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Total population
Regions with significant populations
              Jharkhand 700,000
              Orissa 200,000

Ho language


Traditional beliefs

Related ethnic groups

Mundas  • Santals  • Kols

Ho people are a tribal/Adivasi people living primarily in the Indian state of Jharkhand, mostly in the old Singhbhum district. They speak the Ho language, which belongs to the Munda group of languages of the Austroasiatic language family.



Hos are the fourth most numerous tribe in Jharkhand after Santals, Oraons, and Mundas, and constitute around 10.5 percent of the total scheduled tribe population in the state numbering 7,087,068 (total in the state) in the 2001 census.[1] They are not mentioned as significant groups in the census highlights for STs in Orissa[2] and West Bengal[3], but small groups could be present, as the territory they inhabit in Jharkhand borders these two states. According to an American publication, total number of people speaking the Ho language was 1,077,000 in 1997. There were 200,000 people speaking the language in Orissa.[4]


Hos have a manly independent bearing.[5] Sir John Houlton, colonial administrator and author, who spent many years in the area, considers Hos to be “the handsomest” of the Munda group of tribes. They are renowned for their courage and are known as Larka Kols or fighting Kols. He further says, “The women are finely built and many of them are really good looking.” However, another colonial administrator, one O’Malley, found many of them to be ugly.[6] According to Col Dalton, they are “physically and morally superior to the Mundas, Bhumij and Santals”.[5]


Starting from the period between the 9th and 12th centuries, copper was smelted in many parts of old Singhbhum district. It is believed that many immigrants entered Singhbhum from Manbhum in the 14th century or earlier. When the Hos entered old Singhbhum, they overcame the Bhuiyas, who were then inhabitants of the forest country. In the latter half of the eighteenth century, the Hos fought several wars against the Rajas of Chota Nagpur and Mayurbhanj to retain their independence. As far as is known, the Muslims left them alone.[6] Although the area was formally claimed to be a part of the Mughal Empire, neither the Mughals nor the Marathas, who were active in the surrounding areas during the decline of the Mughals, ventured into the area.[5]

In 1765, Chota Nagpur was ceded to the British East India Company as part of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. The Raja of Singhbhum asked the British Resident at Midnapore for protection in 1767 but it was not until 1820 that he acknowledged himself as a feudatory of the British. The restless Hos broke the agreement soon and took part in the fierce rebellion of 1831-33, along with the Mundas.[5] The immediate cause of the Kol uprising in 1831-32 was the oppression of Adivsis by non-Adivasi thikadars (literally meaning contractors) or farmers of rent. The Hos and Mundas were joined by the Oraons and the houses of many dikku (non-Adivasis or outsiders) landlords were burnt and a number of people were killed.[6] It compelled the British to recognise a thorough subjugation of the Hos.[5] The uprising was suppressed with a good deal of trouble by Captain Wilkinson, who had several hundred troops at his disposal.[6] While local troops quelled the uprising, another group under Colonel Richards entered Singhbhum in November 1836. Within three months all the headmen surrendered. In 1857, the Raja of Porahat rose in rebellion and a sizable section of the Hos joined in the revolt. Troops were sent and that put an end to the disturbances in 1859.[5]




In the 2001 census, 91 per cent of the Hos declared that they professed ‘other religions and persuations’.[1] This means that they did not declare themselves to belong to any of the major religious groups and follow their own religious systems. Religion plays an important part in the life of tribals. Their beliefs in gods, goddesses and spirits are ingrained in them from childhood. The religion of the Hos resembles, to a great extent that of Santals, Oraons, Mundas and other tribals in the region. All religious rituals are performed by the village priest, deuri. However, he is not required to propitiate malevolent spirits or deities. The spirit doctor deona takes care of this.[5]


For the Adivasis, dance is the very breath of life rather than a mean of entertainment. Their songs are generally accompanied by dances, which change with the change of seasons. Most villages have an akhra or dancing floor. It is usually a cleared space of hard ground under a spreading tree. The Hos have their distinctive choreography expressive of their culture and art traditions.[7][6]

One of the dancing festivals of the Hos is called Mage Porob, held in the month of Magh. The festivities are organised on a staggered basis in the villages so that other villagers can participate.[6]Tribals in Jharkhand have several festivals.

Position of women

Houlton writes, “I do not want to give the impression, by mentioning occasional divergences from the straight and narrow path, that aboriginals are immoral. On the contrary, their standards of post-marital morality and fidelity are probably a good deal higher than in some races that claim to be more civilised. The status of women is high. Wives are partners and companions to their husbands. It is even whispered that hen-pecked husbands are not uncommon among the tribesmen.”[6]

There is a system of payment of bride-price amongst the Hos. The bride-price is often a status symbol and even until today's modern times it remains not more than Rupees 1001 or rupees 101. As a result many Ho girls remain unmarried till advanced age.[6] Among the Hos, females outnumber the males in their total population.[1]


The Hos brew a sort of rice-beer commonly known as handiaotherwise also known as "diyang" in Ho language. It is said to be highly refreshing and invigorating. It has great importance in religious festivals.It is also used as a good medicine for stomach.[7]


Almost half the population is engaged in cultivation and another one third also work as land-less agricultural labourers.[1] The Hos, along with Santals, Oraons and Mundas, are comparatively more advanced, and have taken to settled cultivation as their mode of life.[7]

The discovery of iron ore in Ho territory opened the way for the first iron ore mine in India at Pansira Buru in 1901.[8] Over the years iron ore mining spread out in the area. Many Hos are engaged in mining work but that does not add up to any sizeable percentage. However, small, well planned mining towns dotting the territory have brought the Ho people in close touch with the good and bad aspects of urbanization. Some of the prominent mining towns in the area are Chiria, Gua, Noamundi and Kiriburu.


Sal (Shorea robusta) is the most important tree in the area and it seems to have a preference for the rocky soil there. Although sal is a deciduous tree and sheds its leaves in early summer, the forest undergrowth is generally evergreen, which has such trees as mangoes, jamun, jackfruit, and piar. Other important trees are mahua, kusum, tilai, harin hara (Armossa rohitulea), gular (Fiscus glomerata), asan. The Singhbhum forests are best in the Kolhan area in the south-west of the district.[7] The lives of Ho people have long been intertwined with sal forests and there is a strong resentment against the efforts of timber merchants to replace sal forests with teak plantations.

The reserved forests are the haunt of many animals. Wild elephants are common in Saranda (literally meaning seven hundred hills) and Porahat forests. Herds of sambar and chital roam about the forests. Bison is still found (locally extinct when a study was undertaken in 2005 by Kisor Chaudhuri FRGS). Tigers were never numerous but they are there (locally extinct when a study was undertaken in 2005 by Kisor Chaudhuri FRGS). Leopards are more common. The Hos are keen hunters and have practically exterminated game in Kolhan. They organise great battues, in which thousands of people join. They beat their drums in a huge circle, and gradually close in over hills and across forests, driving the wild animals on to a central point, on to which lines of hunters converge until the animals are surrounded and slaughtered.[6]


As per the 2001 census, Hos have an overall literacy rate of 39.2% and a female literacy rate of 23.9%.[1] This is against the overall literacy rate of 53.56% in Jharkhand, and a women’s literacy rate of 38.87% in Jharkhand. Both are amongst the lowest literacy rates in India.[9]

Percentage of school-going children in the age group 5 -14 years was 37.6.[1] This is a far cry from UNESCO’s call of education for all by 2015.[10]

Among the Hos 19.7% have completed schooling and 3.1% are graduates.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Jharkhand: Data Highlights the Scheduled Tribes". Census of India 2001. Census Commission of India. Retrieved 2008-03-06.  
  2. ^ "Orissa: Data Highlights the Scheduled Tribes". Census of India 2001. Census Commission of India. Retrieved 2008-03-06.  
  3. ^ "West Bengal: Data Highlights the Scheduled Tribes". Census of India 2001. Census Commission of India. Retrieved 2008-03-06.  
  4. ^ "Ho: A Language of India". SIL International. Retrieved 2008-03-06.  
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Prasad, Hem Chandra, Bihar, 1983/2003, pp. 36, 67, 159, 162, 184, National Book Trust, New Delhi, ISBN 81-237-0151-9
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Houlton, Sir John, Bihar: The Heart of India, 1949, pp. 132, 138-139, 166-169, Orient Longmans, Kolkata.
  7. ^ a b c d Prasad, Hem Chandra, Bihar, pp. 13, 34, 179, 194.
  8. ^ Srinivasan, N.R., History of The Indian Iron and Steel Company, 1983, p. 137
  9. ^ Table 1.5: Ranking of States/ UTs by literacy rate among Persons, Males, Females, 2001 census, in India 2005, pp. 12-13, Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India
  10. ^ "About Education for All". UNESCO. Retrieved 2008-03-06.  

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