Of the sixty-two tribes inhabiting Orissa, 12-15 tribes know
the art of comb making. A distinct feature of Orissan Tribal Community is
that who don't make comb, don't have to buy it. They can get it as a gift
or in exchange of agricultural surplus from others.
Socio-economic conditions, religious-cultural beliefs and tradition, and tastes of tribes differ from community to community. One can find a variety of designs, crafts, colours, shapes, sizes and materials in the tribal combs. Inspite of these, similarity in comb may be found between two tribal communities in similar environments and socio-economic conditions, though their uses may be different.
The comb and the community are inseparable and the tribal comb bears the emotions of its makers' expression of love, and its takers' acceptance of it. This can be elaborated through the variety in design and usage of the combs in the following tribes:
Juang Comb: Ethnically though the Juangs are considered to be of 'Mundari' group, yet they are very peculiarly original of Orissa. Of all the Juang household commodities, comb is the most attractive and artistic. All their creative imagination and artistic skills are reflected in it.
There are five major types of Juang combs. The common comb used by every Juang is for combing the hair. The second type is used as a gift or presentation item by the lovers, and also for combing and decorating their hair. The third category is used for daily combing of the hair. It is also used for taking out thorns from the body. With its possession they believe that they get moral courage to face an unforeseen danger.
Old men use another kind of comb for magic-religious purposes. Raw materials used for these combs are split bamboo, wooden plates, cotton fabric, gum from a local shrub and iron knife. First, the root piece of the bamboo is cut into three pieces of three different sizes. Then these are made into comb plate and teeth. Cotton thread is weaved making various designs over it. They draw and engrave various figures over it, depicting their life and world at hand. Similarly they also make combs of various designs from wood.
Santal Comb: The Santals are a Mundari speaking tribe inhabiting hilly regions of Mayurbanj, Balasore, and Keonjhar districts. The Santal comb is one of the commodities of their household, which bears a great deal of socio-cultural importance in their life. But the irony is that Santalis usually do not make their comb.
Instead they get it free of cost or in exchange of the agricultural produce from the scheduled caste residents of their village. They do not use their comb as any kind of ornament. They only use it while combing or knotting their hair. There are nine types of Santali combs, all of which are very intricately carved and separately designed. They are: "Nikharuncha", Nikharuncha Pin, Small Nikharuncha, "Munda Khila", "Dui Munhian" Fish Comb, "Eka Munhian" Fish Comb, "Sada Nakiz", "Dui Munhia", "Eka Munhia". The Santal term for comb is "Nakiz". The Nikharuncha comb is used to clear the house.
Dangaria Kandha Comb: The Dangaria comb is called "Kakua" or "Kakwa" in local language. Only young boys make the combs. They usually gift it to their beloveds, who generally tuck them in their hair knots. The Dangarias use the ox and buffalo horns as the comb material. Females carry the comb tucked to their hair, while men tuck it to their loincloth. The Dangarias don't trade their combs. Comb making is an old tradition for them.
Kutia Kandha Comb: The Kutias are descendants of the larger Kandha community. They use their comb, which is called "Sireni" in their own 'Kui' language, in three different ways.
Jepur Katanga Sireni: Dhangedas make this comb with their heart and soul in it. When a newly married bride comes to her husband's village, they tuck the comb into her hair. Young boys in the community make the combs.
Todi Sireni: This comb is also made by the young boys of the village and is gifted to the bride, who further gifts it to the elderly men and women of her village. With this the residents of her village think that the relationship between the bride's and the bridegroom's village will be strong and everlasting.
Gamberi Sireni: Gamberi is circular in Kui language. This type of comb is half circular in shape. The elderly population of the Kutia society generally uses it. These combs are big in size, making the combing easier. After making the comb, the Kutias preserve it for future by tucking it to their thatched roof over hearth or in any other place. When bidding farewell to the outgoing guests, they are very customarily given a comb as a present. While the male folk tuck it to the head of the male guest, the women folk hand it out to the accompanying female guest.
Desia Kandha Comb: The Desia Kandhas use two types of combs, one made out of lac and the other out of bamboo or textile. "Lac Siredi" is local name given to the lac comb. This comb is of two shapes: quadrangular - used by the men, and circular ones - used by the women. Both, the male and the female members of the society take interest in making the combs. Materials used in Lac Siredi are bamboo, cotton fabric, lac, earthern pot, iron knife and wooden plate.
There is an interesting story about how Desias learnt to make the comb. Long before, there was a king in whose rule many people died of an unknown disease affecting their head. The king prayed "Jakini Penu", a local god, and offered a buffalo for his satisfaction. Jakini Penu advised the king to make comb out of bamboo and fabric of 'Sago' palm and comb his hair regularly with it. Since then the comb has been used in the community.
Durua Comb: The Duruas use a variety of combs. Among them some are worth mentioning. These are:
Gapa Patul: Theses are very small in size and are intricately carved on its plate. Young Durua boys make them to gift to their "Baliphulas" - girl friends, when they both meet and promise themselves to each other.
Kakel: This is a square comb of three inches, intricately carved, with design similar to "Gapa Patul" and is also used as a gift item.
Tiri Murt: This comb is made out of 30-40 bamboo sticks, which are big in size and are used by the family.
Churu Bandi: These are presented to the younger sisters. The Duruas do not sell their combs as they feel that if they do so, they will be cursed by a supernatural power.
Koya Comb: The Koyas constitute the principal tribe of the Malkangiri district. The Koya women wear a necklace called "Isad" made of small, mini combs strung together in a cotton thread. While the women use the combs as "Isad Mal", "Vaids" or Sorcers use it as a medium material to harm or do well to a target. The comb used by the latter are a little long which they always keep with them, tucked in their loincloth. Before invocating spirit to the comb, they worship it and chant some hymns to it. The raw materials for the Koya comb are commonly available bamboo and Sapo palm fabric.
Lanjia Saora Comb: The Lanjia Saoras have a great potential in crafting also. Among their craft material "Arasai" (local name for comb) is most noteworthy. They generally make two types of combs, both for the purpose of combing the hair. Taking bamboo and wood as the raw material, they carve and craft beautiful images on it. The Lajia Saoras do not sell their combs; neither do they buy it from others. The young Saoras gift it to the girl of their choice.