Ever since I moved back to my grandparent’s home, this was the first time in last three years that I happened to visit a place where I would hear the masses around me talk only in my Adivasi tongue, which my aaba (father) taught me from childhood. Unlike many of my relatives and friends who were never encouraged to talk in Kharia, my aaba normalised talking in our own language. My sister and I grew up conversing in Kharia. Due to this, I was really enjoying this gathering which was held in Jhunmur, Odisha. Initially, due to my resistance towards any religion other than Sarna, I was taken aback when I reached the venue of a church compound. I had thoughts about the event being more religious than cultural. However, as the day went by, I started enjoying the ambience after discovering that religion was not the centre of this program.
The first program which I attended that day was a quiz competition. More than 20 questions were asked to different groups, which were named after different animals. I was glad to have answered at least one question correctly about the meaning of the word ‘sinkom’ (star). The other questions which not even aaba could answer was a learning experience for the both of us. It was refreshing to indulge in activities with one of my parents, which is a rarity in the modern world. The most memorable part for me about this quiz session was discovering that ‘month’ is called ‘lerang’ (moon) in Kharia. I remember asking my father once, if our months were related to ‘lerang’, as I had read about the association of moon and months in the Native American culture. Since he did not know it himself until that quiz question, we both were amazed at my inquisitiveness and the analogies I could draw from different indigenous cultures.
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After the quiz, traditional dance competitions were held. During this, I met the friend who had shared the invite of this event with me. We discussed in details about certain aspects that were lacking in this program. We also discussed how the dancers were not wearing the exact traditional attires of the community. These discussions with my friend gave me hope for a better vision and future for people like us and our communities. The deculturalization and thereby alienation of people from our communities has been a traumatic experience for many of us, and participating in programmes like these gives a sense of belongingness to us all.
The road to a bright future, for a community like mine, which has faced and is still facing displacement and migration, seems long. Mining and displacement has robbed us of our identities and dignity. Not only this, but the mainstream society has positioned us at the lowest social strata. This has deeply wounded our psyche and hence we hesitate to practice our culture and speak our language. I encounter parents not teaching native languages to their children; children giggling while speaking just a line in their own languages and the society looking down upon Adivasi languages and cultures. The first step to fix these problems is to generate awareness surrounding our histories and accepting the socio-political economical and psychological damage done to our communities. Only awareness and acceptance can pave the way for conserving and reviving our cultures and languages. In this context ‘Sabhas’ and oraganization of cultural programmes to train and educate the Adivasi youth can play an important role.
About the Author: Evanjelina Kullu is from Odisha, who is currently exploring her Kharia, Mundari, and Oraon roots. She is a graduate of NIFT Mumbai. Besides dealing with her identity crisis, she is working on her fashion label ‘Singi Turo’.