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Last edited: 23 September, 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PROBLEMS IN EDUCATING  TRIBAL CHILDREN: THE DONGRIA KONDH EXPERIENCE

Akshaya K. Kanungo, M.A., M.Phil. (Social Anthropology)
District Coordinator, District Primary Education Program, Rayagada Orissa, India 765001
Chapter 1
After India attained its Independence and Constitution framed in 1950, the universalisation
of Primary education has become one of the priorities of development. Huge amount of
money earmarkedand spent on undertaking many schemes and programs that went begging
with little success in areas of educational development. Analysis of the educational
scenario of the country reveals that there is a huge gap between rural and urban literacy.
Further going down the ladder, the educational attainment and literacy of Scheduled
Castesand Scheduled tribes is far low and abnormal. Development practitioners and
academia relates poverty and underdevelopment to lack of spread of education as the
foremost reason. The Government at Center is always in pressure to revise policies and
devise new strategies to curb the regional disparity that exists in educational development in
the country.
Orissa is the homeland of as many as 32 tribal communities who reside in nooks and
corners of the State. Almost 13 such communities are declared as primitive, basing on their
low educational achievement and economic practices. The “Dongria Kondh” which is a
sub-tribe of ‘KONDH’ is declared as primitive tribe. They reside mostly in the Southern
part of the State and known for their infamous human sacrifice during British colonization in
India and even before that. They are mainly concentrated in the Niyamgiri hill ranges,
which covers parts of K.Singpur, Bissam Cuttack blocks of Rayagada district. And live in
hill slopes surrounded by dense forests. Their name is derived from word “Dongar
which means hill slopes where they cultivate. They have a subsistence economy based
mainly on shifting cultivation and hunting gathering. Besides by now they have become
skilled horticulturists.
The Kondhs once infamous for their pernicious practice of human sacrifice and female
infanticide identified as early as August 1836 by Mr. Russell, a British official under
Madras Presidency in British Colonization in India. It was of deep concern for the British
Government to stamp out the barbarous practices to restore peace and order in the territory.

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The somatoscopic and anthropometric data of the Kondhs relate them to the proto-
Australoid racial stock with considerable Mongoloid admixture. The Dongria Kondh
mainly concentrates in the southern administrative district Rayagada, one of the 30 districts
of the state of Orissa of India. Orissa is situated at the eastern part of India on the coastline
of the Bay of Bengal, 500 kilometers south of Calcutta Metro. The state is known
worldwide for the seat of Lord Jagannath and for the temple of Konark, music engraved on
stone.
The Dongria Kondh is a marginal indigenous tribal community in the state having
concentrated in the plateau of Niyamgiri hill range, which covers two blocks of Rayagada
District. They live in hill ranges situated at a highest of 1000-4970 feet above sea level.
Two Micro projects on Dongria have been established. They cover 112 villages and
hamlets and 1813 families with a total population of 8042 as per the latest survey. (Source
D.K.D.A., Chatikona and Parasali). The male and female ratio stands as 1000:1030.
There has been no enumeration of population by the State Government on Individual tribal
communities since 1981.
In the Rayagada Division where the Dongrias exist, Sal (Shorea Robusta) is the dominant
species and common associates of Sal like Bija or Piasol (Ptero carpus Arcupium), Teak
(Tectona Gradis), Mohua (Modhuka Latijolia), Kendu (Diospyros Melanoxylon),
Mango (Mangifera Indica) are found in plenty.
The Dongria villages and habitations are located in a tangle of thickly wooded hill ranges,
which is determined by availability of perennial streams and sufficient land for shifting
cultivation. A village has minimum two separate wards, one inhabited by the Dongria
Kondh and the other by Domb, a scheduled caste community. The houses are generally mud-
built and straw-thatched, although now a days, some brick-built straw-thatched houses are
made by the Dongrias. The road communication network has not been developed much even
after 50 years of independence of India.
The dress and ornaments, which adore the Dongrias, are distinguishable from other sections
of the tribe. Dongria males put a narrow scarf wrapped around the waist and often a leaf
rolled cigarette (pika) will be seen tucked in the hair-knot at the back. Invariably all of
them carry on axe on the shoulder and a knife is kept hanging from the waist belt. The
women wear a lower garment not long enough to hide their knee. They use their chest with a
small band of cotton cloth tied at the back. All these garments are woven by neighboring
schedule caste community. All the male and female members wear hair-clips on their head
and often pierce their ears and love to wear as many earrings as they can. The women folk
wear big neck rings made up of aluminum and iron. They beatify themselves with traditional

Page 3
hand-woven multi coloured embroidered scarf, which is a rare specialty of the Dongria
Kondh tribe.
The installation of “Dharnipenu” and her consort “Kotiasal” in the centre of the village
street is a typical feature of Dongria settlement. Invariably the maiden’s dormitory, which is
present in each Dongria settlement also, adds to the specialties of Dongria social structure
and culture. In the dormitory, the maiden girls are trained about their norms, values and
taboos by a senior, often married, women who is the leader of the dormitory. The dormitory
is the source of mostly cultural education orally transmitted for learning folklore, riddles,
proverbs, legends, myths and songs amidst singing and dancing with boy and girl friends
that take place every night. They are grown there until they attain marriageable age and by
the time they acquire all the skills and knowledge that are expected from a good ideal
wife/woman in their society.
Dongrias have a distinct skill of horticulture, which separates them from all other tribals in
the state. They know their soil condition and grow many fruits of high commercial value.
They grow pineapple, banana, jackfruit, and papaya in plenty. They also grow high quality
turmeric and ginger that has the highest demand in the state. Despite that, due to no
marketing facility they often get very low price for their produce and all the profit is
usurped by the middlemen.
Dongrias practise shifting or podu cultivation as it is called. They produce varieties of
crops like maize, ganja, ragi, grams, etc. They also practice hunting and gathering.
Gathering of forest produce like Siali creepers, Kendu leaf, Sal leaf, seeds of Karanja
(Pongnamia glatera ) and Mohua (Bassia latifolia) is made for daily domestic
requirements. Dongrias drink liquor very often prepared from Mohua, Sago palm juice and
datepalm juice.
Dongrias rear pig, cattle, buffalo, goat and fowl. These animals and birds meet their
nutritional protein requirement. But most importantly these animals and birds are sacrificed
before the spirits and ghosts on the occasion of propitiation on account of family members
falling sick. Sickness of any sort is attributed as the effect or wrath of spirits, ghosts due to
breach of norms, known or unknown.
The Dongria family is normally simple nuclear family consisting of father, mother and their
unmarried children. Extended families are rare due to the fact that it needs big houses to
accommodate all members which is a rare probability and often dangerous on a hill top
with rugged level. The Dongria family is patrilocal and patrilineal.

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The Dongria Kondh have their own dialect “KUVI” which has no script. Their culture is as
strengthened as any one’s with songs, riddles, proverbs, myths, legends, dances and full of
literacy works which are generally transmitted orally from one generation to another. Each
of these piece of literature are often based on and linked to tress, animals, birds, streams
etc. in the forest which form the part of their ecology and environment. Therefore forest and
tribal are in separable and forest plays the pivotal role in shaping their society and culture.
The tribal people are highly religious by the fact that their society and culture is totally
governed by religious beliefs and practices. They see their world full of mysteries
governed by deities, spirits, and ghosts; both benevolent and malevolent. Each and every
natural object; animate or inanimate is attributed to be the abode of some sort of deities,
spirits, ghosts; is worshipped and propitiated with prescribed norms. Deviation of any such
norm by any member of society is dealt with impurity.
The Dongria Kondh family is nuclear and polygynous. The woman is more diligent and hard
working in comparison to their male counterparts. She does all sorts of household work
ranging from fetching water from distant streams to prepare foods for family members, from
taking care of brothers and sisters to working along with other male members in the field.
Therefore, she is treated as an economic asset to the family. Due to this reason girl child is
preferred over boy child in Dongria Kondh community. Further the prevailing marriage
practice among the Dongrias go in favor of women. The parents yield a lot of money through
bride price that is given by the groom’s parent as part of the marriage deal.
The Dongria Kondhs being conservative and educationally backward live in relative
isolation from other people of the area. However due to various state development
interventions like development in communication i.e. construction of Roadsand Bridges,
opening of offices for launching of various welfare schemesand programs by Government,
they are relatively exposed to the outside world. These interventions effected in thinning
down of forest base and deforestation due to indiscriminate cutting of trees by unscrupulous
contractors. Wide spread deforestation has led to shrinking of their subsistence base,
poverty and unemployment leaving their society exposed to widespread discrimination,
exploitation by other people of the area.
Education (Modern) does not seem to be the priority of D.Kondh community. They disvalue
formal primary education because of lack of awareness and cultural orientation. Studies on
their view of a happy life reveal they certainly prefer to have more of, forestlands where
shifting cultivation can be practiced, fruit bearing trees for collection and consumption, wild

Page 5
animals and birds to hunt and more nos. of children to work for the household and run their
progeny. It is worth describing their system of education here. In Dongria Kondh, the
dormitory system is there to orient boys and girls to acquire skills and knowledge that is
required to be a full phased member of their society. There are separate dormitories for
boys and girls in each village. After returning from fields, they stay together in the
dormitory and in an informal ways i.e. through songs, dance, riddles, proverbs, gossip etc.
which are transmitted orally from generation to generation. The whole night in spent amidst
dancing and singing, travelling to other dormitories and interacting with boys and girls over
there. By the by when they turn to adulthood they master their arts, traditions and customs
and command respect as a bonafide member of their community. Therefore sending children
to school is a worthless investment for parents. Because, not only he/she is deprived of
helping their parents in sibling care and household works and learning basic skills of their
society but also the family looses an able hand from the household and by thus a lot of
income.
If we consider the teacher and taught relationship, the teacher or instructor (most often non-
tribal) is like a foreigner and looked suspiciously by the students and the community. His
language, etiquetteand manners are regarded as unusual and quite different from the tribal
ways of life. The ethnocentric attitude of the teacher towards tribal society and culture also
aggravates and worsen the situation. He does not have meetingsand interactions with
people around him to gain their confidence. He often creates fear psychosis among pupils
by castigating and punishing them in classrooms using derogatory and sensitive comments
about their life styles. That fear and inferiority complex created among students cause
massive scale dropouts among Dongria Kondh students, specially the girls who are enrolled
at an over-aged stage and close to the age of puberty. Therefore, at one end the school
environment and attitude of teachers pushes them out of schools and all the other their love
for freedom and forest based life pulls them out of the formal schooling environment.
The situation is not better of or different where even a tribal teacher having a positive out
look and dedicated approach is working. The tribal children have a year round season of
forest based collection and festivals. Accompanying parents at tender ages to forest yield
more forest collection of fruits, roots tubersand leaves, which in turn gives better economic
property to family parental care is ample for children except sending children to school
which has no tangible immediate gains for parents. There are few parents who have been

Page 6
mobilized and have got the conviction to educate their children. But in school the children
find language as the greatest problem hence other curricular transactions meaningless. The
standard language text book, its unfamiliar contents, contexts and picturisations depicts a
whole range of foreignness and unfamiliarity for which the students lack interest and
achieve nothing. The teacher centered monologue class room transactions throws the pupils
into absolute poor achievement in tests fear or it is sea ore of and failure in examination is
another most important reasons of dropouts from school among Dongria Kondh children.
Above all, the students find the subjects, contentsand contexts not linked to their real life
experiences and extremely monotonous and boring. Those reasons are so strong that, even
in residential schools run by Department of Welfare, Govt. of Orissa, with all sorts
facilities like free food, free reading- writing materials and other basic requirements like
sitting mat, uniform, blankets, beds etc., the enrollment, attendance and achievement of
students are far from satisfactory.
The irony is that there is no supervision or monitoring of the works of Teachers and school
management by the personnel who are supposed to be the decision-makers in the system.
The lack of performance of the schooling system is always attributed to the lack of interest
of the poverty and community for their children’s education rather than the whole range of
faulty planning and implementation by the Government.
SUGGESTIONS:
The schooling facility must be provided on demand of community and community must be
mobilized enough to spontaneously come forward to run and manage the school.
The children should be provided text books in their own language in initial stages of their
schooling and gradually they should be exposed to standard textbooks in state language at a
later stage.
The textbooks should be local specific contents, contexts and narration by which the
children can relate their learning to their real life situation.
The timing of the school should be as per the availability of children and holiday calendar
as per the holiday pattern of the locality.
The teacher belonging to the community should be posted if not a teacher having a positive
attitude and some understanding about tribal community should be employed in the area.
Moreover the education administrators should be more responsive and responsible to the
education of the children with special needs close and continuous monitoring of schools
(academicand administrative) would definitely render insights to the problem and it’s
solutions at the earliest.