A tribe would cease to exist once it is pulled out of its culture or the onslaught of ‘modernity’ takes place. Dance, music and ornaments, which constitute a major part of culture, are a way of life in tribal communities. Kulamani Jena who was born in 1978 in Nayagarh district had developed this feeling from the day he joined the primary school at Siribeda near Gupteswar shrine in remote Boipariguda block of Koraput district of Odisha as a Sikhya Sahayak.
He was given the charge of a single-roomed school at Siribeda, the village inhabited by the Durua tribe. The village had no one who had been to a school till then for the lack of accessibility to education and the non-availability of teachers in the village school.
There was complete despondency in the region. Government officials, teachers and doctors regard posting in such areas as “punishment” and fail to turn up.
Even the tribals were resigned to their fate and when Kulamani Jena reached, they asked him to go back as they felt that nothing would change.
But he took up the challenge of staying put at his place of posting. First, he cleaned the single-room school and spent time mingling with Dura tribesmen to try and lure children to come to school. The first ‘student’ elated him and gradually other children followed.
Today the school has 477 children.
The single-teacher school earned the goodwill of the tribals and the word spread across villages. Parents started trusting him with their children.
Delighted at the response, Kulamani Jena started a small hostel with his own money. In addition to a technical degree in education, he had some knowledge of basic medicine and this helped as sick persons in the village were treated with medicine for body ache and stomach aliments by him.
While for the children he was a teacher, for the villagers he was a doctor.
With the increasing strength of children he started coming to notice of higher authorities. After visiting the school, they sanctioned more rooms and extended financial assistance to manage the children and their well being.
It was at this point in time that Jena reverted to his passion – tribal culture. Looking at the scarcity of traditional costumes, he opened a museum on the school premises with items of daily use and those which are used during special tribal occasions.
Duruas are well known for their handmade sarees and clothes. But with the passage of time, availability of materials to make these had become a challenge. Duruas used seeds of wild plants as beads and used to fetch them from fast-vanishing forests near their homes. Now they were available only in neighbouring Chhatisgarh.
With the help of the community he started searching for all that could be brought from relatives of members of the community living in Chhattisgarh. Villagers too were seen excited with his commitment and joined actively in the search.
Kulamani then chose some students and trained them on the drums, flute etc. in addition to their traditional dance with the help of skilled persons from the community.
Children in the cultural group from Siribeda gleefully availed the opportunity to exhibit their commitment to a healthy society through art, music and dance.
The focus on quality education has continued. Till date, at least 60 children have passed the HSC examination under Kulamani’s guidance and have joined colleges in different places. Many have joined the ITI at Kotpad.
Even though Kulamani Jena is not a tribal, the Daruas treat him as one of their own. They praise him for the role he plays in preserving their culture and for building their youth into resourceful human beings for the growth of their community and society at large.