People and Customs of Morni

October 15, 20110 Comments

19th century hillmen of higher Himalyas

There are interesting accounts about the nature, character and customs of the hill people of Morni in the 19th and early 20th century British Gazetteers, books and newspapers. Some of these accounts are reproduced for the readers:

‘The Morni cultivators: The cultivators in the Morni hills are chiefly Gujars,  Kanets and Brahmans in the lower hills and Kanets,  Kolis and Brahmans in the upper ranges of the tract. The kanets and kolis are essentials residents of the hills, the former claiming an impure Rajput origin while the latter are menials and artisans rather than members of an agricultural caste. The Gujjars differ little from their brethren in the plains, but the whole Morni population are a simple, orderly class mixing as little as possible with the residents of the plains, and seldom coming into contact with the authorities of the district.

Houses and domestic life: In the Khadir tracts, and generally near the hills, the villages are for the greater part, composed of thatched huts their walls, made from the sandy soil, not being able to bear the weight of a heavy roof. In many parts the cottage roofs are overgrown with gourds, whose large green leaves and bright flowers of white or yellow present a very picturesque appearance. In the Morni hill tract the people are often comfortably housed in substantial cottages with good stone walls. In the remainder of the district, the walls of the houses (kothas) are of mud, or clods of dry earth, taken out of the tanks when they are dried up, or from the dried up and cracked rice fields. The roof of the kotha is also of mud; the beams which support it, and which are principally made of sal wood, rest partly on the mud walls and partly on upright beams about six feet high. Across these lie smaller beams, and over these grass: lastly, upon the grass about three inches of earth is laid, come of the houses possess a chimney, or rather a hole in the roof, to let the smoke escape.’

Gazetteer of the Ambala District, 1892-93

 

‘The hill portion of Ambala district covers an area of about 100 square miles, and contains a population of about 6000. . . The people are very industrious, simple race. Polyandry exists in some of the remote villages.  They are almost entirely Hindus much attached to their homes, and they seldom visit the plains. The rights to their holdings are held most sacred, the owner may be absent for a hundred years but he will be held in remembrance, and should his desendants return at any time, they can occupy the old possessions without question or remonstrance.’

The Land of Five Rivers and Sindh, 1883. Author: David Ross

 

Area of the hill tract,97 square miles. Population (1868) 5660, or 58 per square mile.The people are a simple race, seldom visiting the plains, and clinging to their proprietary rights with the usual tenacity of hillmen. Kanets, Bhats, Gujars, and Kolis form the principal castes.Hinduism is the almost universal religion.Polyandry, frequent in the neighbouring hill tribes, does not occur.No roads exist passable even by a pony, and the villages are mere clusters of huts. Nevertheless, cultivation has spread over most of the available hill-sides, and irrigation from the Ghaggar or from drainage fertilizes every possible field. The inhabitants are extremely industious and take great pains in cultivating their terraced slopes.
The Imperial Gazetteer of India.Vol.8, 1886 W. W. HUNTER

 

Human Sacrifice in Nahan Hills (1937)

The people of Sirmur and Mornee ilaqa were generally known to be simple, orderly hill folk living a frugal but self-satisfied life, in harmony with each other and nature. Yet, there existed a darker side to these people who lived lives of isolation, with little exposure to modern education, science and rational thought. Superstitions flourished in such a scenario with belief in the existence of evil spirits and omens and an unquestioned faith in black magic and remedies offered by the village shaman for countering the influence of the evil eye. Animal sacrifices were a part of accepted rituals to appease the gods and even human sacrifices were not unknown. One such sordid instance was reported as late as September, 1937. A young man of a neighbouring village was decoyed by the Headman of the Gunpur village in Nahan area and was thereafter kept in chains in a locked room for three days without food or water. The hapless victim was then paraded through the village street in chains with the accompaniment of drum beats. The victim’s forehead was smeared with vermillion and ashes and a garland was put around his neck and his head was chopped-off at the sacrificial altar in the village temple as the on-lookers sang devotional songs. This macabre episode took place at the behest of the village priest who advised a human sacrifice to appease the rain god to end a distressing period of drought. The police discovered the head at the foot of the temple deity. The young victim’s wife committed suicide in the police station when she learnt of the terrible deed. A swift trial followed and the village headman was sentenced to transportation for life, his three accomplices were sentenced to 14 years of rigorous imprisonment and the village priest who officiated the morbid ceremony was awarded 10 years imprisonment.

References:

  1. The Horsham Times, Victoria, Friday 13th May 1938
  2. The Sydney Morning Herald, New South Wales, Wednesday 15th September 1937
  3. The Daily News, Perth, Tuesday 14th September 1937

 

David Ross in his description of Kotaha and Morni in ‘The Land of Five Rivers and Sindh’ (1883) describes a peculiar contraption used by the hill women in Kotaha for keeping their children cool. The extract is given here.

Curious Treatment of Children:- In the hilly tracts a very curious custom prevails among the natives, which is graphically described by Mr. P.S. Melvil, C.S.I., in his settlement report for that district. He remarks: “Could the English hydropathists see these hills, they would adduce an argument for the propriety of their treatment in the method used with your children. Passing along the hill-sides, one occasionally sees a number of little cascades, one above the other, the water at the mouth of each passing along a narrow bamboo duct, and then falling some 1½ to 2 feet. These have been arranged by the village women, who every day in the hot and cold weather, take their young children, during the sunny hours, and put them to sleep under the cascades. A pillow is made of dried grass, and the head is so placed, that the stream of water shall fall on the region of the brain.  The mothers sit watching their children all the time.  In the cold season, the time devoted to this penance is shorter; but in the hot weather, the operation is commenced at about ten o’clock in the morning and continues till evening.  It is said that children not subjected to this treatment generally die.  The benefits derived are steady bowels, healthy eyes, free action of the throat, and a less inclination to small-pox.  There can be no doubt of the efficacy of the system, for otherwise the people would not go to such excessive trouble.  There seems to be some great heat in the constitution of these hill people, which needs an antidote, or else their natures are incapable of bearing the heat of the climate.”

 



							

Filed in: History of Morni

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An environmental enthusiast who loves tramping through the hills in search of the picturesque.

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