Introduction / History
The Korwa are one of the scheduled tribes of central India. They live in the hills, valleys, and forests of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh. They speak a Munda language, also called Korwa, which belongs to the Austro-Asiatic language family.
According to popular legend, the Korwa were the original inhabitants of the Surguja district in Madhya Pradesh. In the early 1900's they were leaders in the region and were dubbed as chiefs until more powerful and numerous conquerors invaded. They were later regarded as a wandering gang of looters. There remain two very distinct Korwa tribes: the Diharia (or Kisan), who are farmers, and the Paharia (or Benwaria), who live in the hills. These two tribes do not intermarry.
The Korwa are distinguished from other tribes by their savage appearance. They are short with stocky legs, appearing to be strong; yet, they are malnourished. The average height is only five feet three inches for men, and four feet nine inches for women.
What are their lives like?
The Korwa are primarily farmers and gatherers. They formerly used slash and burn agriculture, moving every two or three years to cultivate newly cleared plots. Rice, millet, and vegetables were the principal crops. Their income was supplemented by selling forest products, particularly firewood. In recent years, many have become settled farmers. The geographical isolation of the Paharia Korwa (hills dwellers) and the lack of communication have reduced most of them to the position of farm servants. Few of them own their own land. A major portion of their farm lands has been mortgaged to the neighboring tribal and non-tribal communities.
The Korwa in Surguja were once notorious lawbreakers known for robbing, stealing cattle, and even murdering. The state authorities compelled them to settle in the plains by supplying them with seed, land, and cattle. Today, the plains dwellers are relatively better off than those living in the hills, due to the fact that they have more contact with advanced ethnic groups. Still, the plains are not fertile and their annual yield is too small to be profitable, which accounts for their low standard of living.
The Korwa farmers have very little agricultural surplus to take to market. When they do go to market, cunning merchants often take advantage of their simplicity, lack of education and illiteracy, buying their products at absurdly low prices and making them loans at extremely high interest rates.
The Korwa wear very simple clothes. The women are tattooed, and neither the men nor women ever cut their hair. The plains dwellers live in villages that are mixed with other tribal groups. Wooden or bush fences surround their farms or homesteads. The Korwa who live in the hills still lead a semi-nomadic lifestyle.
The family is the basic social unit among the Korwa. They have a traditional family structure in which the father's word is law and is respected by all. Men and women are free to choose their own marriage partners, but a heavy bride price is required. Newlywed couples live with the grooms' parents until they are able to set up their own households. Men usually marry later in life because they have no means of supporting a family.
What are their beliefs?
Nearly one-third of the Korwa are Muslims, having been converted to Islam by Muslim merchants. The rest are ethnic religionists who have been heavily influenced by Hinduism. Their main tribal god is called Dulha Deo. Those who live in the Surguja district worship Khuria Rani, a goddess who requires animal sacrifices. They also practice ancestor worship, calling on the spirits of their ancestors for blessings and guidance. They are very superstitious and regard fire as sacred. In fact, fires are kept burning 24 hours a day in their houses to keep evil spirits away.
What are their needs?
Prayer is the key to seeing these precious people reached with the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to India and share Christ with the Korwa.
* Pray that God will raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil through worship and intercession
* Ask God use the small number of Korwa believers to share the Gospel with their friends and families.
* Pray for the salvation of key Korwa leaders who will boldly proclaim the Gospel among their own people.