Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture

Chanted Narratives of Indigenous People: Context and Content Author(s): Nita Mathur Source: Asian Ethnology, Vol. 67, No. 1 (2008), pp. 103-121 Published by: Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture Stable URL: Accessed: 03/11/2009 03:44
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NlTA Mathur Indira Gandhi National Open University, India

Chanted Narratives
Context and Content

of Indigenous




treats people

narratives organize "context and

in the



songs and make

as a cultural sense a of

script their

by which lives. that The treats

indigenous essay

experience content" to

is subtitied



It song and music as a way of thinking and mode of being in the world. explores the context of the Santhal (the largest indigenous community in the Bengal, Jharkhand, and Orissa belt in the Indian subcontinent) narratives by delving into the symbols and cognitive pattern enfolded in them. The con
cern is also with exploring how contexts constrain narratives in indigenous

communities and developing a framework within which the context and con tent of chanted narratives of the indigenous people may be pursued together meaningfully.

keywords: narrative?song





Asian ?

Ethnology Institute


67, Number




for Religion

and Culture

that the narrative component in dramas, long accepted enshrine the sacred knowledge, theatre, songs and other forms of expression Researchers the larger framework of social and beliefs of people and operate within wisdom, and Moissinac 2003, Bruner 1990, Donald 1991, Fivush (see Bamberg and Haden 2003, vii-xiv). Narrative discourse, therefore, needs to be treated as of the cultural system. As Daiute and Lightfoot part (2004, x-xi) explain, Narrative




are cultural meanings
interaction and action.

and interpretations
Narrative discourse

that guide per
organizes social

of the past, and plans for the future. The way peo relations, interpretations ple tell stories influences how they perceive, remember, and prepare for future events. This meaning of discourse applies to all forms of human communication and nonverbal alike. and symbolization?verbal is to understand how narratives both before social scientists challenge as local cultures are re-positioned within the larger influence and get influenced and broader concerns of global culture. This essay is subtitled "context and con The to depart from an atomistic understanding of chanted narratives a perspective treats the song and music of Santhals1 as a "cul that and emphasize tural script," referring to the way(s) experience through which people organize come to the and make sense of their lives in the cultural setting. New questions tent" in order forefront and old ones are built to a more pretation in a rule-governed but rather with the ways in which contexts constrain up piece, in which in the Santhal community. The cultural matrix real text and narratives not are used in chanting narratives acquire distinctiveness instruments the musical only by virtue of their physical form or structure but also because of the myths, beliefs and rituals associated with them. This article begins with a broad overview of the Santhal a comprehensive associated with chanted selected analyzed from community, account it. These which is followed of the wide-ranging provide the context by the cultural concept of sound and life situations, beliefs, and myths the and rendering of both making lose rigor as one moves from an atomistic method is not with how meters holistic one. The concern of inter


Ten songs that mark the critical events in the lives of Santhals of Prasad the writings (2001) and Mahapatra (1992)2 have been in songs, dramas, and other that narratives based on the understanding


I Asian Ethnology


67, Number









I 105

that is intrinsic to mun in tribal societies present cultural discourse performances the contexts of the narratives dane activities and social processes. Subsequently, have been explored cognitive patterns in society?which tions of change and transformation get reflected in the narra tives of songs, dramas, and other performances?in how order to demonstrate in Santhal society. and to what extent change is interpreted and represented is, by far, one of the major tribes in India in terms of both its numeri and its assertion of self-identity cal preponderance through the Santhal rebellion.3 Santhals predominantly the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, and West occupy Santhal to a Santhal part of the Indian subcontinent. According there were no plants, animals, birds, or human beings. narrative, in the beginning existed except a vast expanse of water overlying the earth that was occu Nothing Thakur jiu.5 One day Thakur jiu created the crab, crocodile, alligator, fish, pied by Bengal4 in the eastern and other animals that live in water, and two human beings prawn, earthworm, out of mud. Just when he was going to infuse life in them, the sin sadom6 tram Thakur jiu pulled some flesh out of his own chest and pled on them. Unabated, made (the male bird) and Hasil (the female bird). He instilled life on them. The two birds flew away. Since there were no trees, they by breathing would alight on Thakur jiu's hand when they were tired. One day, sin sadom came to drink water and let some froth from his mouth float on the surface. When the birds returned, Thakur jiu asked them to rest on the froth. The across the waters on the froth in search of food to sustain themselves. birds floated two birds: Has enfolded from an analytical standpoint by delving into the symbols and in them. The article concludes with a note on situa

In order that the birds be able to feed themselves adequately, Thakur jiu asked the alligator, prawn, fish, and crab to bring the earth from under the water to its to surface. After the other animals gave up, the earthworm and tortoise managed bring the earth out from under the water. Thakur jiu caused the earth to be nar rowed. In this way some portions of itwere raised and converted into mountains on the level ground he caused the cuscus grass to while others remained level, and laid two eggs in grow. Later, other forms of vegetation appeared. Has and Hasil the cluster of sirom plants from which the first pair of human beings (a boy and a and the girl was named Pilchu girl) emerged. The boy was named Pilchu Haram Budhi. ancestors of the Santhal tribe. Pilchu Haram and They were the founding Pilchu Budhi remained with no clothes and no shame accruing from nakedness till Lita7 encouraged them to taste rice beer.8 The consumption of rice beer incul cated awareness other. Later their nakedness and also sexual desire for each seven sons and seven daughters who married among them they begot selves and founded seven clans. As time passed, the members of different clans lost and shame about

respect for each other and fell short of the measure of the good life that Thakur jiu had laid out for them. Thakur jiu summoned Pilchu Haram and Pilchu Budhi to instruct them to hide in a cave while he rained fire, destroying the human popu lation along with all the animals. Only the old couple was saved after seven days of incessant Haram fire-rain. Over a period of time, more children were born to Pilchu and Pilchu Budhi.


| Asian Ethnology The Santhals believe



The majority the course of the preliminary search for habitation, During area in or close to the forest. Later, the leader of the group, Budhi.9

that they are the descendants of Pilchu Haram and Pilchu are often located near forests. of them live in villages that the people along with select an three or

omens four other men, inspect the selected area closely, looking for auspicious ensure the prosperity of the inhabitants.10 Once the area for establish that would the leader first cuts down a tree as an indication that the village is finalized, ing the place may be cleared for raising houses. At the outskirts of the village is the feature of the landscape is the sacred grove with a cluster of sal trees.11 Another and girls collect twigs for forest with many kinds of trees and animals. Women streets mark Santhal villages with fuel and leaves for laying out the food. Defined on either side. Streets serve the purpose of connecting mud houses houses and of vehicles for the movement bullock carts, bicycles, and space providing (largely driven motorcycles and auto rickshaws). occasionally machineA clearly marked Santhals collectively. are neatly plastered space by the side of a street is created for resolving disputes usually live in houses that are thatched with straw. The walls with

and decorated with paintings of flowers and cow-dung house consists of a large courtyard where washed clothes designs. Each geometrical are hung to dry, grain is husked, and small tools, baskets, and other articles for are located in one corner use are made. The cowshed, pigsty, and hen-roost daily leads to rooms in which grain is stored, food is of the courtyard. The courtyard are kept. The most as clothes and ornaments cooked, and articles such important that is believed to be the abode of of the house is the bithar, a compartment part the souls of dead ancestors. not belong A patch The bithar is passionately guarded from those who do to the family. of land near the house

is used for growing vegetables and fruits that in of the family. Further away from the houses are the uplands which men toil to cultivate maize and millet. The major crop on which Santhals the uplands. Fields is rice. The rice fields are located beyond subsist, however, In April, after rain showers, men often lie fallow between January and March. fulfill the needs plough sprinkle the seed in the soil. By July, the arduously and women are ready for transplantation. engage themselves Young girls and women seedlings address the seedlings as their in the activity, joyfully singing songs in which they the fields children. Each rituals, many is accompanied agricultural event from sowing to harvesting involve singing and dancing collectively. of which

own with

Indigenous The acoustic



sound of the Santhals consists of at least three cate


gories of sounds: rak (comprising They read omens various occasions. inauspicious

sade (referring to sounds produced by striking different objects), of human and aran (consisting sounds of animals), sounds). from different kinds of sounds produced by an animal or bird on This forms sounds from the basis of distinguishing auspicious calls out pio pio, the golden oriole bird, for example,

ones. When







I 107

the same bird cries out expect that a guest will visit their house. When kher they fear news of the death of a relative (Pannke 2001, Prasad kher 2001). Thus the pio pio sound of the golden oriole is auspicious, while that of kher kher is Santhals

from which it itself, the place and direction comes as well as the time when it is heard determines its auspiciousness. Nature, a seemingly and time constitute matrix within which a complex place, direction, Prasad particular sound is interpreted and identified as auspicious/inauspicious. Other of sound (2001) explains this with the example of the call of the cock. Santhals say that and sunrise. People say that usually the cock crows three times between midnight if itmakes an untimely for example between dinnertime and midnight call, they the entry of evil spirit(s) into the house. In order to ward off the evil apprehend spirit and save the family members, ing morning. Santhals divide arah the villagers kill the cock and eat it the follow

than the nature

into two sub-categories of ror (speech) and rar (melody). are not independent for, in their own words, "'Speech' and 'melody' categories, is the prolongation of ordinary speech'" (Prasad 2001). Melody, distin 'melody a high and low pitch, is an important element of Santhal songs. In fact, guishable by it is not so much the rhyme as the melody that determines the structure and length the melody of their songs. Sometimes is repeated twice as a prefix to the main con tent of the song. The last syllable may even be prolonged and made to end on a note. The ascent and descent are, therefore, not essentially linear. relatively higher The term arah is also used for sound from musical instruments. The reason for employing instruments One in referring to human sound and sound from musical as animated and enlivened. is that they treat the musical instruments to be imbued with life is the banam. is believed instrument that According the same word

to amyth,12 once upon a time seven brothers tasted a few drops of their sister's blood that trickled from awound and got mixed with the food she cooked. All the brothers relished the taste of the sister's blood so much to kill that they decided her in order to eat large amounts of her flesh and blood. Six of them ate up the flesh while the youngest one, who was filled with remorse, buried his share near a pond. In the course of time a tree grew there, and from it emerged a melodious sound that caught the attention of a mendicant. He made a dhodro banam from the wood of this tree. The banam is regarded as an extension of the human body. It has an identified head, neck, ears, chest, and stomach that are referred to by the same terms used for specific parts in the human body. Since the sister never changed her residence on account of marriage, her reminder in the minds of people, it is never makes it for his own use. Santhals dance and since the banam given remains as away to anyone. A person

believe that spirits in their society have introduced the tradition of and making music, especially playing the drums, which they now employ a part of their invocations as and occasional veneration of spirits. While the drums to the spirit world, join the human world ancestor world. It is said that when Pilchu the flute joins the human world to the Budhi died, her sons buried her in the


| Asian Ethnology



vicinity of the village. Later the sons thought of making resemble a human voice. As

a bamboo a musical

tree grew

there. Out the sound

of this tree one from which


ting it for this purpose, of weal and the other (tirio)?one The voice this would said that the people enable Pilchu Budhi

would instrument, soon as he approached the tree with the intent of cut he heard a voice asking him to make two kinds of flutes portion of the tree. on different occasions; should play the two flutes to know the joys and sorrows of the villagers from of woe?from the middle

the kind of flute the following the bamboo

is used only after invocation of they chose to play. The instrument "I cut you, dried you and turned you so that even the root of words: tree may hear your sound."




is usually done in mixed groups of men and women. Women Singing in a pitch higher than that of men as they repeat a phrase. Not all of them are sing their individual identity in fully conversant with the songs. The singers maintain terms of rendering; yet there is a distinctive harmony and blending of voices in the there are lapses inwhich those who song in terms of collective output. Sometimes not know the text of the song follow those who know it. The last word may do too long and all the members of the group may not end at the same time. become the songs for both ritual occasions (such as those punctuating in the human life cycle), and extra cycle and the stages of transition agricultural ritual occasions (such as those marking prolonged separation from a loved one and Santhals produce anxiety


the well-being
to the

df someone).
context, as



basis of categorizing
for a specific

is according


over purpose and for a specific occasion. The context and content gain precedence the importance of notes and meters but musical patterns. This is not to undermine con to emphasize the fact that the main text of the song and the performative only
text determines its type in people's minds. There are songs of invocation, of sow

and harvesting paddies, of marriage, ing, of weeding other rituals asmuch as those of love, desire and yearning. The and on which for which they are composed depends upon the occasion sung. In this sense, one could say that the content of a song is determined text. Here are at least five broad themes into which Santhal songs may

of death

and funerals, and of content of the songs they are by its con

be divided.

(i) Cosmology
Pilchu and the origin of the Santhal tribe from Pilchu Haram to as binti. It is recited at the time of marriage by a group of three or four singers. Mahapatra (1992) points out that in every village there are professional who learn the binti song from their seniors. They make singers to their it according by way of adding to the content or modifying improvisations The myth Budhi recounting is referred that what own understanding. The singers begin the performance by admitting them. In a are going to recite is learned from others and not witnessed by they sense they admit the possibility of different versions on the basic themes circulating







I 109

in society. Binti consists of several repetitions and refrain lines, so a single perfor mance may last for two to three hours. at the time of marriage, which marks the onset Recitation of binti is common of a new phase in the life of a person and an expansion of the family in the village. to recapitulate It seems appropriate the creation myth at this juncture of life, and in doing reiterate so place the event of marriage in the wider context the traditions and customs of the community. Cycle of the universe and

(ii) Agricultural The

of Santhals ismaking the most of land and seed. A primary engagement vast majority of their songs appear to revolve around different agricultural pro cesses. The crop cycle, beginning from the stage of preparing the seed beds and the seed in the soil and proceeding to transplanting the seedlings laying through and harvesting the grain, is interrupted with rituals in which music and song lie at the core. A sample of two songs performed in partial fulfillment of the require ments of rituals interspersed in the crop cycle is presented below. The first is a song of invocation at the time of sowing. to you, Mother Jaher Era13 On the occasion of Erok14 festival we offer you young fowls, and freshly husked rice Our obeisance Accept We it in pleasure.

pray to you For every seed let there be twelve
and let not disease attack them.

If they attack, please
Do not allow weeds

subdue them
and grass to grow among our crops

Bring us the rain-bearing
Bring Let Let the there them earth be in time. be no green hindrance with


in plenty



to our movements

Let there prevail among us the spirit of love and goodwill. (Mahapatra The second is a song of invocation 1992,175) at the time

to the spirits of the sacred grove

of weeding. to you, Mother Jaher Era the occasion of the Asadia15 festival we offer to you young fowls and freshly husked rice Salutation accept them. pray to you
us rain-bearing clouds


Kindly We

and make

our fields fit for cultivation.


| Asian Ethnology







the insects and germs
Let not snakes and

that cause disease
harm us


as we work When

in the fields weeding

out grass.

our cattie and goats and sheep sometimes eat up the crop by mistake Be kind to us and make them grow again Be kind to us that we may live in peace and happiness and that our desires and expectations are fulfilled. (Mahapatra 1992,177)

concerns of the people such as infestation of songs express the mundane the crop, lack of rain, and ill health of the cultivators and their families. The spirit of the sacred grove is addressed as "mother"?one who provides and sustains life These ways. The major anxiety of the people relates to the survival of seeds in the soil. They also remain anxious about the well-being of all the villagers. A case of sickness, disease or death slows down the work of all the people because the village acts as a corporate body. An incidence of death in one family, for example, pollutes16 weddings a consequence to the fields all the people in the village. During the period of pollution, or sacrifices to spirits are performed. Those who observe no festivals, as avoidance in many

on the fifth day. It is, therefore, amatter of general people safeguarded from ill health. that mark a stage in the agricultural cycle recount the major Songs in the following one, which is chanted after the harvest. remain I reaped and gathered I gathered the crop?a the crop bagful of crop I brought the crop carrying on my head I put the crop on the daubed ground I shall offer you that crop bullock 0 wealth-fetching 1 shall also give it to the milch

ticipate ritual is performed

of pollution incurred from death in the village refrain from going to work or engaging in any other productive work. All the men par in the last rites of a person. They resume work only after the purificatory interest that as


[y] cow.

account of people's engagement with reaping, gath is a descriptive and an expression of their gratitude to the bullocks for ering and storing the grain the fields.17 them in ploughing helping The above (Hi) Forest Songs forest18 is an important part of people's lives. As mentioned earlier, women and girls collect twigs for fuel and leaves for laying out the food. They also pick roots, berries and plants for food. Men joyfully chase animals. The call of animals, The








the swaying Innumerable

of trees, and the smell of flowers all inspire creativity songs are sung here for a loved one in gay abandon

in the people. amidst trees,

birds and animals, all of which provide acoustic input. There is reference to flow ers, birds, water sources, buffaloes, flutes, and all that the people physically deal with in their daily songs example. Oriole, at the spring and tank You see me and you hide If once I catch you, oriole I shall carry you away and away. By the bushes with white flowers you are grazing buffaloes, my love Pick me awhite flower Picking, Iwill pick it Iwill put it in your hair Then what will you give me? (Archer Songs 1974,106) lives. are invitations for proximity and intimacy, as in the fol Forest lowing (birseren)

on requests for sexual favors, praising the qualities of the focusing in the lives of young boys and yearning for the loved one are common beloved, and girls, who engage in love relationships without much restriction before mar even about their previous riage. Several of them remain nostalgic relationships to one with whom after their marriage they were not in love earlier. As sentiments of boys and girls flower with the sal tree and mature over a period of time, they enter into marriage sever the and establish a family. Marriage does not, however, attachments of a girl with her family and friends. A large number of songs refer to
her yearning for the loved friend and to a sense of loss accruing from an unprec



of romance.

(iv) Rites Occasions from one invocation

of Passage

for invoking and appeasing spirits are afforded in phases of transition stage in the life cycle to another with distinct rites and rituals. There are and death. The birth, marriage, and time for performance of each

songs to mark rituals accompanying headman decides the date village (jog manjhi) ritual. The text of the songs consists of making

requests to the spirits for granting of health and welfare for the people. The following conditions is a song rendered at the time of naming an infant, which constitutes a part of the birth ritual. Salutation On
We offer

to you Maran Bum19 the occasion of the naming of this new-born
you handia and neem water.


Kindly accept itwith pleasure. We pray: let this child be healthy

and strong.


| Asian Ethnology



Let him grow well and live long. Let him also be blessed with true knowledge (Mahapatra

and wisdom. 1992,184)

in the bride's house, after which she goes to stay rituals are performed Marriage her husband for the rest of her life. The marriage with songs largely describe the condition of the bride (anticipated (1) physical and emotional longing for parents and friends after marriage), of the bride after mar (2) roles and responsibilities and love affairs with boys before her marriage), riage, bride's previous attachments to the and the wedding and (4) hospitality extended betrothal ceremony, (3)

relatives and friends as they advance to the bride's house to bring bridegroom's rituals are completed. her with them after the marriage are the songs of death through which the people rich in meaning Equally express sorrow and pray for the peace and salvation of the soul of the dead per as son. A mother laments the loss of her child by repeatedly referring to him/her laments the death of her mother the litde parrot that has flown away; a daughter that has fallen is referred to as the milk-tree the mother through songs in which common to provide nourishment, to address one's it is down. Since milk is known as an acknowledgement as the milk-tree, In the of her nurturance. mother perhaps the wife is emphasized. Most on the core purpose of life, inevitability philosophy ephemeral nature of joy and happiness. in deep based (v) Protest Songs and Dissent same vein, a woman's sorrow in which his role of protecting on the death of her husband is expressed in songs of the songs abound of death, and

characterize the bithala20 ritual that is of protest and dissent generally as a sanction against kin incest, clan incest, and misbehavior with out performed content of the songs tends to represent the deeply felt sentiments of siders.21 The The songs are outpourings the community. among groups of village men (some are nude jesters) carrying sticks, drums, flutes and buffalo horns. The of whom drums, dances, In repeating offender. crude The crowd and sings lewd and representing the house of the songs as it approaches act in a gross and apparently the sexual the elements of intimacy and fondness are removed. that an individual would

and obscure manner, so overwhelming sense of shame and guilt becomes not dare to repeat the act in his/her lifetime.

Poetic Santhals


and multivocal


their self identity as part of the natural tend to conceptualize the plants, trees, animals, and material environment, objects on the comprising on the other. This is greatly reflected in their vocabu one hand and kin relations bar lary, which consists of common words, for instance, for barren human beings, ren animals, and barren trees; fat human bodies, fat animal bodies, and fat or thick tree trunks. The vision of harmony between nature and Santhal culture is rooted







I 113

that the people derive their design of life from the processes in the understanding nature itself (Mathur of mark and phenomena and worldview 2001). Lifestyle the cultural identity of the people. Their creativity, sensitivity, and cultural expres sions treat all life forms sacredness forms of life but even ized. The as sacred and respect them for what they are. Not only inanimate objects and the phenomena of nature are sacril songs, dances, and everyday between cordiality and togetherness rituals,

inmetaphors, their lives optimizing practices. People spend human beings, nature, and spirits.

is affirmed

and understanding of the world are derived from a sense of People's worldview fullness in which there is an implicit acceptance of the fact that human existence is an integral part of a design of life that includes the various elements of nature and its rhythm. The vision of harmony between nature and culture in par ticular is grounded in the understanding that configurations in lifestyle are derived from the processes and phenomena of nature itself. celebrates "to lift a branch" (2003) explains that the expression bid dare meaning to the gesture used by chiefs to bring their companions in the together course of migrations and that in the present day too, a branch is planted at cross to the villagers. The number of leaves roads to convey the message of a meeting Carrin alludes on the branch mark the days before the meeting. A branch planted in a way that leaves are turned downwards informs that the meeting would sanction the trans of the norm of endogamy. gression One might argue that Santhal poetry and music have been inspired from social situations and intense personalized Several of them, however, derive experiences. as well as the demands from people's fancies and expectations, of society. It is of events, situations, see and experience in the course of their lives. The imagination remains at a fairly descriptive level rather than reveling in absolute abstraction. Often, Santhal songs are not composed for sheer aesthetic delight or aural pleasure. The narrative in yielding component many songs may appear overly simplistic and bereft following narratives (cited from Prasad 2001): Let us go O children to catch fish There is no fish in the pond We only dabbled the mud. (27) Shoot at the bird Dehu of profundity. Consider the important to note that most and day-to-day concerns?in of the songs consist of accounts other words all that the people

following it cautiously and jump over it cautiously.


is the rope for tying the calf Where The calf is sucking milk. (53) Those who do not belong to the community as may treat these narratives as simple, mundane set to messages qualify


They may,

at best,


| Asian Ethnology and music.



to understand is important is that these songs reflect a significant part of the cultural treasury. The life situations and form everyday an interest in and incul twin purposes they seem to serve are those of developing and training them to perform reg cating awareness, particularly among children, rhythm What
ular, mundane activities.


is remarkable

simple thoughts The metaphorical. and jubilation. The girl with coincides


is that intense passion is expressed through The language is, of course, complexity trees in the forests is an occasion of excitement flowering of sal about of abstraction.

the songs

sal is a referent of a girl. A sal tree in full bloom is likened to a and elegance. Not then, the flowering of the sal tree beauty surprisingly, the celebration of the Baha22 festival in which flowers are thrown with to them in later splash

into the aprons of women and girls. Girls put the flowers presented their hair or behind their ears, dance around the sacred grove, and
water at each other.

songs bring out the aspirations and express in the hearts of boys and girls. The poetry of these Baha

trees, and flowers. These become mountains, Santhal society. A sal tree, the gushing water of rivers, and chirping of birds all kin and intimacy. Festivals such as the and a desire for togetherness dle fond emotions these sentiments without Baha provide opportunities for communicating many In fact, the Baha festival brings together loved ones separated from each their affec other by virtue of marriage outside the boundaries of the village inwhich A married woman may return to her natal village and sing with tions developed. that would not be tolerated on any other occasion. her former lover?something restraints. In general, the importance of songs in the lives of Santhals may be appreciated between the plant in light of the fact that people frequently draw correspondence for example, refer to the brides as trees and world and their own. Marriage songs, even birds, as illustrated in two of them: flowers, sometimes
In our courtyard tamarind tree

the emotion of love surging songs is inspired by the sky, in the motifs of love and endearment

is a sweet

Its branches Its flowers

are large are white and red in clusters.

Its fruits hang Below
are many

our field
coloured flowers


to our village, boy choose what flower you will. and (Archer 1974,186) as is evident from the two trans

Plants plantation

are bestowed




songs cited below: The paddy The paddy isweeping is asking







I 115


when will be my wedding the water of the skies drenches the earth then will be your wedding.

Wealth, wealth 0 mother wealth Where was your birth 1was born in a splash of rain. (Archer 1974, 22)

to Santhals, the paddy plants are anxious about their marriage, much According at the like young boys and girls. The song has another layer of deeper meaning level. Clearly, the sky is regarded as the male principle and the earth metaphorical fluid. The wed the female principle. Water (in the form of rain) is the fertilizing in this context is invariably associated with a change of residence, ding, which a change of soil and location for the seed and implies refers to transplantation are referred to as wealth because they bring prosperity and Here seedlings lings. to the farmer.23 happiness are replete with layers of mean specifically, Santhal songs of invocation often link up different orders of reality, different patterns of social expe ings, and rience and value judgments. Another songs is the significant feature of invocation More polarization of meaning, Salutation On as in the following:

to you, mother Jaher Era the occasion of the Mahmane festival24 we offer you young fowls and freshly husked rice to accept them
disease and pestilence to enter the village allow

Be pleased
Do not

Put to flight our enemies before they enter our village With cool rainwater put out the fires
and In disease soften and inclement sickness, weather when we take medicine

let it cure and heal
Grant us your mercy and help us recover.

(Mahapatra This


is a song invoking the spirit of the sacred grove when new seedlings appear. concerns and of aggression The dichotomy of social and physiological and peace are immanent. These polarities are joined with each other along a continuum. in this song are "disease and pestilence" The referents of, for instance, aggression
and "enemies," while those of peace are "recovery" and "mercy." These are con


out fires," intermittent referents as "cool rainwater," "put(ting) through inclement weather," and "cure(ing) and heal(ing)." The "medicine," "soften(ed)


| Asian Ethnology



transition gradual

from one end of the continuum and transformative

to the other

rather than sudden

through and mutative.

these referents


Continuity In the wake like that of other


change and modernization, Santhal to change. Conjoined with culture, much change, how

of acculturation is given

communities, ever, are the attempts of people to uphold their ethnic identity. It is argued that people have been able to safeguard their social and moral order even as they avail the benefits accruing from acculturation. The assertion of ethnic identity is facili tated through Olchiki?the Santhal script created in 1925 by Raghunath Murmu. Since then, Santhals have actively engaged in the publication themselves of jour nals and books in their own script. Apart from articles, stories and dramas, several In earlier times, after a song was composed and ren carry poems. publications to the community no dered publicly at large; the composers it came to belong longer treated these songs as part of their personal repertoire. The identity of an individual as a composer or author was laid to rest as the song became part of the collective the song belonged. identity of the people as a corporate body to whom The absence of a designated artist and stylization derived from rigid aesthetic can ons imbues in folk arts the potential yet maintains continuity with in which individual however, for renewing and rejuvenating themselves, and tradition. Unlike the earlier situation, antiquity as the community remained anonymous composers

a composition as its own creation, in the present day, poems are pub adopted are able lished under the authorship of individual poets. The community members to identify composers who, by virtue of the fact that they publish their work in of society. One of the well-known journals and books, are treated as elite members Sadhu Ram Chand Murmu, has authored several plays, essays and poems poets, that are centered on themes of social reforms. Other better-known Santhal poets are Sarda Prasad Kisku, Rabilal Majhi, Babulal Murmu Adibasi, and Gomasta Prasad Soren.25 The Shyam Sunder Hembrom, many of these poets are set to music particular importance are those far as they generate awareness among the people. New movements, ideas, and concerns are absorbed Bhagan Murmu, of compositions as songs in local gatherings. Of and presented and social reforms in so that deal with exploitation

and assimilated impercep are sustained, carried forward and even embellished tibly and indiscernibly. These to note is the fact that even as What is interesting generations. by succeeding serve as an expressive genre that frames tradition, people's lives, and accul they are themselves governed by the processes of assimilation, expectations, in social change. The following and transformation, song is a turation, ushering case in point: From Two the upland canals flow


The field is over-flooded







I 117

Let us work hard and sow the seeds That will bring us money
And we will purchase new sarees.

(Prasad This


seems to be a new composition of the revolving around, say, monetization as well as the to visit the marketplace in the adjoining city economy and the desire concern with flooded fields and crop failure. reflect the influence of other cultures and technol compositions Modern influences on Santhal songs are clear in their portrayals of and ogies. in agricultural operations, means reaction to the introduction of new technology of transport, processes of urbanization and emerging power structures, and the market and sound recording both in India economy. Musicologists specialists to document and profitably market and abroad have come together tribal music the electronic medium,26 both for its archival and market value. The tech through In a more general sense, of the spoken word has many implications. nologizing "Over the centuries, the shift from orality through writing and print to electronic of the word has profoundly affected, and, indeed, basically determined processing the evolution modes of verbal of characterization art genres, and of course simultaneously the successive and of the plot" (Ong 1982, 155). Santhals and other treat them awed by and sometimes fearful of the recordings, Several new

tribals, who are often as permanent records of their songs. Many of them in the course of participa tion in the tribal festivals have given up singing and playing the music as part of their everyday lives. They now play the audiotapes instead. Some of the younger and texts of songs in dia and dispassionately. Writing down the routinely notations the songs flawlessly at tribal fairs, festivals, and helps in which cultural programs they perform regularly for money. The elderly people do not approve of the practice of singing out of context in contrived or simulated down the notations ries from which they chant them them in reciting situations,

ones who

are literate have written


the younger


seem to avail the opportunities

of "popular,"

and girls (particularly those who often for the sake of acquiring cities, Western seek to fuse traditional songs and music with modern education27) jazz as they assimilate other cultures. There is no and Western classical music denying that in the present era?characterized not only and amalgamations by mergers boys but also in indigenous cultures that were long, albeit erroneously, to be relatively self-contained and isolated?music is emerging as a largely thought in which contested domain elements of continuity and change are negotiated. cultural funding is an important in the promotional endeav Now, component ors of both local and national government bodies that seek to exhibit indigenous cultures and lifestyles at cultural festivals. The tribal festivals are less concerned with nurturing the cultural lives of the people and more focused on satisfying the demands of the market. The traditional wisdom that remains associated with in businesses

is also the possibility that young leave their villages to stay in metropolitan There


| Asian Ethnology



the art forms is exacerbated


in the absence

to ignore the of art, more specifically songs, are deeply enmeshed. This in light of the fact that tribal songs are usually not performa may be understood to initiate or complement a ritual, and recollect constructs but are produced tive context in which works in which Bereft of the context the meaning and express intensely felt emotions. and relevance of songs lie, they emerge as bits and pieces of melodious fabrication with no vitality and life force. There is a possibility music could well that Santhal be played at cocktail parties as is any other form of music. The it loses its distinctiveness. without the performative context, crucial point is that,

There are only to affirm faith in the viability of traditional art forms. While and reproduction the new forces of artistic production of widespread and appreciation, prospect participation they tend

by the fact that in the wake increasing tourism, the younger generations same extent as their fathers and forefathers.

of a supportive environment. The situation of modernization, and globalization, are not involved in village life to the limited opportunities hold out the

Conclusion concerns and appre song is not amere expression of mundane is also a part of the mental inwhich people's It hensions. space thoughts and ideas are located. It is the intrinsic creativity of the people these cogni that transforms tions into the aesthetic patterns that appear before us as myths, songs, and dances. A Santhal Their context. To appreciate in a socio-cultural and genius is enmeshed potential the social, the fullness of indigenous music and song, it is important to understand Some Santhal songs, aswell as situation of the community. and vocational cultural,
those of most other indigenous cultures, make reference to the other world. They


the link with

are accompanied spirits is established cal instruments

beings of the cosmological with rituals. Communication the combination

world with

even more


the songs

through are believed (most of which of spirits is invoked, rituals. The benevolence are asked of them. Apart from communication as ameans reinstating

the powerful and all pervasive from musi of sounds produced to be imbued with life), songs, and

and favors their anger is placated, with the spirits, the songs serve intense emotions of expressing (as in the course of the baha festival), the social order (as through the ritual of bithala), reviving the myth of the recitation of the binti), and accepting change that not only make reference to the elements in society of change


(by but songs them as they become part of the collective memory). also legitimate Santhal thought Entering through analysis of the content and context of the constructs. It is apparent that their ideational songs is a means of deciphering Santhals treat human beings as one of the many forms of life that are dependent (through new composing beings the forest songs, particularly originated the agricultural rituals punctuating cycle, affirm songs and those that accompany to between animals and human beings. It is common the correspondence trees, myth enshrined cosmological from the eggs of birds. Other in the binti states that human

on each other. The







I 119

as the milk tree, and bird, one's mother a pregnant woman is spoken of as one one's children as seedlings.28 Interestingly, a bed of seedlings, one's place of a bundle of seeds. Likewise, who has collected birth, and place of first settlement are all referred to by the same term aphorgadi. hear a loved one referred to as the oriole The the overlap of seemingly that demonstrate is replete with words vocabulary different categories. The semblance between processes of nature and articulations in both the vocabulary in the culture finds expression and the songs. developed and for the mindset of the This makes for rituals and songs at the manifest level, people at the abstract level, that are shared, preserved, ple as part of their cultural identity. and conserved by the peo

* The author of the is grateful article. the the and to Professor Peter Knecht for his insightful comments on an ear

lier draft

1. In this literature 2. Onkar


spelling anglicized Sitakant


is "Santhal." version of






in other

represents Prasad

"Santhal." are anthropologists. Onkar Prasad specializes in


and Rural is a retired have

and he teaches in the Palli Charcha Kendra (the Center for Social Studies

lyzed occasions.

at Santiniketan inWest Visva-Bharati Sitakant Mahapatra Development Bengal). senior bureaucrat who Both the Santhali and learned composes poetry language ana translated into English several Santhal The with acclaimed songs songs precision. serve as a of a large number here of songs that mark different representative sample

3. Several ists and the

thousand landowners Murmu

Santhals who in 1855.

revolted readily

the exploitative against executed their commands

practices under the

of British leadership

colonial of Sidhu

and Kanhu 4. They 5. Thakur 6. Sin estingly,

are also present, jiu is believed

though to be

in lesser the guardian

numbers, spirit

in the of Santhals. which a horse. Lita


of Assam

and Tripura.

sadom the

as the is literally translated "day horse," term sadom to mean is used independentiy spirit of the mountains.

is a referent






to be the is believed 7. Lita means "the mountain." 8. Rice beer, referred is to soak version

is also


to as Maran


to as handia boiled of rice



is made by Santhals, by ten hours. in water for about myth of the Santhals may





9. A detailed 3-22. 10. Details found at

the creation

be found

in Bodding


of omens




at the


of sacred grove the Apart of the is a cluster of trees that are worshipped a cluster of


establishing 22

the village February 2007).



11. A sions. The The wood

sacred of

grove sal tree

to serve


significance ings" later 12. The

on different occa by believers to 2&jaher. It is referred sal trees. as is used for making rafters and for fuel. The leaves are used plates as a referent its utility, from the sal is used for a young The girl. symbolic sal is presented mean under the section "Poetic and multivocal images of Santhals consists of

in this myths

essay associated with the banam and tirio presented here have been drawn from


(1975) and Prasad



| Asian Ethnology



13. Jaher 14. Erok 15. Asadia sponds

is the



resides for

in the the

sacred seeds.


is the Santhal is derived

word from


the month when

of Ashad farmers

in the Hindu remove the weeds

calendar from

to July. This what

is the period constitutes refers

that roughly the fields.


16. Evidendy, term

example, emissions and contact with ning), bodily those who have acquired with impurity. 17. Traditionally, land by draught ridges and that is, before

"pollution" broadly events in "unclean" (for

one culture varies from to another. In India, the pollution to the impurity as a consequence of participating acquired tan birth, death), occupations (for example, scavenging, (for example, menstrual blood, excreta) as well as


were by using

introduced a pair

the into

power, furrows.


of bullocks

in the villages, Santhals ploughed over for turning the soil

18.The Santhal term for forest is bin
19. Maran 20. shamed 21. diku Bithala and Santhals and treat Buru is referred punishment in public. to outsiders, suspicion. word rituals the for flower. for The Baha the perhaps Festival (celebrated of women the sometime are act of in February The children to in note for 7. committing incest in which the offender is severely

is the ridiculed refer


is, those









them with

22. Baha March)

is the Santhal in which into It also

is one

of flowers throwing as women. gifts by 23. This in September 24. the


enhancing of women their joy.

fertility simulates

performed. receiving

expresses was

interpretation 1997.


to representatives




in a seminar


Santhal Worldview
The Mahmane

organized by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi
Festival marks the sprouting of seeds. This is the occasion for invoking

spirits. 25. For of Santhal poets profiles at other of and writers 39.htm see for Santhal books the portal 22 February (accessed 2007). and maga



26. Apart from a team with

Peter German Pannke?a composer initiatives, and anthropologists, sound recording specialists


and musicologist? documented


thal music

(Pannke 1997).
"Western knowledge to India. education" that in India outside is used the to refer to the act or process or more perception Thus, of impart is based subcontinent, roots in people's to be "Western." "non-Indian." to which Santhals kept iri (barn that specifically, of the "West." Western clothes,

term 27. The or ing acquiring is not indigenous In common Western 28.

This has perception is said all that is not Indian parlance, mean education and Western food, simply (1942, laid 23-28) in the records a myth



yard grass) and erba (Foxtail millet)
when the seeds were soil Even iri plants. ears to find out one Santhal today, how many daughters

seeds in gourd shells. They were
later, iri seeds yielded how many asks another and sons respectively

surprised to see that

erba plants and erba seeds yielded iri and erba seeds have shot into he/she has.

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I 121

Bamberg, Michael, Discourse 2003
395-437. Bodding, Paul

and Luke Moissinac InHandbook development.
Mahwah, trans. NJ: Lawrence

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1942 Bruner, 1990




of the Santals.




Jerome Acts of Meaning.


MA: Harvard University


2003 Daiute, 2004

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Donald, 1991

Modern Mind. of the
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MA: Harvard




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1992 Mathur, 2001

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pany. Jackson.




Orality Reprint

and Literacy: 1988.


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Santhal Music: A Study in Pattern Delhi: Inter-India Publications.

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