This is the story of the land where Odisha meets Andhra and where the Machkund River has been rippling away for millions of years. Four thousand feet above sea levels, the Konda – Kamberu range, an arm of the Eastern Ghats surrounds this land. Locked on either side by mountains and interspersed valleys, here has survived an aboriginal tribe for thousands of years. Its children call themselves Remos, which means brave men. However, for people living in plains, they are known as Bonda, which means naked or savage.
This is a magical land with waves of mountains leaning against each other. Clouds kiss their peaks. Singi Arko (the sun and the moon) disseminate their light below through the clouds, mists and sky-touching trees. There are plentiful streams dancing down from the mountains all around the year. Hidden among these creations of God are the settlements of Remos. Here they have roamed for ages, far away from civilisations, cradling their deadly weapons from one forest to another and one mountain to the next. Within this time frozen land Singi Arko plays their favourite game, creating day and night year after year.
A story goes: it was time when there lived no humans. Dhartin was the first man on earth. Wherever he walked there was tubuk, the soil. Overhead, there was Singi Mahapuru, the Sun God, and on the ground, Tubu Jang, the Earth Mother.
Bonda Ghati is located in the southern part of Koraput in Malkangiri District. However, tourists are prohibited in Bonda Ghati. To meet Bondas the only possibilities are various weekly haats or markets in different places around Bonda Ghati. Aunkadelli near Machkund on the border of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh is the best option, which is held on every Thursday. Surrounded by hills and forest, the area is a traveller’s paradise. The nearest towns are Jeypur (60 km) and Similguda (80 km). Both have decent staying options. However, we recommend Desia Koraput, an award-winning ethnic resort (http://www.desiakoraput.com) located near Lamtaput. It is designed in traditional architecture. The nearest airport is Visakhapatnam (180 km). Bhubaneswar, the state capital is 570 Km.
However, when the earth was born there was no soil, no rocks, only the waves rolled across the dark water. The world was a vast pond. And in it lived an enormous wild boar. With his tusks and snout, he raised the tubuk from the bottom of the pond and scattered it on the surface. Wherever the soil dropped down, the earth appeared and wherever it did not fall there developed rivers, streams and waterfalls. The boar stepped onto earth and jumped into the sky. Singi Arko did not exist then. Everything was lost in darkness. The wild boar turned to face the earth and made another huge leap, landing on the top of a young salap palm. He cut two tender branches of the tree and tossed them into the sky. They became Singi Arko. Then the boar took an armful of salap flowers and scattered them in the sky. The stars appeared and eventually the world was created. But there were still no men.
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From nowhere appeared the first man Soma and the first woman Sanki. Each roamed alone through the jungles. Then one day, Soma and Sanki met. They wore no clothes or ornaments. They did not ask each other from where they came, because at that time the earth was one. The Earth Mother Tubu Jung had not been split into different countries, different villages. Hand in hand they wandered away through the jungle. Loves grew between them and from their union were born the first remos.
Their land came to be known as Bonda Ghati which consists of 32 villages. Mudulipada is their capital.
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There is an exciting story of how Mudulipada became their capital.
After the earth was created, both men and women wandered freely in jungles feeding on fruits and roots. But there was a problem. The women had to find a private place for delivering babies. Once, a pregnant woman saw a green salap tree on the gentle slope of a mountain. The tree was covered with thick branches. Under her cool shade, she delivered a son and a daughter. A deer arrived around that time nearby. The hungry Remo ran after it with his bows and arrows and did not return for a long time. The woman waited patiently and finally doubted on her husband’s selfishness. She thought, her husband might have killed the deer and eaten its flesh without remembering her. She too was hungry. Without bothering about her two newborn babies she went in search of her husband and finally met him.
The babies cried aloud out of hunger. The salap tree under which they had sheltered had a soul. In those days the salap trees did not produce any juice. It had nothing to feed babies with. However, under cover of the earth, its roots had reached the ocean. The tree prayed with great devotion to the Ocean God for help. The Ocean God was pleased and gave the tree a little of its bounty of the water. The water spread through the roots, the trunk and branches of the tree and dripped into the open mouths of the crying babies. It was the juice of the salap that kept the babies alive. They grew old and strong. They became husband and wife and gave birth to 12 son ad 12 daughters. The 12 brothers built their huts in 12 villages and it was these 12 villages that made up the Bonda country. The eldest brother was Nangli Bonda. He established his home in Mudulipara, which became the capital of Bonda country. Some of their descendants became the Gadaba branch of the Bondas and spread into the foothills.
South of Mudulipara is Pinajangar, a lofty mountain range hanging precariously above the Duduma Falls, near the weekly haat or market at Ankadelli. On every Thursday both Bondas and Gadabas descend here in groups to buy and sell their daily needs along with selling the salap drink. Here the travellers meet Bondas who are distinguished for their colourful costumes and shaven heads.
When a Bonda boy becomes 5 years old, he puts on a ghusi, a loincloth. At 5, a girl begins to wrap a short ringa around her waist, like a skirt. Her neck and chest are almost hidden under massive strings of beads. She wears beads around her head as well, and on her hands, up to the elbow, she has heavy metal bracelets. Long heavy metal earrings dangle from her ears.
A legend goes: On those days the perennial Kingubodak Stream gushed down the hillside in the village of Mahulipara. The mango trees along its banks drifted in the cool shade. Sita Thakurani took out her clothes and ornaments and plunged stark naked into the stream’s flowing water. Just then a group of Bonda women descended from the nearby mountain. They did not walk naked then. They had worn clothes and their long hair were oiled and combed into sleek buns.
As Sita Tkakurani emerged from the stream, a hornbill flew overhead screeching as though laughing at her nakedness. The Bonda women could not ignore its call. ‘Phish,’ they burst out laughs. Sita Thakurani cried out in rage. “Can you being women, laugh out at the sight of a woman’s body? The whole world shall laugh at you in Kali Yuga, the evil times to come. Naked you shall be to everyone! And not a hair shall cover your heads, you shall walk with your heads shaven, bare from head to foot. But beware! If you try to cover up your nakedness or grow hair on your scalps, not a blade of grass will grow on the mountains! Bonda people will be destroyed”.
The Bonda women screamed. Their tears softened the goddess’s heart. She pulled out a single thread out of the border of her sari. ‘Take this a weave a garment for yourself, to cover up your shame in the Kali age. But let it be no wider than the length of this thread, and wear it below your navel and above your thigh’.
(Extracts from ‘The Primal Land’ by Pratibha Ray)
The Bonda tribe of Odisha are believed to be part of the first wave of migration out of Africa about 60,000 years ago. They were the first forest settlers in India, who sometime in the ancient past migrated and settled in an area of about 130 sq km in the wild Jeypore hills, in the present Malkangiri District. The Bondas continue to speak in their language, Remo, which comes under the Austroasiatic language belonging to the Mundari group. Their children are named after the day on which they were born. The women prefer to marry men who are younger by at least 5-10 years so that the men can earn for them when they grow old. In the past, the Bondas used to hunt and forage for food in the wild. However, now Bondas practice shifting agriculture in the hills not only for consumption but also to sell the produce in the markets.
Author – Jitu Mishra
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org