The Manjhi of India
With more than 900 million people, India ranks second only to China in the world's population. The Manjhi are only one of the many hundreds of ethnic groups living in India. They live mainly in the Gumla district in the eastern-central state of Bihar. Other Manjhi live spread throughout the plains of the states of Bihar, West Bengal, and Assam. Their total population is estimated to be around 19,000.
The Manjhi are a dark-complexioned people. They are said to be strong, loving, clever, and industrious. Their primary language is Manjhi, but they also speak Sadri and a little Bihari.
What are their lives like?
The word Manjhi means "ferryman." However, if the Manjhi once followed that profession, they no longer do so. Instead, they are now farmers who earn their livelihood by cultivating rice, wheat, and vegetables. Very few Manjhi own their own land; thus, most of them work as laborers on others' property. In addition to farming, many Manjhi also make bamboo baskets and sell them in the markets.
Manjhi houses are made of mud and are roofed with tiles or thatch. The men wear the common Indian lungis (colorful pieces of cloth wrapped as skirts) and kurtas (knee-length, collar-less shirts. Women wear saris (long pieces of cloth wrapped around their waists and draped over their shoulders) with petticoats and blouses.
Rice is the staple food for the Manjhi. Although their Hindu religion forbids the eating of meat, most of them are not very concerned with this restriction and enjoy meats of all kinds. For this reason, they still are not accepted by mainstream Hindu society and have been given the lowest rank in the caste system. They were traditionally considered "untouchables" and were avoided and abhorred by higher caste Hindus.
What are their beliefs?
Hindus believe in millions of gods and goddesses, with the chief ones being Brahman (the creator of the universe), Vishnu (its preserver), Shiva (its destroyer), and Kali (Shiva's wife). According to the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation, a person's soul is reborn into another body after death. They believe that if a person has lived a good life, he will be reborn into a higher caste; but if he has led an evil life, he will be reborn into a lower caste or even as an animal. This process of birth and death supposedly continues until the soul achieves "spiritual perfection" and enters a higher dimension of existence.
What are their needs?
More urgent than their physical needs are their spiritual ones. The Manjhi are bound by Hinduism and tradition. They need Christian laborers who are willing to share the Gospel with them in a clear and easily understood way.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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