Monday, January 14, 2013


1. IntroductionThere are large numbers of tribes who have strong religions al local concentration in various parts of India. The Maltos tribe is one of the primitive tribal groups according to the constitution order of 1950.[1] Maltos tribe has its own culture, language and life style. This paper deals with the Maltos’ religious belief system, social structure, kinship structure and further it develops the helpful insights from strategic ministry among Maltos.

2. PurposeThe central theme of this study is to find out how Christian mission can contribute to bring the awakening among these marginalized Maltos. Further is to bring the insights for strategic ministry by studying the details about their religious belief, kinship structure, social structure, religions.

3. People and locationThe Maltos form an ethnic community whose life on the Rajmahal hill in the Central-eastern part of Bihar. They are also known as the mountaineers, variously influenced by the term pahriayas. Maltos are called maler.[2] They address themselves as Maltos and want others to use this name. The Maltos are scattered all over the Rajmahal Hills, which have natural vegetation of the deciduous type.Though the Maltos had a close link between their life and the land and forests, they lost their traditional lands and forests. This process made them as the poorest of the poor in Bihar and one of the most vulnerable tribes in Indian society.

The Maltos were looked down upon by other Biharis people because of their tribal heritage. The non-tribal people manipulated Maltos in various ways. However Maltos wanted to rid themselves of all those who manipulate them but they were neither literate enough nor influencing enough.[3]

4. KinshipAs almost all tribal communities have division, and a notion of hierarchy based on ecology, descent, ranking, and status and so on, the Maltos people are divided into three groups. There are the Sawirya Pachariya, the Kumar Pahariya and the Mal Pahariya. The customs and practices by the Maltos differ from those of the inhabitance of their neighboring plain-people.

Kumarbhag Pahariyas speak the kumarbagh dialect of Maltos. They intermarry with Mal Pahariyas, but will not have any social relationship with Sawiriya Pahariyas whom they consider the lowest of low. They observe all the Maltos tribal customs and manners, and have a tribal pattern of life. They do not eat beef. They are mainly concentrated in the Southern portions of Pakur district, in Godda and Dumka districts.[4]

Mal Pahariyas speak the Malpahariya dialect of Maltos. They also do not eat beef. They do not have any social relationship with Sawriya Pahariyas whom they look down on as unclean and unwilling to mix with their tribe in any way.

Sawria Pahariya speaks the Sawria Pahariya dialect of Maltos[5]. They eat beef. They are the single largest community among the Maltos tribe. They are mainly concentrated in Rajmahal Hills of Godda, Sahibganj, and Pakur districts. They retain more of the habits in the matter of food. They call themselves the asal pahariyas.[6] Because they have not subjected themselves to any restriction in regard to what they eat.[7]These three divisions of the Maltos tribe usually live separately from other division of the tribe without coming in contact with others. These three distinct tribes have all been lumped under lumped under the umbrella terms Paharia and Maltos

5. Religion     The Maltos are animists. They believe in malevolent and benevolent spirits in habiting mountains, rivers, trees and waterfalls that protect crops and cause disaster, etc., and therefore have to be propitiated. They believe that the sun, moon and stars are the source of all power and are the supreme gods.

The concept of a supreme being is found in Maltos religion. They believe that supreme God created seven brothers, they say, to posses the earth; and they pretend to be descended from the eldest of them.[8]  This Supreme Being is transcendental and interestingly their God is feminine.

Most Maltos attribute the creation of the universe to gosanyi. According to the belief of the Maltos, God is almighty – the world is too big but god is the master of it. God is omnipresent – everywhere you can find and worship her. She helps the spirits back to the village. God is omniscient – a great being from whose sight nothing can escape or hide.  But contact with this Supreme Being is infrequent. Therefore this Maltos Supreme Being has no temple and priest.[9]

Maltos tend to be oriented in thinking and practice towards their local gods or spirits or deities more than the Supreme Being. As Eugene rightly observes, that “most animistic religions are particularistic in the sense that the deities are strictly those of the particular tribe.” [10]  The Maltos tribal gods, spirits and the deities are only concerned with the Maltos.

There are a host of local gods or spirits which are revered and feared by the Maltos. More of these spirits reside at the outskirts of the village and in hills. Some of them have abode in big trees and stones of unusual shape and size. Kanya gosanyi, kondo gosanyi, sinybatte gonsayi, rakes gosnayi, mariya gosanyi, dasmi gosanyi, jitya gosanyi, kuri gosanyi, sitaam gosanyi, sagari kathu gosanyi and chaach gosanyi are some of the important local gods for the Maltos. Some of these gods are relatively insignificant but they may cause nuisance to people. Moreover this Spirit power may not only to be used bless but also to curse. It all depends upon the technique and the desire of the one who controls the supernatural force. The village headman and the elders of each Maltos family are responsible for the propitiation of the village or family gods. These gods represent the hostile and terrifying powers of nature.[11]

For Maltos, religion revolves around faith in benevolent spirits, while human sufferings, disasters, natural calamities are considered to be associated with the wrath of spirits and there is a sense of fear and insecurity prevails. To counteract such fear, they have devised many rituals associated with propitiation and appeasement of spirits and to achieve this, animal sacrifice forms a major part of rituals.[12] Therefore these religions practices may seem to the outsider to be exotic but they form part of a system by which the Maltos maintain their animist society in cohesive existence.

Furthermore their belief in evil spirits is so great that a long bamboo is fixed in the ground in front of every house to ward off their influence. The belief in the transmigration of souls and in a future state is also general.[13]

Ghosts are believed to be the souls of those human beings who die of unnatural death, suicide or whose burial ceremony might not have been performed or performed improperly. The Maltos believe that ghosts may materialize in some form which can be seen by the living. They do believe that ghost or spirit may occasionally select a particular tree for its temporary perch. Such trees are to be avoided or carefully approached when extracting any produce from them. Some sacrifices may be necessary to pacify the ghost and encourage it to leave and cause no more harm to the people.[14]

It is important to retain a distinction between ghost and ancestor. The concept of a kinship implies the continued interest of the ancestor in the well being of the family but if a ghost is unrelated to a particular person; it may seek to cause mischief and harm.

In Maltos tradition religion it is evident that sacrifices and rituals are concerned with earthy happiness, success and prosperity. Since it is closely related to spirits of different kinds, categories and natural forces, magic, witchcraft, and sorcery practices influence their life very deeply. Generally a buffalo is sacrificed at longer intervals, may be once in a year, and in some villages only once in a generation.[15] Human sacrifices to some deities were once practiced among the Maltos. But they abandoned this evil practice because of Christianity and strict government law.

Sometimes a chedgni sacrifice is performed to induce the chedgni spirit to kill the enemies and eat their livers. A sacrifice named nado is also performed for the dual purpose of inducing the god to kill certain people and to bless the person who offers sacrifice. Charka-erwe is a penitential ceremony to appease a spirit. Cero-qopo is the supernatural locust believed to be produced by witchcraft, when this aimed at disturbing people. Er wu-majye is the leader of priest of the sacrifice ceremony.[16]

6. CultureThe Maltos have retained most of the cultural practices of their ancestors, and they are rather proud of their unbounded liberty in the matter of food habits. Their culture is totally different from those of the inhabitants of the plains. Their one great sin is drunkenness, the beverage in general use being the pachwai, the same that is so well loved by the Sonthals who live next to them.[17] Maltos are low grid/high groups which yields collectivist social environment as they all work together for the common goal.The Maltos are endogamous. They also practice clan exogamy. They are also unique in their institution of polyandry of the fraternal type. [18]

Mostly spouses are acquired through negotiation or elopement. The bride price is an essential part of the marriage and it is essential part of the marriage and it is paid in cash and other kinds. About divorce, divorce compensation is to be paid by the wife’s parents or the bride is to be returned to the house, if she wants a divorce. But the husband does not have to pay anything to the wife. Further polygamy is allowed and practiced, and usually one has no less than four wives. Widow-marriage is also permitted, and when a man dies his brothers marry up all the widows, as they cannot afford to let them go out of the family.[19]The Maltos have a matriarchal system, which recognizes the female dominance. Women have a right to property and also a right to maintain. They have a role in all-economic activities, in rituals and social functions. They have an active role even in their political and social affairs. Women play a very significant role in the family and men are sometimes made to play the second filled. Further the practice of polyandry was widespread.[20]

The Maltos have folk songs, folk-tales and some traditional music instruments. Both men and women participate in dance performances. For different seasons and occasions, they have different songs and dances. The deads are usually buried and a period of grief and pollutions is observed for five days.

Maltos’ language is referred to as Rajmahali, which means the language of the people. Though the Maltos settled among the Austro-Asiatic Santals and Indo-Aryans, their language is Dravidian. It belongs to the northern Dravidian language family. The Maltos are a bilingual community. They speak Maltos only in their villages and speak either Santali or Hindi in their communication and business dealings with the outer world. The language was unwritten till 1982. [21]

The Maltos share the conception of a certain pollution which declares people impure and makes them religions offensive. All natural human emission such as urine, semen, menstrual blood and saliva can pollute any person. A dead body is the most potent source of pollution. Further the Maltos idea of usual purification for all sorts of pollution is washing and bathing. Water is considered as the most effective purifying agent. [22] Sometimes mustard oil is also used with water. When they bathe for ritual purification, they apply mud to their body and bathe.

6.6. Economy

The Maltos traditionally depend mostly on cultivation for their livelihood. Most of them own land and shifting cultivation is the Maltos’ traditional practice; through some of them have adopted plough cultivation. The collection of forest produce and hunting supplement their earnings. 

A majority of about seventy percent are engaged in cultivation, about fifteen percent are in agricultural labor, about eight percent are in animal husbandry, forestry, etc and the remaining about ten percent are engaged in various other occupations.[23]

7. The social Structures of the Maltos7.1. Family StructureThe Sauria Paharias have no class organization. The social structure of the Maltos is classed as follows: The individual – family –lineage – territorial group – tribe – a member tribe of Paharias.[24] A Maler village consists of a cluster of families. The lineage is a corporate groups and it is an important functional unit of their social life at the time of birth, marriage, death and during celebrations. The kinship on both the maternal and paternal sides is given importance. The family is the primary unit of society. The Sauria society is patrilineal type.[25]

The Maltos use different kinship terminologies for different individuals. The father is called as ‘abba’; the mother as ‘aiya’. The father’s and mother’s parents are called as ‘bedo abba’ and ‘bedo aiya’. The father’s elder brother rand his wife and mother’s elder brother and his wife are called as ‘pipo’ and ‘peni’. The father’s and mother’s younger brother is called as ‘dada’ and father’s and mother’s younger brother’s wife is ‘kali’. Father’s brother’s sons and mother’s brother’s son are called ‘baia’ (elder) and ‘noona’ (younger).[26]

The Maltos society is patrilineal so the inheritance is in the male line. It is only after the death of the father that the right to property is transferred to the sons. The elder one gets a little more of the shares. The family house is inherited by the eldest brother, as he is considered the custodian of the family. He has to maintain the family and look after the unmarried brothers and sisters. The other brothers get equal shares. Females do not inherit the property. But on exception situations, when a man has no male heir then the daughter has to stay in the father’s house with her husband. Significantly, widows are provided from the family property as long as they life or till they stay in that particular family. In a situation where there are no heirs to the family property, either in the family line or close kin, then the family property is transferred to the consolidated village property.[27]

The Maltos have their community council at the village level and this is headed by mukhiya. Often this position is a hereditary one. This village headman, called pradhan, assists him. The village headman is the main custodian to ensure that the people properly obverse their tradition and culture. He is also a chief transmitter of their tribal tradition from generation to generation. In addition, this tribe carries out the local government dealings and organizes festival and rituals, and look after socio-economic disputes. Most issues are referred to this council. A decision in all matters is usually reached by a consensus of opinion of all the members present. [28] Thus the group cohesiveness is one of the most important features of the social life of the Maltos society.

8. Insights for strategic ministryThere are many analogies or bridges from within the Maltos tradition religions which can be used to explain the Christian gospel to the Maltos. These things can aid missionaries to have effective communication.‘Gosanyi’- god is unique and he cannot be seen or understood in graven images. He is the Spirit. The Maltos belief is the existence of God is shared by Christianity. Further the Maltos conception of gosanyi signifies a ‘being’ who is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. He is different from nature. He is different from nature. He is eternal and free from all limitation. Sometimes he reveals himself and his plan through dreams, calamities, accidents and sickness. The Maltos concept of the reality of God corresponds to the reality of the existence of people on this earth. Whatever the person thinks or does is accountable to God. So he or she needs to lead an obedient life.

The analogy of Christ as the greater ancestor of all Christians is a wonderful bridge to bring the Maltos to the maturity of Christian faith. He is the true and most effective mediator. He is the senior elder, true head of Christian community. He is best able to help in hunting, fertility, food, and agriculture. Christ is the arbitrator of morality.

The Maltos’ belief in spirit possession lays a foundation for the concept of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit who cleanses and empowers the people for daily living. The Maltos concept views it as the intrusion of a person spiritual being into a human body. They gospel can be an appealing point of contact that when they come to Christ, Christ will dwell in their heart, but not in an overpowering coercive way.

The Christian concept of God becoming incarnate as a personal being was a meeting point with their beliefs. The missionaries found a bridge for the Maltos to Jesus through connecting Jesus to their distant and unknown god. In Jesus they could find a God who is accessible to them and also the one who delivers them from all kinds of fear. Since they were familiar with their age-old concept of sprit possession, they could easily grasp the indwelling presence of Christ and Holy Spirit in a person.

One of the main features of Christian thinking that is lacking in the Maltos religion is the concept of sin. Nothing is specifically regarded as sin, though stealing and adultery are viewed as evil acts. There are considered unwanted acts against the well-being of an individual life in the community.[29] Though there is no formal foundation in Maltos animist religion, they do have some concept of right and wrong, and sense of estrangement from the Supreme Being. It can be used to describe the Christian concept of sin.

Blood is considered as an import part of life. In sacrifice the Maltos believe shedding blood brings peace from gosanyi ‘god’.[30] Therefore this contact point can be used to exhibit the truth that Christ’s blood is for remission of the human’s sins and it helps the human to get a salvation from the wrath of God.Christianity was indeed the source for a new social identity, when the Maltos were suppressed socially. [31] Exploitation was one of the main reasons for their economic difficulties and social humiliation and this can promote the Maltos to embrace Christian in large numbers.

9. ConclusionThe Maltos tribal traditional religious practices prove that these people belong to an animist religion. There are various points through which the good news of Christ can be communicated to them. The evangelization of the Maltos cannot be well understood with considering what Maltos were concerned with. The studies of Malto tradition process make the missionaries better expositor of scripture to the responsive Maltos. Consequently it may build a more meaningful communication of the gospel to them. Rejecting the whole of the animistic religions system of the Matols is to reject the heart of their culture. Therefore gospel has to be communicated through the existed concepts in their society.                                 

[1] Sachchidananda and R.R Prasad, eds., Encylopedic Profiles of Indian Tribes, IV (New Delhi: Discovery Publishing House, 1996), 17.[2] George. R Edward, “The Mass Movement to Christ of The Maltoss of Bihar: Its Causes and Consequences” (Bangalore: South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies, 2001), 17.[3] Edward, “The Mass Movement to Christ of the Maltoss of Bihar: Its Causes and Consequences,” 151.[4] Edward, “The Mass Movement to Christ of The Maltoss of Bihar: Its Causes and Consequences,” 19.[5] Edward, “The Mass Movement to Christ of The Maltoss of Bihar: Its Causes and Consequences,” 19.[6] Asal Pahariyas means original inhabitants.
[7] Edward, “The Mass Movement to Christ of The Maltoss of Bihar: Its Causes and Consequences,” 20.[8] Horatio Bickerstafle Rowney, The Wild Tribes of India (Delhi: B.R.Publishing Corporation, 1974), 88.[9] George. R Edward, “Maltos Traditional Religion” (Bangalore: South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies, 1999), 19.[10] Nida Eugene A, Customs and Cultures (California: William Carey Library, 1954), 139.[11] Edward, “Maltos Traditional Religion,” 23.[12] Edward, “Maltos Traditional Religion,” 27.[13] Rowney, The Wild Tribes of India, 88.[14] Edward, “The Mass Movement to Christ of The Maltoss of Bihar: Its Causes and Consequences,” 24.[15] Edward, “Maltos Traditional Religion,” 38.[16] Edward, “Maltos Traditional Religion,” 38.[17] Subhadra Channa, ed., “Pahariahs of Bengal (Wild Tribes),” Encyclopaedia of Indian Tribes and Castes (New Delhi: Cosmo Publications, 2004), 5149.[18] Edward, “The Mass Movement to Christ of The Maltoss of Bihar: Its Causes and Consequences,” 26.[19] Channa, “Pahariahs of Bengal (Wild Tribes),” 5148.[20] Edward, “The Mass Movement to Christ of The Maltoss of Bihar: Its Causes and Consequences,” 26.[21] Edward, “Maltos Traditional Religion,” 6.[22] Edward, “Maltos Traditional Religion,” 52.[23] Edward, “The Mass Movement to Christ of The Maltoss of Bihar: Its Causes and Consequences,” 29.[24] L.P Vidyarthi and B.K Rai, The Tribal Culture of India (Delhi: Concept Publishing Company, 1977), 157.[25] D.Charles Chella Kumar, “Divorce Among Maltoss A Pastoral and Theological Response” (Bangalore: South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies, 2001), 20.[26] Kumar, “Divorce Among Maltoss A Pastoral and Theological Response,” 21.[27] Kumar, “Divorce Among Maltoss A Pastoral and Theological Response,” 22.[28] Edward, “The Mass Movement to Christ of the Maltos of Bihar: Its Causes and Consequences,” 30.[29] Edward, “Maltos Traditional Religion,” 64.[30] Edward, “Maltos Traditional Religion,” 65.[31] Edward, “The Mass Movement to Christ of the Maltos of Bihar: Its Causes and Consequences,” 153.3.1. Search for Freedom from Exploitation4.1. Kumarbhag Pahariyas4.2. Mal Pahariyas4.3. Sawariya Pahariyas5.1. Supreme Being5.2. Evil spirits5.3. Ghosts5.4. Sacrifice6.1. Marriage6.2. Women dominance6.3. Music and dance6.4. Language6.5. Pollution and purification7.2. Inheritance procedures7.3. Leadership8.1. ‘Gosanyi’- god8.2. Christ8.3. Holy Spirit8.4. Concept of sin8.5. Blood8.6. Social freedom



  1. very useful and precious knowledge...
    people must have to read it once...