron-smelting" skills. Men and women work together, eat together, take care of offspring together, and struggle to earn bread for their families, together. Division of labour is unique and socio-economic patterns are well developed. The modern society has a lot to learn from them.
Asur is an important tribe in the state of Jharkhand in the eastern part of the subcontinent of India. Asur in Jharkhand is one of the thirty major tribes of people who have made the state of Jharkhand their home. The people who belong to this tribe form quite a big part of the total population of the state of Jharkhand. Their languages are "Asuri" and "Bhalay".
The Asur people stay in houses made of clay. They live in villages that are grouped into different tolas for the convenience of the people. The houses of these people do not have windows, but the outer walls of their homes are artistically painted. The people love to make their houses look beautiful by painting on them. Being reliant on the forests their staple diet being the flesh of animals, birds and rice.
They speak Nagpuri and Hindi and are found in Ranchi, Lohardaga, Gumla, Singhbhum, Dhanbad and Simdega.
The modern Asur tribe is divided into three sub-tribal divisions, the Bir (Kol) Asur, Birjia Asur and Agaria Asur. The religion of Asurs is a mixture of animism, animatism, naturalism and ancestral worships. They believe in black magic and witchcraft and their chief deity is Singbonga and other deities such as Dharati Mata, Duari, Patdaraha and Turi Husid being some of their forest gods. Festivals like Sarhul, Karma, Dhanbuni, Kadelta, Rajj karma, Dasahara Karam are celebrated by the Asurs.
The Asur earn their livelihood through iron-smelting, shifting cultivation, hunting, and collection of food, fishing, and rearing of animals. The Asurs have been iron-smelters since time-immemorial. They had knowledge of iron ores and iron smelting. They prepared charcoal from the trees of green sal wood found on the banks of rivers or tanks. They used to smelt iron ore and supply the raw iron to the Lohra tribesmen for preparation of iron-tools. But it is only a few that still follow their trade. The skill is almost dead as most families have given up their ancestral activities because acquiring of sal wood has been banned under the Forest and Regulation Act. The Asur tribe has been depicted in their normal day-to-day activities in the museum.
The museum has been so designed to captivate its visitors. The Government has taken great pains to retain the flavor and look of a tribal community. The doors, windows, pillars, railings, walls and ceiling reminds one of the varied tribal culture that is seen in most tribal habitats.
Huge tree trunks have been used as pillars, there are cow dung cakes on the walls, and thatched houses within the museum give a complete feel of a tribal community. The builders of the museum in order to retain its ethnicity have even hung gourds from the roof that is seen in a tribal home.
Dogs, goats and hens are seen in the courtyard to complete the tribal picture.
Amitava Mukherjee, the sculptor opined that he tried to recreate life of tribes in a regular tribal hamlet.
A distinguished and trained sculptor for many years, Mukherjee has to his credit many statues for the past 15 years. He has also been associated in the building of the unique scientifically laid out Nakshatra Van and in the Nature Interpretation Centre at Betla Tiger Reserve.
Apart from these fascinating glass chambers that depict the lives of tribal’s, the museum houses rare photographs, data on tribal population, art and artifacts and, musical instruments.
The best part of all these is that they are backed up with video projection and power point presentations of tribal life. The presentations provide a complete knowledge of tribal life via visuals and music that enhance the feel of the atmosphere. Visitors to the museum are naturally enthralled and leave with a feeling of having gathered a lot more on the tribals of Jharkhand.
Tribal Research Institute and Museum is situated at Morabadi in Ranchi District. The museum is an ultimate place for those who are interested in anthropology and tribal way of life. It displays life and history of tribal people of Chotanagpur. The museum has a fine collection of stone sculptures, terracotta’s, arms and ethnological objects.
The museum located at the Tribal Research Institute building at Morabadi Road has a collection of stone sculptures, terra-cottas and arms as well as ethnological objects. It also exhibits life and history of tribal people of Chotanagpur.