The Baiga and the Gond tribes are indigenous to the Mandla and the Balaghat districts of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. When Kanha was declared a national park in 1955 many of these native tribals were evicted from their place of origin in the larger good of conserving the wildlife of the place. Today both these tribes live in the surrounding areas of the Kanha National Park, mostly to be found in towards the Mukki zone. Both the tribes are known to exist side by side in the forest through the Gond tribe is economically and financially stronger and prosperous than the Baiga tribe and have a much modernized and higher standards of living.
In the description below the distinction and the similarities between both the predominant tribes of Kanha is discussed in detail.
Baiga Tribals of Kanha
The Baiga tribals of Kanha was majorly dependent on the forest for their daily livelihood before 1955. Now they are no longer allowed to collect firewood from the forested area and need to walk for miles in search of wood. Their lifestyle is marked with primitive and semi-nomadic existence making one feel as if time has stopped centuries ago.
- They worship Mother Earth and as per folklore the Baigas are the children of the Earth and are responsible for its upkeep.
- They, therefore, never plough the lands and when they do, they practise shifting cultivation where land is cultivated for a limited period and then abandoned so that it can regain its natural fertility and vegetation.
- They believe in simple and natural living.
- By nature, they are highly tolerant and have an infectious calmness about them.
- They live in plain mud huts and till date lives without electricity.
- Their worldly possessions are all primal style.
- As custom Baiga women have their forehead, arms, chest and legs tattooed.
- They are well-known for their hospitality,
- Many of them are engaged in basic labour-oriented work like digging. In recent times their dance form and music has been revived and today many entertain tourists with their dance and music.
- They speak the Baigani language.
- Baigas love to eat common grains which they grow themselves through shifting cultivation methods. Their food includes rice, kodo millet and they drink pej made by grinding macca or using the water that is left over after boiling rice.
- They also pick vegetables and fruits from the forest.
- They are into fishing and eating small mammals.
- Often, they travel huge distances to gather food for themselves.
- Mahua toddy made from the sacred Mahua flowers is a common alcoholic drink that most Baigas love to consume in the evenings.
Connections with the local wildlife and jungles of Kanha
- Since Baigas consider the Earth to be their mother, they go a long way in protecting and conserving it.
- They believe in living in complete harmony and peaceful co-existence with nature.
- Most of their possessions are made from bamboo.
- For ages, they have used herbs from the forest to make their medicines.
- Even if they coexisted with the wildlife, they have been relocated and rehabilitated over the years after the Kanha National Park was formed because their dependency on the forest was intervening with the survival of the wildlife here.
Gond Tribals of Kanha
The Gonds are known as hill people and they are known to be great defenders of their land. Their folklore consists of narratives of the bravery of their ancestors.
- They have traditionally lived in the forested areas and the tribe is one of the largest surviving tribes in the country.
- They speak the Gondi language – a language that is heavily influenced by Dravidian languages.
- They decorate their houses with their tribal art that consists of tattoos, motifs and even paintings of animals like the Tiger, Gonds believe that a house adorned with well-made paintings is the abode of good luck and positivity.
- It is because of the Gond artwork and the demand for it that the Gonds are better-off than the Baigas.
- The Gonds as a community is forward-looking and hence their way of living is much more contemporary as compared to the Baigas. Their homes have electric connections and are much better constructed and equipped than the Baigas.
- Baigas and Gonds coexist in the areas near Kanha. The Baigas have always been revered by the Gonds. Many spiritual ceremonies of the Gonds are presided over by the Baigas as priests. The Gonds, on the other hand, have traditionally been the protectors of the land where both the tribes inhabit.
- Gonds are believed to have knowledge of astronomy with their own interpretation of the celestial bodies that they have used traditionally to keep track of time and their calendars.
- They cook their food in the authentic indigenous style.
- The Kurti Dal, Kikad roti, bedra chutney and Brahmkhass Chakri are popular dishes from a Gond thali. The Kikad roti is made by pressing small dough’s of aata between camel foot leaves and then cooked on live fire. Only when the leaves burn out and the roti gets crisp, it is removed from the fire.
- Rice is a luxury item for Gonds and is eaten only during festival and celebrations. Their staple consists of askodo and kutki. These are supplemented by vegetables that are picked from the forest or else home-grown.
- Like the Baigas they love to drink Mahua toddy made from Mahua leaves.
- The lands are ploughed, and the crops are grown organically as a result of which their food is high in nutrients.
- Their home-grown grains and pulses are of far better quality than available in the city markets.
Connections with the local wildlife and jungles of Kanha
- Like the Baiga tribe, they believe in living in complete harmony with nature and the forest.
- However, just like the Baigas, they were also displaced from the Kanha forest through the years ever since it was proclaimed as a National Park.