Orissa tribe wedded to unique custom heads for extinction
Akhaya Kumar Mishara
Malkangiri, April 21: BONDAS, one of the world’s most aboriginal tribes spread over 30 villages of Orissa’s Malkangiri region, may soon be left to exist only in the state’s gazetteer. If it’s not made to change its wedding customs fast.
Researchers and government agencies are worried at the tribe’s declining population since the last two decades because of the unique tradition of men (read boys) marrying women many years older. In the past several years, the Bonda population has been stagnant around 5,500.
Skuru Sisa, 12, married Rumu Sisa, 21, from Badapada village. By the time the boy came of age and developed sexual relations with his wife, Rumu was past 30. Huge age gaps between couples is common in more than 90 per cent of the population and a barrier in procreation.
‘‘By the time a boy grows up and comes to know about sex, his wife has grown too old to conceive,’’ says researcher Govaradhan Panda, writer of Remsam, a book on the life of the Bondas. Panda has been living with the tribe in the Khiroput block for the past 20 years.
Ashok Mishra, filmmaker and tribal researcher, says: ‘‘The peculiar wedding custom resulting in the age gap between the wife and husband is solely responsible for the decline in population.’’
Concerned over the sluggish population grow-th, the Health Department has now stopped family planning measures in Bonda villages. Sterilisation programmes and distribution of birth-control devices have been halted to encourage births in the community.
This apart, violence in the community too has an adverse impact as both men and women are addicted to various forms of liquor, creating frequent social disorders within the community.
According to research, 20 Bondas die on an average every year, 50 are injured and 30 land in police custody following brawls under the influence of liquor. Bows and arrows are wielded against each other over every other tiff.
In the past two decades, efforts by the state government and NGOs to usher in modern ways of life and practices into the villages has not been successful. The tribe has shown little inclination for modern medicines and healthcare provided by outsiders.
The Bondas believe in the use of herbs and roots for serious ailments. Medicines provided by the Health Department have been rejected — one reason for the high death rate and stagnant population.