Category Archives: Pankaja Sethi

Pankaja Sethi Report

Excerpts from December 2012 report

It was interesting to note how each of them from different villages in their gesture, approach, dressing and experience of outside world and inside world (outside world- I am referring to town or cities or places unfamiliar to Kondhs living space) reflected distinctive character and behavior. The villages located closer to land (low hill) such as Khajuri and Kurli interact frequently with the developing bodies and Dombo community in their mundane life. I observed, Kondh women from these villages- their manner of wearing kapdagonda ( shift in wearing style and covering their upper part with blouse) , adapting to external  influences and products(such as applying fair and lovely crème) and humming Hindi and Odiya songs shows a strong influence of external factors.

Based on these observations, it segregated them from Ghortoli, Hundijali and Kadrakuma Kondhs to some extent. I guess they have experienced infrequent intrusion of developing bodies and also of the Domb community. Thus, I saw less pollution and changes in their lifestyle. Influence of external factors is evitable; the choice of adapting shows change, progress or shift in attitude.

What is ethical or what is not ethical who decides these social concerns? Coming to the question of ethnic label or identity (Richard Fardon and Stewart Halls) Former illustrates the use of ethnic labels and the latter elaborates the shifting and viewing of identity as a process.

In this context I am taking the DongriaKondh identity and the NGO representing the label of tribal identity. I learned that the NGO using the ethnic label and identity of Adivasi are involved in mass producing Dongria Kondh textile in a village in east Odisha. The producers are group of weavers and are not Adivasi. In my opinion it was unethical to copy and sell this copied textile art in the market for money. In order to mass produce they changed the technique from embroidery to weaving- shift in technology. It was translated in such a way that it appears like an embroidered kapdagonda in similar colours and exact pattern. In this process the producer engaged in the making of duplicate kapdagonda shares no relation with the material culture. A common person who appreciates the beauty of textile cannot make the distinction. In my opinion it is just a piece of textile with no values attached to it, thus it is a commodity different from the artistic self expression rendered in actual kapdagonda. In TRIBES (TRIFED) shop, what we see is replicated piece of kapdagonda. So those NGO (local and national) who are projecting the label of tribal name and development blur the boundaries of real imagined.

Replication and copying of tribal art is common, and in this case the developing bodies are involved ;

Why is it necessary to mass produce everything when the community does endorse this. Well, who asks for community concerns?

Being an observer and participant in the entire workshop I learned varied meanings and vivid expression about the women and their material culture. The indigenous ways of creation are their expression and recreation for women. It would be too narrow to limit this artistic tradition or bracket under the word commodity. This is more than a textile. How can I or the other coming from usual product-commodity world understand this relationship of women and their narrative textiles? Kondh women explained how every line and pattern had a name and meaning. The purpose of rendering textile is not to show their excellence it is their artistic expression – a legacy of tradition, an identity which is what I want to highlight.

My interaction and time spent with the Kondh women embarked me into another realm of contemplation. Navigating between design world and deeper meanings of kapdagonda, I was not able to understand my position where am I leading to. Without any background in Anthropology I pursued my interest as a self taught Anthropologist. It all started for cause and passion, my interest and inclination to know about the people and culture. Yatra/ Travelling to villages was always part of my work and now my interactions with Adivasi, weavers and other people in my years of craft yatra became my way of learning. Small personal interaction with students will appear later in my field notes- comparison of past with the present and my relationship with Kondh students.

In the same year ( 2006 ) I discovered about another weaving workshop in Kurli village, Niyamgiri. In this project DongriaKondh women were trained to use the spinning wheel and loom. I saw the documentation of this project. Kondh women posed sitting on a loom as if they are weaving and some pictures projected how they are using the spinning wheel. These are the new technical alteration implemented by developing agencies. I discovered through images that some of the participants were my students. They were all dressed in best of their ornaments and the images projected how they are adapting to the new technical shift. Few of them (from Kurli) who have rejected traditional way of wearing costumes also decked up for that particular workshop. Surprisingly, it was a Weavers’ Service centre -Central Government project implemented by another local NGO. At least in this case, in comparison to the other project the producers are of the same community and the beneficiary. Though, I cannot think of introducing any alien idea unfamiliar to the socio-cultural context in their domain in order to create design variation for mass production purposes. I often try to contemplate, it is not necessary that local community need penetration of such developing bodies and such intrusions aim to project development of community embarking on the ‘structures of power relation’- subordinate and the dominant. Is there any ground where natives or local can make the distinction and decision of implementing projects in their domain?

I often question such non pragmatic objective, implementation and outcome of developing agencies. How they are constructed implemented and justified. Is there any difference between the three implementing agencies discussed so far? They all seem to represent the agenda of Adivasi development of art and craft; falling in the same categories of reinforcing power relations. We still need to rethink of what we mean by the word development. The aim and objective of development and what are the criteria on basis on which we identify developed or not developed.

There is always hidden agenda behind the project – to reinforce structures of power relation dominating the other- dominant- subordinate,

The shift from hand embroidered to hand woven is justified or not? Why do locals/natives not react? Why don’t they dismiss or disgree with something with which they are not related to?

Adivasimela as the label projects the identity of Adivasi- is a mela celebrating Adivasi communities such as DongriaKondh, Mankedia, Gadaba, Bonda and other Adivasi people. A cultural celebration of Odisha Adivasi showcasing their indigenous way of wearing textile, living, folk dance and music.

Every year state of Odisha celebrates Adivasi Mela annually, for a week or more in Bhubaneswar, implemented by SC & ST Research Institute. It aims to show the socio-cultural way of Adivasi lifestyle. Developing agencies of each community construct abode, goddess, painting, farming methods, tools and other unique characteristics. It is a representation of Adivasi life followed with cultural activities folk music and dance. Adivasi people bring agricultural products, baskets, and some new products introduced in order to create business. They bring varieties of agricultural products implemented by developing bodies which local people are not familiar with and it is not part of their diet. They usually sell such agricultural products in the haat as they do not consume some of the agricultural products. Quite a few NGO’s and developing agencies implemented by Ministry of Tribal Affairs are involved in such kind of projects. As a result of which, a number of indigenous species have been erased or is going to be erased.

Another interesting product I notice regularly in the entire Adivasi stall is- phenyl. Almost all the Adivsai stall stocks multiple plastic white phenyl bottles. I wonder, it is no where closer to Adivasi product so why are they selling phenyl liquid? And why are they worried about city toilets.

During this mela, I recorded VadakeSindhe and VadakaKaso interview and collected information about textile meanings. One day they stayed at my residence for research work. During the day they sat in the stall and common city people looked at them and questioned sensible and insensible questions.

What is ethnic label and identity?

In pursuit of Niyamgiri

To resonate past conversations and to strengthen my research work I planned another visit to Niyamgiri. I had three agendas to cover in this field visit. First, on basis of my recommendation Kadrakada Ando was selected for Child artisan – Kamala Devi Scholarship by Delhi Craft Council. Her presence in Delhi for the award ceremony was essential in order to receive the honorarium. Prior to the visit I discussed with the DKDA Special Officer in charge over the telephone regarding this matter and the Secretary cum Commissioner in the textile department. It was a tough task to deal with.

The second agenda was to meet the Kondh students I trained and see their villages and home. I also had their photographs printed.Finally, the third and task was to record interviews of older women and their narrative expression of Niyamgiri myths for my research purposes.

This time my sister ( Sailaja Sethi) accompanied me. I reached Rayagada station and took the old ambassador to Chatikona. This driver was new to such kind of roads, a Telugu fellow. He was scared to cut the roads and could not cope up with the steep roads of Niyamgiri. He left us in the middle of Chatikona and vanished without uttering a word. This was also a new experience-part of field work experience.

In pursuit of Niyamgiri  I could not anticipate outcome, however, I decided to work further.

Child artisan scholarship for Ando

I discussed about Ando’s scholarship with the Special Officer of DKDA. Being in charge of that community he wanted permission and authorization letter from the higher officials. So, I had to dial multiple calls from a STD booth (it was also selling tamarind and small grocery products). That time there was no mobile connectivity in the Chatikona area. The Commissioner cum Secretary helped me and made necessary arrangements. After hours of struggle Mr. Sahoo confirmed that Sindhe, Ando and one male person MPW – Ramesh Nala for their security purposes can visit Delhi for the award ceremony.

Why does bureaucracy and rigid structures of government make things difficult at ground level and make simple things complex?


Meriah Purbo

My first visit was to Khajuri village to see the preparation of Meria Purba- cane decorations and banana plants decorating the  entrance and surroundings of the village particularly around the Jhakeri Kudi (village Goddess). Young Kondh girls in kapdagonda adorned with ornaments were busy making leaf plates for offerings used in the rituals. Some of them shied seeing the camera and some of them were relaxed. Members of each family were waiting for the Bijeni (woman priest).

I was in Sindhe’s house. Sindhe had a fowl in her hand; rice was served in the winnowing basket. Bijeni enunciated words loudly dealing with visible and the invisible realm for the well fare of the family. I was advised to not to use the camera as it was the spiritual moment for them. I came to the front of the house to witness other activities.

A small group of young men, moving from one end to the other end of the village, beating the drum hanged around the neck, and rejoicing the spirit of meria purba. I could feel the strong spirit of purba. The drum beats was resonating in the entire village. People were getting ready for the Mariah Purbha. Locals told me that Meria Purba is celebrated in the honour of Niyamgiri Raja after successful crop cultivation. Kondh sacrifice podo (male buffalo) to please Niyam Raja. According to records phodo in earlier days was a human ie a human was sacrificed. This act was stopped by the British several years ago, thus human was replaced by a podo.

Common people criticize animal sacrifice. What happens when we sacrifice the entire community for our means and purposes? Nation and state interest is imperative ….somewhere we are to be blamed for excessive use of resources leading to plundering of earth and displacement of Adivasi for minerals.


JhakeriKudi – Jhakeri mean gram devi and Kudi means house of the village goddess or jhakeri. She lives in the centre of the village, and the wall of kudi was adorned with bold triangular patterns and lines. I saw the head of goat and a fowl sacrificed in the altar in front of JhakeriKudi. The body of beheaded goat was sitting in front of the house. Kondh believe, blood sacrifice pleases their God. Curing ill health, getting rid of evil atmosphere, for their safety and security, sacrifice of goat or fowl is imperative. According to them it is the Niyamraja who is asking for it so we are not at fault. The axe and rope is in his control. We are under his mercy and cannot dare to upset him.

Jahkerikudi shares a strong relationship with Kondh( nature power and soul power ) .I want to know who paints Jhakeri and why it is painted only during meriapurba.

Kadrakuma village

Sabar MPW of DKDA accompanied us to meet Ando and other three students. Climbing the narrow and steep road was not easy. I was getting exhausted and breathing speedily. I had my field notebook, laptop and photographs in my rug sack. After one hour of climbing I learned a lesson -not to inhale from mouth while climbing hills.

Interestingly, this village was not densely populated unlike Khajuri and Kurli. Perhaps in the other villages Dombo community, Telugu and southern Odisha migrants have invaded the place for business purposes. I met Ando and her mother. Ando hardly talked to me during the 2006 workshop. Unfortunately, none of the other Kondh students were present at that time of the day. The jahkerikudi here seemed untouched.


We visited Khajuri village to witness the activities. I wanted to see how people are engaged in different rituals prior to Meriah Purbo. Some people let go the phodo tied in front of the JhakeriKudi. The Phodo tried to escape unleashing the strings, meanwhile one by one threw the axe on his body enunciating words loudly in Kui. It was hard to believe what I saw. I thought they were supposed to sacrifice one day after but there was one more phodo waiting for the early morning sacrifice. I met Sindhe, Badho, Ammi, Binjho and Kaso in the evening. Their kitchen was decorated with dotted patterns and flowers in the honour of the kitchen goddess – Sita Penu. Young girls and adolescent Kondh women were adorned in their beautiful gonda and ornaments waiting for their beloved. They can choose their partners. So Dhangara tries to impress the Dhagiri but it is completely up to her to reject and approve the man. Her decision is considered prime. Usually exchange of Kapagonda (shawl they embroider) and tobacco indicates positive gesture. I could see girls of all the age groups waiting for dhangara and some of them were chatting with young Kondh boys and men. Some of them elope to the forest to share a romantic moment in the moonlight.

Meriapurba main day

Our ambassador arrived in the evening with a new driver. DKDA gave us the clerical room to sleep piled with papers and furniture. Both of us (I and my sister) managed to get some space under the table that night. We had to get up early morning to see meriahpurbo. I waited for Nala and Sabar. Few foreign tourists from Germany also arrived early morning to witness Meriah Purbo. By the time we reached the phodo was already sacrificed in the front of Jhakeri Kudi. With lot of courage I tried to come closer to people who were smashing the skin of buffalo and distributing the meat among the Kondh people. One of them was furious at me as my camera interrupted while he raised the axe. I could see Kondh people from different villages awaited for their share of raw meat. This meat is considered auspicious, it can be eaten or worshipped or the dried meat can be used a medicine,

He told me about Sindhe and her family. She is from a prosperous family and they do not have to work hard for generations for sustenance. It seems, people do not like Sindhe because her brother practices black magic and had killed many children in the village. Later Kondh people in Khajuri agitated when they came to know about his black magic activities. I had been to her house several time in 2006, in this trip I visited her house to see the ritual and for other purposes. I did not know whether it was true or not or it was just a rumour. But I was really scared after knowing this.


It was the second day of my trip and I had one more village to visit, located in the highest altitude. Early in the morning, cutting the way to Hundijjali we crossed five hills. It took us two hours to reach. The road was covered with dried leaves, while crossing the rustling sound of streams running in between the hills and sound of leaves was the resonating in silence. We splashed the stream water on our face and it was bliss to feel the clear and chilled hill water on my face. As we went higher I could see huge size of jackfruits equivalent to big sack of rice hanging from the trees. I also saw patch of pineapple plant cultivation illuminating in vibrant green and some areas covered with ragi and Kandulo (local crop).

Finally I reached Hundijali -an isolated and untouched village cut off from the outside world. It was not densely populated alike Kadrakuma. It was amazing to see small population of people located in highest position. Some houses had the asbestos sheet and some did not. It was ten in the morning and in the month of April the temperature was getting higher and higher. Suddenly people gathered around me. One of my students Sako brought one khoto (cot) and asked’ kis pain aaschu didi’. I told her, “I wanted to meet you”. When we greet out guest our gesture is usually hello, how are you? Please sit …etc , but these structures of words which we are used to, do not exist here. They are simple people. They are children of nature. Cared and protected by the nature powers. I opened my laptop and transferred the meriapurba pictures to show. All of them children, men women geared towards my laptop and were amazed to see Meriapurba which occurred few hours ago, in this alien device. I observed their reactions.

Village people were so happy that they prepared food for us. They arranged stones and boiled kandulo in it and few people placed eggs in a utensil and poured oil and cumin on top of the egg. There was one concrete house which was abandoned for years and it had several layers of dust lying since many years. They cleaned the floor and our food was served. The heat was becoming unbearable.

I could not see any river or stream close by. People in Kurli and Khajuri are in advantage position. I requested a few older women to come down to Kurli for my research work. They uttered some words in Kui among themselves. Meanwhile I was discussing questions about people and their way of living. Sabar was helping me generously. After certain time he got irritated because I was jotting down everybody. He asked me not to do it. He advised me to understand things rather than writing down things on paper. So, I stopped.


In the afternoon we left for Kurli as everybody was supposed to come together for discussion. The roads were so narrow that if we slip we fall down the hill- I do not know where. Coming down was more difficult compared to climbing, so, we placed every step carefully. We reached halfway and we saw the group of older women coming down rapidly. It was the same group of women I asked to come down for interview crossed us and we were still lagging behind. I could not even think of competing that speed. We reached Kurli, some of my students from Kadrakuma gathered for meeting.

I started my conversation asking their name and village’s name. When I asked their age, quite a few of them shouted at me , saying how can we know my age ….I might be around thirty ( said a older lady who looked around sixty). I realized there is no age factor. It is not important for them. The indigenous cultures of learning, marriage, children and becoming grant parents and following the norms and rituals of social structure is imperative for them. Their life revolves around the culture. It is the culture in which they are born, is passed on from one generation to the other.


Sindhe narrated the story of Niyamgiri. One day a Kodh went to the hills where Niyamgiri Raja lived. He was astonished to see the beauty of nature. Niyamraja happily gave him the some plants to grow. The Dongria Kondh man planted the tree. Thus, the flora and fauna flourished and simultaneously their culture progressed. Therefore, Kondh consider Niyamraja as their creator and are subject to mercy under him. They cannot dare to upset Niyamraja. Thus, in every ritual they sacrifice and remember him. The Meriah Purbo is celebrated to please dharini Penu and Niyam Raja. Niyam is the creator and protector. To sacrifice is to sacrifice in the honour of their creator. They are the child and he is the parent – sharing adult child parent relationship with the nature. Nature power is their soul power. It is the spirit of belongingness to the Nature, their relatedness sharing with the nature powers.

Nilami narrated the story of Neba and Siji raja

Neba, Siji and Niyam raja shared a close friendship. One day Siji went looking for Neba to his house. Unfortunately Neba was away for some work and in his absence Neba’s wife offered him some rice with salt to eat. Siji was extremely happy and delighted after tasting the food. He thought if she cooks such tasty food then every day I can get such food to eat. Neba returned and found his wife missing. He learned that his wife left with siji raja and cheated on him. He was so furious that he started cutting all the hills, trees and streams. He saw his wife and chopped her nose. Her nose fell is the ground and it came to be known as Nasikavansh. The community living in this area till date are tabooed and do not come to other areas.

Sako’s mother illustrated the story of jhakeriKudi and SitaPenu goddess.

Jhakeri lives in the centre of village. She guards and protects all the villagers. It is because of her presence Kondh are secured and safe. She protects the village people from the sight of evil eyes and any kind of prevalent disease entering the village. According to people in the night she turns into a tigress and roars to threaten the evil spirits and waves off the negative energy entering the threshold of the village. The harvest of first crop is worshipped in honour of Jhakeri in the honour of her kudi and sacrifice of fowl or goat pleases her. In order to settle disputes, stolen things, curing diseases and for the welfare of the family village people adore her abode. It is only during the MeriaPurba her abode is adorned and phodo is sacrificed in front of the altar. The existence of spiritual manifestation is constructed for protection. Her existence in their imagination, the visual representation of intangible spiritual relatedness in the form of abode, a structure erected in the centre of village reinforces people’s believes.

The next day all of us including Ando, Sindhe, Nala and my sister headed to Bhubaneswar. Ando was unfamiliar to the outside world; in Bhubaneswar I bought one chappal and blouse for Ando. Ando went to Delhi for the Kamala Devi Scholarship and Delhi Craft Council members were pleased to see her. After this long journey I was tired but I had more to write and much more to know about the people and culture.




The agitation against the London based Vedanta mining company moved the entire nation. Kondhs, several NGO’s protested to protect Niyamgiri- for environmental reasons and also because Niyamgiri is sacred to Kondhs. Signing online petitions, documentaries, vernacular reports in media raised voices worldwide to move both Sterlite and Vedanta from Niyamgiri. As the outside world intervened, the level of crime, rape, and atrocities increased and so is the pollution in water and environment. Such things are part and parcel of development about which everybody is gaga about but people are hardly concerned about the real consequences which is visible only at the grassroots level. After knowing and learning little or more about Niyamgiri, it is difficult to imagine Niyamgiri and Kondh separated. Kondh sacrifice in the honour of Niyamraja. I question, is this not the sacrifice of entire community for the interest of nation?

For some years I could not plan any visit to Niyamgiri considering the time and circumstances. Knowing the people so closely, I was anxious to know what is happening at the field level, while the ongoing vernacular Naxal -Moasit activities and agitation against Vedanta was going on. I received the Tata Fellowship- National Folklore support Centre (2012-2013) to study narrative expression of Dongria Kondh textile and paintings. The remoteness and inaccessibility particularly to my field area seemed more complicated than before. In the first week of December my field work had to be postponed because of the agitation in the Lanjigarh area.The prime task was to open a bank account for my collaborator- Mandika Nilamani and get the contract letter signed. The second important job was to see the current situation and circumstance and anticipate my frequent accessibility in this region. My third important task was to build conversation level with people I know and to know them more for research purposes.

My yatra

The train to Rayagada in which I usually travel changed the route and the destination. Fortunately, the route extended to Bhawanipatna and another route extended to Jagdalpur area. Now, Bissam-Cuttack- on the way to Bhawanipatna had a stoppage. I informed Surjya Narayan Padhi about my two day visit and asked him to inform Nilamani that I wanted to see her in particular. Early morning around six thirty (with photographer Tanuja Sethi – my younger sister) our train stopped in Bissam Cuttack for two minutes. Surprisingly the door towards the railway tracks was open instead of opening towards the platform side. It was hard to get off the train as the ground level was very low. Somehow we managed to get off the train and crossed railway track to reach the other side of the railway station stop. This area was Chatikona area not Bissam- Cuttack, much better for me. It was cloudy and cold; we walked down the markets and streets looking for Dongria Kondh Chatri Niwas to meet Nilamani. I had not seen such a huge building erected earlier in the landscape of Niyamgiri. It is funded by Indian Government for educating DongriaKondh girls. Young girls were clearing the garden and carrying dried flower plants on their shoulders. Each of them had a shawl wrapped around her body and walking bare foot to outside premises. As we entered, all of them greeted us one by one- Good morning didi and Namaskar didi. It was hard to believe that the tone and pitch of voice was same and sounded like a repeating tape recorder. I could see so many children in different colours of shawl inside the premises of building standing in a queue doing physical training exercises and some of them were monitoring the others. My eyes were searching for Nilamani, and then I saw an old lady sweeping the dust from the ground. Nilamani could not recognise me from a distance. I walked towards her and then we greeted each other. She was upset because her brother died recently. I discussed about the research work and asked her to open a bank account in State Bank of India. I learned that she is the secretary of that institution and earns one thousand rupees every month. This institution was set up primarily for DongriaKondh girls- a boarding school governed by Adivasi people. Approximately 250 Kondh girls from different villages are brought here especially for educating supported by the Indian government. The living expense includes clothing, food and books. I was told that in spite of all the facilities ;they are given a shawl, a set of uniform to wear, shoes, soap, oil and adequate amount of facilities, children living inside the premises wish to go back to their villages. As far as I remember there are other schools functioning such as in Kurli to educate Kondh children, however, irregularity of attendance is a common problem. In the villages MPW are also supposed to teach village children. I could see kondh girls reading Odiya books in the park and few of them hurried to take bath were getting ready for school. Some of them escape from the schools.


The president of institution was not pleased when I asked Nilamani to accompany me to Kurli. We headed towards the market, crossed the railway tracks and waited for the local vehicle for transportation. We kept waiting; unfortunately, there was no local vehicle available to take us to the hill. Meanwhile people were asking my purpose of visiting Niyamgiri and if I was a research person. This area has become so sensitive that we cannot disclose our purpose of visit and we did dare to take out our camera in public or market places to attract more questions. Finally after one hour we managed to get one mini Tata tempo for two hundred rupees in which some children who escaped from the DongriaKondh girl’s hostel came with us along with a Kondh woman. On the way few more people joined. This small mini tempo so inappropriate for hill roads was loaded with twenty people including us. We reached Kurli to collect Nilamani’s Voter Identity Card and Rational Card as it was mandatory for opening a bank account. I was coming here after many years. The population of people ( domb and other migrants) occupy the outskirts of the village. We entered Nilamani’s house from the backside. The entrance was very low and she had a small piggery. The house structure of Kondh are very small, there is hardly any sunlight. I reached the front part which opened towards the JhakeriKudi. We met her daughter – Maladi.One of my student Kurunji greeted me. She told me we waited for you didi, for a long time. But you did not visit us for many years. You are very late. I was sad to know what my students said, for which I had no explanation and answer for her question. None of the other students I trained in 2006 -Malo, Rinjo and Maladi were present. Kuruji told me that Rinjo is now the sarpanch of Kurli village. I was surprised to know that how can anybody become sarpanch in such an early age. During the workshop in 2006 Rinjo was sick most of the time. In 2007 Sindhe told me that Rinjo eloped with a Vadaka Dhangra.Some of the older ladies were discussing something. Neelamani told me that the the bijeni (woman priest ) are going to forest with a fowl to sacrifice. It seems in few months time they are not getting sufficient water, thus sacrificing a fowl the stream goddess may resolve the problem of water. I am not able to recollect the source about similar problem- somebody had mentioned Niyamgiri is rich with bauxite so it has geared the interest of mining based companies to plunder the earth of Niyamgiri. Running water is also the source of bauxite and in this sacred space and place of Kondh some of the rare species of flora and fauna have been found. If Niyamgiri is plundered it will affect the entire ecosystem, imbalance of nature and culture.

I visited the local health service centre located in Kurli on the way to Khambesi village to meet the local doctor, recently appointed by Government of Odisha. I wanted to meet the doctor because he was the son of one of the weavers’ collective group from Jajpur district with which I am engaged. Moreover, the doctor can help me getting in touch with Nilamani and other Kondh women I know living in Khajuri and Kurli village. He told me about people’s conception about diseases and it is hard to stimulate them about hygienic way of living. One woman came to him with swollen face, it seems she had too much of handiya (rice liquor).

We waited in front of the Kurli School for one hour. Our presence in that area raised several questions. People were starring at us, asking again and again our purpose of visit. While we waited for the mini tempo, one man explained his difficulties, an indirect indication that he wants money for liquor. I have dealt with this problem earlier, the only way to deal with this situation is to ignore and feel ignorant. One tempo returned from Khambesi and refused to go to Chatikona. After some time we managed to get on jeep loaded with sacks of rice and twenty people. Dancing, shuffling bouncing on each other we reached and Chatikona and waited for another local transport for Bissam Cuttack. Bissam Cuttack seemed liked a small town in that part of the world. The local restaurant owner judged that we were outsiders, so they served us with pleasure. They had no idea that this trip was especially planned for opening the bank account for Nilamani. Bank officials said that they can open only certain number of new accounts each day. We did not reach on time to open the bank account so they asked us to open the account It is not humanly possible for me take this long journey again. More than thirty people were standing in queue; the bank officer was literally checking every detail of form. The local people from surrounding villages had two hundred rupees and some of them had hundred rupees to open the account. He asked me to explain the problem to the bank manager. The bank manger raised similar concerns and asked us to come the next day early in the morning. He started complaining that all the village people want to open a bank account in hundred rupees and only certain number of people can open a bank account. I assured him that we can open an account withone thousand rupees. I tried to explain that I we started around eight in the morning and we are coming all the way from Kurli as Nilamani’s voters identity card and ration card was in her village. We could not manage to come early because of local transportation. The bank closed for lunch break, I filled the form without her date of birth and photocopied the necessary documents. The bank officer had piles of new account forms; he was individually checking details, pasting the photographs, filling the deposit form and passing it to the other person in charge. He yelled at me because Nilamani’s date of birth was not mentioned. Neither I nor Nilamani herself had any clue about date of birth. So, we created her date of birth before the Independence, which makes her a sixty seven year old lady. We still had a long way to go. I moved from one table to the other back forth verifying from each personal continuously. I felt like a machine. The bank officers wanted to know my motive and reason for opening the bank account .They asked, “Why did you choose this old lady and why are you doing all this”. There was no hidden reason; the answer was simple for Tata Fellowship. The bank timing was over; it was already half past four. In the end Nilamani signed in the register and it was successful. In the end they promised me to help Neelamani in my absence. It was a certainly a tough task to deal with. We still had a long way to go. It was getting late; however, we had no alternative so, we waited in the jeep to get loaded with lots and lots of people.

Somehow, Dongria Kondh ChatriNi provided shelter for that night. Next day morning we walked around the chatikona forests and hills close by. The fields of cotton, ragi and tall teak trees covered nearby surroundings.

In the morning, I met Suryanarayan Padhi and Ramesh Kumar Nala after many many years- both of them narrated the same old stories of Kondh people and why they are not progressing. Both of them had common criticism-these Kondh children go to the dongor (fields) and work with the parents. They waste their time and energy. Tribals do not have much understanding of the dynamics of change. Education is important and if this education can help them to protect their own culture or stand for it along with continuing the living tradition. After some time Rinjho came all the way from Kurli. I could not recognize her; she is now a new sarpanch. Lack  of adornement, adapting the sari like mainstream people of cities with a vanity bag. I was surprised to see the ahift. This made Rinjho distinct from other Kondhs. I was surprised to notice this change in five years time Anyways, she now owns a mobile, and we exchanged numbers. Then Neelamani started telling me the inside stories of Rinjho. I learned that man outside the gate was Rinjho’s current boyfriend .she was also found guilty doing various other wrong activities according to other people.

While asking some of the teenage girls about living in the dormitory, site told me that she likes living here – in the school because there is no one in her family to protect her. She was once abducted from the Mundigudamela by the nearby Kondh village people as they wanted her to get married to their family. Her family people protested but the local people did not react; they left her when somebody mentioned that she is studying in the Dongria Kondh School. Site feels safe inside the campus. They call this jhikiba- forcibly taking the girl without her consent .Adivasi women are very hard working and the main bread earner of the family.

Patriarchy exists everywhere in some form or the other


Excerpts from February 2013 report

My  acquaintance and interaction with DongriaKondh women at Adivasimela  (exhibition) in Bhubaneswar. This was not my first time. I had visited this mela earlier also. Adivasimela happens every year, celebrating Adivasi culture of Odisha- presentation of living museum-on exhibit for ten days or so.

In this exhibition all the Adivasi residing in Odisha participate to represent their community, organized and supervised bySc& ST training institute, under Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Govt. of India. One sectionshowcased the living lifestyle, dwelling, farming and rituals practiced by the community. Another section displayed Adivasi tribal jewellery, costumes and accessories. In some stalls Adivasi people from different districts sold their textiles, bamboo baskets and agricultural products. Each tribal community participated with their developing agency.

I wanted to introspect, analyze and observe ‘representation of Adivasi tradition and way of living’ under the governance of sarkari authorities. How and the way it is showcased for the understanding of common people.  Moreover, in what state of mind / position Adivasi people react to local interaction. It was interesting to be there as participant observant.

This mela is like a living museum, a celebration of Adivasi local art, culture and traditional practices. Some of the dwellings included Mankedia Adivasi dwelling. The entire abode was made of leaves interconnected to each other in a cone shape, around seven feet high from the ground and had a small opening for entrance. The man sitting next to it was making a bowl using the bark of siali tree. The interlacement of beaten and treated bark and the beauty of hand woven leaves house shows how local tradition and culture evolves with limited materials. It is the beauty of nature and culture, the need of some something which gives rises to multiple artistic expressions.

The Dongria Kondh dwelling had wall painting illustrated on the mud walls. It was a refined representation of Sitapenu wall painting. Two winnowing baskets and offerings were kept next to Sitapenu. The wall of Jhakeri Kudi was also hand painted with white, red and black colours.

VadakeSindhe, her sister-Rashmi, Malo, kurunji and other women from khajuri, kurli, khambesi were selling honey extracted from the forest and self-prepared khanda-haladi(turmeric) from the Dongor(field). I interacted with kondh women about the ornaments and the changing tradition. I asked them about the shifting tradition. Some of them, who were adorned with ornaments in this mela, however, in reality, have now given up on traditional ornaments. According to some, they do not like wearing heavy nose rings and adornment of nose rings is very painful. Clothing manner has changed. Several outside influences have altered the manner of wearing textile

While introspecting, analyzing and observing Adivasi people during the mela, the question of their identity, how they are represented, presented and stated revolves in my thought process. This month field visit raised several social concerns related to representation, power relation and shifting tradition.


The purpose of subject Anthropology was to study the other- the exotic people. In so many years the hegemonic relation of subordinate and dominate position has not yet changed or blurred. In other words, to know the exotic or study of the exotic has not altered, perhaps at a different node and level in the contemporary context.The derogatory expression linked to tribe or the Adivasi has not changed or it seems inevitable. The way technology has escalated every second person hold a mobile or a camera and yearns to capture the exotic in it. Even though Kondh women sitting in the stall insisted not to be photographed, it made no difference to people.


Representation of the marginalized and already constructed preconceived perception about the marginalized-justifying the hegemonic power relation echoes the way social structure functions.The research indicates hegemonic power relation reflecting in the preconceived notions and cultural construction about the marginalized or Adivasi. In away it is echoing Foucault’s theories addressing about nature of power in the social structures, the way it functions and rules. The intrusion of developing agency in the name of development resonates and reinforces colonialism to a large extent.Thus, power isubiquitously present.It is inseparable and it dictates inrepresentation ofthe usage of Adivasi label and identity.

Being participant observant during the mela, while analyzing hidden power relation focusing on the question of identity and Adivasi’s reaction to local visitors. Some people stare at Adivasi -what they are wearing; some raise questions about their lifestyle and few of them find them exotic. I often think while answering, questioning and explaining to people,the mundane behavior of mainstream people and the way mainstream reacts to Adivasi people’s practices and lifestyle. I often think how do Adivasi confront and react to questions raised by common people- such as sane and insane reaction of people.

Understanding of the shifting meaning of gender and material culture, particularly their relation with materials in their daily life. Based on my earlier recording on Kondh women’s association with textile and material culture, research points out the inseparable and intangible reflection of artistic expression. In the passage of time this intangible artistic expression of women in relation to materials seems blurring.  I do not want to be judgmental as I or we have also altered with time thus I do not have the right to comment about shifting tradition and culture.  According to the Kondh women present at Adivsaimela, the intangible artistic expression, association of women with material seems ambiguous and less important to Kondh women. With the shift in perception and intrusion of external materials some have already and many are in the process of rejecting the traditional manner of wearing textiles and ornaments as a matter of choice.



Pankaja Sethi Photos

09 Community elder Smt. Mandika Neelamani

Mandika Neelamani
mandika neelamaniVillage Kuruli, Via Bissam,
Raygad Dist, 765019,
Mobile: 9438114314

Age -67

Desia Kondh, Languages Known- Desia Kondh dialect, Dongria Kondh Kui dialect, Odiya

President at Dongria Kondh Chatri Niwas, Chatikona, Rayagada, Odisha (current job)

Ethnographic research work 2006-2008

In collaboration with Pankaja Sethi assisted in recording narratives of Niyamgiri
Dongria Kondh Design development workshop, Rayagada, Odisha 2006

In collaboration with Pankaja Sethi (participated as artist for 15 days design development Workshop).