"Daughters Of The Forest"

"It will not be safe to go into the tribal areas especially later in the day . The men, can, and will become very aggressive, as alcoholism is a major issue. They spend most of their time brewing and consuming liquor from rice, palm and the mahula flower. They are short-tempered and they get angry at the simplest thing. There are many Bonda men serving life imprisonment for murder in the Koraput jail. "We can photograph and talk to the ladies as they come down from the hills and attend the weekly market." These were the instructions given to me by my guide. We also hired a local guide from the area who could speak the "Remo Language" (an endangered and unwritten language). The Bonda or Bondo are an ancient tribe of people numbering approximately 5000 who live in the isolated hill regions of the Malkangiri district of Orissa. The Bonda women artfully cover themselves with hundreds of strands of yellow, orange and white beads, which cascade elegantly like a brilliant bib. The crowning accessories include a beaded skullcap over a shaven head, silver neck and ear rings, and a brass nose ring.The tribe is one of the oldest and most primitive in mainland India. Their culture has changed little in over a thousand years.

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
Bonda custom dictates that when a woman reaches her mid-twenties she will marry a young boy around the age of ten. The age difference is usually kept to around fifteen years. She will support her husband during the first half of her life. Her husband is then required to provide food and care in her old age. Until her husband becomes an adult she acts simply as a guardian. Bonda women are trained from childhood to earn their own livelihood. They will continue to work as long as they can. The adult husband will spend most of his day drinking. Occasionally they undertake major economic activities like preparing paddy terraces for cultivation during peak periods of the agriculture season. Other agricultural activities are normally carried out by their wives.
The Bonda consider sago palm juice as a nectare and feed it to their infants, mainly to their male babies. Most pregnant women consume it as a nutritious drink. A boy begins to taste the sweet flavour of palm wine while he is still at his mother's breast, and as he grows up, it is a proud moment when he is at last allowed to accompany his elders to the family palms where he is first sent up the tall tapering trunk to bring down the pot of sap.
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
Bonda tribeswoman wearing traditional bead costume with beaded skull cap, large earrings and aluminum neck rings. The rectangular piece of cloth called a Ringa. It measures less than one foot wide and two to three feet long. It is made on an indigenous loom from Keranga fibre collected in the forest. They are now using cotton threads of different colours. The women wear a breastplate of long strands of European and Indian glass and seed beads. Each bead necklace is several strands thick; the beads are mostly coral or yellow umber in colour. They are bundled in groups of 5-8 strands, often more than  (1.2 m) in length.
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
In Bonda society there are often inter-tribal conflicts. The males arm themselves with bow and arrow and the woman may also engage in the combat. They will fight alongside their male counterpart using an axe. They have traditionally placed arm bands and neck rings made of aluminum as a form of protection. They believed the bands and rings also had magical, religious and economic significance and were reputed to aid in child bearing as well as obtaining a good husband. This practical usage is now seen as mainly decorative. 
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
Bonda ladies sampling their home-brewed Sapung (fermented juice of the palm tree) or Mahuli liquor ( The flowers of Mahuwa tree are fermented to make mahuli). The Bonda Tribe can only be seen at their weekly Thursday market at Onukudelli. You need permits to visit the restricted area.
 
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

The name Bonda or Bondo is translated to mean "The Naked People". This has created a major problem for the state of Orissa. In 2012 British and international tour operators had been warned that they will face prosecution if they continue to offer "human safaris" to India. The matter came to light when a travel brochure showed a holiday package to the tribal areas of Orissa, stating that tourists can "see the lifestyle of tattooed, heavily beaded, nearly naked people, their day-to-day activity and their extremely primitive way of living." The brochure on the trip to the Jeypore area says, "After breakfast, an excursion to the nearby hills where the most amazing and fierce Bondas tribes (naked people) reside." Some promoted the tours with references to the scantily dressed Bonda women. Several tour companies have since removed the offending offers from their websites.This all began when the Jarawa tribals in the Adaman Islands were shown being exploited and forced to dance semi-naked in the lure of food. Police said that taking a foreigner into the Jarawa reserve amounted to "intentionally insulting with the intent to humiliate a vulnerable primitive tribe of these islands".

I travelled through Orissa for a short period before heading to the northeastern states of India in 2003

 

 


Comments

2.Vanishing Cultures Photography
Thank you for your thoughtful comments , I really appreciate them.
1.Priya Balan(non-registered)
This is very interesting piece of article here. I feel bad that I never knew such people existed in my own country. It is really sad to hear that tribal groups are exploited in the name of food. The article is very informative and as usual I could not stop reading as it is very interesting. It is really sad the hardships the women have to face while men just avoid doing the hard work. I hope the plight of women changes soon..
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