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The Primal Land
The Primal Land
Description
About the book

The Primal Land (translated from the Oriya original, Adibhumi) is the saga of the embattled Bonda tribe, which has roamed free among the mountains of Koraput (Orissa) since time began, but now faces extinction.

 

Preface

The Primal Land is an English rendition of Adibhumi, the Oriya novel by Pratibha Ray. Since neither the writer nor the background to her novel, first published in 1993, is likely to be entirely familiar to readers in English, a brief introduction to both may be helpful.

Dr. Pratibha Rai (b. 1944) is arguably the most popular and prolific of living Oriya writers, with numerous novels, collections of short stories, and film and television scripts to her credit. Formerly, a Reader in Education and Currently a member of the State Public Services Commission, she has twice been awarded the Katha prize for the best short story published during a given year. In 1991, her novel Yagnaseni was selected for the prestigious Moorti Devi award instituted by the Gyanpeeth Foundation and has been translated into a number of well as provocative treatments of historical and mythological themes.

The main protagonist in Pratibha Rai’s fiction is almost invariably a woman. Yagnaseni, for instance, is a contemporary re-interpretation of the Draupadi legend, depicting the trials and mental conflicts of a strong-willed, independent woman who finds herself trapped in the conventions of an insensitive, male-dominated social system. However, Pratibha Rai strongly refutes the ‘feminist’ label which is often attached to her writing, preferring to call herself a ‘humanist’. Much of her work is an expose of the aberrations that continue to plague our society, although she is most incisive when dealing with the suffering of a wife, mother or daughter-in-law struggling to attain dignity and self-expression existence.

Adibhumi is a fictionalised reconstruction of life in the little-known Bonda tribe that inhabits the mountains and forests of the Malkangiri region, formerly a part of Koraput district, in the southwestern corner of Orissa. Orissa has been home to 62 ‘Scheduled Tribes’ since pre-historic times. Perhaps the most primitive of these is the Bonda (or Bondo) tribe, which formed the subject of Verrier Elwin’s Bonda Highlanders, published in 1950 (Bombay, Oxford University Press).

The 1981 Census showed the total Bonda population at around 6000, with a rate of growth much lower than that of the other aboriginal tribes, which suggests that they are an endangered species, (More recent figures are not currently available). The Bondas are of Austro-Asiatic origin and inhabit an area of about 200 square kilometers, mostly mountains and inaccessible. This is the self-proclaimed Land of the Bondas, where few outsiders have ventured and life has changed but little since the Stone Age.

Some ethnic and cultural traits of the Bondas have exercised a special fascination for anthropologists. The most remarkable of these is the Bonda system of marriage, in which the wife is always eight to ten years older than her husband. Marriages are performed when the male is about ten years old, so that the wife is more a care-giver than a partner. Pre-marital sex is condoned if not encouraged; the young women shares communal dormitories known as selani dingos, which are visited by males from neighbouring villages (but never from the same village).

The men of the tribe have acquired a fearsome reputation for aggression, violence and criminality—which is not entirely deserved. The social structure is male-oriented in many ways, though women enjoy a fairly high status: the men spend their time consuming liquor while the women do most of the work. Consequently—though the inherent ferocity of the Bonda male has never been fully explained—the men are liable to anger and pick fights at the slightest provocation, real or imagined, and as they are always heavily armed , homicide is frequent. Blood feuds across families continue through generations and every murder has to be avenged. The killer invariably surrenders to the police, mainly to escape the retribution which is bound to follow. Long jail sentences are imposed, during which the wife is expected to remain loyal and look after the home and the fields faithfully. When the husband finally returns, the wife is in decline while her boy-husband is at the peak of his physical and sexual powers. What follows is not difficult to imagine.

Pratibha Rai spent several years, as part of a post-doctoral research project, studying the cultural patterns of the Bondas and their effect on the lives of the women. The project involved extended periods of stay in the Bonda country and close interaction with members of the tribe, who are traditionally hostile to Khangars (outsiders). Adibhumi was an unpremeditated but happy outcome of the project. Anthropological fiction, or rather fictionalised anthropology, is an established genre, of which Verrier Elwin has been a noted exponent in this country. The subject-matter of this book, rich in elements of folk-lore, mythology and magic, lends itself admirably to a stylised as well as fictionalised treatment; however, there can be little doubt that it is the social condition of the Bonda women that has chiefly engaged the writer’s attention. Although the novel has no central character, the author’s affection most clarity goes on Budei, who becomes a symbol of female suffering and forbearance.

The novel is more than a chronicle from an exotic culture; however, it also becomes a living record of the social and political upheaval that India is going through. Already, the region inhabited by tribal populations on the both sides of the Orissa-Andhra border has become one of the most violence-prone in the country. Decades of neglect and exploitation are beginning to boomerang.

A final word to the reader. It will be seen that a large number of Bonda terms, which occur frequently in the book, have been left untranslated, although the contexts in which they occur are mostly transparent. At least one national publisher turned down the script of The Primal Land on the ground that it had been ‘under-translated’. Another editor suggest that I anglicise most of the Bonda terms, retaining only a few to give the book some ‘flavour’. I have resisted the advice and I am grateful to Hemlata Shankar of Orient Longman, who has supposed my view.

In two decades of translation, I have mostly had to face the charge that my versions are not faithful to the original texts. Now comes the reverse charge that I have been too close to the original. I believe that any translation into English should read like an authentic English text and that the syntax and idiom should be acceptable to the native-speaker of English. At the same time, it should be a text that no native-speaker could have produced. Much more than the ‘flavour’ of the original needs to be retained; one has to try and re-create in English a world that is not normally accessible in English—a fragile world that resists transplanting. Demanding that this world be made totally accessible—presented on a platter, as it were—is unreasonable. A translation is a challenge for the reader as well as the translator; a high degree of empathy is necessary. Unless one is prepared to accept the original text on its own terms and make an effort to share its cultural assumptions, one cannot hope to “enter” the text in any meaningful way. Reading a translation should be an exploration and not a conducted tour. I have, however, provided parenthetical glosses of important Bonda terms, as well as an alphabetized glossary. I would like to beg forgiveness of any reader who still finds the translation ‘confusing’.

As the Bonda tribe, already under threat, is likely to get assimilated in a generation or two, this could well serve as their obituary.

Sample Pages













The Primal Land

Item Code:
NAI241
Cover:
Paperback
Edition:
2009
ISBN:
9788125018964
Language:
English
Size:
8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Pages:
288
Other Details:
Weight of the Book: 320 gms
Price:
$35.00
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$26.25   Shipping Free
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About the book

The Primal Land (translated from the Oriya original, Adibhumi) is the saga of the embattled Bonda tribe, which has roamed free among the mountains of Koraput (Orissa) since time began, but now faces extinction.

 

Preface

The Primal Land is an English rendition of Adibhumi, the Oriya novel by Pratibha Ray. Since neither the writer nor the background to her novel, first published in 1993, is likely to be entirely familiar to readers in English, a brief introduction to both may be helpful.

Dr. Pratibha Rai (b. 1944) is arguably the most popular and prolific of living Oriya writers, with numerous novels, collections of short stories, and film and television scripts to her credit. Formerly, a Reader in Education and Currently a member of the State Public Services Commission, she has twice been awarded the Katha prize for the best short story published during a given year. In 1991, her novel Yagnaseni was selected for the prestigious Moorti Devi award instituted by the Gyanpeeth Foundation and has been translated into a number of well as provocative treatments of historical and mythological themes.

The main protagonist in Pratibha Rai’s fiction is almost invariably a woman. Yagnaseni, for instance, is a contemporary re-interpretation of the Draupadi legend, depicting the trials and mental conflicts of a strong-willed, independent woman who finds herself trapped in the conventions of an insensitive, male-dominated social system. However, Pratibha Rai strongly refutes the ‘feminist’ label which is often attached to her writing, preferring to call herself a ‘humanist’. Much of her work is an expose of the aberrations that continue to plague our society, although she is most incisive when dealing with the suffering of a wife, mother or daughter-in-law struggling to attain dignity and self-expression existence.

Adibhumi is a fictionalised reconstruction of life in the little-known Bonda tribe that inhabits the mountains and forests of the Malkangiri region, formerly a part of Koraput district, in the southwestern corner of Orissa. Orissa has been home to 62 ‘Scheduled Tribes’ since pre-historic times. Perhaps the most primitive of these is the Bonda (or Bondo) tribe, which formed the subject of Verrier Elwin’s Bonda Highlanders, published in 1950 (Bombay, Oxford University Press).

The 1981 Census showed the total Bonda population at around 6000, with a rate of growth much lower than that of the other aboriginal tribes, which suggests that they are an endangered species, (More recent figures are not currently available). The Bondas are of Austro-Asiatic origin and inhabit an area of about 200 square kilometers, mostly mountains and inaccessible. This is the self-proclaimed Land of the Bondas, where few outsiders have ventured and life has changed but little since the Stone Age.

Some ethnic and cultural traits of the Bondas have exercised a special fascination for anthropologists. The most remarkable of these is the Bonda system of marriage, in which the wife is always eight to ten years older than her husband. Marriages are performed when the male is about ten years old, so that the wife is more a care-giver than a partner. Pre-marital sex is condoned if not encouraged; the young women shares communal dormitories known as selani dingos, which are visited by males from neighbouring villages (but never from the same village).

The men of the tribe have acquired a fearsome reputation for aggression, violence and criminality—which is not entirely deserved. The social structure is male-oriented in many ways, though women enjoy a fairly high status: the men spend their time consuming liquor while the women do most of the work. Consequently—though the inherent ferocity of the Bonda male has never been fully explained—the men are liable to anger and pick fights at the slightest provocation, real or imagined, and as they are always heavily armed , homicide is frequent. Blood feuds across families continue through generations and every murder has to be avenged. The killer invariably surrenders to the police, mainly to escape the retribution which is bound to follow. Long jail sentences are imposed, during which the wife is expected to remain loyal and look after the home and the fields faithfully. When the husband finally returns, the wife is in decline while her boy-husband is at the peak of his physical and sexual powers. What follows is not difficult to imagine.

Pratibha Rai spent several years, as part of a post-doctoral research project, studying the cultural patterns of the Bondas and their effect on the lives of the women. The project involved extended periods of stay in the Bonda country and close interaction with members of the tribe, who are traditionally hostile to Khangars (outsiders). Adibhumi was an unpremeditated but happy outcome of the project. Anthropological fiction, or rather fictionalised anthropology, is an established genre, of which Verrier Elwin has been a noted exponent in this country. The subject-matter of this book, rich in elements of folk-lore, mythology and magic, lends itself admirably to a stylised as well as fictionalised treatment; however, there can be little doubt that it is the social condition of the Bonda women that has chiefly engaged the writer’s attention. Although the novel has no central character, the author’s affection most clarity goes on Budei, who becomes a symbol of female suffering and forbearance.

The novel is more than a chronicle from an exotic culture; however, it also becomes a living record of the social and political upheaval that India is going through. Already, the region inhabited by tribal populations on the both sides of the Orissa-Andhra border has become one of the most violence-prone in the country. Decades of neglect and exploitation are beginning to boomerang.

A final word to the reader. It will be seen that a large number of Bonda terms, which occur frequently in the book, have been left untranslated, although the contexts in which they occur are mostly transparent. At least one national publisher turned down the script of The Primal Land on the ground that it had been ‘under-translated’. Another editor suggest that I anglicise most of the Bonda terms, retaining only a few to give the book some ‘flavour’. I have resisted the advice and I am grateful to Hemlata Shankar of Orient Longman, who has supposed my view.

In two decades of translation, I have mostly had to face the charge that my versions are not faithful to the original texts. Now comes the reverse charge that I have been too close to the original. I believe that any translation into English should read like an authentic English text and that the syntax and idiom should be acceptable to the native-speaker of English. At the same time, it should be a text that no native-speaker could have produced. Much more than the ‘flavour’ of the original needs to be retained; one has to try and re-create in English a world that is not normally accessible in English—a fragile world that resists transplanting. Demanding that this world be made totally accessible—presented on a platter, as it were—is unreasonable. A translation is a challenge for the reader as well as the translator; a high degree of empathy is necessary. Unless one is prepared to accept the original text on its own terms and make an effort to share its cultural assumptions, one cannot hope to “enter” the text in any meaningful way. Reading a translation should be an exploration and not a conducted tour. I have, however, provided parenthetical glosses of important Bonda terms, as well as an alphabetized glossary. I would like to beg forgiveness of any reader who still finds the translation ‘confusing’.

As the Bonda tribe, already under threat, is likely to get assimilated in a generation or two, this could well serve as their obituary.

Sample Pages













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