Answer: The well-known anthropologist, writer, and activist Verrier Elwin arrived in India as a British missionary with the goal of bringing reform to the “primitive” society. When he came into touch with the Adivasi people, it didn’t take long for his attitude to shift. He was enthralled by their intrinsic sense of beauty and energy, as well as their worldview, which was deep and profound yet being represented in many cases through simple imagery and metaphor. As he became more familiar with the Adivasi groups’ cultural customs in India, he became more eager to enlighten not only himself, but the whole globe. He therefore vowed to record the rich oral histories that had previously only been accorded value by a select few in India’s literary culture. Verrier Elwin went on to gather a large number of tribal tales from various parts of India and copy them verbatim, without adding his own opinions or interpretations.
Over the course of thirty years, Verrier Elwin gathered stories throughout India’s hills and woods, publishing about two thousand of them in five collections: Folktales of Mahakoshal, Myths of Middle India, Tribal Myths of Orissa, Myths of the North-East Frontiers of India, and the Baiga.
When the World Was Young, Verrier Elwin arranged stories from all of the preceding collections in chronological sequence, according to the theme they discuss, spanning from “The Beginning of Things” to “The End of Things.” This book is divided into six sections, each based on a different motif. As the title indicates, readers will get a peek of the authors’ creative imaginations as they transport us to a time when the world was still young and things were just beginning to take shape. The collection of tales depicts the narrators’ thought processes, as they allow their creative thoughts wander freely from one topic to the next, inspiring the listeners’ brains to reflect about the world. Oral tradition was used to pass along these tales from one generation to the next. Verrier Elwin told the stories exactly as they were told by storytellers in his time, giving readers a glimpse into the creative minds of many ethnic tribes.
Building of House:
Many legends about the many ways humans lived in the beginning may be found in the hills. They established their homes in caves, trees, and grass-and-leaf houses. The Saoras of Orissa thought that humans were very short and were constantly looking for areas where they might dwell in peace. They would try to dig burrows and live within them like hares during rainstorms, but they would often be buried alive when the roofs crashed on them. Then a guy named Jangu Saora had a brilliant idea and built a home out of toddy palm leaves that looked like an umbrella because it had a circular roof supported by a single pillar and also no walls. For many centuries, these were the Saoras’ homes, and their temples are still similar today. The Singphos of north eastern India have a fascinating narrative about how the early people learned how to build dwellings from various animals. They lived in caves and trees at first. Kindru Lalim and Kincha Lali Dam were two friends who learned the craft from an elephant who instructed them to create wooden pillars that resembled the elephant’s strong and sturdy legs, and when they inquired what they should do next, the elephant answered that he didn’t have any idea. The other animals sent information to them one by one in a similar method. The snake instructed them to “cut poles as long and thin like a snake,” the female buffalo instructed them to “install cross-poles and create a roof like the bones of this skeleton,” and the fish instructed them to “gather lots of leaves and place them on the roof, one above the other like my scales.” This is how the first house was constructed.
Story of Hammer:
When Intupwa, a craftsman, saw the elephant’s hooves demolish everything under their force, he learned to build a hammer out of stone. Then Intupwa attempted to cut wood with sharp stones, but found it extremely difficult. He proceeded in pursuit of the iron he had dreamed about, knowing he could use it to construct an axe. He asked the tree, the grass, and the wild animals where he might obtain iron, but they all refused, claiming he would construct an axe to cut them down or an arrow to murder the wild animals if he knew where he could find it. Water finally ordered him to travel to Numrang-Ningpu, where a goddess dwelt, and she gave birth to a kid who was as red as fire that very night, but the newborn quickly cooled and turned as black as iron. Intupwa cut a little piece and transported it home, where it exploded into thousands of fragments and was carried by a stream to various areas of the globe. Intupwa did not have anything to hold the iron when it was heated. A crab grabbed his arm when he was walking to a brook to sip water. Intupwa yelled in agony, but when he examined the crab’s claws, he realised he could make tongs. The hammer and tongs were manufactured in this manner.
Hambrumai, according to the Mishmis of north-eastern India, was the first weaver, having learned the craft from God Matai. Hambrumai knitted the clothing using various designs seen in nature. She’d weave the designs in the garments while watching the waves and ripples in the water, as well as the trees and ferns, plants and flowers, and the sky and clouds. When Hairum the porcupine came to steal her fabric from her cave, he pushed the boulder so hard that it crushed Hambrumai, who was sitting by the river. Even her loom was shattered into millions of pieces, which the people gathered up and learned to weave as they were transported down the river to the plains. Hambrumai’s creations were eventually transformed into butterflies, and the patterns Hambrumai woven can still be seen on their wings.
Discovery of fire:
A narrative concerning the discovery of fire was being recounted in Kawardha, Central India. Humans ate everything uncooked during the hunting era. They would hunt a wide range of animals and consume them uncooked. They didn’t have anywhere to reside. As a result, they would dwell in caves or under trees. They didn’t have any clothing on and their nails and hair were quite long since they never trimmed them. During the summer, when the wind was very strong, the dry bamboos were brushed extremely hard, resulting in a fire. The fire spread quickly, completely consuming the vegetation. Humans had sought refuge in the caverns and were therefore rescued. When they emerged, they saw several creatures had been burned to death. When one of the men touched a burned body, his finger was burned, and he swiftly inserted it into his mouth. Then he forgot about the agony and savoured the scorched flesh’s flavour. After then, people began to consume roasted meat.
This is a moving storey of a king’s daughter that no one wanted to marry because she wasn’t conventionally attractive. Her father sought to purchase her a spouse, but suitors turned her down because of her malformed limb, dwarfish physique, cross eyes, and bodily rashes. She thought the rest of the world was quite happy since everything was in pairs – ants, rodents, birds, cattle, men and women. She informed her father she didn’t want to live, and as she lay down, she died. When the almighty God asked the girl’s soul what she desired, she begged that he transform her into something that the entire world would enjoy. Her dream was accomplished when the almighty God transformed her into a tobacco plant. As a result, the sad girl grew happier after men began to declare, “There is no difference between a wife and tobacco; we love them both equally.” The girl is content since all smart men adore her, and no one leaves to work without kissing her on the lips with his pipe.
The Gonds have a storey about how they learned to dance and who taught them. The peacocks taught them how to dance. There was a hill of peacocks, and while people were traversing the hills, they saw peacocks dancing away to woo peahens, so they stopped and watched them dance, and soon they began to dance with the peacocks as well. Humans put tufts on their turbans since peacocks had tufts on their heads, and because peacocks stare at their own beauty when dancing, people started looking at their own shadows while dancing away. The peacocks afterwards left, leaving them their feathers and instructing them to place them in their turbans and dance, as this would ensure that their dance would never go awry.