We spoke to Dr. Dhuni Soren, author of History of Santals.
Dr. Dhuni Soren represents the interests of all adibasis of Jharkhand and neighboring states of India, particularly Santals in the World Adibasi Council at the United Nations working group on indigenous populations. He speaks for their rights on International Forums.
Tell us about what drove you to write a book about Santals? What was lacking in the existing literature about Santals?
All books written about Santals are by non-Santals mainly Europeans and some non-Santal Indians. Authenticity and a true reflection of the real life of Santals as even modern Santal writers have not been born and brought up amongst them.
Tell us a bit about your experience living in a Santal village as a young person- something about oral traditions, food, and culture.
Even after all these years, I can still remember playing with other children on dusty paths and in muddy fields catching fish. I can smell and hear the sounds of running water of the nearby rivers and brooks and smell the wildflowers of the nearby forests when we went hunting there. I learned music and traditional dance with traditional musical instruments and attended local fairs and festivals with the villagers and learned our history by way of the oral traditions of the elders of the village and many others I still remember fondly.
Oral tradition was the only source of learning. I learned our customs, traditions, and culture, including our history, civilization and religion and migration stories, from the elders of the village. Schools and colleges were virtually nonexistent in our area. Food was simple and sourced from the local produce, mainly rice and maize with very occasional meat from homegrown poultry, pigs and goats. Everything about our culture is unique, including our language, dress, and homemade alcohol made from rice. The naming of the newborn and the customs of weddings and funerals are unique and different from what is seen in mainstream society.
Also, tell us about your experience in the UK.
My experience in the UK has been extraordinary as I was perhaps the first Santal and certainly the first doctor to come to the UK and I made the most of it. First and foremost, I was impressed by the honesty of the people. Once I lost my wedding ring on a tube train in London and found it the next day when I went back to look for it. It had been left with the station master. But things are changing for the worse here as well as it is everywhere in the world, yet it is still better than other places. Healthcare is free for all from birth to death.
But I still have great love and affection for India and its people.
Give us a brief account of the history of Santals as mentioned in your book.
The history of Santals is still a great mystery and needs further research to identify and locate the places of their past glory like Chaichampa Garh. In my book, I have tried to put our history into perspective from my life experience and from my readings of different books in the hope that you learn the real history of Santals.
How do you go about researching and writing a book? Any advice for writers of historical books?
I mainly write about Santals and Adivasi people and their progress and development and places of interest I have visited like Egypt, Australia, New Zealand and other places. I do a lot of reading to collect information for the book and I have a lot of them already written down for publication. Once I have gathered the information, it does not take me long to write since I have plenty of time owing to my retirement. Writing historical books about something rare or unusual is difficult due to the lack of reference books. So choose the topics carefully. Good luck!
Writers who have inspired you?
Tell us about any new project you plan to work on.
I have a couple of documents ready for publication.
It was so nice talking to you Dr. Soren, thank you for the opportunity!