ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Hockey among the Indigenous Tribes of Sundargarh, Odisha

Hockey is an agent of “cool capitalism” in the indigenous region of Sundargarh, Odisha.

The British Army and Christian missionaries spread and popularised hockey in India during colonial times. Indigenous tribes were exposed to the sport as a part of the Christian proselytising zeal in English schools, army barracks, seminaries, and churches. The Hindi film Chak de India! (2007) about a women’s national hockey team offered a rare representation of indigenous players from Jharkhand, Manipur, and Mizoram, though none from Odisha. In Odisha, the earliest reference to hockey matches goes back to the Kesramal village of Sundargarh district in the 1860s, about Christian priests and tribal converts playing hockey after Sunday prayers. Indigenous tribes were commended for their speed, agility, and stamina, making hockey a means of communion, entertainment, and team spirit. Friendly matches involving four and five hamlets were held with murga (cockerel), khasi (goats), or banda (boars) as prizes. Over the years, the Khasi Cup, an inter-village tribal hockey tournament has gained popularity; in it, a khasi and a desi kukuda (country chicken) are the prizes for the winner and the runners-up respectively.

In independent India, particularly since the late 1980s, as the Sports Authority of India (SAI) launched initiatives to scout sporting talent from the grassroots level in the country, tribal players from remote, rural Sundargarh got noticed and started receiving professional training. The State Sports Hostel, Panposh, and the Steel Authority of India Limited Hockey Academy, Rourkela, were set up in 1985 and 1992 respectively to nurture hockey in Sundargarh. The Odisha government offered robust sporting governance and fine-tuned welfare schemes for its athletes. It also committed to creating at least one hockey school club in its 30 districts and setting up new training academies. The Indian national team has seen many tribal athletes from Odisha over the years. With the state having hosted the Hockey World Cup in 2018 and 2023, parents now see hockey as a prestigious and viable career for their children. Today, one can see that hockey has become a street sport, with tribal children picking up hockey sticks early on.

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Updated On : 8th Dec, 2023
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