Rayagada (Orissa), June 8 : Having lived for ages an isolated life, the primitive tribals of Dongria Kondhs from Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa's Rayagada district are gradually joining the general lifestyle, courtesy an exclusive agency formed by the State government for their cause.
Dongria Kondhs are known for their deep knowledge and skill in horticulture.
It is believed that their expertise could be a boon to the society and also provide the Dongrias apt means of lucrative earnings
Dongrias, a major sect of the great Kondh tribe, mostly stay on high hills known as Dongar.
Dongria Kondhs claim to be the descendents of Nigam Raja. These people have their own language known as Kuvi and have a distinct culture.
The Dongria area comes under three community development blocks namely Bissamcuttack and Munuguda of Gunpur sub-division and Kalyansinghpur Block of Rayagada sub-division.
Dongria Kondhs have an estimated population of about 10,000 and are distributed in around 120 settlements, all at an altitude up to 5,000 feet above the sea-level.
The Niyamgiri range is comparatively cooler and receives 80 per cent of the total rainfall during monsoon. Thus, the forests are rich in fruit bearing trees like jackfruit, tamarind, blackberry, mango, banana and other citrus items.
Apart from fruits, Niyamgiri range is well-known for valuable timber like sal, biza, sisu, asana and haladu varieties of wood.
"We get so much from this hill that we don't want to leave it anyhow. This place has become our lifeline. It is giving us means of livelihood otherwise we wouldn't have survived," said Sukri Sikaka, another tribal.
The Government of Orissa set up an exclusive body Dongria Kondh Development Agency (DKDA) to oversee the development of this region.
Dongrias tend to fruits like mango, pineapple, jackfruits and bananas apart from herbs and condiments.
"We grow different types of pulses, turmeric, banana, pineapple, mango, etc. After that we take them to the market by walking a long distance down the hill and sell these in the Chatikana and Bisamkatak Haat areas. If ever we fell sick, Didi (the childcare Anganwaadi worker) provides us medicines. Our children are attending schools at Aanganwaadi," said Kunji Sikaka, a local Dongria tribal.
According to the Dongria Kondh Development Agency (DKDA), Dongrias earlier had to face a lot of hardship to sell their products due to lack of roads and means of communication. But since the construction of roads they can commute all the way to the market place.
They grow pineapples, which are sent to to Raipur and Andhra Pradesh by train. Along with these pineapples, jackfruit, mangoes and oranges.
"The DKDA was started in 1978 - 79. Earlier, there was no road towards the Niyamgiri hills. But now condition has improved. Roads and ways of communication have improved. Many are sending their children to schools. As a part of infrastructural development, canal irrigation system is their traditional way of cultivation," she added. By Sarada Lahangir