BRONZES FROM ORISSA
September 24th, 1992
The Kond were Dravidian tribes originating from the east coast of India, who were driven by Aryan invaders into the wild and remote hills of the Eastern Ghats, in Orissa. In that inaccessible territory, with its impassable rivers, dense jungles, fierce animals and abruptly changeable climate, the Kond were able to preserve their Kui culture and language. Independent and intractable, they lived by hunting, agriculture and war. Meanwhile however, they commissioned bronzes and ornaments from the artisans of nearby villages, who remained at their service from one generation to the next. The Kond in fact did not represent themselves, but left that task to others. Thus small totems and figures in bronze came into being for family shrines, and were also used as an important part of dowries. All cast by the lost wax method, they are distinguished by groups. Some, such as peacocks and bulls, were used in sacrificial rites; others, such as fishes, tortoises, cobras and other animals, were used as family or clan totems. Others still, in the shape of human figures, interpreted family roles, portraying their features and tattoos, whereas the bronzes representing horse-riders appeared only after the arrival of the British. In the middle of the last century a British cavalry expedition had in fact discovered these people dedicated to human sacrifices; however, the missionaries accompanying the expedition persuaded them to substitute these with animals.
It was not until the 1850s that the Kond were converted to Christianity and the tribe relinquished their rites and beliefs. The only remaining evidence today of all that are these small and elegant bronzes, testifying to the disappearance of a culture which, in its extinction, consigned its specular image to art and collectors.