Sora - Orientation

Identification. The Sora are a "tribal" people living historically on the margins between shifting political centers in Central India. They think of themselves as adivasi (tribal), but also as "Hindu," in conscious opposition to the small enclaves of Christian Soras. Culturally, Sora in the plains are similar to surrounding castes but in the hills they retain a distinctive character.

Location. The Sora live in Koraput and Ganjam districts of the state of Orissa and in neighboring parts of Andhra Pradesh, especially Srikakulam District. The Lanjia Sora, who have been studied mainly by Verrier Elwin and Piers Vitebsky, live in the hilly jungles, while several other virtually unstudied groups (e.g., Sarda, Kapu) live in the plains. This article refers to the Lanjia Sora. Within their territory there are settlements of various Oriya and Telugu castes, with some government employees. These settlements are dominated by the Oriya-speaking Pano (Pan, Dom), who trade with the Sora. The Sora lie just on the border between the North Indian and South Indian culture areas. To the northeast are the Indo-Aryan Oriya and to the south the Dravidian-speaking Telugu. To the northwest are the Dravidian-speaking but "tribal" Kond (Khond). The evidence of some place-names along the coast between Puri and Visakhapatnam, areas that now speak Oriya or Telugu, suggests that the Sora formerly were far more widespread and have since been forced into the interior or have survived only there as a separate group. Since early this century, Sora have migrated to the tea gardens of Assam for temporary wage labor and some have remained there. More recently they have migrated to road-building projects in Arunachal Pradesh, though conditions there are less conducive to settling.

Demography. The 1971 census lists about 521,187 Sora, of whom at least half speak the Sora language. The demographic picture is complicated because people around the edge of the Sora area may describe themselves variously. Many populations in the plains who are now nontribal were probably originally Sora.

Linguistic Affiliation. Sora belongs to the South Munda Branch of the Austroasiatic Family and is closely related to Bondo, Gadaba, and Juang. This family includes a number of Southeast Asian languages, especially Mon-Khmer. The Munda languages were perhaps present in India before Indo-Aryan and Dravidian. Sora has several dialects and contains loanwords from Hindi, Oriya, and Telugu. Yet in many areas it retains the power to assimilate these to Sora syntax and morphology. The language developed by Christian Soras as a legacy of Canadian Baptist missionaries already reflects the conceptual gulf between indigenous and Judeo-Christian worldviews.

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