Dance performances

COVID-19 protocol, fear hits Odisha’s tribal dance performances

For more than two years now, short of practice and livelihood, tribal artists have lost touch with art

For more than two years now, short of practice and livelihood, tribal artists have lost touch with art

When researcher Jitu Mishra traveled to Kalahandi in Odisha to document tribal art and culture and Dhap dance in particular, he was appalled at the local organizer’s struggle to bring tribal artists to the stage.

“I stayed three days in Kalahandi to see Dhap dance by the Kondh tribe. But I was told that the pandemic had dealt a devastating blow to tribal dancing, singing and music; and interpreters could not be arranged,” Mr. Mishra, who visited Kalahandi in February, told this reporter.

He explained how the indigenous culture that was already threatened by the onslaught of modern entertainment had degenerated further due to the pandemic. Tribal dancers, of both genders, perform in groups as singers, dancers, and drummers rolled into one. In this they are different from folk dancers, who take on specific roles on stage.

COVID sows fear

According to Paramananda Patel, who researches tribal life, COVID guidelines on maintaining physical distancing and legal action for violations have caused panic among tribals in the state.

“The community that had strong ties started living in isolation due to the fear of coronavirus infection. Evening dance performances in villages and during festivals came to a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown and severely affected their socio-cultural life,” Mr. Patel said.

Not only have artists stopped singing, dancing and beating drums, but young members of the community have also lost the opportunity to watch veterans perform and learn from them. The costumes and instruments of the tribal dancers, musicians and singers have also remained intact over the past two years and have suffered damage from disuse and termites.

“The community that had strong ties started living in isolation due to the fear of coronavirus infection. Evening dance performances in villages and during festivals stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic and confinement and seriously affected their socio-cultural life”Parmananda PatelSearcher

Loss of skills due to misuse

Another victim of the disruption of representations has been the traditional form of tribal restitution. “Many tribal artists who are known to be instant poets have lost the ability to sing spontaneously,” Parameswar Mund, a folklorist based in Bhawanipatna, pointed out. He said artists now struggle to remember songs they once sang effortlessly during the pre-COVID era. “When they are unable to sing, interlude music is played and the tribal dancer then loses the rhythm, the hallmark of each performance,” he added.

Kumuda Pujhari, a member of the Bhadra tribe who performs the Dandari dance, said he now dreads returning to the stage. “Pasri hoi galana geet mane (I forgot all the songs); There was a time when I was performing in Bhubaneswar and out of state.

Non-tribals seize their chance

The addiction of new generation artists to the Internet has been another plague. This diminished their interest in traditional forms and began to affect their performance. Their steps now inadvertently tend to follow modern dance steps in order to have a chance to show off their skills on bigger platforms. It is usually the non-tribals who adopt the tribal dance moves and usurp the lucrative platforms created by government agencies.

With the halting of cultural functions at the district and bloc level and the restrictions placed on congregations, tribal dancers have lost even these limited opportunities.

Previously, the government’s Academy of Tribal Language and Culture (ATLC) sponsored at least 100 visits by tribal artists to different festivals each year. The opportunities to perform kept them busy and practicing their craft. “We haven’t sponsored any tribal dance troupe in the last two years,” said ATLC senior tribal expert Mr. Patel.

The dance forms of Bhatra, Paraja, Dongria Kondh, Kutia Kondh, Gond and Saura have also suffered from the COVID-19 protocol.

In the community of Juanga in Keonjhar, there is a social tradition called “Samuduni Dekha”, in which the mother goes to stay with her married daughter and the whole community comes out in celebration to welcome her often with songs and dances. This ceremonial practice involving song and dance at the community level has also received a shock during the pandemic.

Financial livelihood

“If we are to ensure the survival of our tribal dance and music, master tribal dancers and singers must be identified as a priority and compensated to preserve the art forms. Financial assistance for the safekeeping of their costumes and instruments should be considered, otherwise this intangible heritage will become a relic in the museum,” Mr. Mishra warned.

“If we are to ensure the survival of our tribal dance and music, master tribal dancers and singers must be identified as a priority and compensated to preserve the art forms. Financial assistance for the safekeeping of their costumes and instruments should be considered, otherwise this intangible heritage will become a relic in the museum”Jitu MishraSearcher

Odisha is known to have one of the most diverse groups of tribal communities in the country. According to the 2011 census, the tribal population of Odisha constitutes 9.17% of the country’s tribal population. About 22.85% of the total population of Odisha is tribal. In terms of tribal population, it ranks third in India. It has 62 tribal communities. Similarly, of India’s 75 particularly vulnerable tribal groups, 13 reside in Odisha.