Mormu Oraon was lying under a sal tree in the jungle. As the first rays of golden sunlight fell on her face, she stirred a little. Rubbing her eyes, she sat up slowly. Nearby, her mother poured steaming tea into clay cups. Dawn had just broken, but the day had begun for the Oraon family.
Twelve-year-old Mormu is an adivasi or a tribal. She lives in Ranchi district, in India’s eastern state of Bihar. She is the first in her family to go to school.
Her mother, Haria, or her grandmother, Hirma, had never heard of school.
But, like her mother or grandmother, Mormu too has learnt to go into the forest. From an early age, all adivasi girls go the forest to collect wood, berries and the mahua flower, which has an intoxicating effect. They sell these at the local haat, or bazaar, to make a living.
Walking for miles with heavy head loads, they cross forests full of animals like wolves, elephants and sometimes panthers. Then they reach these bazaars.
In the rainy season, even this is not possible, because their houses are completely cut off by roaring waterfalls.
Mormu’s mother and grandmother have had no schooling, but they have special skills to survive in the forest. They are expert swimmers, and they can catch fish with their bare hands.
They can also understand the language of animals. They try never to hurt them. They only hunt small creatures like wild rabbits and hens. This is how they have managed to live in harmony with animals within the forest for hundreds of years.
In her tribe, Hirma, Mormu’s grandmother, is known for her bravery. She knows no fear and is often heard singing as she walks along the jungle trails. Like all adivasis in south Bihar, she has also learnt to use the bow and arrow. And she never misses her mark.
Hirma often tells Mormu the tale of how a wolf had carried away her son (Mormu’s uncle) when he was a tiny baby. It was spring, and they were sleeping just outside their hut. It was pitch dark. The forest was full of animal cries.
Suddenly, Hirma woke up feeling something was wrong. Her son, Mormu’s uncle, was gone! She screamed and ran into the jungle. Since she knew the paths
well, she followed the one along the waterfall. In an open area, she found the child. He had been abandoned by the wolf.
Like Hirma, Mormu’s mother also knows a lot about the forest, and about the special roots and leaves from which medicines are made. She has helped cure many people, especially of snakebites. Snakebites are common in the forest.
But if the illness is serious, Haria sends the adivasis to the district hospital, which
is nearly 60 kilometres away. Since there are no roads, the men have to
carry the patient on their backs and trek through the jungle to reach
But, Mormu’s life is very different from both Hirma and Haria. By the time she was born, a school had come up in the forest. Even though it is small
and far away from where she lives, Mormu was sent to school.
Mormu’s life is also different from children who go to school in many other parts of India, especially the cities. Before going to school, she helps her mother and grandmother gather firewood from the forest.
Mormu is happy that she can read and write. But she is also happy to learn about medicinal plants from her mother and grandmother. She learns from them just as they learnt from their mothers and grandmothers. Whenever she has time, she sits with her mother and learns to mix the right herbs.
And, in her spare time, she goes into the forest to practice shooting with the bow — not only to hunt, but also for her own security. And, whenever she is free, she plunges into the waterfall in search of fish, or sometimes just for fun.
Little Mormu’s life is changing. But, like her mother and grandmother, she also knows the secrets of the earth – of the forests, its animals and its plants. She is a natural daughter of the earth.