There are throughout India manifest traces of a rude primitive stock of people who occupied the country anterior to the Aryo-Scythian races, and there are still great divisions of the people bearing national characteristics which distinguish them from the Hindus. The earliest knowledge we have of these people is through the great epic poems of the Hindus, the lfahabharata and the Ramayana, which describe the wars of the Aryans, as the invading race, with the aboriginal inhabitants of these impenetrable forests. Successive wars of invaders, however, subdued, to a greater or less extent, some of these, and modified their views and usages; but these, in turn, affected the religion and manners of their conquerors.
Divisions. — Some of these races have attached themselves to Hindu society, and serve in a condition of degradation as Chandals or Mechas, i.e. outcasts or pariahs. They often hold offices of trust and responsibility in village communities, but, according to Hindu law, they should live outside of villages, and own no property but dogs and asses. Their customs and institutions are, however, everywhere different from those of the Hindus.
There are others of these aboriginal tribes who have not mingled with Hinduism at all, or only very partially. Among these are the Kols of Bengal and Eastern Nagpoor, the Khonds of Central India, the Bheels of the Vindhya Mountains, the Khaudesh Malwah, etc., of Central India, and others in the south amid the forests of the Neilgherry Hills, in Guzerat, and other places (see Edinb. Review, April, 1864). These preserve their own habits, even where Hinduism most presses them. They have no castes, their widows are allowed to remarry, they have no objection to any kind of flesh, and otherwise differ greatly from the Aryan peoples.
The least raised above their primitive condition are the Khonds of Orissa, who "occupy a district about two hundred miles long by one hundred and seventy broad, in Rampur, in the district of Gunjam" (Brace, p. 142), a tract of land back from the coast of the Bay of Bengal, where it trends eastward to Calcutta and southward to Madras, and embracing the plateaux of the Vindhya and other mountains.
Name. — They term themselves Knee, Kui, Koinga, Kwuinga, but are known to Europeans by their Hindu name of Khond or Kond. Their language is affiliated with the Uriya (Ooriya), but the dialects are many, and often "a Khond of one district has been found unable to hold communication with one of a neighboring tribe." The speech has " a peculiar pectoral enunciation." Ethnologically, all these tribes are Turanian or Mongolian.
Domestic Relations. — Marriage may only take place without the tribe, but never with strangers, the tribes intermarrying. Boys of ten or twelve years of age are married to girls of fifteen or sixteen, the arrangements being always made by the parents. The father of the bridegroom generally pays twenty or thirty "lives" of cattle to the bride's father. The marriage rite itself is very simple. The father of the bridegroom, with his family and friends, bears a quantity of rice and liquor in procession to the house of the parents of the girl. The priest takes it, and dashes the bowl down, and pours out a libation to the gods. The parents of the parties join hands, and declare the contract completed. An entertainment follows, with dancing and song. Late at night the married pair are carried out on the shoulders of their respective uncles, when, the burdens being suddenly exchanged, the boy's uncle disappears, and the company assembled divides into two parties, who go through a mock conflict; and thus the semblance of a forcible abduction, remains or indications of which are found so frequently in widely separated quarters, are preserved among the Khonds of Orissa (see M'Lennan's Primitive Marriage). The marriage contract is, however, loosely held. If childless, the wife may return to her father at any time, or, in any event, within six months of the marriage if the money given at her marriage be restored to her father. She cannot be forcibly retained, however, even if the money be not returned. If her withdrawal be voluntary she cannot contract another matrimonial alliance. A man may ally himself with another woman than his wife, with the wife's consent. Concubinage is not disgraceful, fathers of respectable families allowing their daughters to contract such marriages. An unmarried woman may become a mother without disgrace.
Births are celebrated on the seventh day by a feast given to the priests and villagers. The name is determined by a peculiar rite, in which grains of rice are dropped into a cup of water.
Death. — After the death of a private person his body is burned, without any ceremony other than a drinking feast. If, however, a chief die, " the heads of society" are assembled from every quarter by the beating of gongs and drums; the body is placed on the funeral pile; a bag of grain is laid on the ground, a staff being planted in it; and all the personal effects of the deceased, his clothes, arms, and eating and drinking vessels, being first placed by the flag, are afterwards distributed, when the pile is fired, and the company dance round the flagstaff.
Social Organization and Government. — The family is the unit of organization and the government patriarchal, all the members of the family living in subordination to the head, the eldest son succeeding to his authority. All property belongs to the father, the married sons having separate houses assigned them, except the youngest, who always remains with the father. This father, or patriarch, is called Abbaya.
A number of families constitute a village, which generally numbers forty or fifty houses, over whom there is a village abbaya or patriarch. A number of villages are organized into a district, superintended by a district abbaya, who, however, must be lineally descended from the head of the colony. A number of districts constitute a tribe, with a tribal abbaya, and a number of tribes constitute a federal group, with a federal abbaya or chief. This chieftainship is immemorially hereditary in particular families, but is elective as to persons. The head, however, is only the first among equals, and his rule is without external pomp, or castle, or fort. The chief receives no tribute, but he takes part in all important discussions, whether social or religious, and leads his people in war. His influence is very great. Originally and theoretically, the abbaya is the priest. This is not so now in all cases, yet he is religiously venerated. The family and the religious principles are thus combined. The theory of government, as above sketched, is not, however, often completely realized, there being every possible deviation from it, and the tribes being much intermingled. These tribes bear names resembling those adopted by the North American Indians, e.g. "Spotted Deer," "Bear," "Owl," etc.
Personal and Social Characteristics. - These people, like almost all known rude races, are "given to hospitality." For the safety of a guest life and honor are pledged. He is "before a child." A murderer even may not be hurt in the house of his enemy; it is doubtful if he may be even starved in it. The Khond physiognomy is clearly Turanian. The color varies from that of light bamboo to a deep copper; the forehead is full, the cheek-bones high, the nose broad at the point, the lips full, but not thick, and the mouth large. The Khonds are of great bodily strength and symmetry, well informed on common subjects, of quick comprehension, and otherwise show considerable intellectual capability. Their mode of salutation is with the hand raised over the head. Their natural moral qualities are of mixed character. They are personally courageous and resolute. They have so great a love of personal liberty that it is affirmed they have been known to tear out their tongues by the roots that they might perish rather than endure confinement. They are not very intensely attached to their tribal institutions, but have great devotion to the persons of their patriarchal chiefs. They have, however, a great spirit of revenge, and are given to seasons of periodical intoxication. They drink a liquor made of the Mow flower, this tree being found near every hut and in the jungles. They are a "nation of drunkards," and will drink any intoxicating beverage, the stronger the better.
Laws. — They have no code by which they are governed, but follow custom and usage. The right of property is recognised. Murder is left to private revenge or retaliation. In case of matrimonial unfaithfulness, the seducer may be put to death if the husband choose, or he may accept the entire property of the criminal in lieu of his right to put him to death. Property stolen must be returned, or its equivalent given. There are seven judicial tests; common oaths are administered on the skin of a tiger or lizard. Ordeals of boiling water and oil are likewise resorted to.
Arts and Manufactures. — The Khonds manufacture axes, bows and arrows, a species of plough, and other implements; they distil liquor, extract oil, work in clay and metals, and dye their simple garments. Their houses are formed of strong boards, plastered inside.
Arms and Agriculture. — They use the sling, bow and arrows, and a broad battle-axe, and adorn themselves for battle as for a feast. They raise rice, oils, millet, pulse, fruits, tobacco, turmeric, mustard, etc. No money other than "cowries" (shells) was until recently known, all property being estimated in "lives," as of bullocks, buffaloes, goats, fowls, etc. Women share in the work of harvest and sowing.
Diseases and Remedies. — For external wounds they resort to a poultice of warm mud, made of the earth of the ant-hills. They also cauterize with a hot sickle over a wet cloth. For internal ailments they have no medicines. They consider all diseases to be supernatural, and the priest, being the physician, must discover the deity that is displeased. He divides rice into small heaps, which he dedicates to sundry gods; then he balances a sickle with a thread, puts a few grains upon each end of it, and calls upon the names of the gods, who answer by agitating the sickle, whereupon the grains are counted, and if the number of them be odd he is offended. The priest becomes "full of the god," shakes his head frantically, utters wild and incoherent sentences, etc. Deceased ancestors are invoked in the same way, when offerings of fowls, rice, and liquor are made, which subsequently become the priest's portion.
Magical and Superstitious Usages. — Spells, charms, incantations, etc., are substituted for medicines; wizards, witches, ghosts, sorcerers, augurs, astrologers, conjurors, and all like means are in constant use. Death is not a necessity, not the appointed lot of man; it is a special penalty of the gods, who destroy through war, or assume the shapes of wild beasts to destroy mankind. Magicians may take away life.
(I.) The catalogue of gods worshipped among the Khonds is extensive.
(1.) At the head of the pantheon is the Earth-Goddess, who, with the sun, receives the principal worship. The Earth-Goddess is the superior power, and presides over the productive energies of nature. She is malevolent, and is invoked in war. She controls the seasons, and sends the periodical rains. To her human sacrifices were offered. There are, besides her,
(2.) a God of Limits, who fixes boundaries, and whose altar is on the highways.
(3.) The sun and moon; ceremonially worshipped.
(4.) The God of Arms, to whom a grove is devoted.
(5.) The God of Hunting, worshipped by parties who hunt in companies of thirty or forty, and surround their game.
(6.) The God of Births, worshipped in case of barrenness.
(7.) The God of Small-pox, who " sows" that disease as men do the earth with seeds.
(8.) The Hill-god, without formal worship.
(9.) The Forest-god, to whom birds, hogs, and sheep are offered.
(10.) The God of Rain. (11.) Of Fountains. (12.) Of Rivers. (13.) Of Tanks; and
(14.) the village gods, who are the guardians of localities, and of domestic and familiar worship.
(II.) Besides the above principal gods there are inferior local or partially acknowledged gods, worshipped under symbols of rude stone smeared with turmeric, etc. The great conservative principle is worshipped.
Priesthood. — The abbayas are the priests, but this office may be assumed by others. Priests eat only with priests; take part in marriages, elections, political councils, etc. They are of about the same level of culture as those of other tribes among Turanian races.
Religious Rites and Sacrifices. — Nothing was definitely known of the tribes of Gumsur until the British army was brought into collision with them in 1836, subsequently to which the custom of human sacrifices was discovered to exist among them. The British government, after a long series of efforts, succeeded in abolishing it. Major Campbell says, " The Khonds generally propitiated their deity (the Earth-Goddess) with human offerings (p. 38, 39). This had been handed down through successive generations, and was regarded as a national duty. In Gimsur it is offered under the effigy of a bird, in other localities as an elephant (p. 51). The victim, called Mieriah, must be purchased, may be of any age, sex, or caste, adults being best, and the more costly the more acceptable. These are purchased from relations in time of famine or poverty, or are stolen from other regions by professed kidnappers of the Panoo caste (p. 52). In some cases Meriah women were allowed to live until they had borne children to Khond fathers, the children being reared for sacrifice.... The sacrifice, to be efficacious, must be public (p. 53). In Guimsur it was offered annually. The priest officiates. For a month previous there is much feasting, dancing, intoxication, etc. One day before, the victim is stupefied with toddy, and bound, sitting, at the bottom of a post bearing an effigy. The crowd dance, and say, 'O god, we offer this sacrifice to you; give us good crops, seasons, and health.' To the victim they say, 'We bought you with a price, and did not seize you; now we sacrifice you according to our custom, and no sin rests with us' (p. 55). Various other ceremonies are performed, after which they return to the post near the village idol, always represented by three stones, a hog is sacrificed, the blood flows into a pit, the human victim, having been intoxicated, is thrown in and suffocated in the bloody mire. The priest cuts a piece of the flesh and buries it; others do likewise, carrying the flesh to their own villages. In some cases the flesh is cut while the victim is yet alive, and buried as a sacred and supernatural manure."
Cognate Tribes. — These and other aboriginal races have received so much attention from ethnographers, philologers, and other scientific men that further details are not needed here. The prominence given to these aboriginal races of late years might justify full articles on the kindred tribes, but, as they are of substantially of the same level, we have chosen to make a tolerably full sketch of the Khonds, as typical of the aboriginal Turanian element in Hindustan. The following copious literature will enable persons to make a pretty exhaustive study of what is known concerning them.
Literature. — Edinburgh Review, April, 1864; Calcutta Review, vol. 5:6:x; Calcutta Christian Observer, April, July, 1837; Transactions of Ethnological Society, i, 15; 6:24-27; also for 1865, p. 81; B. H. Hodgson, AborigiJes of the Eastern Frontier; Chepang and Busunda Tribes; Aborigines of Southern India (Calcutta, 1849); 4 borigiues of India (Calcutta, 1847); M'Pherson's Reports upon the Khonds of the Districts of Gtunjan and Cubback (Calcutta, 1842); A personal Narrative of thirteen Years among the wild Tribes of Khondistanfor the Suppression of human Sacrifices, by Major Genesis John Campbell, C. B. (Lond. 1864)); Sonthalia and the Sonthals, by E. G. Man (Lond. 1868); Metz, The Tribes of the Neilgherries; Lewin, Hill Tracts of Chittagong; Harkness, Aborigines of the Neilcherries (London, 1832); The People of India, by J. F. Watson and J. W. Kaye, vol. i; History of the Suppression of Infinticide, etc., by J.ohn Wilson, D.D., F.R.S. (Bombay and London, 1855) ; Tylor, Primitive Culture, vol. i and ii (London, 1871); Lubbock, Origin of
Civilization, etc. (Lond. 1871) ; Brace, Races of the Old World (New York, 1863); Latham, Elements of Comparative Philology (Lond. 1862); Anderson, Foreign Missions (New York, 1869); M'Lennan, Primitive Marriage; Hunter, Rural Bengal. (J. T. G.)