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Total population
Regions with significant populations

Birhor language


Traditional beliefs, Hinduism, Christianity

Related ethnic groups

Kharwars  • Hos  • Kols

Birhor people are a tribal/Adivasi forest people, traditionally nomadic, living primarily in the Indian state of Jharkhand. They speak the Birhor language, which belongs to the Munda group of languages of the Austroasiatic language family.[1][2]



Birhor means jungle people - bir means jungle, hos mean men.[3]


The Birhors are a dark-skinned race, with short stature, long head, wavy hair and broad nose. They belong to the Proto-Australoid racial stock. They claim they have descended from the Sun and believe that the Kharwars, who also trace their descent from the Sun, are their brothers. Ethnologically, they are akin to the Santals, Mundas, and Hos. [3][4]


Birhors are found mainly in the area covered by the old Hazaribagh, Ranchi and Singhbhum districts before these were broken down into numerous smaller units, in Jharkhand. Some of them are also found in Orissa, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal. [5] They are one of the smaller of the thirty scheduled tribes inhabiting Jharkhand.[6]


Birhors number around 10,000.[2] According to some sources, their numbers could be lesser than this.[7]


They speak the Birhor language, which belongs to the Munda group of languages of the Austroasiatic language family. Their language has similarities with Santali, Mundari and Ho languages. Birhors have a positive language attitude. They freely use the languages prevalent in the areas they move around and use Sadri, Santali, Ho, Mundari, Hindi and Oriya. Literacy rate in the first language was as low as 0.02 percent in 1971, but around 10 per cent were literate in Hindi.[2]


They follow Hinduism and traditional beliefs.[2]Pentecostal Christianity is making significant inroads into their society.[8]

Socio-economic scenario

The “primitive subsistence economy” of the Birhors has been based on nomadic gathering and hunting, particularly for monkeys. They also trap rabbits and titirs (a small bird), and collect and sell honey. They make ropes out of the fibres of a particular species of vine, which they sell in the markets of the nearby agricultural people. Partly forced by circumstances, partly encouraged by government officials, some of them have settled into stable agriculture, but others continue their nomadic life, but even when they settle down in a village, their tendency is to lead a nomadic life. According to the socio-economic standing the Birhors are classified into two groups. While the wandering Birhors are called Uthlus, the settled Birhors are called Janghis. [2][3][4][7][8]

Traditional religious beliefs

The traditional magico-religious beliefs of Birhors are akin to those of the Hos. Mundari deities such as Sing Bonga (Sun God) and Hapram (ancestral spirits) rank high in esteem. Though the Hapram are believed to live in the supernatural world along with the Bonga, the Birhors make a distinction between these two categories of supernatural spirits. Hapram are placed just below the Bonga. The Birhors think that the entire universe has been created and presided over by Sing Bonga and his wife Chandu Bonga. They are worshipped in the months of Pous and Magh. As a result of contact with Hindu neighbours some Hindu deities such as Debimai, Kalimai, and Mahadev have found a place in their pantheon. [3][9]


The temporary Birhor settlements are known as tandas or bands. These consist of at least half a dozen huts of conical shape, erected with leaves and branches. The household possessions traditionally consisted of earthen utensils, some digging implements, implements for hunting and trapping, rope making implements, baskets and so on. In recent times aluminium and steel have found their way into Birhor huts.[4]

Family and marriage

The family is the smallest unit of Birhor society. Traditional inheritance follows the male line. The husband-wife relationship is very cordial. They dress in a manner similar to their settled neighbours, using mostly traditional Indian dress with some western influence. Women are fond of ornaments. They are divided into a number of totemic clans named after plants, birds, animals, rivers, etc.[4]

Birhors follow the rules of tribal and clan endogamy. A Birhor boy is supposed to get married with a Birhor girl, but the clan of the boy and the girl should not be same. Tandas or bands have families of different clans but they follow the rule of tanda exogamy. At the time of marriage, the blood relationship is explored. The marriage between a boy and a girl is possible only when they are not related up to three generations from the father’s and the mother’s side.[4]

Birhors follow the practice of bride price. When the child attains the marriageable age, it is responsibility of the father to get his son or daughter married. As per traditional custom the father of the boy approaches the father of the girl. When the latter agrees, the father of the boy settles the bride price with father of the girl and the marriage is fixed.[4]

Attempted Integration

After Indian independence in 1947, the government has attempted to settle the Birhors by giving them land, bullocks for cultivation, agricultural implements and seeds. Schools for children, rope making centres and honey collection training centres were started. However, these efforts have borne little fruit as most of the Birhors have reverted back to nomadic life. [4]


  1. ^ "Peaceful Societies Alternatives to Violence and War". Birhor. Retrieved 2008-03-17.  
  2. ^ a b c d e "Birhor – A Language of India". Ethnologue. SIL International. Retrieved 2008-03-17.  
  3. ^ a b c d Soan, Kamal Kishore. "The Birhors". Retrieved 2008-03-17.  
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "The Birhor". A Global Network of Jharkhand. Retrieved 2008-03-17.  
  5. ^ "Peaceful Societies Alternatives to Violence and War". Birhor. Retrieved 2008-03-17.  
  6. ^ "Jharkhand: Data Highlights the Scheduled Tribes". Census of India 2001. Census Commission of India. Retrieved 2008-03-06.  
  7. ^ a b "Peaceful Societies Alternatives to Violence and War". Has the Birhor vanished. Retrieved 2008-03-17.  
  8. ^ a b "Peaceful Societies Alternatives to Violence and War". Have the Birhor been roped into social changes?. Retrieved 2008-03-17.  
  9. ^ Adhikary, Ashim Kumar. "Primal Elements: The Oral Tradition". The Birhor Universe. Retrieved 2008-03-17.  


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