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
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
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
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
Forests have a considerable importance in the life of the tribes. In
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
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 (
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.