Santhals are a tribe found in rural Orissa and West Bengal. They believe that every individual born on earth comes destined to die by some specific stroke of fate. How the individual dies is determined at birth and this is called Dana or move (like the moves of a chess game). This move determines the kind of death the person would get – at the hands of a tiger, snake, a fall from a tree or just from old age.

‘Tiger Move’ is a retold version of ‘Bagh Dana’, a folktale narrated by well known writer Sitakant Mahapatra in his book ‘The Endless Weave’. It shows the extent to which tribal life is integrated with the environment. Note how the animals, trees and humans speak the same language, and form part of a long ecological chain of birth, death and renewal.

Tiger Move
Tiger Move [Illustration by Shinod AP]
In a tiny village on the outskirts of a dense forest, there lived a Santhal warrior named Ethoa. He had a younger sister named Noh, whom he had married off to a rich Santhal merchant. Noh left with her husband for a distant village after the marriage.

A year later, Ethoa felt anxious about the welfare of his sister and wished to visit her. So he set out for the far-off village where she lived asking directions from many people. He had to cross several forests, hills and valleys in the course of his journey.

The evening found him passing through a forest. At its end, lay a village. In despair, he sat under a Mahul tree, in which blooms the intoxicating Mahula flower. The tree requested him to climb up its branches and rest.

Slowly the night deepened and tigers, bears and snakes were seen moving about in groups. A tiger told the tree on which Ethoa was sitting, “Come, let us visit the village at the end of this forest. There a boy has been born. Let us go and see by what move (Dana) he would be dying”.

The tree apologised for being unable to go with the tiger as he had a guest in his house. He requested the tiger to inform him about the boy’s destiny on his way back. Ethoa realised that the village mentioned by the tiger was the name of his sister’s village. He grew anxious: did his sister give birth to a boy?

Towards dawn, the tiger and other wild animals returned, they informed the tree that the boy would die by the “tiger-move” and that too at the time of his marriage. They also informed the Mahul tree that the boy had been born to a lady named Noh.

Now Ethoa was sure it was indeed his sister. Next day, Ethoa raced to his sister’s house and participated in the naming ceremony of the child. Before leaving the village, Ethoa cautioned Noh that she must consult him before finalising the marriage of the boy.

Time passed. Months, and then years rolled by. The boy grew up to be a handsome young man and his family organised the auspicious day and time for his marriage after selecting a bride.

Ethoa rushed to his sister’s house. He cautioned his nephew not to venture out anywhere without informing him. The whole night he kept vigil outside the room where his nephew slept. Early next morning, when the nephew went out into the open fields unmindful of the anxious calls of his maternal uncle, a tiger that lay hidden in the fields pounced upon him.

In no time however, Ethoa the brave warrior, came to his nephew’s rescue, and hacked the animal to death. He then narrated the whole story to his nephew, brother-in-law and his weeping sister.

Just then his nephew shouted at the dead tiger: “So this creature would have eaten me up!” Saying so he kicked the tiger’s open mouth even as his uncle was begging him not to. And, as he kicked, his foot got stuck against a rapier-sharp tiger’s tooth and began to bleed profusely.

The bleeding wouldn’t stop no matter what his parents and uncle did. Soon the boy died of excessive bleeding.