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The Santal PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 27 March 2008

The Santals are known as one of the oldest and largest indigenous communities in the northwestern belt of Bangladesh. They have been living in the pristine natural surroundings of the area for thousands of years. They might be described as children of nature who are nurtured and reared by its bounty. Santals are largely seen in the northern districts of Dinajpur, Naogaon, Thakurgaon, Panchagar, etc. 

The Santals are of ebony colour with little growth by way of beard, are generally of stocky build and capable of undertaking hard labour. Physically the Santals are not prepossessing. The face is round and softly contoured; the cheekbones moderately prominent; eyes full and straight, nose broad and depressed, mouth large and lips full, hair straight, black and coarse. They are long-headed and of medium height.

By nature, they are very peace loving, honest, industrious and trustworthy people. They always respect their social customs and are satisfied with what they earn and what they eat. They have profound respect for the land they live in, the soil they till and the community they live with.

They are not acquainted with hypocrisy, double-dealing, deception, fraudulent practices and tricks and artifices used to obtain things illegally. Their bravery, courage and righteousness are well known.

They have actively participated in the Tebhaga movement led by Ila Mitra in 1950, the Santal revolt, Birsa Munda Uprising, Kol revolt, Jitu Samur Rebellion, Pandu Raja Insurgency, Swadeshi Movement and the War of Liberation in 1971.

Santal women, especially young girls, are by nature very beauty-conscious. Santal women wear ornaments on their hands, feet, nose, ears and neck and also wear peculiarly shaped ornaments on their ankles. They fix flowers on their heads and hair-buns, and make themselves graceful with simple ornaments.

Like their simple, plain and carefree way of life, their dress is also very simple. Santal dresses are called panchi, panchatat and matha. The Santal women wear coarse homespun cotton sarees of bright colours that barely reach their knees, while the upper end is flung over the shoulders. Santal men and women wear tattoos on their bodies.

Most of their houses are usually neat and clean even though built of mud. Their homestead often includes a garden. The peculiarity of the houses is that they have small and low doors and almost no window. There is practically no furniture except a wooden bedstead and bamboo machang on which the people of the comparatively well-to-do class spread their beds.

The Nabanna ceremony is undoubtedly of great importance to the rural people, and is observed during the harvest time when delicious preparations from newly harvested food grains are made and friends and relatives are entertained.

Santals have their own language, culture and social patterns, which are clearly distinct from those of other tribes. They speak Bangla fluently and have adopted many Bangla words for their own language. Most Santals are Christians now but they still observe their old tribal rites.

Although the Santals used to lead a prosperous and peaceful life in the past, their economic and social conditions are now very backward. Agriculture is their main source of livelihood. Principal food items of Santals are rice, fish and vegetables. They also eat crabs, pork, chicken, beef and the meat of squirrels. Jute spinach (nalita) is one of their favourite food items. Eggs of ducks, chickens, birds and turtles are delicacies in their menu. Liquor distilled from putrefied rice called hadia or (pachai) is their favourite drink.

Santal women are skilled in making different kinds of cakes. Most of the Santals are animists. The main weapon used for hunting and self-protection is the bow and arrow made of locally available materials.

They are fond of flowers and music. Hunting and collecting food from the forest were their primitive economic activity. Santals are divided into twelve clans and all these clans are fond of festivities. They are very proficient in music and dance.

Like Bangalis, they also have 'thirteen festivals in twelve months' and many other festive occasions around the year. Their year starts with the month of Falgun (roughly, 15 February-15 March). Almost each month or season has a festival celebrated with dances, songs and music. In the spring, Santals celebrate holi when they drench each other with colours.

To express gratitude to the god of crops is also a part of this festival. It turns into a carnival with dances, songs, music and food and drinks. Probably its greatest attraction is the choral dance of Santal girls. Another important ceremony of Santals is called Baha or the festival of blossoms. The purpose of this festival at the beginning of spring is to welcome and offer greetings to the freshly blossoming flowers. It is also characterized by dancing, singing and music.

The Santals cremate their dead bodies. But nowadays, many of them bury the dead. When an inhabitant of a village dies, the village headman's duty is to present himself at the place of the departed and arrange for the last rites with due respect.

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