Tuesday December 18, 2018

Importance of tribal languages and their preservation

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By Harshmeet Singh

Ask 10 Indians why they are proud of India and at least eight of them would say ‘because of its diversity.’ India is indeed a multicultural society with a plethora of cultures, languages, and traditions. Of these, extinction of a language is probably the biggest blow to society since a language serves as the repository of the history of the land.

Language engulfs a culture within it. Loss of language is invariably linked with a loss of culture. Bor Sr., the last speaker of the ancient Bo language of Andaman, died in 2010. And with her died the Bo language whose origins go back to the pre-Neolithic era.

Boa Sr. Image source: www.digitaljournal.com
Boa Sr.
Image source: www.digitaljournal.com

 

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart.”

Nelson Mandela

An experience of generations is preserved in indigenous languages. Languages serve as the medium of transmitting cultures from one generation to the other. Many tribal areas still follow learning methods wherein the students are needed to repeat the text after the teachers. This is how the transfer of knowledge takes place in these areas.

Over time, people living in tribal areas develop a knowledge base with the help of continuous interactions with the elder people in the society. The interactions result in the progression of indigenous customs which give a unique identity to these tribes.

Languages teach us values, respect for others, and respect for ourselves. The least our next generation deserves is to inherit its own indigenous language. With a dying language die thousands of stories, millions of lessons, and a lifetime of experience. A language’s death is akin to erasing a part of our history.

Sadly enough, we haven’t done enough to preserve our tribal languages. There is no support system for these languages and no initiatives to set up tribal schools and colleges that could preserve and pass on these languages.

Many critics argue about the need for preserving our dying languages. What’s the harm if we all speak one single language, they ask. Where will that diversity go which made you so proud, I would argue.

Our evolution as a society isn’t based on getting rid of the old languages. It is in our ability to preserve the past and learn from it. There is a simple formula to preserving languages – either use it, or lose it.

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Tribals of Tripura all set for Ker Puja to thwart evil spirits

According to writer Salil Debbarma, "The customary rules and conventions of Ker Puja are strict and not easy to follow. Around 40 years ago the then District Magistrate had been fined for entering the Ker Puja area without permission."

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Kharchi Puja in Tripura. Image source: breathtakingindia.com
  • “Ker Puja starts at midnight on Monday and will continue uninterrupted for over 31 hours,” said Sanjoy Chakraborty, Senior Deputy Magistrate of West Tripura district
  • The literal meaning of ‘Ker’ in tribal Kokborok language is ‘specified area’.
  • “Any kind of entertainment, dancing, singing and movement of animals are barred in the specified Ker Puja areas,” it added

In centuries-old Ker Puja in Tripura, there is no place for death, birth or recreation. Steeped in intricate, time-honoured rituals, this mega tribal event is about well-being and warding off evil spirits. This 31-hour-long festival is all set to begin from Monday, July 25, onwards.

It might sound strange but no pregnant woman or critically ailing person is allowed in the sacred puja precinct. Anyone who violates is made to pay a fine and the puja starts from scratch.

Sponsored by the state government, Ker Puja is one of the important events in Tripura’s calendar. Elaborate arrangements are made to ensure that the puja passes off peacefully.

As has been the norm, the West Tripura district administration has notified the Ker Puja areas this year. The area in and around the royal palace here as well as Puran Habeli, the erstwhile capital of Tripura around 12 km east of Agartala, have been notified for the Ker Puja.

The literal meaning of ‘Ker’ in tribal Kokborok language is ‘specified area’. “Ker Puja starts at midnight on Monday and will continue uninterrupted for over 31 hours,” said Sanjoy Chakraborty, Senior Deputy Magistrate of West Tripura district.

“Pregnant women and the sick are to be kept out of the specified puja area. No one is allowed to enter the notified area,” said the notification.

“Any kind of entertainment, dancing, singing and movement of animals are barred in the specified Ker Puja areas,” it added.

According to writer Salil Debbarma, “The customary rules and conventions of Ker Puja are strict and not easy to follow. Around 40 years ago the then District Magistrate had been fined for entering the Ker Puja area without permission.”

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If there is a birth or a death, then a family has to pay a fine as well.

“During Ker Puja, any kind of recreation is strictly banned in the notified areas. Security personnel guard the area to maintain the dignity of the puja,” Debbarma added. “The Tripura police offer a gun salute before the puja begins.”

Ker Puja. Image source: www.thegreenerpastures.com
Ker Puja. Image source: www.thegreenerpastures.com

According to Debbarma, “The head priest and his associates light up the fire by rubbing bamboos. The tribals and people around the Ker Puja areas carry the fire to their homes believing that it would ensure their well-being and thwart the evil spirit.”

The rituals are carried out at government expense as per an agreement between the Tripura government and the erstwhile royal family.

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Besides Agartala and Puran Habeli, the puja is organised in almost all tribal villages towards the end of the year or at the end of the harvesting season.

“The royal dynasty would perform Ker Puja for the welfare of the people, praying against calamities and external aggression,” said Panna Lal Roy, a writer and historian.

“The sacrifice of birds, animals and offerings characterise this popular puja,” Roy told IANS.

A structure constructed with green bamboo poles serves as the deity for the Ker Puja. The chantai or head priest is regarded as the king on the occasion. (IANS)

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