Craftsmanship and Evolution:
Once revered iron-smelters, the Asur tribe has a rich history that includes hunting, shifting agriculture, and a fascinating transition to a predominantly agricultural community, with 91.19 percent engaged in cultivation as per the 2011 census. Their mastery of indigenous iron smelting sets them apart, claiming descent from the ancient Asuras associated with the art of metal craft. The Asur women’s distinctive song during smelting, treating the furnace as an expectant mother, adds a unique touch to their cultural identity. Interestingly, a significant portion of the population has now embraced mining activities.
Social Fabric and Traditions:
Deeply rooted in tradition, the Asur community relies on traditional herbal remedies and settles disputes through their community council, known as “jati panch.” Establishing culinary connections with various neighboring tribes, they live in forest clearings called “pats,” constructing houses with mud walls, wooden poles, and roofs made of paddy straw. The Asur society thrives on a complex system of clans named after elements of nature, with family being a cornerstone. The division into three sub-tribal divisions adds layers to their societal structure.
Spiritual Insights and Festivities:
A tapestry of animism, animatism, naturalism, and ancestral worships colors the spiritual beliefs of the Asur tribe. Singbonga takes center stage as their chief deity, accompanied by Dharati Mata, Duari, Patdaraha, and Turi Husid. Their calendar is marked by vibrant celebrations such as Sarhul, Karma, Dhanbuni, Kadelta, Rajj karma, and Dasahara Karam. Notably, the veneration of Mahishasura during Durga Puja sheds light on a unique perspective regarding their benevolent ancestor.
Rituals of Union and Complexity:
In the realm of matrimony, the Asur tribe places great significance. Abiding by the rule of monogamy, exceptions like bigamy or polygamy arise in cases of barrenness, widowhood, or widowers. Widow remarriages are permitted, and adherence to tribe endogamy is a must during marriage ceremonies. Violating these norms leads to expulsion, with readmission possible after seven feasts are offered to the community members.
Contemporary Struggles and Resilience:
The Asur tribe grapples with an array of challenges, encompassing the absence of basic amenities like health services, education, transportation, and drinking water. The waning tradition of iron-smelting and the encroachment of bauxite mining pose threats to their agricultural-based economy. Migration and displacement have become prevalent issues, with poverty contributing to instances of human trafficking, especially among minor girls. Amidst these tribulations, individuals like Sushma Asur stand as beacons, striving to preserve the art, culture, and existence of the Asur community.
As contact with other castes and tribes increases, the Asur people recognize the need for development in alignment with their cultural background. Surprisingly, 75% of the Asura population identifies agriculture, industry, education, and health as pivotal for social and economic progress. However, a contrasting 25% believes that appeasing local deities holds the key to their future prosperity.
Agriculture as a Backbone
With 76.3% engaged in agriculture and 21.1% as farm workers, it is evident that agriculture forms the backbone of Asur livelihoods. The majority of Asura families own small plots, with 50% possessing less than 5 acres. The challenges lie in modernizing agricultural practices and navigating the evolving economic landscape.
Education emerges as a beacon for the Asur community’s social and economic ascent. Despite the census data of 1971 and 1981 indicating a meager 1% and 0.37% literacy rate, Asur individuals recognize the transformative power of education. The absence of directed initiatives and agencies has hindered educational progress, leaving Asur children with limited options.
Health takes center stage in the worries of the Asur tribe, with 100% expressing concerns about health problems. Modern medicine has made inroads, but accessibility remains a challenge. Rheumatism, esophagus issues, malaria, and gastrointestinal diseases persist, emphasizing the urgent need for comprehensive healthcare solutions.
The Precarious Cycle of Birth
Asur societal customs intertwine with beliefs about childbirth, considering children as gifts from the divine. Barren women face societal challenges, with options like divorce or second marriages to address infertility. The unique Asur approach to tracking pregnancies showcases the blend of tradition and necessity.
Marriage customs among the Asur emphasize homogeneity, prohibiting unions within the same clan and blood relations. Dowries, ranging from 5 to 7 rupees, and the exchange of clothes add cultural richness to their matrimonial celebrations. Polygamy is accepted under specific circumstances, showcasing the adaptability within their cultural norms.
In the absence of written customs, elderly Asur individuals hold a significant role as custodians of social traditions. The Asur perspective on aging suggests a cyclical view of life, where elders contribute to the continuity of rituals and social reforms.
The Asur tribe’s journey through time unfolds as a captivating tale of adaptation and resilience. From their ancient isolation to contemporary struggles, the Asur people navigate a delicate balance between tradition and the demands of a changing world. Understanding their unique challenges and aspirations is vital for fostering sustainable development that respects their cultural heritage.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Do the Asur people still practice traditional customs and rituals?Yes, many Asur people continue to uphold their traditional customs, passed down through generations.
- How are educational initiatives addressing the needs of Asur children?Unfortunately, a lack of directed initiatives and organizational support has hindered educational progress among Asur children.
- What efforts are being made to improve healthcare accessibility for the Asur community?Healthcare accessibility remains a challenge, and there is a need for comprehensive initiatives to address prevalent health concerns.
- Is polygamy common among the Asur people, and under what circumstances is it accepted?Polygamy is accepted among the Asur, typically when there are no children from the first marriage.
- How can external interventions support the Asur tribe without jeopardizing their cultural identity?External interventions should be culturally sensitive, respecting Asur traditions, while addressing contemporary challenges for sustainable development.