The cave-like entrance to the Johar Janjatiya Sangrahalaya (tribal museum) in Ranchi sets the tone of a journey into the lives of tribes of Chhota Nagpur plateau. Dotted with hills, valleys and forests, Jharkhand forms a large part of this plateau with 32 adivasi tribes. Primitive and marginalised through the ages, these indigenous inhabitants constitute over 26 per cent of Jharkhand’s population, and about 8.4 per cent of the tribal population of the country.
Though education has bettered the lives of many, a good percentage of tribals still live the way their ancestors did. The museum shows artistic life-size statues of tribals, which add to the appeal of learning about their historical lineage, social and cultural lifestyle.
At the entrance to the main hall is the garlanded and turbaned bust of tribal folk hero and freedom fighter Birsa Munda, revered as ‘Bhagwan Birsa’. He was treacherously captured by the British and mysteriously died at Ranchi jail in 1900 when he was just 25.
Each tribe is showcased in a cabin with a glass front and a thatched roof extension to give a feel of village hut. Replicas of palm trees, images of cow dung cakes and life-size photographs of tribals add to the rustic touch. There are also tribal paintings, handicrafts, musical instruments and utensils that explain a way of life attuned to nature.
As each of the tribes is known for a specific profession, they are depicted performing their vocation. The Lohar tribe is seen burning coal and hammering iron to make crude agricultural implements. The ancient Asur tribals are smelting iron and producing tools. The farming Mundas have sickles in hand and goats tied near their huts. Such realistic display also give a fair idea of their living space, dressing style and implements they had.
One of the ancient tribes is Birhor, that etymologically means ‘men of the forest’. Bir means forest and Hor means man. They call themselves descendants of the Sun. They are hunters.
The displays impart information about each tribe’s population, area of residence, mothertongue and occupation. The most endangered are the Khonds, whose number dwindled to 196 (2001 census), but marginally improved to 221 (2011 census). They are agricultural labourers, and anthropologically belong to the Austro-Asian family. They are inhabitants of Bokaro, Hazaribagh and East Singbhum districts.
The largest tribe in Jharkhand are the Santhals, historically known as bravehearts who challenged the Permanent Settlement of Lord Cornwallis in 1855. Their occupation centred around forest and agriculture. Dance is in their blood and they speak Santhali, which belongs to the Austro-Asiatic language family. Other large tribes are the Oraon, Munda and Ho.
The other tribes depicted in the museum are Kharwar, Lohra, Bhumij, Kharia, Mahli, Mal Pahariya, Bedia, Chero, Karmali, Gond, Chick Baraik, Kisan, Sauria Pahariya, Korwa, Kora, Parhaiya, Binjhia, Asur, Birhor, Savar, Birjia, Gorait, Baiga, Bathudi, Banjara and Khond. The tribes are concentrated in Ranchi, Lohardaga, Gumla, East Singhbhum, Dumka and Pakur districts.
These tribes’ heritage resonates with art, paintings, dance, music, rituals, fairs and festivities. The display of Dhaak, Shehnai, Nagara, flute, Mandal (made of mud) and Madal (made of leather and mud) showcase how much they use percussion and wind instruments. Their dance is in sync with nature. The most prominent dance is Jhumar, performed in festivals and at the advent of monsoon. The other popular dance is the ceremonial Dhumkach. Their common festivals are Phagua, Sarhul and Sohrai.