The Birhors – a little know tribe of Jharkhand

birhors 1The “Birhors” are the people whose manners and customs, ideas and beliefs are one of the rudest and least known of the jungle tribe of Jharkhand. Only about one hundred-fifty years ago when the attention of British administration was first drown to these people, they used to be accused by their neighbourers of a revolting cannibalism of hastening the end and devouring the flesh of their dying parents and other relations. Today, though no longer they are accused of feasting on the flesh of living or dead human beings, they are credited for wonderful magic powers, herbal medicine physician and they are believed to trap rabbits by simply bewitching them.

The Birhors are found living in and around old Hazaribag (includes Chatra; Dhanbad; Giridih; Ramgarh Bokaro) district of Jharkhand mostly. They also settled in Palamu; Garwa; Singbhum; Ranchi; Lohardaga & Gumla district in few numbers. They are living near jungles and hill side in huts constructed only of branches of trees and leaves, but so constructed as to be quite water tight. They spend their time in snaring rabbits and wild cock, collecting edible roots, jungle fruits and the Chob (baihinia scandens) bark, of which they make ropes for various purposes. They are quite a nomadic race, wondering about from jungle to jungle, as and when sources of their subsistence become exhausted. The entire socio-eco-cultural life of Birhor Tribe is in one or other way linked with forest. As the destruction of forest took place in this region, the life of Birhors came to an alarming stage. The low population further created genetic issues with marriage in close tribe kith and kin.

birhors 2Jharkhand is a land of 32 listed Tribes, out of which eight tribes has been categorised as ‘Primitive Tribe’ (Asur, Birjiya, Birhor, Kharwar, Parahiya (Baiga), Sabor, Malpahariya & Saurya Pahariya. Birhors are one among these primitive tribe. The name Birhor is derived from the word Bir, meaning jungle and Hor meaning people and thus the word meaning peoples of the jungle. Birhors are devided into two divisions – Uthlu & Baslu. Both have their distinct style of life. Uthlu Birhors are wondering style of life. Baslu or Jaghi Birhors are settled style of life and it is more agriculture based. Their population is diminishing decade by decade. The situation is really alarming and need urgent attention of social anthropologist. Government is having ‘Primitive Tribal Development Programme’ and giving all emphasis for their development. There is no dearth of fund for these primitive tribes. Still result is not positive due to the following reasons: –

  • They are at wondering stage. Human civilization took long time to come to the present stage from wondering stage. All of sudden if we wish them to have quantum jump, how it is possible?
  • Due to very little population, genetic problem is restricting their further population growth.

Birhors of Jharkhand belongs to the Porto-Australoid stock. They lead Hunter- gatherer life. Their mother tongue Birhor is an Astro-Asiatic language. As per 2011 census the total population of Birhors in India is 17,241, out of which about 62% leave in Jharkhand, but the figure is thoughtful as their population in Jharkhand is not above 6,000, since I have visited almost all their settlements. Very few have migrated to Odisa, W.B. & Assam. Since their life is of nomadic in nature, the possibility of counting them at many place are possible. K. S. Singh in his book ‘The Tribes of India’ has mentioned that 96.54% of Birhors leaves in this region.

birhors 3Birhor settlement is known as Tanda, having conical shape leaf huts. Government has constructed many mainstream houses for them. But they are not very much interested in staying in that saying their deity will not stay in this type of house and the concrete slab may fall on their head while sleeping. They have a custom during birth that the expecting lady goes in the hut and close the entrance. She has to come out with new born on sixth day from opening a new exit and that is not possible in the brick-cement house. One may absorb that they have made hole in the new houses to exit out after child birth.

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