Saturday, May 11, 2013

Totemism in different tribes in Jharkhand State of India.

Sacredness of the totems is unique only with the indigenous people of Jharkhand.
Totem also protects the equilibrium of the biodiversity.

Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi

Despite knowing about biodiversity’s importance for a long time, human activity has been causing massive extinctions. Some 10-30% of the mammal, bird and amphibian species are threatened with extinction, due to human actions. We have to save them. Tribes of Jharkhand state of India are doing this with the help of totemism.

A totem is a being, object, or symbol representing an animal or plant that serves as an emblem of a group of people, such as a family, clan, group, lineage, or tribe, reminding them of their ancestry (or mythic past). In kinship and descent, if the apical ancestor of a clan is nonhuman, it is called a totem. Normally this belief is accompanied by a totemic myth. They have been around for many years.

The term totem is derived from the Ojibwa word ototeman, meaning "one's brother-sister kin." The grammatical root, ote, signifies a blood relationship between brothers and sisters who have the same mother and who may not marry each other.

Although the term is of Ojibwe origin in North America, totemistic beliefs are not limited to Native Americans and Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Similar totem-like beliefs have been historically present in societies throughout much of the world, including Africa, Arabia, Asia, Australia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and the Arctic polar region.

Animal Totems that also included supernatural creatures of mythology and legend all had a special meaning, characteristic and significance. Animal Totems are Animal Spirits that can be called upon, by an individual or a tribe, for its special powers to serve as a guardian or protector when facing adversity.

Native beliefs further explain that a totem animal is one that is with you for life, both in the physical and spiritual world. Though people may identify with different animal guides throughout their lifetimes, it is this one totem animal that acts as the main guardian spirit. Killing of certain animals or eating them is tabooed in some clans. Some tribes bear sign thereof. The totem animal, when it dies is ceremonially mourned and buried as a member of the clan concerned.

In other words totem is a belief in a spiritual association between a clan/lineage/ moiety and a bird, animal or a natural phenomenon. The anthropologists of modern time look at totemism as a recurring way of conceptualizing relationships between kinship groups and of the natural world. A number of tribal groups of middle and south India believe that they are related to some plants and animals that are sacred to them. The Ho of Jharkhand state has clans (killis) and each killi bears a totemic object that is sacred to them. The Gond, the Munda and the Oraon also have totemic clans.

The Mundas have got the totem Soi meaning Sol fish, Nag (serpant), Hassa (goose), similarly the Santhals have the totem Murmu (a forest based wild cow), Chande (a lizard), Boyar (a fish), similarly for a Ho Hansda ( a wild goose), Bage (tiger), Jamuda (spring) and Tiyu (fox). During the common lineage festival known as Dharm puja, every lineage member has to undergo rituals of fast to worship his own totem.

Every climatic region has its own trees, animals and rocks peculiar to it own. The animal totems in Chota Nagpur region of Jharkhand state consists of those animals which can be found in the plateau and from which various endogamous totemistic groups have originated. The totemistic names are from those animals generally found in the tract, such as Karkha (the cow), Tirki (a young mouse), Lakra (the tiger), Kindu (the ‘Saur’ fish), Toppo (a small bird), Kerketta (the quail), Khalko ( a fish), Ekka (the tortoise), Gidhi (the eagle), Tiga (the field mouse), Alia ( the dog), Hartu (the monkey), Tatenga (the lizard) Dhidma ( a bird), Lapoung ( a small bird), Minz ( Eel), Barwa ( wild hog), Kachhap ( tortoise), Xaxa (crow), Xess (corn), Bakula (crane), Kokro ( cock), Bando (fox), Rawna (vulture), Beshra (a name of tree), Ckigalo ( Jackal), Orgoda ( hawk), Godo ( name of a water creature), Kuhu ( Cuckoo), Kannhar ( vulture bird), Baghwar (the tiger) and Khoya ( jackal). 

The Koras of Santhal Paraganas claim to have come from Nagpur. Another section assigns the origin of their totem Barda to their eating of the human placenta hung from the branch of the Barda tree, while out on hunting. Similarly other sections have different versions of their origins and the origin of their totems.

Special interests attaches to the fact that the Kharwars of South Lohardaga regard the Khar grass as the totem of their tribe, and will not cut or injure it while growing. In Kharia community the totem objects are not injured or eaten.

According to different experts, the Santhals have more than 100 totemistic clans. Hos have more than 50, Mundas 64 and Bhils 24, many castes in Orissa, the Kurmi, the Kumhar, the Bhumia, who have advanced in culture in recent years are named after the serpent, pumpkin, jackal, and other totems. The Katkaris of Bombay, the Gond tribes of M.P. and of Rajasthan also have clan names after the fauna and flora of their habitat. It is clear that all these castes and tribes were sometimes organized into totem system.

As with the names of the animals so with the names of trees. Some trees are considered sacred and is worshipped in two forms, namely the worship of the tree itself in its natural form and the worship of the tree spirit. The names of trees, which are quite natural, are only those that grow, in this plateau, namely the ‘Sal’ which is associated with the great festival, the Sarhul, Udbaru (the kusum tree), lojo (the tamarind), Bari ( the ficus Judica), and the Kujur which are minor jungle trees and creepers, not to be found elsewhere.

Love for forest and nature is natural for the tribes of Jharkhand state of India from the ancient times. Every village has a small patch of forests called ‘Jahera’ which is place of worship for them. It is quite right for them to worship forests, because their entire living depends on forests. If forests are destroyed they will loose their source of food, medicines, fruits and fodder for their animals and they will lose their source of cooking and warming themselves.

Forests have a considerable importance in the life of the tribes. In India forests and tribes are inseparable. The tribal culture developed, and in spite of large scale depredations of the forests, still to-day thrives in the lap of nature.

The idea and concept behind Totemism is that people have a spiritual connection or kinship with creatures or objects in nature, making the practice very similar to Animism. Animism is a belief based on the spiritual idea that the universe, and all natural objects within the universe, has souls or spirits. It is believed that souls or spirits exist not only in humans but also in animals, plants, trees, rocks and all natural forces. The concepts of Totemism, Animism, Ritualism and Shamanism should all be considered to gain a full understanding of the religious beliefs of the Native American tribes that included Animal totems.

Totemism is a complex of varied ideas and ways of behaviour based on a worldview drawn from nature. There are ideological, mystical, emotional, reverential, and genealogical relationships of social groups or specific persons with animals or natural objects, the so-called totems.

The Birhor, a people that were traditionally residents of the jungle of Chota Nagpur Plateau in Jharkhand state (India), are organized into patrilineal, exogamous totem groups. According to one imperfect list of 37 clans, 12 are based on animals, 10 on plants, 8 on Hindu castes and localities, and the rest on objects. The totems are passed on within the group, and tales about the tribe's origins suggest that each totem had a fortuitous connection with the birth of the ancestor of the clan.

The Birhor think that there is a temperamental or physical similarity between the members of the clan and their totems. Prohibitions or taboos are sometimes cultivated to an extreme degree. In regard to eating, killing, or destroying them, the clan totems are regarded as if they were human members of the group. Moreover, it is believed that an offense against the totems through a breach of taboo will produce a corresponding decrease in the size of the clan. If a person comes upon a dead totem animal, he must smear his forehead with oil or a red dye, but he must not actually mourn over the animal; he also does not bury it.

Those observances of sacredness of their totems are unique only with the indigenous people of Jharkhand. There by they not only protect the equilibrium of the biodiversity, but also continue the wisdom and collective excellence related to forest and their protection of biodiversity. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

River on fire in Jharkhand State of India.

Fire is also coming out through hand-pumps.
Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi

The haunting inscription that marks the gates of hell in Dante’s Inferno could well be true for coalfields located in Jharkhand in Eastern India. For, the underground fires that have been raging in the coalfields of these areas over several decades are now beginning to engulf its thickly inhabited areas as well.

Earlier it was Jharia town now the new areas are under threat. Recently two major incidents took place near Bokaro and Dhanbad town where underground fire erupted on the surface. One was through hand-pump and other was in middle of a local river near Dhanbad.

Jharkhand has been the home to some bizarre happenings in the recent days. The most freaky and interesting in recent days is the Katri River water which has been bubbling with fire, literally!

Panic gripped in Katras area near Dhanbad when fire erupted in middle of the Katri river. It was first case of such eruption in river. Some local kids spotted fire arising from within the water and boiling it from under causing violent ripples in the place. The fire was only just over a foot tall and hence was not dangerous yet. Alarmed adults reached the spot.

It is all due to either underground mine fire which is now slowly engulfing the entire area or due to Coal Bed Methane gas (CBM) which is gushing out on the surface in many pockets of the affected areas. Entire area is rich in CBM gas.

Methane (CH4) is a gas formed as part of the process of coal formation – coalification. When coal is mined methane is released from the coal seam and the surrounding disturbed rock strata. Methane can also be released as a result of natural erosion or faulting or due to deep boring to trap groundwater or mine blasting. In Bokaro and Dhanbad area deep borings are going on recklessly for groundwater exploitation. These has resulted rock fractures helping methane gas trapped beneath to escape to the atmosphere through such fractures and resulting in surface fire.

Methane is highly combustible – its release can have serious implications for the safety of mine operations. It is also a potent greenhouse gas (GHG) – 23 times more harmful than carbon dioxide (CO2).

Methane is released during the process of extracting coal in both surface and underground mining. The released methane then mixes with air, which becomes highly explosive if methane concentration levels reach 5-15%. Methane explosions are devastating, causing significant loss of life and damage to property.

Such is the intensity of the fires that even a mid-summer sun pales in the smoky haze that they generate. After dusk, the flames take on morbid hues. “Total area including Jharia town resembles a cremation ground at night”. 

Causes of Coal Fires:
Coal fires are a natural occurrence and as widespread as forest fires. Besides the blaze in Jharkhand’s coalfield areas, the coal fire of Indonesia is regarded as the wildest on the earth.
An organic and highly carbonaceous material, coal-when exposed to moisture and oxygen- tends to catch fire immediately. Coal absorbs oxygen at all temperatures with slight rise in temperature. If ventilation is not adequate to take away the heat thus formed, more oxygen will be absorbed, and more will be the rise in temperature. This process continues till it catches fire. Reaction rate is doubled for every 10 degree rise in temperature. This phenomenon of spontaneous combustion is the main natural cause of coal fires. Lightning, forest fires or frictional heat generated during churning inside the Earth’s crust can also ignite coal fires. Regarding Jharkahd research says that no single reason can be attributed to the fire. Coals of the this area are not very prone to auto-oxidation.