The Hill Khadia/ Kharia Tribe Of Simlipal
After I penned down the life of Khairi tigress, I was curious to know more about this Khadia tribe who had stollen Khairi from her mother and given her to the Forest Officer who brought her up like a human child. This community, still a food gatherer are known for their climbing skill. They collect honey, jhuna (raisins), fruits, tubers and other forest produce, catch fish and love to roast and eat jungle flies and depend completely on the forest for their livelihood. The whole family especially his wife accompanies a tribesman whenever he goes to forest.
They surprisingly speak Odia - quite unusual because such tribes living in the midst of nature and mostly illiterate usually have their own dialect or use Thara Bhasa. According to a common belief or myth, both the king of Mayurbhanj also called Bhanja kings and Khadia were born from a pea fowl's egg. The king was born out of the yolk and the Khadia tribe from its shell. Another tribe called Purans came out of the egg white. Thus technically they all are from the same lineage. Because of this belief, The Khadias do not do hunting especially the mass hunting also called Akhanda Shikar ( hundreds of animals are killed during this period as part of tribal strong belief and tradition ) which is practiced by some tribes living in Simlipal.
The Khadia tribesmen are expert climbers. They can climb effortlessly tall straight trees, steep mountains and vertical cliffs to collect honey. It is said that no place however inaccessible remains untouched by a Kadia climber. The climber takes a smokey green branch and an axe and starts climbing steep trees effortlessly and as usual with no safety gear. In portions where no foothold is there, he uses the axe to chip the tree for a foothold. They also climb the height of Joronda fall in the dead of the night and descend into the fall using a ladder made of fibre from Siali ( Bahunia Valhii ) creeper and small sticks tied to it at intervals to use it as a ladder. They also carry a torch made of chipped wood of Sisoo tree and green leaves for visibility and to emit smoke. This cliff from which the Jaronda fall tumbles down is called " Bhandara " or store house. The whole process of collecting honey here is extremely dangerous. Any damage to the ladder means instant death. The climber descends down into the huge deafening waterfall with an axe, a basket and a knife all tied to his body. He is accompanied by one or two most trusted family members like his wife, brother- in-law or father-in-law. Then one end of the ladder is firmly tied to a tree which they call " Khuntuni Munda " and the ladder is then thrown to which the climber dangles and using the sticks for foothold moves towards the bee hive. This is done in pitch dark moonless night to avoid the attack from deadly honey bee sting. The smoke torch made of chipped wood pieces and green leaves hanging from a rope called Barehi is dangled just below the hive. This helps to drive away the bees, the ferocious Baghua honeybees flee away. He then cuts the honey comb with his knife but before that offers prayers to the Goddess of the hill called Basuki, Sun God and their village Goddess Badam. After collecting the honey, he makes the first offering of honey wax with larvae to the Gods and Godesses by throwing a portion of it. They believe that Goddess Basuki takes their offering in her tiger form.
When he climbs back, his most trusted companion his wife smiles in relief. Surprisingly, no Khadia has ever died of fallen from great height. Before starting such difficult endeavour they strictly adhere to certain beliefs or superstitions like not to utter the word elephant which they believe may know their whereabouts and chase them. The wife never wears a red saree going to the forest. The deities are believed to wear this colour and so may get angry and curse them. They avoid certain signs which they believe are inauspicious like seeing an empty pitcher which symbolises unsuccesful outcome. Even dogs barking is also considered a bad omen at the begining of the journey. They have a strong belief that if the offering is satisfactory, no harm will befall them. An offering of Ganja rolled like a bidi in a tender Sal leaf is placed before the Gods and Goddesses.
We went to their village Astakuwanar some 100 kms from Jashipur located close to the valley of Nawana. Entered one of their thatched hut, it was a simple one room house. Some had domesticated animals living with humans. These people believe in nature and offer their prayers to God before going out for any endeavour. I looked at these climbers in great wonder. Their thin built like a teenager facilitated swift and effortless climbing, eyes fearless and face so innocent.
In 1986 - 87, Govt formed Khadia Vikas Agency to work on improving their health, education and occupation to increase their dwindling number and bring them into the main stream. We found that the children were accompanying their parents to jungle though their names were registered in the Govt. school. These people live with nature and are happy to lead their life in jungle away from all civilization.
You can see the video on Rajya Sabha TV- Main bhi Bharat to know more about them.
The photos are taken from Google and the copyright is with the owner.