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Voices from the forest: Guarding Niyamgiri Hills

The Dongria Kondh's Quest to Protect their Land, Culture, and Way of Life

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08 May '24
5 min read


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The Dongria Kondhs are an indigenous tribe residing in the Niyamgiri Hills of Odisha, India. They are a primitive tribal group, known for their unique culture, traditions, and way of life. The Dongria Kondhs are a sub-group of the larger Kondh tribe, which is one of the 62 tribal communities found in Odisha.

The Dongria Kondhs are primarily settled in the Niyamgiri Hills, which is a mountain range that stretches across the districts of Kalahandi and Rayagada. They inhabit the hills and forests, living in small villages and relying on the natural resources of the forest for their livelihood. They are skilled farmers, hunters, and gatherers, and their economy is largely based on subsistence agriculture and forest produce.

One of the most distinctive features of the Dongria Kondhs is their unique language, which is a dialect of the Kui language spoken by other Kondh tribes. Their language is rich in vocabulary and has a distinct grammatical structure, which sets it apart from other languages spoken in the region.

The Dongria Kondhs are also known for their rich cultural heritage, which is reflected in their traditional music, dance, and art. They have a strong tradition of storytelling, and their stories are often passed down through generations through oral narratives. Their music and dance are an integral part of their cultural practices, and they have a unique style of drumming and dancing that is distinct from other tribal communities in the region.

The Dongria Kondhs are also known for their expertise in traditional medicine. They have a deep understanding of the forest and its resources, and they use a variety of plants and herbs to treat various ailments. Their traditional medicine is highly valued, and people from surrounding villages often seek their help for treatment.

The Dongria Kondh people are known for their unique and distinctive jewelry and clothing, which are an integral part of their cultural identity. Their jewelry is made from natural materials such as beads, shells, and metals like silver and brass, and is often adorned with intricate designs and patterns inspired by nature. One of the most distinctive pieces of jewelry worn by the Dongria Kondh is the "Kondh headband", a decorative band worn around the forehead, while heavy silver or brass necklaces are also a common feature of their jewelry. Their clothing is made from natural fibers such as cotton, silk, and wool, and is often decorated with intricate embroidery, mirror work, and other forms of traditional craftsmanship. The men wear a dhoti (a long piece of cloth wrapped around the waist) and a shirt, while the women wear a saree or a long skirt and blouse, and a distinctive headscarf often decorated with embroidery and other forms of ornamentation. 

In recent years, the Dongria Kondhs have gained international attention due to their struggles against the mining giant Vedanta Resources, which has been trying to extract bauxite from the Niyamgiri Hills. The tribe has been fiercely resisting the mining project, citing concerns over the environmental and cultural impact of the project. The Dongria Kondh people believe that the Niyamgiri Hills are the abode of their god, Niyam Raja, and that mining would destroy their sacred mountain and their way of life. The tribe has been supported by various human rights organizations and environmental groups, who have raised concerns over the potential displacement of the tribe and the destruction of the forest ecosystem.

The case of mining in Niyamgiri Hills has been a long and contentious one. Vedanta Resources, a UK-based mining company, had proposed to extract bauxite from the hills, which would have resulted in the destruction of the forest and the displacement of the Dongria Kondh people. The tribe, along with other local communities, had been resisting the project, citing concerns over the environmental and cultural impact. In 2013, the Supreme Court of India ruled in favor of the Dongria Kondh people, stating that their rights and interests must be considered before any mining activity can take place. The court also ordered the Odisha state government to seek the consent of the Dongria Kondh people before proceeding with the mining project. The Dongria Kondh people have since then been fighting to protect their sacred mountain and their way of life, and their struggle has become a symbol of resistance against corporate greed and environmental destruction

The Dongria Kondhs are a unique and vibrant tribal community, known for their rich culture, traditions, and way of life. Their expertise in traditional medicine, music, and art is highly valued, and their struggle against the Vedanta mining project has brought attention to the importance of preserving indigenous cultures and the environment. The case of mining in Niyamgiri Hills highlights the need for corporations and governments to respect the rights of indigenous communities and to prioritize environmental sustainability over profit. It is essential to recognize and respect the rights of the Dongria Kondhs and other indigenous communities, and to work towards preserving their cultural heritage and way of life.

Category : Education


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Written by Tushar Tembhurne

An aspirant making effort to project various dimensions of society through 📝