An Introduction to the Gonds

The Gonds are an important and numerous tribe, whose origins can be traced back to ninth century. They reside at the present time mainly in Gondavana, “the Land of the Gonds,” the easternmost districts of Madhya Pradesh, formerly the Central Provinces of India. The region gave its name to Gondwanaland, the ancient southern supercontinent which comprised present-day Africa, Madagascar, South America, Australia, the Indian subcontinent and Antarctica. The population of Gonds is over 5 million —one of the largest tribal groups on earth. They were first called “Gonds” (hill men) by the Mogul rulers. They call themselves Koi or Koitūr; the meaning of the latter name is unclear.

Gond Art

The Gonds are accomplished artisans and can manufacture almost all the implements they require for work on the farm and in forest, furniture in house and kitchen, and their ornaments and decorations. They are artistically gifted: they paint their house walls with artistic designs, and they carve memorial pillars in wood and stone for their dead.

Gonds are a highly visual people. They surround themselves with their art, which is traditionally painted on the mud floors and walls of their houses. Art is a form of prayer, and they believe that good fortune befalls those whose etes meet a good image.

Gond art is not concerned with realism, perspective, light or three- dimensionality. It signifies rather than represents, deriving its energy from flowing lines, intricate geometric patterns and the symbols that connect human beings and workings of the cosmos. And since most Gonds used to be forest dwellers, trees loom large in their imagination, even though many of now live in cities.

Gonds are inventive in composing songs, folktales, legends & myths and retelling them dramatically. They have composed a great epic celebrating the origins and exploits of a Culture hero named Lingo. They have invented various original dances and are passionate dancers. They are good musicians on the drum, the flute, and other instruments. They are good singers, though the melodies of their songs sometimes sound monotonous and may not be of their own invention.

Location

While the Gond live mainly in Madhya Pradesh, important clusters live also in the adjoining districts to the north, west, and south of Gondavana. The region was home to several Gond kingdoms from the 15th century to the mid-18th century, when the Marathas expanded into the region from the west. The region gave its name to Gondwanaland, the ancient southern supercontinent which comprised present-day Africa, Madagascar, South America, Australia, the Indian subcontinent and Antarctica.

Demography

The latest available Census figures are from 1971, when there were 4,728,796 Gonds—one of the largest tribal groups on earth. In fact, the number of Gonds is really much higher, since many Gond communities have been fully accepted into the Hindu caste system, have adopted another name, and have completely abandoned their original tribal ways of life. While some Gond subsections thus have been lost to the tribe, some communities of different origin may have been incorporated into the Gond tribe. The Bisonhorn Marias of Bastar may be such a tribe.

Language

If the Gonds ever had a language of their own, they have lost it completely. Half of the Gonds speak a Dravidian language called Gondi at present, which is akin to Telugu. In the southern parts of Gondavana the Gonds speak a language called Parsi or Parji (Persian), also of the Dravidian family. In the northern regions the Gonds often speak the local language, a dialect of Hindi or Marathi.

Occupation

The Gonds are traditionally agriculturalists; some practice shifting cultivation, while others raise cereals or herd cattle. Gond society is highly stratified and does not conform to the usual image of egalitarianism among tribals. However, like other Adivasis, the Gonds have suffered from increasing landlessness since the 1960s.

Taken from National Folklore Support Centre’s wiki page and www.everyculture.com. Map is indicative.