Lessons For Modernism From The Khonds

by | Apr 3, 2019

Kerpai is a beautiful village, a good ninety kilometers away from Bhawanipatna town of Kalahandi District in Odisha. Kerpai, standing midst yellow hill ranges and spring water streams cutting all through has a population of 150. It is one of the biggest villages for tribes in nearby hamlets which has mobile network connectivity, a provision store, upper primary school, and a health care service center.

It is the abode of the Kondh tribes. From my experience of being around in that place and from the stories heard, I’ve learned that the tribe leads a content life with what they have and certain practices and behavioral traits that stood out to me is what constitutes this piece.

A minimalist way of life


The sister at the Swasthya Swaraj clinic narrated an incident for us that took place the morning before we reached. Poonam* (one of the community health workers who is also from the tribe) showed the desire to have a glass bottle and grow something in it, so the sister laid an array of used glass bottles and asked Poonam to take how many ever she wanted and she did so. The sister who was amused on further query got the reply, “I only needed one, so I took one. Thank you for  offering many.” Sister had a grin while explaining this encounter and the whole story left the same on my face.

Connect with nature

This tribe considers itself to be the protector of the forest and the guardian of the spring streams and the mountain ranges that surround them. They are so deeply connected to the nature around them that they go to the extent of naming kids on bountiful products available naturally like Laung, Lilly, Bagari, Padma, Giri and so on.

The way Khonds treat domestic animals is impeccable. They rear animals for companionship. The cows are not milked and the sheep are not shaven for wool. Their rationale for not milking the cows was simple, just like how the human beings milk is for the nourishment of the off-springs it should be the same for the cows and all the animals for that matter.

Khonds do not even till the ground for farming, they sprinkle the seed, water whenever required and whatever grows is what they eat. They consider tilling the ground for human need is nothing but being greedy and causing permanent damage to mother Earth.

A sense of gender equality

Both men and women have equal say in Khond households. There’s no kind of discrimination shown between a boy and a girl child during the time of birth and later on in life too. Rearing children is not considered as the sole responsibility of women. It’s shared equally between both the parents. Men and women participate in household chores as well as farm work to run the house. Widow remarriages for women are as common as it is for men and the society doesn’t hold any stigma around it.

Adolescent dormitories – cultural exposure


There’ one girl and one boy’s dormitory in every village. Once girls and boys hit puberty and enter the phase of transformation from a girl to a woman, they come to this complex; away from their families only during the evening and night time of every day. Here they will learn all the crucial life skills to go ahead and lead a happy life.

Typically, girls are taught cooking, cleaning animal and children rearing while boys are equipped with agrarian and hunting skills. Every evening all the adolescents come together to sing and dance and enjoy themselves. Now this does seem to be counter-intuitive to my above observation of gender equality. The tribal society is as complex and definitions of gender roles and division of labor can be left to a later blog. My understanding at this stage is restricted to observations, based on the few days spent there.

Toki Parab – venue for dating

Toki in Kui language means a virgin girl and as the name suggests, this festival celebrates the coming together of young virgin girls and boys. There will be couple dances in which the eligible unmarried will be taking part. If a couple feels the connect and is willing to get married, they can go away from the families after the festivals, stay together for a while, see the compatibility and come back to the village to declare the marriage and celebrate with the near ones.

Khonds according to me lead a futuristic, broad-minded and happy life with a sustainable way of living. They do not hold on to materialistic possessions and use them as enablers – not masters. They live in the present, neither worried about the future nor regretting the past. Men and women are seen as equals and nature superior to everyone.

I am certain that there’s definitely a lot that modernization can learn from them.

* Names changed to protect identity

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  1. Anupama Pain

    This was a good read Supriya. What are the tribes or SC communities around your field areas? What are the similarities and differences between them and the Khonds? That will be an interesting read …

    • Life of a stalwart

      Thank you Anupama! The SC communities here lead a life similar to all the others. I agree drawing a comparison with the life of Khonds will definitely be interesting.

  2. Nikhil Kanakamedala

    Great post Supriya! In some aspects, one feels that the urban folks are the ones that are conservative. Eager to visit Kalahandi someday.

  3. Life of a stalwart

    Thanks Nikhil! Agreed,I wonder if it would be same if open minds came with culture.
    I encourage you to do visit it!

  4. Shailesh

    Supriya, your article reminded of book “Paraja” by Gopinath Mohanty. It’s a fiction which revolves around tribes of Southern Odisha. A good read. Happy Writing 🙂

    • Supriya Gudur

      Thanks, Shailesh! Paraja sounds so much like a book I would read 🙂


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