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By Hari Nath Ghosh, B.L.


The Bhumij have long since been recognized as belonging to the group of tribes speaking dialects of what is now known to philologists as the Munda linguistic family. The Mundās, the Hōs and the Santals are the best known tribes of this group.

Nāgpur Division is the

The Manbhum district of the Chōtā principal home of the Bhumij. Out of 362,935 Bhumij living in the provinces of Bengal and Bihar, the district of Manbhum alone accounts for 115,985. In Bengal, where they number 90,283, the Bhumij are more numerous in the districts situated in the neighbourhood of Manbhum than in the other parts. In Chōtā Nagpur, Manbhum and the contiguous district of Singhbhum account for almost all the Bhumij of the division. The figures for Chōtā Nāgpur, Mānbhum and Singhbhum are as follows:

Chōtā Nagpur



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The Bhumij, otherwise known as the Bhumij-Kōls, are ethnologically the most interesting tribe of Manbhum. They occupy the southern and south-western parts of the district. They are more numerous in the fiscal divisions of Patkum, Baghmundi and Barābhum than in other parts. In other parts of the district, too, one may come across influential landed proprietors and substantial raiyats of the Bhumij caste, though some of them now pretend to be of Chhatri or Rajput descent.

The Bhumij are believed to be the earliest settlers of the southern part of Manbhum; and Colonel Dalton is right when he observes that the tableland lying between the Kāsai and

the Subarnarekha rivers marks the real home of the Bhumij in Manbhum.* It is believed on all hands that it is the ancestors of the Bhumij tribe who for the first time turned the virgin forests of this Bhumij land into human habitation. The very name of the tribe "Bhumij" (literally, the earth-born) indicates that it is they who for the first time broke the rocky soil of this district and converted it into arable fields.

It has, moreover, been everywhere observed that the Bhumij are, as a rule, the founders of all ancient villages in the Bhumij part of Manbhum. Many a village situated in this locality bears unmistakable testimony to its having been founded by the Bhumij peasantry. Names of such villages as Buruhātu (meaning a village situated on a hill) and Sārjamhātu (meaning a village abounding in Sal trees) may be quoted as instances in point. The word "Bhumij" thus corresponds to the Bhūihār of the Munḍā country. In fact, it seems probable that the Mundas continued to live long on the plateau of Chōtā Nagpur where their progeny multiplied. Then a section of the race came upon the adjoining plains with the object of finding for themselves and their children. a more fertile tract better suited to agriculture. The Bhumij of Manbhum represent the descendants of those emigrants.

In physical appearance the Bhumij resemble the Mundas and the Hōs very closely. Like them, the Bhumij have a dark-brown complexion, thick nose and lips, a low facial angle, broad and well built chest, strong muscles, well-formed hands and feet, thickset hair, and a generally healthy appearance. They are rather short in stature.


On the occasion of a childbirth among the Bhumij, if the child happens to be a male the females of the house will at once strike a rod against some bell-metal utensil in order to notify the birth to the neighbours. This to some extent resembles the practice of blowing a conch-shell prevailing among the Hindus on a similar occasion. It is believed by the Bhumij that the sound of bell-metal reaching the ears of the new-born

Ethnology of engal, p. 173.

babe serves to make

advanced age. It is

him brave and free from nervousness in not, however, necessary to produce any

such sound on the birth of a female child.

The Ghasi or Hari woman who usually serves as a đài, or midwife, in a Bhumij family, will then make preparations for cutting the umbilical cord. She will place a ligature with the aid of woman's hair at a distance of about half an inch from the root and then cut the cord with the sharp end of an arrow. The use of an arrow-head on this occasion serves, it is said, to instil courage into the heart of the child. Other castes and tribes use either a sharp knife or a piece of split bamboo for this purpose. But in the case of a Bhumij the use of an arrow-head is imperative. The arrow, the favourite weapon of the tribe, plays a part, as will be seen, not only at birth but also at the marriage and the death of a Bhumij.

The placenta and the umbilical cord are then placed in a new earthen vessel and buried in a hole dug in the courtyard opposite the entrance to the lying-in-room with a heavy piece of stone placed upon it. Special care is always taken to see that these remains may not be devoured by an animal or removed by any malicious human being. An injury to these remains always means an injury to the child and its mother. The witches, who are pretty numerous in all Bhumij and Santāl villages, can work untold misery to the child and its mother if they can lay their hands on these remains. On one occasion the writer had a talk with an old Bhumij on the utility of thus preserving the placenta. When told about the utter futility of bestowing so much care on the preservation of these remains the old man replied, "Don't you know the simple truth that if of two twin brothers one gets drowned in a pool of water the other too will instantly die of suffocation even without any apparent cause for the same? If therefore the placenta and the umbilical cord, which are parts of the body of the mother and her child be subjected to misuse, how will they at all prosper?"

The dai, or midwife, who combines in herself the vocations of a nurse with those of a physician will then take all

possible care of the patients placed in her charge. The child will be washed in tepid warm water during winter or rains and in cold water in summer. She will then continue for several days, usually nine, to rub the bodies of the baby and its mother with hot mustard oil. During these days a furnace is kept blazing in the lying-in-room in the early and the closing hours of night. Morning and evening the dai will dip her thumb in a pot of mustard oil, heat it in the furnace and then apply the same on the ulcer produced by a cutting of the cord. In two or three days the stump of the cord dries up and the ligature drops down. It is then carefully picked up and buried in a corner of the room. For the care that the dai bestows on a new-born babe she is ever afterwards known as its dāi-mā (i.e., the midwife-mother).

For the first two days after childbirth the mother is not allowed to take even a drop of water far less any other food or drink. After the profuse loss of blood she may cry for a little water to drink but the women of the family with the irresistible dai at the head will stop her and keep her completely starving. On the third day she is allowed to eat fried chura and a little soup obtained by boiling kurthi in water. On the fourth day the mother is allowed to take rice with the soup of kurthi. All this time the child is made to live on cow's milk.

On the morning of the ninth day the ceremony known as nārtā or norta takes place; on this occasion the agnates and other relatives and even men of other castes with whom the family may be on terms of intimacy are invited. The principal officers who serve the family on this occasion are the barber and the washerman. The barber will first of all pare the nails of the child and its mother, who will next be anointed with oil and powdered turmeric by the dai. Then the guests will get themselves shaved and have their bodies rubbed with oil and turmeric. The agnates of the child who must have abstained from cleansing their linen ever since the birth of the child will have their apparel washed by the washerman on this day.

In the case of richer families musicians will play upon their drums and flutes during the whole ceremony. There is also a distribution of muṛi (fried rice) and gūṛ (molasses) among the guests. The poorer people however-and unfortunately the masses of the Bhumij are very poor-content themselves with the necessary ceremony of shaving, having their apparel washed, and anointing themselves with oil and turmeric.

The agnates of the child remain unclean for these nine days. During these days they are not allowed to perform any religious rite. Other people of the caste will also hesitate to take any meal touched by any of the agnates during these days. With the ceremony of nortă duly performed all except the child and its parents are restored to a condition of cleanness. These three persons, however, continue unclean for twenty days. On the twenty-first day of its birth the child, as also its parents, are again shaved and have themselves rubbed with oil and powdered turmeric. A purificatory bath after the above ceremony shake off uncleanliness out of them.

During this period the services of another functionary may sometimes become necessary. This is the village ojha who is sometimes known as a sōkhā. Numerous spirits intent on working evil to mankind hover about every human dwelling. There are also witches who take an intense pleasure in doing mischief to their neighbours. I propose to describe the supposed misdeeds of these evil spirits and witches more fully hereafter. It may suffice here to add that they cherish, as every Bhumij believes, a peculiar fondness for working harm to new-born babes. So every distemper in a child or its mother is unanimously ascribed to the influence of these enemies of mankind. The ojha is not only a doctor so far as these distempers are concerned, but he can commune with the unseen spirits. He can utter incantations that are intended to terrify or turn out the spirits and baffle all efforts of the witches. Sometimes the ojha gives mesmerized water, or mustard seeds purified by his mantras or incantations. These may be sprinkled at the door of the lying-in-room or on the person of his patients with a view to drive off the spirits.

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