« PreviousContinue »
Inhabitants of the Mountains.
In the Santhals of Barakur one fails not to recognize their identity with those uncouth and squalid beings who are seen to work in the ditches of our metropolis. As natural to an inferior race of people under transition, the Santhal no more imitates the Bengalee than does Young Bengal imitate the energy and enterprise of the Anglo-Saxon.
Objects of curiosity and interest as the Santhals are, they but afford a partial and unsatisfactory sight-a mere glimpse of the tribe who inhabit at Barakur. To view them in the untainted purity of their type, the traveller must pass through the barriers of those mountains which gird and isolate them from all mankind. He must penetrate into their wild fastnesses, and climb upon the alpine heights of their abode, to behold groups of bona fide Paharees occupying the sides and summits of the hills- -some basking their bodies in the sun, some hallooing to scare away a bear, or roaming to get a shot at a deer-others sauntering among the woods in search of honey-combs, wild yams, and other edible roots : the women husking the corn, or expressing oil from the mustard-seed, or cooking household food : the young maidens performing the duties of their toilette, or walking or drinking toddy with their intended bridegrooms : and the children either sprawling upon the earth, or reposing in the grass-hammock. The Santhal who dwells in the valley is somewhat a nomad. He has no local attachments. To-day he sets himself down at this spot: to-morrow he is off to another region, with all that he has upon earth, wife,
children, and relatives around him. He is, therefore, looked upon as an interloper. The genuine, intact, and orthodox Paharee loves privacy, and keeps aloof upon his mountain eyrie. The adventurous traveller, who seeks this extraordinary creature in his highland abode, finds himself in a strange land. His new face at first alarms the community. But no sooner does familiarity thaw away the first impressions, than the stranger has the whole village with him, and is alike welcome to the men,
and the children. How appropriately has Bishop Heber styled the Paharees as "Gaels of the East'-little anticipating that Gael would turn out into Coel or Cole; and that the two tribes, apparently seeming to be different from each other by the remoteness of their situation, are in truth branches of the same genealogical tree.
The Hill Tribes of India are yet obscurely known. As representatives of a race anterior to the Aryan Hindoos, the study of their ethnologic characteristics promises to furnish valuable data for the physical history of mankind. In a large measure, the customs of these people, although slightly tinctured with Buddhism and Brahminism, but free from every taint of Mussulman intermixture, remain up to this moment purely conventional to themselves. This, together with their antiquities and traditions, forms a rich mine that may be worked upon to throw light on the Tamulian period of Indian history. Such highly interesting results can be hoped to be obtained only by laborious researches amongst the people. To pursue those reThe Backwoods of Bengal.
searches is feasible now. Our fathers and grandfathers knew as little of the Paharees living in the backwoods of Bengal, as in our day is known of the Bushmen of Africa, or the Maories of New Zealand. In their days few men travelled so far as Raneegunge. All beyond Raneegunge was thought to be chaos, or rubbish thrown aside when the magnificent fabric of the world was created. The region loomed dimly, through an obscuring and distorting haze of fears and prejudices, as a hideous wilderness, full only of crags and glens, woods and wastes, savage beasts and still more savage bipeds. Solitary pilgrims returning from Byjnath spread only tales of pathless jungles, of swarms of bears and tigers, of thugs and marauders, of wild and irreligious Mletchas, and of a thousand other privations. This was the picture seen through the wrong end of the telescope. Now that picture has been seen through the right end. A royal road has been cut through the rocks and jungles; bridges have been flung over the courses of the rivulets; serais and bungalows have succeeded to the dens of beasts and robbers ; chowkies and cutcherries have sprung up where the footsteps of man dared not penetrate; and sanatories have been founded where malaria engendered the most deadly diseases. The apprehensions haunting the minds of our ancestors have subsided into idle fancies. Rather the new realm has turned out to be a world of riches, of poetry, and of enchantment. The feeling of awe and aversion towards it has to be succeeded by one of allurement. The unknown treasures
with which it abounds, cannot fail to attract the attention of capitalists, and make it the future scene of the mineral and metallic enterprise for the country. There shall flock into it holiday tourists to enjoy a peep at romantic nature,-sketchers and photographers to gaze upon gigantic walls of rock, tapestried with the wild foliage and flowers,'— lovers of sport to hunt the gaour in wooded valleys,-invalids to recruit their health upon the breezy hill-tops, -and savans to study a new race of men, a new ornithology, and a new botany. Sooner or later, when this reflux of the public feeling shall come to pass—when all classes of men shall turn their steps to this realm, Santhal men and manners, Santhal lineage and speech, and Santhal traditions and superstitions, will have the best opportunity for investigation. Since forty centuries, the descendants of the ancient Dasyas and Simyas of the Rig-Veda have lived on unknown to the civilized world. But before many generations pass away they are destined to emerge into notice, to occupy a place in the history of our country, and to rise to an honourable position in the view of nations.*
To resume the tale of our journey. The day was near its end. His Phoebusship had sorely tried our patience all the day long, and had not failed to be a drawback to our pushing on and on.
But not so is a hungry stomach, which takes away the edge of the appetite for the picturesque, and leaves you in a humour Taldangah,-a Dawk-Bungalow.
* The spirit of this account has been borrowed from Macaulay's celebrated description of the Highlands.
to be pleased only with a dinner. The doctor was writhing in mortification to have missed the good cheer of a Santhal cabin. Thirst and hunger, therefore, decided us to halt at Taldangah. The bungalow there stood nearly a mile up from the Barakur; and in walking this distance, the bit of exercise proved an agreeable vicissitude after a long pack-up in the gharry. On arrival at the bungalow the khitmutgar made his appearance with a salaam, followed by the other assistants at his heels. He was ordered to prepare a simple dinner of rice and curried fowl, and the men forthwith wended on their ways to make themselves deserving of a douceur. Our servants also began to dress their own meal. The coachmen and syces picketted the horses to graze on a fine sward, while fires were lighted by them, and their cauldrons sent forth volumes of
steam. The scene resembled a little bivouac.
These dawk-bungalows are, in point of fact, miniature roadside inns on the European model. The principal building of masonry, one story high, with a highpeaked roof of thatch or tiles, stands in the middle of a green plot. It consists of a suite of three or four rooms, one of which is appropriated to the purposes of a bath. In a corner of the compound lie the kitchen and outhouses, and adjoining to them is a well, generally of excellent water. There are beddings and furnitures nearly as good as in the houses of decent townsfolk. The eatables and drinkables are good enough for nutritives in their way. The Asiatic has nothing to show like these bungalows. There is no table in a