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Wearing Nothing But Beads

The Bondo of Orissa, India

by Bucklee Bell


The Bondo people live in mountain villages in the southern part of Orissa State in eastern India. An estimated population of 8,000 occupy sixty to seventy villages above the 3,000 foot (1000 m) level.1

In August 1999 I visited the weekly village market at Mundiguda in the Mudalee Borda Valley, where the local Bondo come to barter their produce and purchase city goods from outside traders. I took these photos there and collected some beads and ornaments that are pictured here.

Bondo men are plainly dressed with no ornamentation. However, the women gave me the impression of being in the presence of rare and beautifully colored birds. They cut their hair very short and wear a short cloth skirt. Over this they wear only beads and ornaments. In India they are known as "naked people", but I didn't find them any more shocking than people on the average beach in the Americas or Europe.

Bondo women wear a breastplate of long strands of European and Indian glass seed beads bundled in groups of 5-8 strands, often more than 50 inches (1.27 m) in length.

They also intertwine two long strands together and place coins or brass pendants around the necklace as in fig.4. The majority of the coins
I saw were aluminum [10 paisa pieces, worth about one-fifth of a US cent].

Most of the women in "Mundiguda market" wear headpieces made of many strands of seed beads wound around the head

These were generally finer beads.
Some of them size 11
he beads on the breastplates are
sizes 8
0 to 100

Around their necks Bondo women wear two types of metal torques.

Most wore up to nine solid aluminum torques. Under these, some women wear a torque of thinner iron metal with many brass and metal alloy finger rings strung on the torque (right).

These may have to do with courting. "Bondo dormitories for the unmarried boys and girls are very interesting. They are mainly a shor of matrimonial agencies.
The young boys are allowed to visit the girls' dormitories of different villages in the night and join them in fun, music and dance. Thus they establish intimacy and select the sweethearts by forcing bangles into their hands."

On their wrists the women wear many plain bracelets about 3/4 inches (2 cm) wide.

Most of these are of aluminum. In their ears they also wear torque-like earrings with metal dangles.

The Bondos are living much the same as they have for many centuries.

They are farmers and barter their farm products. You need a government permit to visit their villages.

There are some tribal tours in Orissa on the Internet, but I noticed Lonely Planet tour guides have dropped all references to these tours in their new guides; the general feeling being that Bondo culture is better off as not a tourist destination.

In the future I hope to do more research into the usage and meaning of their ornamentation


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