Tribal Dancers
In The Jungles of Jagdalpur
By James E. McEldowney
Little Frogs And Baby Chicks Stories - Table of Contents My Visit With Mahatma Gandhi

"What ever can I do?" Betty Ann asked. She was tired of doing the same old things and she wanted something new to do. "I have a surprise for you," I said. We are going to Emersons for Christmas." That almost bought the house down because not only Betty Ann but Philip and Barbara shouted for joy.

Going to Emersons wasn't very easy. We had to take a tiny train over the mountains. Then we rode on a big train for the rest of the day. That night we stayed with some good missionary friends in Raipur. The next morning bright and early we went to the bus station. It really wasn't a station, just a wide place in the road. Already the bus was almost full and up on top was a high pile of baggage. They put ours up there too. We crowded in. "Have you got your drinking water?" Ruth asked, and we all nodded yes. "Don't expect to get there soon. It will take all day," I chimed in.

And it did. Just at dusk we arrived at Jagdalpur, and there were Frank, Sara, and Charles waiting for us. They soon took us to their home. We were covered with dust and tired. Dorothy met us and said, "You'll want baths after that hard trip." Showers certainly were welcome.

The next morning Henry, Mr. Emerson, took us down to a pond. "Just wait about five minutes and you will see something special," he said. We didn't wait that long. Down the road came four elephants, their elephant bells swinging in front of them. Henry explained, "The Raja or ruler here is going to have some guests. The elephants will take them for a ride. That is why the elephant men, the mahouts, have brought them here. They will bathe the elephants in the pond and then dress them in very fancy cloth. On the top of each one they will put what looks like a little throne, or decorated chair, with a sort of pointed roof over it. On one of the days they may be going out on a tiger hunt. There are plenty of tigers around here."

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We watched as the elephants entered the pond and sank in the water. They seemed to like it when the mahout used a scrub brush to get them clean. They blew water high over their heads. That's what elephant trunks are for.

We watched for a few minutes then Henry said, "We won't go on a tiger hunt but this afternoon I will take you to a village. I'm sure you will see something there you have never seen before." Henry had lots to talk about as we went back to his house.

Even before we got to the village we heard the sound of drums. Philip and Frank ran ahead and we followed. What a sight. Men and women were in a long row, holding each other by the waist. They were swaying and taking delicate steps as they kept in step with the drums. "These are tribal people," Henry explained. "See the women wear only one cloth, hanging tightly from their waists. The end of the cloth is draped up over their shoulders." There were both old and young women. Henry continued, "The men also have only one cloth. It's called a loin cloth. The loin cloth covers the waist and the upper part of their legs."

Philip was off to one side watching the drummers. Their heavy drums were about three feet long and hung by a strap from over their shoulders. What caught Philip's eye was their head dress. Out of the top of a decorated cap they had what looked like a hand full of long feathers tied tightly and fitted right on their heads. The feathers shook and made a pretty sight. The drummers also danced and the drums were loud and rich toned. "No, I've never seen anything like this," Betty Ann said as we started back to the Emersons.

On Sunday all of us went to church. Many of the people in India are poor. What surprised me was the way they gave their offering. They had a large brass tray near the front of the church. One after another went to it, knelt and placed their offering on the tray. It might be a few coins or it might be a bag of rice or other grain. Sometimes they brought a chicken or a goat and left them outside. Many women carried their babies on their hips, Indian style, as they went. The church was full and all the people sang as if they really enjoyed it. We did not understand the Indian language but we stayed because it was a Christmas service. Many of the boys and girls had on new clothes to celebrate Christmas.

The next day I announced, "I have to go off into the jungle. I am supposed to get some pictures of wild animals for a film I am making." Philip and Charles spoke up, "Can we go with you?" I had to tell them no because it would be a hard trip and somewhat dangerous.

Because Emersons didn't have any extra gasoline, I had to go in a charcoal burning truck. In another story I have already told [++Page 57] you what a charcoal burning truck is like.

Have you ever seen a monkey? There were lots of them along the road. They sometimes ran alongside the truck. In the afternoon I got to the Guest House where I was going to spend the night. There was time for the truck men and a few villagers to look for wild animals. They went off some distance and then beat the bushes to scare them. I was located high up in a tree so I could see the animals coming. The first one was a wild buffalo and I filmed it. But it was getting dark in the thick jungle so I had to stop until the next day.

The truck men woke me up early and said there was a small herd of wild bison, wild cows, not far away and for me to hurry. It didn't take me long but when I was ready the truck wouldn't start. Finally the men built a little fire at the side of the road. They took out the spark plugs. Spark plugs are very important. They send a spark to the engine and that makes the gas explode in the engine. That makes the car go. They put the spark plugs in the fire and got them very hot. Then they put them back in the engine. The spark plugs were so hot the men danced around holding them in their hands, trying to fit them where they belonged. Sure enough the truck started.

I had built my own little fire at the Guest House and had a cup of hot coffee so I was ready. I took my cameras and got on the truck. We didn't have to go very far before we saw the bison grazing in a field. It was light enough to get some pictures and I took quite a few, but I wanted to get closer. I got down off the truck and started toward them. I had gone only a few steps when the biggest bison saw me. He lowered his head and started toward me. He was angry. So I rushed back and got on the truck. We went on a road to the opposite side where there were bushes close to the bison. I thought I could hide behind a bush and get close pictures. One of the truck men walked with me up a jungle path to about at the right spot when the man said, "Sahib - sir. hurry, let us get out of here." Then he pointed down on the path and I saw tiger foot prints. "A tiger is near and he is probably watching us. It is not safe!" the man said. So I hurried back to the truck and didn't get my pictures. But I saw some smaller animals and got all the pictures I needed.

When I got back to Emersons everyone had a story to tell. "You should see the girl's school," Betty Ann said. And Barbara had found some kittens that were fluffy and playful. Philip had gone into the bazaar and saw long rows of merchants with their goods spread out. That was what he liked.

I had to take many more pictures so we were there three or four days but the time came when we had to go home. Dorothy said, "I have a special treat for you before you go. Come with me." And she led us into their large garden. "Here are our [++Page 58] best pineapples," she said, and she took out a knife and cut two of them off the plants and started back toward the house. When we got back she prepared the pineapple and then as a special treat she took out a cup of powdered sugar. We dipped the pieces of pineapple into the powdered sugar and had a real feast.

Betty had said she was tired because she had nothing to do. Now as we got on the bus to go back she said to Sara, "We've done so much in these few days, I'll have to go home to rest up." Two days later we reached home. Home looked pretty good. Everyone said they had a swell time. Jagdalpur is surely an interesting place and the Emersons were fun. [by James E. McEldowney, Spring 1997]

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