THE BONDA PEOPLE OF ODISHA, INDIA
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The Bonda people are a tribal people who currently live in the hills of Odisha’s Malkangiri district in India. There are two different Bonda tribes: the Upper Bondas with a population of 6,700 who are the most isolated from mainstream Indian society, and the Lower Bonda with a population of 17,000. Upper Bondas have almost no connection to the outside world. Dambaru Sisha took the oath of office to become the first MLA to the Bonda tribe, to which he traces his ancestry. Sisha attempts to protect the traditions and culture of the people while providing them with educational opportunities. Only 6% of Bondas are literate. The life expectancy of the tribe is so low they are nearly extinct.
The unfree labour or Goti system in India is known as Gufam by the Bonda people. According to Pati, a male bonded labour is called Gufam-Rem whereas a female laborer is a Gufam-Boy. Bonda people are often led to bonded labour through marriage, also known as diosing.
A form of dowry (known as Gining) is paid for brides. In Gining items are used to determine how many arranged marriages will take place. For instance, the number of cows relies upon the social status of the girl.
Bonda boys are expected to marry between the ages of 10 and 12. Although a man may pay the price of a bride for his brother, the brother must always return the amount owed.
Divorce, also known as “Lung Sisi” is also an issue within the Bonda people. In some extreme circumstances, such as if a Bonda woman is divorced for adultery, the former husband demands double the price that was paid for their marriage.138 The village council determines the severity of the case arrives at a decision based upon the number of cows given back. However, if a man is the one who caused the wrong which resulted in divorce, he can no longer get married through an arranged marriage system.
When a death or mora occurs, it is custom to sacrifice a cow on the tenth day, a practice also known as “Gaitang.”
Population growth in the Bonda Hills in India led to forest habitat decrease although there existed a well-balanced ecosystem. Poverty, however, became a fundamental issue among the Bonda people due to social customs regarding obligatory marriages and deaths, along with myriad other socio-religious practices. These customs did not improve health condition nor economic status, which has created much poverty for them. For instance, crop production is hardly able to feed the population. In order to overcome starvation, the Bonda people, or Ku duburu Remo, often take out loans (Kalantar or Badi) in order to eat. The loans are usually in cash and are taken from a community member or a figure that serves as a landlord Sakar Remo. Roughly 62 out of 245 households in the Bonda hills are in debt. Loans taken even in cash are charged interest rates, and these funds often provide payments for: bride prices, fines, and the performance of socio-religious rites. As a result, debt payment becomes difficult, with constant fines and interest rates being increased. Very often the Bonda people are led to debt bondage and are forced to liquidate assets such as: land, trees, animals, etc.
The Bonda are generally semi-clothed, the women wear thick silver neck bands. The Bonda attire is explained in a legend relating to the Ramayana. According to it, some Bonda women chanced upon Sita who was bathing at a pond in the Bonda hills and, seeing her naked, they sniggered. Enraged, Sita cursed them to a life where they would be condemned to remaining naked and having their heads shaven. When the Bonda women pleaded forgiveness, Sita gave them a piece of cloth she tore off her sari. This explains, according to the legend, why Bonda women have shorn heads and wear only a ringa, a length of cloth that covers the waist. Their torsos are covered in strings of colourful beads. Bonda women also wear metal rings that cover their necks and bangles on their arms. Since Bonda women hunt and forage for food in the forest, it is thought that these ornaments have a function of protecting them from injuries and attacks by wild animals.
Bonda women have their heads shaved and adorned with two types of headbands, called turuba and lobeda. The turuba is made of grass and the lobeda made of beads. Worn together the turuba secures the lobeda by preventing the beaded headband from slipping off the woman's head. Bonda women wear metal bands adorning their necks, which are called khagla and are made from aluminum. Including the bands around their neck, necklaces made of beads are also worn, these are called Mali. Due to the culture surrounding their ringa cloth which covers the waist down, the khagla and Mali act as a sort of clothing for the upper body of the women. Both men and women of the tribe wear earrings called limbi made of brass, and rings on their fingers called orti made of aluminum. For bachelors or newly married men, it is customary to wear their own set of ornaments. Beginning at the ages of eight or nine, males will adorn their bodies with headbands called ornaghboh, bangles named sungrai, necklaces named thangimali, earrings named unsurul, and rings called sanbah. Once married, men typically do not continue to adorn their bodies with more ornaments.
THE Ndebele PEOPLE of south africa/Zimbabwe
courtesy of the krugerpark.co.za
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Ndebele women traditionally adorned themselves with a variety of ornaments, each symbolising her status in society. After marriage, dresses became increasingly elaborate and spectacular. In earlier times, the Ndebele wife would wear copper and brass rings around her arms, legs and neck, symbolising her bond and faithfulness to her husband, once her home was built. She would only remove the rings after his death. The rings (called idzila) were believed to have strong ritual powers. Husbands used to provide their wives with rings; the richer the husband, the more rings the wife would wear. Today, it is no longer common practice to wear these rings permanently.
In addition to the rings, married women also wore neck hoops made of grass (called isigolwani) twisted into a coil and covered in beads, particularly for ceremonial occasions. Isigolwani are sometimes worn as neckpieces and as leg and arm bands by newly wed women whose husbands have not yet provided them with a home, or by girls of marriageable age after the completion of their initiation ceremony. Married women also wore a five-fingered apron (called an ijogolo) to mark the culmination of the marriage, which only takes place after the birth of the first child. The marriage blanket (nguba) worn by married women was decorated with beadwork to record significant events throughout the woman's lifetime.
For example, long beaded strips signified that the woman's son was undergoing the initiation ceremony and indicated that the woman had now attained a higher status in Ndebele society. It symbolised joy because her son had achieved manhood as well as the sorrow at losing him to the adult world. A married woman always wore some form of head covering as a sign of respect for her husband. These ranged from a simple beaded headband or a knitted cap to elaborate beaded headdresses (amacubi). Boys usually ran around naked or wore a small front apron of goatskin. However, girls wore beaded aprons or beaded wraparound skirts from an early age. For rituals and ceremonies, Ndebele men adorned themselves with ornaments made for them by their wives.
THE padaung PEOPLE of thailand/burma
courtesy of the peoplesoftheworld.org
Photo courtesy of pinterest.com
Most people know of the Karen people from television documentaries, magazines and encyclopedias as the "long-neck" or "giraffe" tribe. But the women who wear these brass rings on their neck belong to a sub-group of the Karen known as the Padaung. There are other sub-groups who do not and never have practiced this custom. A further myth is that these rings act to elongate the wearer's neck. Any chiropractor or orthopedic surgeon will tell you that this would lead to paralysis or death. In fact the appearance of a longer neck is a visual illusion. The weight of the rings pushes down the collar bone, as well as the upper ribs, to such an angle that the collar bone actually appears to be a part of the neck!
There are many different accounts of why the Padaung practice this bizzare custom. Their own mythology explains that it is done to prevent tigers from biting them! Others have reported that it is done to make the women unattractive so they are less likely to be captured by slave traders. The most common explanation, though, is the opposite of this — that an extra-long neck is considered a sign of great beauty and wealth and that it will attract a better husband. Adultery, though, is said to be punished by removal of the rings. In this case, since the neck muscles will have been severely weakened by years of not supporting the neck, a woman must spend the rest of her life lying down. According to Paul and Elaine Lewis in Peoples of The Golden Triangle, adultery and divorce among all Karen groups is extremely low.
Whatever the origin of the custom, one of the more common reasons it continues today, particularly in Thailand, is tourism. Although the Padaung have migrated to Thailand in only the last ten years (other Karen groups first settled there about a hundred and fifty years ago), they have become the most popular "attraction" for hill-tribe trekking tourists. Some have written of this as exploitation of the Padaung; many westerners I have spoken to liken the experience of visiting one of these villages to visiting a human zoo. Some tour operators in Thailand now refuse to take tourists into such villages, while some tourists boycott those operators that do.