The Birhor is one of the primitive Tribal Groups of the State of Jharkhand. They are found in the districts of Hazaribagh, Ranchi, Lohardaga, Palamu, Garhwa, Dhanbad, Singhbhum and Giridih and Gumla in Jharkhand State. Linguistically, they belong to Austro-Asiatic (Mundari) group. The Birhor claim that they have descended from the sun and believe that the Kharwar are their brothers who also trace their descent from the Sun.
The Birhor are of two types (1) Uthaln Birhor and (2) Jaghis Birhor, both groups have their own distinct style of life. The Uthaln Birhor has wandering style of life and their economy is an example of wandering economy even today. The Jaghi Birhors have settled style of life and their economy is agricultural economy. They have settled on hill-top or on some out-skirts of the forest. The Uthaln Birhor are always on the move from Jungle to Jungle. When the food supply in a particular Jungle is exhausted, they move to another Jungle. But during the rainy season, they have to stay at a particular place in the Jungle. Some times, they travel long distance in the Jungle. Previously, they used to wander from Orissa to Hazaribagh.
Both the uthan and Jaghis Birhor used to practice shifting cultivation. But, now this practice has been banned by the Government. They are also facing problems in hunting due to forest regulations and wild life protection acts.
The Birhor settlement is known as Tanda which consists of half at least half a dozen huts. The huts are of a conical shape. They are erected with the help or leaves and branches. The settled Birhor have erected house with the help or mud wall, bamboo and wood thatched with phus or hand made tiles which they have learnt from their neighbour. The house has two rooms.
Their household possession consists of earthen pots and aluminium pots now- days, some steel utensils have also reached in the Birhor families with the contact and communication with other people in the local Haat. They have axe, Ber, Bhala, Gulel, Bow and arrow as hunting implements. They have Kudal, Khurapi, Gaiti and Khanti as digging implements. For trapping the birds, monkeys, horse, rabbit, etc., they have trapping nets rope made articles like rope craft, rope sikia, rope baskets can also seen in their Tanda and Huta. For rope making, they have special type of tools. They also have leaf and grass mats for the purpose of sleeping. They possess some wooden utensils. Too, like okhali, mushali, kathauti etc.
The Birhor wear half Dhoti and have a Gamachha when they are in the Tanda. But on the day, of marketing, they wear Ganji and Shirt, too. The women wear Sari, Saya and Blouse. The children in early age wear only ganji. The half portion of the body generally remains naked. But in late childhood, the boy wears paint, shirt, ganji etc. They girls wear paint and frock. They also use plastic slipper in their feet.
The women are fond of ornaments. They wear ornaments in wrist, finger, feet, neck and ear. The ornaments are made up or brass, bronze, steel, glass, thread, shall, seeds etc.
The family is the smallest unit of the Birhor society. The family is patrilieal. The authority of family is the head of the household, that is father. The family is nuclear in structure. It is composed of husband, wife and unmarried children. Married children establish separate family. The Birhor have organizations of families called Band. The head of the band is called Naya. All heads of the family of the Birhor Tanda or Band work under the leadership of the Naya.
The husband-wife relationship is very cordial. The husband and wife take care of each other. The couple follow the division of labour. Cooking is the duty of the wife and hunting is the duty of the husband. But the husband also knows cooking and the wife also knows hunting. Sometimes, the help or a woman is also taken for the hunting. The rearing and caring of the children is the duty of the wife. But the husband assists her by cooking and performing household chores. The relation between husband and wife becomes sour due to extra marital relation, laziness and cruel behaviour.
The relation between the parent and children is also very sweet. The parents are not well to do economically, but they try to fulfil the wishes of the children within their economic limit. The reward and punishment is almost absent. The children are left to play and co-operate in the performance of household chores. Sometimes, the help of young children are taken for trapping the birds and monkeys.
The relation between siblings is also very sweet. As they are children of the same parents, they eat together, play together, sleep together and work together. In late childhood, the brother and sister star maintaining distance. The sister spends most of her time with mother, while the brothers spend their time with father. In late childhood, they are married. Now, the brother and the sister have to stay at two different places with their families. But, they maintain relation through reciprocal exchange of visit, invitation, food item, labour etc on social and ceremonial occasion.
The Birhor have good relationship with the families of the same Tanda, in the tanda, the families of different clan reside together for the purpose of food gathering and hunting. The different families living in a Tanda share joys and sorrow together. They do the reciprocal exchange of food, loan, service and feast. They also invite each other on ceremonial occasion and worship.
The Birhor Tanda also maintains good relation with the other Tanda. In course of food gathering and hunting, they meet with each other and exchange news of different kinds. They also meet in the market place called salt where they do marketing of grains, salt, oil and spices and clothes.
Marriage: The Birhor believe that marriage is significant for the satisfaction of sex hunger and reproduction of children. It is also valuable for the continuation of ethnicity from one generation to the other. Only the individuals of unknown sex are not married other wise, the ritual of marriage comes in the Lita of each individuals of opposite sex.
The Birhor have monogamons marriages. But incase of barrenness, widowhood, widowerhood, bigamy and even tri-gamy is followed. Levirati and widow remarriages are prevalent.
The birhor follow the rule of tribe endogamy and clan endogamy. A Birhor boy is supposed to get married with a Birhor girl. But the clan of the boy and the girl should not be same. For this purpose the Birhor have a number of totemic clans named after plant, free birds, animals, river, etc. The Some important clans of the Birhor are Indawar, Kher, Giddha, Golwar, Lakud Chata, Topwar, Singpuria, Hemparem, Savar, Hansada, Savania and Bhuiya.
The Birhor Tanda and Band have families of different clans, but they follow the rule of Tanda exogamy. At the time of marriage, the blood relation is explored. The marriage between a boy and a girl is possible only when they are not related up to three generations from the father and the mother side.
The common way of acquiring a marriage male in the Birhor is by bride price. When the child attains the marriage age, i.e., between 15 to 25 years, it becomes the responsibility of the father get his son or daughter married. But it is the custom that the father of the boy has to approach the father of the girl when the father of the girl agrees, the father of the boy settles about the bride price. The bride price is paid in cash and in kind. The bride price in kind includes clothes for the bride, bridegroom, bride’s parents, bride’s brothers and sisters. Rice, goat or rice, Pulse and Vegetables and given for the community feast on the occasion of marriage. When the father of the boy accepts the demand of the father of the girl, of the boy accepts the demand of the father of the girl, the marriage is declared settled. Now no other families make an attempt to reach for the marriage proposal with that girl. When the bride price is paid, the date of marriage is decided with the help of the naya or the Tanda head. The date of marriage is kept within a month.
After the fixation of marriage date the bride and the groom have to follow a number of taboos related to food, visit, bath, dress, etc. The parents of the bride and the groom also observe a number of taboos. The fathers of the bride and the groom, invites their paternal, maternal and affinal kin to participate in the marriage of their son and daughter. The invitation follows the reciprocal exchange of visit, service, gift and presentation.
The rituals of marwa, miti korawa, ubatan, Haldi and Tel takes place in the house of both the bride and the groom.
The marwa is erected with the help of bamboo and leaves. Ubtan, Haldi and oil rituals are related to the beautification of the bride and the girl.
On the day of the marriage, after bath, they wear new dresses. The bride sits in a khatoli. The male kins of the groom carries the khatoli. They hire khatoli from the other neighbouring tribe. The female kin of the groom sign songs and perform white magic for the successful marriage and happy return along with the bride. They also perform totaka to save the groom from the attack of witchcraft, and Bhuta-Preta.
The male maternal and paternal kins of the groom proceed for the village or Tanda of the bride in the form of Barat party. The female kin perform Kamkach dance at night. When the groom along with Barat Party reaches the village of the bride, the male kin of the bride accord a hearty welcome. They shake hands with each other and offer flowers of the forest. They also embrace each other. The Barat Party is asked to follow a suitable place for night halt. The members of the Barat Party are asked to wash hands feet and face. Then Gur, Gram and Handia with Dalmot are served. This is the valuable part of showing hospitality to the Barat party. After light food and Handia hospitality, members of the Barat Party is asked to relax for some time. After an hour, the groom is brought in the marwa where the bride waits for him. The bride and the groom offer flowers to each other and embrace each other. The members present there clap their hands. Then female kin sing song. Mandar is being played. The Naya utters some hymns and the groom puts vermillion in the forehead of the bride. This marks the end of the marriage. Now Handia and Dalmot is served among all members present there. The members perform dance to celebrate the occasion. After the dance performance, the members share the marriage feast.
In the morning, the vidai of the bride and the groom is done in new dresses with some money and good materials. The vidai of the members of Barat party is also done after serving the breakfast and Handia.
As soon as the bride reaches in the house of the groom, she is welcome whole heartedly. She along with the groom is brought before the family deity and the Tanda deity to seek blessings. Then the bride and the groom seek blessings of all elders present there. All share marriage beast.
The bride stays in the house of father-in-law for week. She goes back in the house of the father. After a year, the groom goes to bring the bride. The parents the bride makes vidai of the bride and the groom in new dress. The bride starts living in a separate room. They are recognized as married couple, in kinship terminology, they are known as husband and wife. They enter in to family life and reproduce children for the continuity of the ethnicity, family, lineage, clan and community. The marriage is taken as successful when the couple is blessed with the children. The children bring marital happiness in the life of the couple.
In the Birhor, kinship relation is established on the basis of blood and marriage. They believe that parentage creates blood relation. The blood relation continues from generation to generation through the marriage and reproduction of children. Lineage and clan are based on continuity in blood relation since, reproduction and marriage take place in each generation, therefore, new blood relatives and marriage relatives are created in each generation on the basis of continuity of blood and an individual has ascendants and descendants. An individual has paternal kin, maternal kin (related through blood) and affinal kins (related through marriage). Thus, the kinship system of the Birhor is a model of relationship based on parentage and marriage.
The marriage finds not only to individuals of opposite sex in the kinship as husband and wife, but it also finds the bride and the groom with all family members of each other. Not only family members, but the families of maternal and paternal kin of the bride and the groom also come under the bondage of the kinship. They are termed by different kinship terms.
They use classificatory as well as descriptive kinship terminology to call their relatives. They also call their relatives by different names on the basis of age, sex, generation, maternity, paternity and colaterality.
The Birhor follow the rule of patrilineal in the inheritance of family property. The residence is patrilocal and succession is also patriloteral.
The birth is enjoyable occasion for the couple family Tanda and the community. The marriage is taken as successful when the couple is blessed with child. The birth proves that the couple is fertile. It is a joyous occasion for the family because, after birth of child, the family name, succession is expected to continue from one generation to the next.
The birth takes place in the house. The senior most and the experienced woman of the community attend the birth. The navel is cut with bamboo knife. At delivery wastes are buried in the ground at a lonely place to avoid black magic and attack of male violent spirits. The birth brings pollution for 5 days. No body other than the attendant is allowed to enter in the delivery room. A branch of thorny plant is placed at the gate. Fire is burnt nearby the mother and the child, and a knife is placed by the side of the mother to protect the mother and the child from the evil spirits.
On 6th days, the room is washed. All utensils and furniture are washed. The mother and the child are allowed for the purificatory bath. The woman members of the community are invited to bless the child and the mother. The mother and the child are brought before the deity of the Tanda to seek blessings. They are represented by bamboo pots.
The name giving ceremony takes place after a mouth. The food serving ritual is held after the eruption of first tooth. Ear boring is done the child is 2 to 3 years of age. Mundan takes place a year.
The Birhor have believed in ancestral spirits. They believe that the old persons die to become ancestral spirits. They join the abode of ancestors. They incarnate time to time through birth. They believe that for change of old body and re birth, death during oldhood is essential. Thus, according to their belief system, the death during the oldhood is taken as good. But death during the oldhood is taken as good. But death during childhood and young hood is not taken good. Because the spirit of such person remain dissatisfied. They have in lead a life of Bhuta-Preta and evil spirits. They remain in lovely place and makes attack on women, children, bride, groom and milducalte. They get rid of the life of Bhuta-Preta after completion of real age; i.e., oldhood.
The Birhor bary their dead. The death brings pollution for a period of one week. The death is mourned at family, lineage and clan level. On 7th day, the house, utensils and clothes are washed. Women perform particatory bath.
The Birhor economy presents a mixture of forest economy, agriculture and labour. For the uthalu Birhor, forest is the still main means of stay. They do the collection of food materials available in the form of root, shoot, baves, flowers, seeds, etc. in the forest. They also do the collection of forest produce. They also do the trapping of money, rabbit, mouse, titir etc. in the forest. They collect honey. They sell honey in the market and use the wax for the purpose of eating. They prepare rope from the forest grasses and chop. They make rope carpet, Ashani, Machia, Sikka and baskets and sell in the market they also sell rabbit, parrot, titir, peacock and other kinds of birds in the market. They also prepare baskets, brooms and winnowing tray from the forest grasses, leaves, etc.
For the Jaghi Birhor, agriculture is the main means of stay; however, they do the collection forest produce also in the neighbouring forest. The forest supplements their family income. Each Jaghi Birhor family owns own house, houselead land and some plots of agricultural land. Adhered to the house, they have Bari Land in which they grow vegetables and maize. The agricultural land is of two types (1) Don and (2) Tour. The Don lands have more water storing capacity, so, good variety of paddy are grown in them. But in Taur lands dry type of cultivation is done. In it, Arahar, Maize, Marua, Kurathi, Kodo, Seraha etc., are grown. The Birhor do not have assured means of irrigation therefore, they donot cultivate Rabi (winter) and Garma Crops. The agriculture and forest do not provide them gainful enagement for more than six months. So for their six months, they are dependent upon wage-earning as casual labour. They go to seek work as casual labour in forest, mines and construction site. But they do not get work regularly and are exploited in the hours of work and mode of payment. They are not paid as per minimum wages Act.
The family in come of the Birhor is not sufficient. They have to struggle hard to maintain the family. Their economy is subsistence-oriented. The income is less them the expenditure. Therefore, they have to incur loan from the mahajan who come to establish shops in the local Haat. They repay the loan and interest after selling their artifacts or baskets or payment of wages. They mahajan do not hesitate them in providing loan because they know them by name, face and the Tanda or village.
The Birhor men, women and children visit the Haat to do marketing of grains, spices, oil, salt, soap sugar, loafsugar etc. They purchase Lakotho sweets and Bhunja to enjoy the visit of the Haat. In the Haat, the medium of exchange is money. The Birhor avoid credit facility in the market from the mahajan or shopkeepers. They do not want to take loan from the banks or institutional agencies.
The Birhor religion presents a mixture of animism, animatism, naturalism, anastral worship and belief in Bhuta-Preta and witchraft. They offer worship to their dieteis on different occasions and celebrate festivals.
The singbonga is their supreme deity and Dharati Maa is his consort. These two deities are responsible for good health, harvest and happiness in the Birhor society some Birhor worship mahadeo, kali mai, or Burha and Burahi. Buru Bonga and Banga are the deities of clans. They remove the diseases and death sacrifice is made in their names.
The religions lead of the Birhor is called as Naya. Kotwar or Dignar is the assistant of the Naya. Mati is the witch doctor or Bhuta-Preta doctor. All these religions posts are hereditary. They are also elected.
The Birhor celebrate festivals like karma, nayakhaui or chalhauti, diwali, maker sankranti, holi, sarhul. The Birhor of the Bisnupur flock of the Gumla District have changed their religion. They have become Christian. As Christian, they celebrate Christian festivals. They visit to the church and are not governed by the village community Panchayat.
The sacred centre, sacred specialists and sacred performances present a model by which the ethnography on Birhor religion can be written.
The Birhor Tanda is a collection of different families of different clans for the purpose of good collection, hunting, rope making etc. Each Birhor Tanda has a head. The head of the Tanda is known as Naya. He is social, political and religions head of the Tanda. He has an assistant called kotwar or Diguar. The main work of the Diguar is to inform the people about the day and time of the occurrence of the Panchayat. The heads of the families of Tanda take part in the Panchayat. The Panchayat looks after the customary laws. Those who donot obey the customary lawss are declared as gnilty. They are punished as per the decision of the Panchayat. The cases related to rope, odultery, divores, cruel behavior, etc. are decided in the Tanda Panchayat. For the settlement of enter Tanda dispute, inter Tanda Panchayat is held. The decision of the Panchayat is obeyed because the community members are involved in the punishment as well as its abeyance.
The uthalu Birhor are not conscions towards their political rights and reservations. They do not participate in the election of Mukhia, MLA and MP. Many of them are not voters due to their wandering nature. The Jaghi Birhor are voters and they exercise their franchise at the time of election. The Birhor are neither supporters notrmenmeri of any political parties many of them do not know the names and symbols of different political parties.
The establishment of modern gram Panchayat, thana, police, court and church has lissened the importance of Tanda and violage Panchayat. The Birhors are not educated. Therefore, the benefits of reservations avaited by those tribes who are well educated. The Birhor are minor tribe, therefore, they are not in a position to elect Mukhia, MLA and MP from their own community.
The Birhor women are hardy and industrious by nature. They are the custodian of family income, expenditure, customs and traditions. They not only do household chores and rearing caring of children, but they also take active part in the collection of food, traping of birds, agriculture, agriculture labour and basketry and rope making. In the maintenance of family, their contribution is not less than their male counter parts. But as women, they have to observe a number of taboos is collection of MFP, house erection, agriculture, ceremonies, festivals they do not take part in sacrificial rituals, but they perform white magic for the place and prosperity in the family. The Birhor women are not very much conscious politically. They do not like to visit the polling booths on the occasion of elections of Mukhia, MLA and MP.
The Birhor men go for hunting, and women have to do the collection of food besides the performance of household chores. The women of Jaghi Birhor also work in their fields. They also earn wages. But they are not paid wages equal to their male counter party for same hours and kind of work.
The Birhor children are loved as respected by the elders. The children respect their elders. The children are socialized according to their cultural traditions. The mother teaches them good habit, social norms and social virtues. Food gathering and trapping birds and animals are their socialization process. They are trained in family chores and disciplined community life.
The Birhor children play a number of folktales like Bagh-Bakari, Goti Barah Gharawa, Chor-Sipahi, Dol-Patta, Guli-Danda, Toy making etc. In early childhood, they are left for playing. But in late childhood they start getting training of work. The Birhor children are enrolled in the schools started for their education. But due to wandering economy, the children of the thalu Birhor are not able to get education. Many of them are also not enrolled due to wondering habit.
The children of Jaghi Birhor are enrolled in the school. They also go to attend the school. But incidence of non-attendance and drop outs appears due to struggle for good. The educational status of the Birhor children is not satisfactory. For them bread is more important than education.
The Birhor aged are valuable parts of the society. Due to physical disability, they do not enjoy economic value, but they have suggestive and ritualistic value. On the basis of their experience, they guide the young generation to lead life happily even in poor condition. They tell stories, idioms and riddles to the children. They look after the house when youth men and women go to perform work.
After independence, central as well as state governments have taken up special programmes for the rehabilitation of tribes having wandering economy in the form of food collection, hunting and shifting cultivation. Some Birhor families were also settled in colonies meant for them. Under rehabitation scheme, each family was given 5 acres of land, 10 decimals for house erection or homestead land, a pair of bullocks agricultural implements and seed. Schools for their children were also started. Rope making centres were also opened. Training center in honey collection was also imparted. But unfortunately, the rehabilitation programmed was not suitable for their cultural practices. They abandoned the colony and starved wandering economy. As a result, they are still backward educationally and economically. They are facing the problem of drinking water, healthy, nutrition and sanitation. Till now they have not been brought at the level of development they are far way from the mainstream of the nation many more things are yet to be done for them.