The Ho Tribe, otherwise called the Lurka or Fighting Coles of Singbhoom
THE Singbhoom district is where the languages spoken by three great divisions of the Hindoo family, the Hindee, Ooria, and Bengallee, approach and blend; but there is a space between the limit of each, a tract of open undulating country surrounded by hills, about sixty miles in length from north to south, and from thirty-five to sixty from east to west, occupied by a people speaking a language having little affinity with any one of the three, and upon whom no Hindoo doctrine has ever exercised the slightest influence,—a people on whose smiling country covetous eyes have often been directed, but into which no one ever attempted to intrude with impunity.
It appears to be a generally received opinion, that the scattered remnants of the primitive tribes found in the hills and forests of Northern and Central India, were the former lords of the more fertile plains from which they were driven as the Aryan race advanced. Most of the Hill races have traditions of such compulsory migrations similar to those of the Oraons or “Coonkhurs” of Chota Nagpore, treated of in a previous note; but the Moondahs of Chota Nagpore and the Hos of Singbhoom, kindred tribes, are in possession of lands as fair as any to be found in India, which they have occupied for ages, and there is no reason for supposing that they were ever forced to retreat before the usurping Hindoos. The tradition of the Oraons indeed, shows that the Moondahs had been long settled in these parts, when they, under pressure from the west, sought and obtained a shelter there.
In Chota Nagpore, since its chief adopted Hindooism, his object has been to introduce colonies of Hindoos to support him in the position he chose to assume as a Rajpoot potentate; and these Hindoo colonists, called “Suds,” receiving from him grants of land, including villages of Coles, pushed aside a large proportion of the old settlers, appropriated their lands, and arrogated over the remainder, rights which the Maharajah himself did not possess, and could not have conferred on them; but the Hos settled in the heart of Singbhoom have, from the earliest times, proudly held the country of their adoption against all attempts at invasion, and so far as is known, they never submitted to rulers of an alien race, till they were forced to do so by British troops.
It was no doubt in retaliation for attacks on their independence, that the Hos became, as they were found to be when brought to our notice in 1819-20, the terror of the inhabitants of the more civilized parts of Singbhoom, and of all the surrounding districts. They attacked and pillaged villages, showing little mercy to the inhabitants, if of the Brahminical race. A long line of Brahmin villages, on the Brahmini river in Gangpore, was laid waste by them, and has remained depopulated ever since. No travellers ever ventured to pass through their country, no Brahmin, Rajpoot, or other Hindoo of caste, or Mussulman, was suffered to reside in it.
In 1820, Major Roughsedge, the Governor-General’s agent, entered the Colehan at the head of a force consisting of artillery, cavalry, and infantry. He was surprised to find the wild race of whom he had heard such disparaging accounts, in possession of an open, undulating, richly cultivated country, studded with villages in groves of magnificent tamarind and mango trees, abounding in unusual indications of rural wealth. He was allowed to enter on this scene unmolested: but the slaughter of some of his camp-followers who had incautiously strayed into one of the villages demonstrated the hostility of the people, and an attempt to capture the murderers, brought about an immediate collision between the Lurkas and our troops. A party of cavalry sent to the offending village were met in the open field by a body of 300 warriors, who undauntedly advanced to meet their charge, rushed between their ranks hacking especially at the horses with their formidable battle-axes, and showing no disposition to yield or to turn, till half their number had been sabred. In the village, where the murder was committed, was found a reserve of sixty men, who fought desperately, and were all killed. Eventually the Lurka chiefs, in the immediate vicinity of Chyebassah, reluctantly agreed to acknowledge and pay tribute to the Rajah of Singbhoom.
Major Roughsedge met with further opposition from the Lurkas of the Southern Peers, especially those of Barunda, near Jyuntgurh, and in consequence of their aggressions, the Government determined on the prompt reduction of the Lurkas by a large force which entered Singbhoom during the following month from different directions, in three columns, under the command of Colonel Richards. After hostilities of about a month’s duration, the leaders surrendered and entered into engagements, binding themselves to subjection to the British Government, and agreeing to pay the Rajpoot chiefs at the rate of eight annas (one shilling) for each plough, which was to be raised eventually to one rupee. This engagement was for five years; and in 1826, in consequence of the intermediate good behaviour of the Lurkas, the restriction limiting the assessment to eight annas was renewed for a further period of five years. It was noticed at this time that the Lurkas evinced a perfect willingness to be guided and ruled by British officers, and the utmost repugnance to the authority arrogated over them by the Singbhoom chiefs. They, however, remained peaceably disposed till 1830, when the Jyunt, Lallgurh, and Aunla Peer Coles attacked the Rajah’s officer posted at Jyuntgurh, seized all his property, and drove him from the place. No steps were taken to punish the Coles for this aggression, and it was the commencement of an organized system of plunder which was earned on with impunity for several years. The chiefs, who claimed their allegiance, could not control them, and it was found that they instigated the Lurkas to ravage the territories of those with whom they were themselves at feud, which of course increased the appetite of the tribe for plunder and rapine.
In consequence of this unsatisfactory state of affairs, a proposal made by Captain Wilkinson to employ a force to subdue the “Lurkas” thoroughly, and then to take the whole tribe under the direct management of the British officers, was favourably received by the Government and acted upon. Two regiments of infantry, one of cavalry, and two brigades of guns, entered Singbhoom in November, 1836; operations were commenced against the refractory Peers, and by February following, all the Mankees and Moondahs (as the heads of Peers and villages are termed) had submitted, and bound themselves by fresh engagements to obey and pay revenue to the British Government, and no longer to follow the orders of the chiefs to whom they had been required to submit in 1821. Since 1837, with a brief interval during the crisis of 1857, peace has been undisturbed. During this period the Cole or Ho population has rapidly increased, and from the region around Chyebassah, the waste lands have entirely disappeared. Colonies of Hindoos are now for the first time quietly settled in the heart of the Colehan; occupying villages apart from the Hos, and placing themselves without demur under the Ho Mankees of Peers, that is, the headmen of divisions or groups of villages.
Simple rules for the administration of justice were drawn up, which, as now modified, bring the people and their officers together without the intervention of subordinate native officials. Attempts were also made to wean the Hos from the direful superstitions that act as the great obstacle to their advancement in civilization : and with this view a school was established at Chyebassah.
The belief in sorcery, so common among wild races, is nowhere more universal than among the Hos; death used to be the invariable punishment for supposed witchcraft. When a belief is entertained that sickness in a family or mortality amongst cattle, or other misfortune has been brought about by sorcery, a “Sokha,” or witch-finder, is employed to find out who has cast the spell. By the Sokhas
There is no more pleasing trait amongst all these tribes than their kindly affectionate manner one towards another. Girls never quarrel with each other, and the men never coarsely abuse, and seldom speak harshly to, the women. The Ho girls are acutely sensitive under abusive language, or language that at all reflects upon them, and may be, and often are, driven to commit suicide by an angry word. If a woman appear mortified by anything that has been said, it is unsafe to let her go away until she is soothed.
The Hos are passionately fond of sport, and are so successful, that in the neighbourhood of their villages no game is to be found. In the hot weather they form great hunting expeditions, and scour the hills and jungles in search of large game. They are also fond of cock-fighting. A meet is announced, and all who please, go to the place chosen with their cocks at the appointed time. The cocks are armed with steel spurs and made to fight a Toutrance, and the owners of the victorious birds keep the slain.
The sole arms of the Hos are the bow and arrow and battle-axe. The latter, a very formidable weapon, is also used as an implement of agriculture and tool for all work. It is shown in the photograph of the Ho Booiee. With the bow and arrow they are very expert, commencing to practise with it at the earliest age. Boys of every age, from three or four years and upwards, when herding cattle or otherwise engaged, have always their bow and blunt and sharp arrows, the former for practice at marks, the latter to bring down birds when they get a chance.
In appearance the Hos are decidedly the handsomest of the tribes called Cole. In their erect carriage and fine manly bearing they look like men that have maintained and are proud of their independence. They are also the tallest, and, taking them as a whole, the fairest, of the races treated of. They have generally high cheek-bones, but straight-set eyes, high noses, well-formed mouths with beautiful teeth, and the facial angle as good as in the Hindoo races. The figures, both of male and female, freely displayed by the extreme scantiness of the national costume, are often models of beauty. But this description applies only to the people of the highly cultivated part of the country, who have seldom been subjected to severe privations. The inhabitants of the imperfectly reclaimed hill forests are well represented in Dr. Simpson’s pictures of the Korewahs. (Plates 20, 21.) — Compiled from Report by Major Dalton, Commissioner of Chota Nagpore.