Santal Culture

The people who live in the two villages of Ghosaldanga and Bishnubati are members of the Santal tribe, one of the biggest "Adavasi" tribes, the name given in India to the indigenous population of the country. According to Hinduism the Adavasi are seen as being below the caste system.

The tribal society of the Santal
The Santal live in the north-east of India, mainly in the federal states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal and Assam. 5.2 million Santal were counted during the census of 1991. Economically seen, they are one of the poorest communities in India. Outside India there are also Santal communities in Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.

Originally the Santal people were hunters and gatherers in the hills and forests. Today the majority of them live in their own villages, where they mostly work as smallholders or agricultural labourers.

For centuries they have lived in their villages in the neighbourhood of other communities, keeping their cultural and social distance from these. They have their own religion and a rich, ancient culture and language.

The Santal language
The Santal language, called Santali, belongs to the Austro-Asiatic family of languages, making it one of the oldest languages in India. Many Santal people now grow up bilingual, speaking both their mother tongue and the language of the state in which they are living.

As their language possesses no written form, the Santal have a purely oral tradition. They have a rich treasury of plays and songs which play a significant role in the preservation and dissemination of their culture. The Santals are well known as gifted storytellers.

Coherent social system
The Santal have a coherent, clearly-structured society. They are divided into twelve clans and obey complex social laws. Marriage is only allowed between members of different clans; marrying a non-Santal is not permitted and means exclusion from Santal society.

More detailed information is to be found in the diploma thesis written (in German) by Kathrin Klein (2006)  in chapter 2.8: "The Santals - a tribal community in India".