Tribes of Madhya Pradesh have preserved very remarkably their distinct way of life in small isolated communities and the main tribes are the Gonds, Kols, Bhills, Murias, Baigas, Korkus, Kamaras, Marias and Oraons.
Traditionally, the tribal were semi-nomadic, some living solely off what they could hunt, others relying on shifting cultivation. Most have now been settled, many it would seem as unhappily as the Australian aborigines, country liquor and drug dependency are said to be common among the men. Many cling to their older beliefs, such as buying there dead, rather than burning them according to Hindu tradition.
In the last hundred years the Baigas have been forced to abandon shifting cultivation (the burning of forest strips and sowing of seeds in the ashes, the cultivation of crops for a few years on this land and its abandonment for regeneration) and to move from this axe and hoe agriculture to the plough.
Over the centuries, tribal territory has gradually been nibbled away, and every where their way of life is under threat. The Gonds, the largest of the tribes, managed to maintain their independence and retain their so- called ‘primitive’ ways until the last century. From 1200 A D there were as many as 4 Gond Kingdoms .One had an initiation ceremony centered on eating wild orchids. Today one of the biggest threats to the tribal comes from that symbol of modernization, irrigation dams.
The proposed building of a succession of dams across the Narmada River in southern MP threatens hundreds of thousands of hectares of tribal forest land . Loud political protests are a feature of the states current politics.
Tribal culture & tradition
Many of the tribal traditions in the state are still vital and strong, although they have been exposed in varying degrees to outside cultural influences. A great deal tribal traditions, especially mythology and folklore, have been preserved , though they have been exposed to out side culture influences . The Pondwani and the Lachmanjati legends are the Gond equivalents of the Mahabharat and Ramayana.
The Bards of the Gond continue to sing of the legendary deeds of Lingo-pen, the mythical originator of the Gond tribe. All tribe retain myths and legends regarding their origins, and they have songs for the ceremonies of birth and marriage, together with folktales, riddles, and proverbs illustrating their culture heritage.
Gonds in Bastar remain perhaps the least in contact with the world outside due to the remoteness and ruggedness of the terrain. The institution of Ghotul at Abujmarh- a dormitory for the unmarried teenagers to live together, select their mate and gain valuable experience to set up their own household-has attracted considerable scholarly attention.
Similarly, the Bhagoriya festival at the time of Holi, the festival of colours, in the Jhabua region cannot be compared with any other celebration. Bhil youths indulge in colourful frolic excited by the prospects of meeting their future spouse. If some maiden strikes the prospective groom’s fancy, all he has to do is to offer a betel leaf to the girl. If she accepts, the two elope in the time honoured tradition to set up their house together.
The marriage can be solemnized subsequently. Incidentally the word bhagoriya may be literally translated as elopers.
The tribal festivals in Jabua and Bastar in Chhattisgarh region are marked by carefree revelry, drinking bouts and exotic entertainment like cock-fighting, uninhibited dancing, etc. The casual visitors often fails to appreciated adequately the genuine and strong tradition of democracy in tribal society, the harmonious living with nature, the respected status accorded to women, the amicable sharing of the community resources.
Tribal crafts men are proud of their artistic heritage. They are particularly skilled in metal wares and fashioning aesthetically satisfying objects for every day life.
Costumed in colourful apparel tribal dances carry songs which mirror the sociological, psychological and historical moorings.
Tribal Baazers Tribal presents the most colourful face of Central India. Haats, Weekly marts are occasion for a get together and revelry. Bengal sellers like this are familiar sight at the Haats. Giant Merry go round is a great crowd attraction.