Tribal Art: Storytelling In Folk Paintings

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Saora is the name of the tribe and their art. Saora (alternative names and spellings include Sora, Saura, Savara and Sabara) is an ancient Munda tribe from Southern Odisha, and north coastal Andhra Pradesh. They are also found in the hills of Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Known for their extraordinary architectural skills, Saora tribal paintings look exactly the same on the mud walls of their houses and on paper.

Saora painting is done in black and white or mud brown and white. When mud brown decorative border poles are used as frames of the paintings, the drawings are done only in black and white. Small stick-like figures, dots and patches of black can serve as great narrative elements in Saora paintings (like in Warli paintings of Maharashtra), and long epic-length narratives of festivities can find depictions in a single Saora mud wall.

  • The man then picked his bananas and was ready to leave. But the snake hissed at him angrily and said, ‘I have been in the hole all day long without food and am very hungry now. How dare you leave me like this? I can’t let you go. I am going to gobble you .’
  • Once a man was going to the market to sell some bananas. His dog also accompanied him to the market.
  • On his way, he had to pass a jungle, where a huge snake was lying in a hole. The snake had been lying there all day long and was very hungry. He was trying to come out of the hole but could not, as the hole was very deep.
  • The snake saw the man and called out, ‘Sir, please rescue me, I am unable to come out and I am also very weak and hungry.’ The man replied, ‘No, I can’t pull you out of the hole. If I do, you may eat me because you are hungry. Anyway, I don’t trust you.’ The snake pleaded, ‘Sir, please trust me, I mean no harm. Please pull me out of this hole, I beg you, sir.’
  • The man was filled with pity hearing the snake and decided to help. He put the bananas down. He gently caught hold of the snake’s neck and pulled it . The snake came out of the hole and said, ‘Thank you, sir, you are a true friend.’
  • The man then picked up his bananas and was ready to leave. But the snake hissed at him angrily and said, ‘I have been in the hole all day long without food and am very hungry now. How dare you leave me like this? I can’t let you go. I am going to gobble you up.’
  • Once a man was going to the market to sell some bananas. His dog also accompanied him to the market.

Once a man was going to the market to sell some bananas. His dog also accompanied him to the market.

Enam Gomango, an accomplished painter and a teacher from the Saora tribes of Odisha, narrates the story of a man and a snake in these paintings.

  • The clever jackal asked the snake, ‘Friend, I want to know the exact position you were in when this man pulled you out. Only then I can decide whether you can eat this man.’ The snake nodded and quickly jumped into the hole. The jackal now said, ‘You foolish fellow, you better stay there hungry forever. You don’t deserve to come out.’ The man was immensely happy and thanked the wise jackal for saving him.
  • The man was petrified. He wondered how he could save himself from the snake. He decided to take up the issue with the mango tree. He went to the tree and said, ‘Dear Mango Tree, you are man’s best friend. Please help me. I am in distress. I saved this snake and now he says he is going to eat me up. Is this snake justified?’ The tree replied, ‘I think the snake is justified. After all, you men are cutting down trees and destroying the jungle.’
  • The man walked away sadly and decided to ask the coconut tree to help him solve the problem. He told the coconut tree the whole story. He begged the coconut tree to take pity on him and solve his problem. The coconut tree said, ‘I agree with the snake. I have no pity for men who go about plucking coconuts and felling trees. Let him eat you.’
  • The poor man was more scared than ever. He was wondering how he was going to save himself from this mess. Just then he saw a jackal passing by. He stopped the jackal and narrated his pitiable story.
  • The jackal said, ‘Wait, let me think how I can tackle this issue. But before that I must see this hole from which you pulled out the snake and saved him. Unless I see the place, I cannot decide anything.’
  • The clever jackal asked the snake, ‘Friend, I want to know the exact position you were in when this man pulled you out. Only then I can decide whether you can eat this man.’ The snake nodded and quickly jumped into the hole. The jackal now said, ‘You foolish fellow, you better stay there hungry forever. You don’t deserve to come out.’ The man was immensely happy and thanked the wise jackal for saving him.
  • The man was petrified. He wondered how he could save himself from the snake. He decided to take up the issue with the mango tree. He went to the tree and said, ‘Dear Mango Tree, you are man’s best friend. Please help me. I am in distress. I saved this snake and now he says he is going to eat me up. Is this snake justified?’ The tree replied, ‘I think the snake is justified. After all, you men are cutting down trees and destroying the jungle.’

The man was petrified. He wondered how he could save himself from the snake. He decided to take up the issue with the mango tree. He went to the tree and said, ‘Dear Mango Tree, you are man’s best friend. Please help me. I am in distress. I saved this snake and now he says he is going to eat me up. Is this snake justified?’ The tree replied, ‘I think the snake is justified. After all, you men are cutting down trees and destroying the jungle.’

Enam Gomango focuses on the action and the main characters involved in the action in his paintings, and his series moves logically according to the story. Some of us may be surprised to see how adequate the minimal representations of human beings, trees and animals in the Saora paintings evoke the real-life equals in our minds.

Representational and minimal, Enam Gomango’s artwork hides his artistic skills in their evocative power. 

The guest writer is Mr M.D. Muthukumaraswamy. He is a Tamil writer and the Director of National Folklore Support Centre, Chennai, It was published in Sahapedia. The content is made available under the CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 Licence. All the images are courtesy sahapedia and the guest writer.


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