NCERT Class 11 English Elective Tribal Verse

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Tribal Verse


The roots of India’s literary traditions can be traced to the rich oral literatures of the tribes/adivasis. Usually in the form of songs or chanting, these verses are expressions of the close contact between the world of nature and the world of tribal existence. They have been orally transmitted from generation to generation and have survived for several ages. However, a large number of these are already lost due to the very fact of their orality. The forces of urbanisation, print culture and commerce have resulted in not just the marginalisation of these communities but also of their languages and literary cultures. Though some attempts have been made for the collection and conservation of tribal languages and their literatures, without more concerted efforts at an acelerated pace, we are in danger of losing an invaluable part of our history and rich literary heritage. This section is a small attempt to familiarise students with some aspects of the enormous wealth of oral tribal literature. It begins with an extract from an essay by G.N. Devy in which he discusses the need to create a space for the study of tribal literature within the framework of canonized written texts. What he argues for is the need for a new method to identify and read literature in which orality is not dismissed as casual utterances in different dialects.

This is followed by two songs—one sung on the occasion of childbirth by the Munda tribals and the other on the occasion of death by the Kondh tribals. The third verse is a chanting in the ritualistic religious language of the Adi tribe, not the same as their language of conversation. Even though this is merely a small representation of a treasure of tribal/adivasi songs, it indicates the immense diversity that exists amongst tribal groups. Inevitably influenced by their very specific historical, cultural and geographical locations, tribal societies continue to retain and reproduce their distinctive traditions which usually find expression through their different languages. However, it is equally true that though possessing their very specific languages, most tribal societies such as Munda, Kondh, Adi and Bondo are bilingual. Moreover, while tribal groups like the Santhal become important subjects in dominant literary streams such as Bangla literature, there is a fairly well developed  Santhali literature too. Besides this, tribes like Santhal and Munda have also played a prominent role in the sociopolitical movements of their regions. [Birsa Munda (1874–1901) spent his whole life fighting against colonialism and the exploitation of labourers]. The Santhals have emerged as a prominent group at the regional and state levels through their participation in the Jharkhand Movement.

The three selected songs give us a small glimpse into the rich repository of folk songs that is an expression of the tribal vision of life. Their close connection with nature is evident from their belief in the interdependence between human beings and nature. Nature for them is living and responsive to human existence and human actions, demanding respect essential for any kind of coexistence. The songs exist originally in the native languages of the tribals and are sung or chanted. The effort to bring them to students in English naturally involves some loss of the original flavour and spirit but that is a problem of all translation and constant attempts need to be made to minimise this loss. But for some conscious effort being Tribal Verse 163 made to first preserve these songs, these pieces of literature would have been lost to us completely. However limitedly, it is only through translation that we are able to even access these works.


1. Identify the common characteristics shared by tribal communities all over the world.

2. What distinguishes the tribal imagination from the secular imagination?

3. How does G.N. Devy bring out the importance of the oral literary tradition?

4. List the distinctive features of the tribal arts.

5. ‘New literature’ is a misnomer for the wealth of the Indian literary tradition. How does G.N. Devy explain this?


Discuss the following in pairs or in groups of four

1. ‘It is time to realise that unless we modify the established notion of literature as something written, we will silently witness the decline of various Indian oral traditions.’

2. ‘Tribal arts are not specificlly meant for sale.’ Does this help or hamper their growth and preservation?

3. Because India’s tribal communities are basically bilingual there is a danger of dismissing their languages as dialects of India’s major tongues.

4. While tribal communities may not seem to possess the scientific temper, there are many ideas from tribal conventions that could enrich modern societies.

Please refer to attached file for NCERT Class 11 English Elective Tribal Verse



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