NCERT Textbook: Essay 4 - Tribal Verse Class 11 Notes | EduRev

English Class 11

Class 11 : NCERT Textbook: Essay 4 - Tribal Verse Class 11 Notes | EduRev

 Page 1


Tribal Verse 161
Tribal Verse
G.N. Devy
F F F F F Look for these expressions in the text and guess the meaning from
the context
marginalisation of communities   accelerated pace
canonized written texts                  rich repository of folk songs
tribal vision of life                   cohesive and organically unified
itinerant street singers
INTRODUCTION
The roots of India’s literary traditions can be traced to the
rich oral literatures of the tribes/adivasis. Usually in the
form of songs or chanting, these verses are expressions of
the close contact between the world of nature and the world
of tribal existence. They have been orally transmitted from
generation to generation and have survived for several ages.
However, a large number of these are already lost due to
the very fact of their orality. The forces of urbanisation,
print culture and commerce have resulted in not just the
marginalisation of these communities but also of their
languages and literary cultures. Though some attempts
have been made for the collection and conservation of tribal
languages and their literatures, without more concerted
efforts at an acelerated pace, we are in danger of losing an
invaluable part of our history and rich literary heritage.
This section is a small attempt to familiarise students
with some aspects of the enormous wealth of oral tribal
literature. It begins with an extract from an essay by G.N.
Devy in which he discusses the need to create a space for
the study of tribal literature within the framework of
canonized written texts. What he argues for is the need for a
4
2019-2020
Page 2


Tribal Verse 161
Tribal Verse
G.N. Devy
F F F F F Look for these expressions in the text and guess the meaning from
the context
marginalisation of communities   accelerated pace
canonized written texts                  rich repository of folk songs
tribal vision of life                   cohesive and organically unified
itinerant street singers
INTRODUCTION
The roots of India’s literary traditions can be traced to the
rich oral literatures of the tribes/adivasis. Usually in the
form of songs or chanting, these verses are expressions of
the close contact between the world of nature and the world
of tribal existence. They have been orally transmitted from
generation to generation and have survived for several ages.
However, a large number of these are already lost due to
the very fact of their orality. The forces of urbanisation,
print culture and commerce have resulted in not just the
marginalisation of these communities but also of their
languages and literary cultures. Though some attempts
have been made for the collection and conservation of tribal
languages and their literatures, without more concerted
efforts at an acelerated pace, we are in danger of losing an
invaluable part of our history and rich literary heritage.
This section is a small attempt to familiarise students
with some aspects of the enormous wealth of oral tribal
literature. It begins with an extract from an essay by G.N.
Devy in which he discusses the need to create a space for
the study of tribal literature within the framework of
canonized written texts. What he argues for is the need for a
4
2019-2020
162 Woven Words
new method to identify and read literature in which orality
is not dismissed as casual utterances in different dialects.
This is followed by two songs—one sung on the occasion
of childbirth by the Munda tribals and the other on the
occasion of death by the Kondh tribals. The third verse is a
chanting in the ritualistic religious language of the Adi
tribe, not the same as their language of conversation. Even
though this is merely a small representation of a treasure
of tribal/adivasi songs, it indicates the immense diversity
that exists amongst tribal groups. Inevitably influenced by
their very specific historical, cultural and geographical
locations, tribal societies continue to retain and reproduce
their distinctive traditions which usually find expression
through their different languages. However, it is equally
true that though possessing their very specific languages,
most tribal societies such as Munda, Kondh, Adi and Bondo
are bilingual. Moreover, while tribal groups like the Santhal
become important subjects in dominant literary streams
such as Bangla literature, there is a fairly well developed
Santhali literature too. Besides this, tribes like Santhal
and Munda have also played a prominent role in the socio-
political movements of their regions. [Birsa Munda
(1874–1901) spent his whole life fighting against
colonialism and the exploitation of labourers]. The Santhals
have emerged as a prominent group at the regional and
state levels through their participation in the Jharkhand
Movement.
The three selected songs give us a small glimpse into
the rich repository of folk songs that is an expression of
the tribal vision of life. Their close connection with nature
is evident from their belief in the interdependence between
human beings and nature. Nature for them is living and
responsive to human existence and human actions,
demanding respect essential for any kind of coexistence.
The songs exist originally in the native languages of
the tribals and are sung or chanted. The effort to bring
them to students in English naturally involves some loss
of the original flavour and spirit but that is a problem of all
translation and constant attempts need to be made to
minimise this loss. But for some conscious effort being
2019-2020
Page 3


Tribal Verse 161
Tribal Verse
G.N. Devy
F F F F F Look for these expressions in the text and guess the meaning from
the context
marginalisation of communities   accelerated pace
canonized written texts                  rich repository of folk songs
tribal vision of life                   cohesive and organically unified
itinerant street singers
INTRODUCTION
The roots of India’s literary traditions can be traced to the
rich oral literatures of the tribes/adivasis. Usually in the
form of songs or chanting, these verses are expressions of
the close contact between the world of nature and the world
of tribal existence. They have been orally transmitted from
generation to generation and have survived for several ages.
However, a large number of these are already lost due to
the very fact of their orality. The forces of urbanisation,
print culture and commerce have resulted in not just the
marginalisation of these communities but also of their
languages and literary cultures. Though some attempts
have been made for the collection and conservation of tribal
languages and their literatures, without more concerted
efforts at an acelerated pace, we are in danger of losing an
invaluable part of our history and rich literary heritage.
This section is a small attempt to familiarise students
with some aspects of the enormous wealth of oral tribal
literature. It begins with an extract from an essay by G.N.
Devy in which he discusses the need to create a space for
the study of tribal literature within the framework of
canonized written texts. What he argues for is the need for a
4
2019-2020
162 Woven Words
new method to identify and read literature in which orality
is not dismissed as casual utterances in different dialects.
This is followed by two songs—one sung on the occasion
of childbirth by the Munda tribals and the other on the
occasion of death by the Kondh tribals. The third verse is a
chanting in the ritualistic religious language of the Adi
tribe, not the same as their language of conversation. Even
though this is merely a small representation of a treasure
of tribal/adivasi songs, it indicates the immense diversity
that exists amongst tribal groups. Inevitably influenced by
their very specific historical, cultural and geographical
locations, tribal societies continue to retain and reproduce
their distinctive traditions which usually find expression
through their different languages. However, it is equally
true that though possessing their very specific languages,
most tribal societies such as Munda, Kondh, Adi and Bondo
are bilingual. Moreover, while tribal groups like the Santhal
become important subjects in dominant literary streams
such as Bangla literature, there is a fairly well developed
Santhali literature too. Besides this, tribes like Santhal
and Munda have also played a prominent role in the socio-
political movements of their regions. [Birsa Munda
(1874–1901) spent his whole life fighting against
colonialism and the exploitation of labourers]. The Santhals
have emerged as a prominent group at the regional and
state levels through their participation in the Jharkhand
Movement.
The three selected songs give us a small glimpse into
the rich repository of folk songs that is an expression of
the tribal vision of life. Their close connection with nature
is evident from their belief in the interdependence between
human beings and nature. Nature for them is living and
responsive to human existence and human actions,
demanding respect essential for any kind of coexistence.
The songs exist originally in the native languages of
the tribals and are sung or chanted. The effort to bring
them to students in English naturally involves some loss
of the original flavour and spirit but that is a problem of all
translation and constant attempts need to be made to
minimise this loss. But for some conscious effort being
2019-2020
Tribal Verse 163
made to first preserve these songs, these pieces of literature
would have been lost to us completely. However limitedly,
it is only through translation that we are able to even access
these works.
‘INTRODUCTION’ TO PAINTED WORDS
...Most tribal communities in India are culturally
similar to tribal communities elsewhere in the world. They
live in groups that are cohesive and organically unified.
They show very little interest in accumulating wealth or in
using labour as a device to gather interest and capital.
They accept a world-view in which nature, human beings
and God are intimately linked and they believe in the human
ability to spell and interpret truth. They live more by intution
than reason, they consider the space around them more
sacred than secular, and their sense of time is personal
rather than objective. The world of the tribal imagination,
therefore, is radically different from that of modern Indian
society.
Once a society accepts a secular mode of creativity
within which the creator replaces God, imaginative
transactions assume a self-conscious form. The tribal
imagination, on the other hand, is still, to a large extent,
2019-2020
Page 4


Tribal Verse 161
Tribal Verse
G.N. Devy
F F F F F Look for these expressions in the text and guess the meaning from
the context
marginalisation of communities   accelerated pace
canonized written texts                  rich repository of folk songs
tribal vision of life                   cohesive and organically unified
itinerant street singers
INTRODUCTION
The roots of India’s literary traditions can be traced to the
rich oral literatures of the tribes/adivasis. Usually in the
form of songs or chanting, these verses are expressions of
the close contact between the world of nature and the world
of tribal existence. They have been orally transmitted from
generation to generation and have survived for several ages.
However, a large number of these are already lost due to
the very fact of their orality. The forces of urbanisation,
print culture and commerce have resulted in not just the
marginalisation of these communities but also of their
languages and literary cultures. Though some attempts
have been made for the collection and conservation of tribal
languages and their literatures, without more concerted
efforts at an acelerated pace, we are in danger of losing an
invaluable part of our history and rich literary heritage.
This section is a small attempt to familiarise students
with some aspects of the enormous wealth of oral tribal
literature. It begins with an extract from an essay by G.N.
Devy in which he discusses the need to create a space for
the study of tribal literature within the framework of
canonized written texts. What he argues for is the need for a
4
2019-2020
162 Woven Words
new method to identify and read literature in which orality
is not dismissed as casual utterances in different dialects.
This is followed by two songs—one sung on the occasion
of childbirth by the Munda tribals and the other on the
occasion of death by the Kondh tribals. The third verse is a
chanting in the ritualistic religious language of the Adi
tribe, not the same as their language of conversation. Even
though this is merely a small representation of a treasure
of tribal/adivasi songs, it indicates the immense diversity
that exists amongst tribal groups. Inevitably influenced by
their very specific historical, cultural and geographical
locations, tribal societies continue to retain and reproduce
their distinctive traditions which usually find expression
through their different languages. However, it is equally
true that though possessing their very specific languages,
most tribal societies such as Munda, Kondh, Adi and Bondo
are bilingual. Moreover, while tribal groups like the Santhal
become important subjects in dominant literary streams
such as Bangla literature, there is a fairly well developed
Santhali literature too. Besides this, tribes like Santhal
and Munda have also played a prominent role in the socio-
political movements of their regions. [Birsa Munda
(1874–1901) spent his whole life fighting against
colonialism and the exploitation of labourers]. The Santhals
have emerged as a prominent group at the regional and
state levels through their participation in the Jharkhand
Movement.
The three selected songs give us a small glimpse into
the rich repository of folk songs that is an expression of
the tribal vision of life. Their close connection with nature
is evident from their belief in the interdependence between
human beings and nature. Nature for them is living and
responsive to human existence and human actions,
demanding respect essential for any kind of coexistence.
The songs exist originally in the native languages of
the tribals and are sung or chanted. The effort to bring
them to students in English naturally involves some loss
of the original flavour and spirit but that is a problem of all
translation and constant attempts need to be made to
minimise this loss. But for some conscious effort being
2019-2020
Tribal Verse 163
made to first preserve these songs, these pieces of literature
would have been lost to us completely. However limitedly,
it is only through translation that we are able to even access
these works.
‘INTRODUCTION’ TO PAINTED WORDS
...Most tribal communities in India are culturally
similar to tribal communities elsewhere in the world. They
live in groups that are cohesive and organically unified.
They show very little interest in accumulating wealth or in
using labour as a device to gather interest and capital.
They accept a world-view in which nature, human beings
and God are intimately linked and they believe in the human
ability to spell and interpret truth. They live more by intution
than reason, they consider the space around them more
sacred than secular, and their sense of time is personal
rather than objective. The world of the tribal imagination,
therefore, is radically different from that of modern Indian
society.
Once a society accepts a secular mode of creativity
within which the creator replaces God, imaginative
transactions assume a self-conscious form. The tribal
imagination, on the other hand, is still, to a large extent,
2019-2020
164 Woven Words
dreamlike and hallucinatory. It admits fusion between
various planes of existence and levels of time in a natural
way. In tribal stories, oceans fly in the sky as birds, mountains
swim in the water as fish, animals speak as humans and
stars grow like plants. Spatial order and temporal sequence
do not restrict the narrative. This is not to say that tribal
creations have no conventions or rules but simply that they
admit the principle of association between emotion and the
narrative motif. Thus stars, seas, mountains, trees, men and
animals, can be angry, sad or happy.
It might be said that tribal artists work more on the
basis of their racial and sensory memory than on the basis
of a cultivated imagination. In order to understand this
distinction, we must understand the difference between
imagination and memory. In the animate world,
consciousness meets two immediate material realities:
space and time. We put meaning into space by perceiving
it in terms of images. The image making faculty is a genetic
gift to the human mind—this power of imagination helps
us understand the space that envelops us. In the case of
time, we make connections with the help of memory; one
remembers being the same person as one was yesterday.
The tribal mind has a more acute sense of time than
sense of space. Somewhere along the history of human
civilization, tribal communities seem to have realised that
domination over territorial space was not their lot. Thus,
they seem to have turned almost obsessively to gaining
domination over time. This urge is substantiated in their
ritual of conversing with their dead ancestors: year after
year, tribals in many parts of India worship terracotta, or
carved-wood objects, representing their ancestors, aspiring
to enter a trance in which they can converse with the dead.
Over the centuries, an amazingly sharp memory has helped
tribals classify material and natural objects into a highly
complex system of knowledge. The importance of memory
in tribal systems of knowledge has not yet been sufficiently
recognised but the aesthetic proportions of the houses that
tribals build, the objects they make and the rituals they
perform fascinate the curious onlooker. It can be hard to
understand how, without any institutional training or
2019-2020
Page 5


Tribal Verse 161
Tribal Verse
G.N. Devy
F F F F F Look for these expressions in the text and guess the meaning from
the context
marginalisation of communities   accelerated pace
canonized written texts                  rich repository of folk songs
tribal vision of life                   cohesive and organically unified
itinerant street singers
INTRODUCTION
The roots of India’s literary traditions can be traced to the
rich oral literatures of the tribes/adivasis. Usually in the
form of songs or chanting, these verses are expressions of
the close contact between the world of nature and the world
of tribal existence. They have been orally transmitted from
generation to generation and have survived for several ages.
However, a large number of these are already lost due to
the very fact of their orality. The forces of urbanisation,
print culture and commerce have resulted in not just the
marginalisation of these communities but also of their
languages and literary cultures. Though some attempts
have been made for the collection and conservation of tribal
languages and their literatures, without more concerted
efforts at an acelerated pace, we are in danger of losing an
invaluable part of our history and rich literary heritage.
This section is a small attempt to familiarise students
with some aspects of the enormous wealth of oral tribal
literature. It begins with an extract from an essay by G.N.
Devy in which he discusses the need to create a space for
the study of tribal literature within the framework of
canonized written texts. What he argues for is the need for a
4
2019-2020
162 Woven Words
new method to identify and read literature in which orality
is not dismissed as casual utterances in different dialects.
This is followed by two songs—one sung on the occasion
of childbirth by the Munda tribals and the other on the
occasion of death by the Kondh tribals. The third verse is a
chanting in the ritualistic religious language of the Adi
tribe, not the same as their language of conversation. Even
though this is merely a small representation of a treasure
of tribal/adivasi songs, it indicates the immense diversity
that exists amongst tribal groups. Inevitably influenced by
their very specific historical, cultural and geographical
locations, tribal societies continue to retain and reproduce
their distinctive traditions which usually find expression
through their different languages. However, it is equally
true that though possessing their very specific languages,
most tribal societies such as Munda, Kondh, Adi and Bondo
are bilingual. Moreover, while tribal groups like the Santhal
become important subjects in dominant literary streams
such as Bangla literature, there is a fairly well developed
Santhali literature too. Besides this, tribes like Santhal
and Munda have also played a prominent role in the socio-
political movements of their regions. [Birsa Munda
(1874–1901) spent his whole life fighting against
colonialism and the exploitation of labourers]. The Santhals
have emerged as a prominent group at the regional and
state levels through their participation in the Jharkhand
Movement.
The three selected songs give us a small glimpse into
the rich repository of folk songs that is an expression of
the tribal vision of life. Their close connection with nature
is evident from their belief in the interdependence between
human beings and nature. Nature for them is living and
responsive to human existence and human actions,
demanding respect essential for any kind of coexistence.
The songs exist originally in the native languages of
the tribals and are sung or chanted. The effort to bring
them to students in English naturally involves some loss
of the original flavour and spirit but that is a problem of all
translation and constant attempts need to be made to
minimise this loss. But for some conscious effort being
2019-2020
Tribal Verse 163
made to first preserve these songs, these pieces of literature
would have been lost to us completely. However limitedly,
it is only through translation that we are able to even access
these works.
‘INTRODUCTION’ TO PAINTED WORDS
...Most tribal communities in India are culturally
similar to tribal communities elsewhere in the world. They
live in groups that are cohesive and organically unified.
They show very little interest in accumulating wealth or in
using labour as a device to gather interest and capital.
They accept a world-view in which nature, human beings
and God are intimately linked and they believe in the human
ability to spell and interpret truth. They live more by intution
than reason, they consider the space around them more
sacred than secular, and their sense of time is personal
rather than objective. The world of the tribal imagination,
therefore, is radically different from that of modern Indian
society.
Once a society accepts a secular mode of creativity
within which the creator replaces God, imaginative
transactions assume a self-conscious form. The tribal
imagination, on the other hand, is still, to a large extent,
2019-2020
164 Woven Words
dreamlike and hallucinatory. It admits fusion between
various planes of existence and levels of time in a natural
way. In tribal stories, oceans fly in the sky as birds, mountains
swim in the water as fish, animals speak as humans and
stars grow like plants. Spatial order and temporal sequence
do not restrict the narrative. This is not to say that tribal
creations have no conventions or rules but simply that they
admit the principle of association between emotion and the
narrative motif. Thus stars, seas, mountains, trees, men and
animals, can be angry, sad or happy.
It might be said that tribal artists work more on the
basis of their racial and sensory memory than on the basis
of a cultivated imagination. In order to understand this
distinction, we must understand the difference between
imagination and memory. In the animate world,
consciousness meets two immediate material realities:
space and time. We put meaning into space by perceiving
it in terms of images. The image making faculty is a genetic
gift to the human mind—this power of imagination helps
us understand the space that envelops us. In the case of
time, we make connections with the help of memory; one
remembers being the same person as one was yesterday.
The tribal mind has a more acute sense of time than
sense of space. Somewhere along the history of human
civilization, tribal communities seem to have realised that
domination over territorial space was not their lot. Thus,
they seem to have turned almost obsessively to gaining
domination over time. This urge is substantiated in their
ritual of conversing with their dead ancestors: year after
year, tribals in many parts of India worship terracotta, or
carved-wood objects, representing their ancestors, aspiring
to enter a trance in which they can converse with the dead.
Over the centuries, an amazingly sharp memory has helped
tribals classify material and natural objects into a highly
complex system of knowledge. The importance of memory
in tribal systems of knowledge has not yet been sufficiently
recognised but the aesthetic proportions of the houses that
tribals build, the objects they make and the rituals they
perform fascinate the curious onlooker. It can be hard to
understand how, without any institutional training or
2019-2020
Tribal Verse 165
tutoring, tribals are able to dance, sing, craft, build and
speak so well ...
A vast number of Indian languages have yet remained
only spoken, with the result that literary compositions in
these languages are not considered ‘literature’. They are a
feast for the folklorist, anthropologist and linguist but, to a
literary critic, they generally mean nothing. Similarly,
several nomadic Indian communities are broken up and
spread over long distances but survive as communities
because they are bound by their oral epics. The wealth and
variety of these works is so enormous that one discovers
their neglect with a sense of pure shame. Some of the songs
and stories I heard from itinerant street singers in my
childhood are no longer available anywhere. For some years
now I have been collecting songs and stories that circulate
in India’s tribal languages, and I am continually
overwhelmed by their number and their profound influence
on the tribal communities.
The result is that I, for one, can no longer think of
literature as something written. Of course I do not dispute
the claim of written compositions and texts to the status of
literature; but surely it is time we realise that unless we
modify the established notion of literature as something
written, we will silently witness the decline of various
Indian oral traditions. That literature is a lot more than
writing is a reminder necessary for our times.
One of the main characteristics of tribal arts is their
distinct manner of constructing space and imagery, which
might be described as ‘hallucinatory’. In both oral and visual
forms of representation, tribal artists seem to interpret
verbal or pictorial space as demarcated by an extremely
flexible ‘frame’. The boundaries between art and non-art
become almost invisible. A tribal epic can begin its narration
from a trivial everyday event; tribal paintings merge with
living space as if the two were one and the same. And
within the narrative itself, or within the painted imagery,
there is no deliberate attempt to follow a sequence. The
episodes retold and the images created take on the
apparently chaotic shapes of dreams. In a tribal Ramayan,
an episode from the Mahabharat makes a sudden and
2019-2020
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