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Lost & safe in the Malkangiri mess part 2; retreat from Bonda hill, cockfights and Naxal strikes

26 November 2010
On the second full day of our Malkangiri family stay, we decided to go make the drive to the Khairput area for the weekly tribal haat (market). The area is especially known as the prime territory of the  Bonda people , a half-naked tribe who live in these remote hills and who attend the markets in the surrounding area. A good chance to get deeper into a different tribal zone. First we stopped at another dam project at Balimela (yep, our hosts really love dams and just needed to show more of their professional life). The dam area was indicated on a big sign as an eco-tourist area, where one could rent pedalo boats, motorboats or jump on a jet ski. Perhaps not as eco friendly after all, except for the first option. So we went along, did some jet ski driving in our -gulp- eco supporting ways, took pics of funny animal statues and saw a caged python, next to caged albino rats.  Indian ecotourism, it surely is a different stroke of eco-ism which only baffles our tight western mindset but at least it’s a start,  right?

our posse, smile!

 

So, finally we were on our way to the Khairput area for the weekly market, if there still was one going on since it already was past midday. We arrived and the market had slowly started to dissolve and merchants leaving. No sign of the Bonda. When asked, some hindu merchants opened their bags -what, they’re in there yeah?-, they showed us Bonda jewelry, ornaments  and bead necklaces. Oh right, merchandise without the people themselves, how realistic. We bought some used necklaces, still the dirt and perhaps the boldy smell of the previous owner on them. Real indeed.  We then made a decision to go to Bonda hill, where several Bonda villages are. Passing the Khairput main road, a few Bonda women were standing at a water pump, looking stern and half naked. It felt stupid to stop there at that location unnatural to them. The road up to Bonda hill was steep and narrow. After 2 km’s the road just stopped and became a path. We walked and quickly came at a big pond, which was a holy spot filled with holy carps. “You kill or eat one, you die by curse!” our hosts warned.  Fair enough. So we fed the fish most of our tasty butter cookies and crackers. Our hosts got carried away and gave all our cookies away. Bummer that.  They also went for a dip, as a dip into this water and into the holy cave means good fortune. Sure enough. When it came to the point of going up Bonda hill, it suddenly seemed that walking 5 km’s to the village would take long time (as we got here later cos of the eco tour) and our hosts were actually a bit scared of going to the village. “They can kill you with poison arrows you know!” Yes I know that, but only if you laugh at them, make fun of them of show no respect. Just to explain Bonda violence; it can come very sudden and by intuition. Affairs like a Bonda father killing his son cos his son took a cup of liquor before pa’s turn, are quite normal to them. We could understand that Sujit and co weren’t too eager for meeting the Bonda’s, who as he put it ‘might ask us for much money if we want to leave the village’. The whole time at the pond, there was a small Bonda man who had already asked Sujit for money to take us there, which somehow triggered the fear of distrust. Me on the other hand, no fear at all, but what do I know of local affairs? So we retreated back home in order to be on time for the tribal folk festival, to see some staged folk music at most.

 

Before we made a stop at a little village where the weekly cockfights were being held. Our hosts had already told us about it, as they had a prize rooster in the garden that could fight a mean match. Undefeated in 5 matches. We could be all Gaia or Greenpeace about it like typical soft western folks, but for what use? It’s their culture , not ours so it was only interesting to see what was going on, what it ment to them. Arriving at a small patch in a field, a fenced ring was built for the matches and some roosters where going for it at each other, both armed with a little knife strapped on their back toe claw. It wasn’t as vicious as one might believe; when one rooster would back down, retreat or bleed on a sensitive spot, the fight was over. It’s no use to let a good fighter cock be killed if it could be prevented. One rooster did get a serious jab right under his wing and bled to death in a minute. The people around were all making bets on the cocks, which is the point of these matches. Also a local brew was being sold, called *solop* (almost pronounced as salope, haha), which tasted just like the rice beer in Nepal or the ili elsewhere in tribal area’s, except that it was made of palmnuts. Hmm, palm wine, so I tasted a cup before we went home.

girl with prize cock

and the dead cock

On the way home just outside Malkangiri we saw a group of Bonda women being dressed in yellow dresses. Aha, to perform at the festival! We got out to look at their preparation but their were quickly hushed back into several jeeps by a smoking manager, himself not a Bonda ofcourse as the way it goes. Weird, Bonda women in fabric sari dresses instead of loose palm tree leaves, surely an invention to make them safe to the prudent hindu eye?

The festival itself, except for the Bonda women playing twice, it wasn’t too interesting. Even when we got a press seat right at the front, we were ok to gt back to the family home by midnight. Next day we had planned to leave, but because of a Naxalite strike we had no other possibility than to stay. As the Naxalites like putting mines at blocked roads with cut trees, it wasn’t worth the gamble so we stayed an extra day at the hospitalbe Biswar & Chakraborty family residence. It was a nice lazy day in which we heard that someone in town had been killed by Naxalite rebels. The victim was said to be a police informer so it seems hepaid for that with his life. Choosing the side of authorities in this region isn’t a wise move, one better stays a-political.

The day after we finally could leave, to be back on the long road to Koraput and onwards to Vishakapatnam, in Andhra Pradesh state, which took us a hefty 14 hours to get there.  The 5 hour long bus ride from Malkangiri to Koraput was again amazing, this time all in day light where we could see all nature surrounding us. At one moment there was a tribal family standing next to me, with a tribal infant stuck in a forest of adult legs. I signaled his father that he could put him on my lap for some fresh air, so I got a little boy to guard. He wasn’t even scared of me as I was afraid he might start to scream seeing this weird bearded whitey, but he mostly looked the other side as all was normal. Goodbye to Malkangiri and so much thanks to the Biswar & Chakraburty families for their help, hospitality and guidance. Auntie’s emotional tears said enough. Also some fresh idea’s have come up, with Sujit suggesting that we should begin an NGO in the region to help the remotes tribal communities, surely to be continued coming new year!

We won’t write much on our relaxing days in Puri, which were wonderfully lazy and tropical. Now and Varanasi, the Ganga has receded and the ghats are whole again, fill with life and crazy baba’s. Tomorrow night we’ll fly back home, but we’ll still post some extra’s this coming week.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 27 November 2010 00:20

    We zullen de fantastische verhalen missen, maar jullie waarschijnlijk nog meer 🙂
    Goede reis terug !

    • Seb Bassleer permalink*
      29 November 2010 02:06

      dank Henri, we zijn terug in Brussel nu maar zullen nog enkele postjes op het blog zetten komende week. dus verwacht wat nog wat extra verhaaltjes

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