The Bonda Tribe: Experience an aboriginal journey

The Bonda Tribe: Experience an aboriginal journey

The Bonda Tribe: Experience an aboriginal journey

 Images and article by Tania Chatterjee

Weekly Market of the Bonda Tribe

The only gateway to see and interact with the highly protective Bonda tribal community is their weekly market. The weekly market is held in the village of Onkadelli. The village is a few minutes’ drive from Jeypore town. Onkadelli weekly market is a delightful chaos. It is a great place to observe and interact with Bonda tribal women and experience little about their life. Bonda men hardly visit this weekly market.

Local people including people from other tribal groups also visit the market. The come to the local market from far off villages for buying and selling. Some tribals take a long arduous walk to this market. These weekly tribal bazaars or market are interesting places for trade, recreations and social interactions.

Starting from fresh vegetables and local fruits, medicinal plants, flowers, mahua drinks, groceries, variety of snacks and beverages all are available in the market. Making and selling of snacks is very popular in this weekly market. The fruits and vegetables in the market are grown locally and they look so organic and fresh. The market is also known to provide basic grocery items like rice, pulses and other food for the nearby tribal villages.

Most interesting part of this market is to see 30 to 40 Bonda women roaming around the market and trying to sell their products. They mainly sell Mahua drinks, bead necklaces and few other handmade products. The market is a very interesting place to see and interact with Bonda women.

Bonda Tribe- the Primitive Vulnerable tribes

The Bonda tribe” is one of India’s one of the most primitive tribe. They have a fascinating culture dating back thousands of centuries. If I say that the “Bonda tribe” is under threat of existence; it is not an overstatement but a reality. The Bonda tribe lives in isolated hills of the Malkangiri and Koraput districts of Odisha.

The Bonda tribe is classified as one of India’s Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs). They are one of most fast disappearing tribes in India and therefore have special protection. According to the 2011 census report, there are only 12,231 Bondas left in this region. The Upper Bonda tribal group, who lives in interior forest hill region, are completely cut off with the mainstream civilization.

The Bonda Tribe – cut-off from modern civilisation

The most interesting part about the Bondas is their non-acceptance of modern civilisation. They have preserved and conserved their primitive social customs and traditions and are reluctant to change them as per modern civilisation. Because of their isolation lifestyle and aggressiveness nature, mainstream development workers are reluctant to venture in their areas. This isolation has helped them to preserve their culture.

The culture and tradition of the Bonda tribe has not changed much over thousand years. Administration has divided the tribe into two categories Upper Bonda and Lower Bonda. The people of upper Bonda live on the hills and are highly inaccessible. There is marked differences in the dress of the upper and lower Bonda. People from the upper Bonda tribe still do not wear any clothes. Upper Bonda hardly have any connection with the world outside their territory. There are several tribal development schemes and pressures of modernisation but it is just a matter of time when the trend shifts to other side.

Diversifying Culture of the Bonda Tribe

Remo is the language spoken by the people of Bonda tribe. The language has no script and is at the risk of extinction. Researchers believe it a kind of Austro-Asiatic language. In Bonda tribes middle age women marry teenage boys or even younger. It is the women’s responsibility to raise the boy to a man. Bonda is matriarchal women dominated society. The Bonda men used to do lot of hunting in the past. Women do all the domestic workers and secure food for the family. With hunting not prevalent any more the men now do agriculture. Agriculture in the region is difficult due to the terrain and availability of water in the hills. Consuming alcohol in form of Mahua or rice beer is predominant in their society.



The Bonda men and woman are generally semi clothed. The Bonda women look exceptional beautiful in their tradition attire. They wear a peculiar small piece of cloth coving their waist is known is “ ringa”. This small piece of skirt coving their private parts made of kerang fiber. They weave that cloth on their own.

The Bonda women usually shave their heads and wear headbands made with colourful beads. These headbands are known as turuba and lobeda. They wear large number of colourful beaded necklaces called mali instead of cloth, covering the upper body part. Apart from these, they wear heavy aluminium layers of neckbands, known as khagla. All Bonda women wear similar brass earring known as limbi and aluminium finger rings known as orti.

Both their hands are full with glass or light metal bangles. All of them wear only blue colour piece of cloth wrapped around their back. In their traditional attire the Bonda women look like primitive deities. The Bonda men usually carry lethal bows and arrows.

Photographing the Bondas

The Bonda women are the most photogenic tribes in India. Bonda women will ask for money to be photographed. For them it is a way of income. The money that you pay is way to buy some extra food for their family and pay for some of their ornaments. Due to their extreme isolation people from Bonda Tribe are very poor and malnourished. They don’t hesitate to ask for fruits and vegetables from the tourist. The Bonda women would request your empty plastic water bottles; it is useful for them to carry the drinks. 

As a part of travelling and photographic fraternity I would humbly request all travelers to respect them. Also maintain photographic ethics and prevent exploiting their vulnerability. 


NOTE: Onkadelli market area is highly politically sensitive area. The market is under strong surveillance by Indian Arm Forces. Beyond the market area, movement of tourist is restricted.


If you are interested to join my Bonda tribal photography workshops, visit my website FOTORBIT PHOTOGRAPHY TOURS for further updates

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