A General Introduction
Orissa has the largest variety of tribal communities, which are at various stages of socio-economic development. At one extreme are the groups which lead a relatively secluded and archaic mode of life, keeping their core culture intact, while at the other extreme there are communities which are indistinguishable from the general agricultural communities. The tribal people express their cultural identity and distinctiveness in their social organization, language, rituals and festivals and also in their dress, ornaments, art and craft.
In India there is an amalgam of 437 tribes, and in Orissa the number is sixty two. According to 1991 Census, in Orissa the total strength of tribal population is approximately seven million which constitutes 22.21% of the total population of the State.
Linguistically the tribes of India are broadly classified into four categories, namely (1) Indo-Aryan speakers, (2) Dravidian speakers, (3) Tibeto-Burmese speakers, and (4) Austric speakers. ln Orissa the speakers of the Tibeto-Burmese language family are absent, and therefore Orissan tribes belong to other three language families. The Indo-Aryan language family in Orissa includes Dhelki-Oriya, Matia, Haleba, Jharia, Saunti, Laria and Oriya (spoken by Bathudi and the acculturated sections of Bhuyans, Juang, Kondh, Savara, Raj Gond etc.). The Austric language family includes eighteen tribal languages namely, Birija, Parenga, Kisan, Bhumiji, Koda, Mahili Bhumiji, Mirdha-Kharia, Ollar Gadaba, Juang, Bondo, Didayee, Karmali, Kharia, Munda, Ho, Mundari and Savara. And within the Dravidian language family there are nine languages in Orissa, namely, Pengo, Gondi, Kisan, Konda, Koya. Parji, Kui, Kuvi and Kurukh or Oraon.
The tribes of Orissa though belong to three linguistic divisions, yet they have lots of socio-cultural similarities between them. These commonalities signify homogeneity of their cultures and together they characterise the notion or concept of tribalism. Tribal societies share certain common characteristics and by these they are distinguished from complex or advanced societies. In India tribal societies had apparently been outside the main historical current of the development of Indian civilization for centuries. Hence tribal societies manifest such cultural features which signify a primitive level in socio-cultural parameter.