Bhil - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. As hunters and gatherers, the Bhils traditionally relied primarily on the bow and arrow, although spears, slings, and axes were also used. Game hunted by the Bhils included rabbits, foxes, deer, bear, lizards, pigs, birds, rodents, and wild cats. The same weapons were also used for fishing, along with weir baskets, stone and bamboo traps, nets, and poisons. Edible plants, tubers, and fruits gathered from the forest supplemented their diet or their income, as also did honey, wild fruits, and firewood. The mahua tree ( Bassia latifolia ) is an important source of berries and flowers. When they converted to agriculture, the Bhils used slash-and-burn techniques until the method was declared illegal to prevent extensive destruction of the forests. Today fields are farmed continuously, although the lands that were allocated to the Bhils, as enticement to settle down in the nineteenth century, were generally poorer fields that lacked water. Crops planted include maize, millet, cucumbers, cotton, eggplants, chilies, wheat, chickpeas, wild rice, lentils, barley, beans, tobacco, and peanuts. Many Bhils today are landless and make a living working as laborers, primarily in clearing forests and in road repair. The primary draft animal is the bullock, of which each family owns at least a pair, as well as cows with which they may be bred. Buffalo are rare, but goats are kept for their milk and meat, as are pigs and chicken. Most Bhils are nonvegetarian, consuming all forms of game and raising pigs, poultry, and goats for their meat. Although all families own herds of cattle, they are never eaten but are kept for their milk, from which curds and ghee may be made. Maize, rice, wheat, and assorted kinds of millet are staples in the Bhil diet, supplemented with the various vegetables they grow as well as a variety of edible forest products.

Industrial Arts. The Bhil have no tradition of weaving cloth, making pottery, or metalworking and are dependent on trade for the procurement of the products of these crafts.

Trade. The Kotwals, a caste of basket weavers, are an important trading partner from whom the Bhils obtain mats, baskets, winnowers, and grain containers woven from the bark of bamboo. Clothing is bought ready-made. Earthenware vessels need to be traded for from neighboring potter castes. Vohra and Vania traders that set up shop in weekly markets are the Bhils' primary sources for iron implements, spices, salt, and ornaments. For all these products, the Bhil trade excess agricultural produce, such as grain and vegetables, as well as products of the forest, such as wild honey and mahua flowers. The uncertain nature of the Bhil economy has on many occasions made them dependent on moneylenders for funds to make it through periods of scarcity, as well as to pay for ceremonies associated with important ritual occasions. For these loans, collateral may be in the form of future crop harvests or indentured labor.

Division of Labor. The father, as head of the household, controls the pooled income of all members of the family and distributes the daily work among them. The mother assigns and supervises the work among her daughters and daughters-in-law. These duties include the preparation of the family meal and its delivery to the men in the fields. Drawing water from its source, milking the cows, cleaning the cattle shed, and gathering firewood and wild fruits are some of women's daily work. In agriculture, the women assist in transplanting, weeding, and harvesting. The children are generally assigned the task of taking the cattle out to pasture. The agricultural work of plowing and sowing is done by the men and hunting is primarily a male activity.

Land Tenure. The peaceful solution to the conflict Between the Bhils and their neighbors in the late nineteenth century provided the tribals with land for cultivation. Shifting agriculture that the Bhils practiced was ended by government measures that brought pressure to settle permanently and farm the lands allocated to them. Landholdings range from
1.2 to 6 hectares with fruit and nontimber trees considered as part of the property if the owner's father had harvest rights to them. Timber trees are the property of the state. Property taxes are paid to the government annually and the Bhils rarely fall behind in these payments, for fear of offending the goddess of earth and bringing misfortune upon their crops.


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