Sora - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Sora groups in the plains, such as the Kapu Sora, live by rice cultivation and work much like their caste-Hindu neighbors. In the hills, the only possible rice cultivation is rain-fed and small-scale, so that the population depends largely on shifting cultivation, or slash-and-burn agriculture, on hill slopes. Each year in the hot season (May-June) Sora cut down and burn an area of forest; at the start of the rains (July-August) they sow seeds. The main harvest is from November to February. Shifting cultivation gives a varied diet of gourds, millets, sorghum, wild rice, pulses, and edible leaves, which is both more nutritious and less dependent on rainfall than a diet based almost solely on rice. However, above a certain level of exploitation such cultivation causes irreversible degradation to the soil. This brings Sora into conflict with the Forestry Department, in whom ownership of nonirrigated land is vested. Sora eat most kinds of animals, either domestic animals sacrificed for rites or hunted wild animals. The Sora diet is based on a watery gruel or porridge, with a garnish of vegetables or meat when available. They use few spices and no oil, since cooking is done only by boiling. They drink palm wine and never milk. Tea is used by Christians, who have given up alcohol.

Industrial Arts. Sora manufacture most everyday articles themselves out of trees, leaves, stones, and earth. Houses are built entirely by work parties of friends and relatives. People make their own tools, bows and arrows, and other objects. Although Sora use store-bought aluminum dishes in the house, they stitch together large leaves with splinters of bamboo to form bowls for use outdoors.

Trade. Other necessities are bought in neighboring towns or in weekly markets ( hat ) held at sites where the plains meet the hills. Here, merchants from the plains sell clothing, iron axe heads and plow tips, salt, chilies, and jewelry. Recently the Sora have given up making their own pottery and mats and so now they buy these too. The local Pano population also travels around Sora villages selling soap, tobacco, and other small articles. Individual traders build up long-term Relations with particular Sora villages and customers. The most important commodities sold in this way are buffalo for Sacrifice, since these can supposedly not be bred in the Sora hills. In return, the Sora sell various millets and forest produce like tamarind, which is in great demand among caste Hindus for curries. The quantities sold are enormous and the prices received are low. The need to keep selling contributes to the ecological degradation of the Sora hills, since cultivation is not simply for subsistence.

Division of Labor. Poorer people work for hire in the fields, but the egalitarian ethos of reciprocal work parties ( onsir ) is strong. The most important specialized occupation is that of the shaman. There are also hereditary lineages of Village heads, deputy heads, pyre lighters, and priests of the Village deity ( kidtung ). All of these are male except for the occasional village head. The specialist lineages of potters, basket weavers, and blacksmiths have largely abandoned their craft and their customers now buy in the market. But the relations between these lineages and the rest of the population are still strongly expressed during rites. Although they perform conventional tasks, men's and women's roles are not as strictly divided as in many Indian societies and there is no task that cannot be done by either sex without embarrassment (except that women traditionally do not climb trees or play musical instruments). Thus, men can be seen fetching water for the household and women plowing with a team of buffalo. The role of women in ritual is striking: the most important shamans are female, and it is mostly the surrounding women who converse with the souls of the dead when they speak through the shaman in trance.

Land Tenure. Ownership of irrigated rice fields is recognized by law and such fields can be bought and sold. Behind this legalistic concept of land tenure lies another, in which ancestors reside after death in the sites that their descendants cultivate, thereby guaranteeing their heirs' rights. Because irrigated land gives a higher yield for the input of labor, it tends to be owned by relatively wealthy people, who thereby become wealthier. Although non-Sora are legally forbidden to own land in tribal areas, in practice outside traders and moneylenders control much of this land through complex webs of debt, mortgage, and fraud. All households practice shifting cultivation, and poorer households depend on it entirely.

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