"Life in the city had taught Somra Sisa a great deal. He had seen leaders arriving to address crowds, their motorcars raising clouds of dust; he had seen the strings of red and blue electric lights, heard the croaking of loudspeakers reciting litanies of false praise, caught the whiff of meat being cooked for celebratory feasts.
"Dhangras and dhangris [young men and women] of the Lower Bonda, Kandha and Paraja tribes were conscripted to dance and sing for the entertainment of the babus [government officials]. Endless discourses on the glories of tribal culture were staged and the ranting of speakers was drowned in the thunder of applause.
"When the meetings ended the adivasi [aboriginal] youths were sent back to their villages with empty bellies. The adivasi was only an item in the list of the disadvantaged: a slogan that could be screeched to bring political glory to the leader."
--From Adibhumi [The Primal Land*], by Oriya novelist, poet, literary critic and social activist, Pratibha Ray. Ms. Ray is an unshakable voice for the rights of Adivasi ('indigenous') peoples of Orissa.
The Primal Land is a novelized ethnography of the Bonda people, a primitive tribe living deep in the forested plateau of remote Malkangiri district on Orissa's southwestern tip, where Ms. Ray did research as an anthropology student in the 1970s.
The story of the Bonda in The Primal Land is told parallel to the sundry government attempts at development and "civilizing" the tribals, which has had both comic and very tragic results. Today, the Bonda number fewer than 5000 and face possible extinction.
[Buy The Primal Land at Amazon]
* The Primal Land, by Pratibha Ray
Translated by Bikram K. Das
Hyderabad: Orient Longman Ltd, 2001
Excerpt from pp. 254-255