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“Early to bed and early to rise” is a key habit of the Santali people, who make their living by farming, weaving, and hunting.

The People


Lined with a breathtaking range of mountains, the country of Nepal is home to approximately 300 ethnic groups who speak numerous languages and have a wide variety of religious beliefs. This country recently took on a parliamentary form after being a monarchy since 1768. The Santal native tribes are ruled by chiefs, or “headmen”, but the panchayat (religious scholar or monk) are consulted for important matters, such as the problematic issues of land rights and marriage. The unique tribal culture is undergoing a rapid shift under the impact of external influences such as industrialization, new communication links, tribal welfare schemes, and community development projects. “Early to bed and early to rise” is a key habit of the Santali people, who make their living by farming, weaving, and hunting. The animistic community has a rich artistic heritage.  Custom has it that the village priests are to offer worship on a dance floor located in almost every village. The small, clustered villages are found in valleys; deforested, eroded areas; and mineral and industrial belts. 

The Project

Mother-tongue literacy. 

The language, Santali, is spoken in pockets of Rangpur and Rajshashi divisions of northern Bangladesh as well as the Morang and Jhapa districts in the Terai of Provision No.1 in Nepal. It belongs to the Austro-Asiatic language family. The aim is to catalyse the development process of the literacy project, supporting and advising nationals and mother-tongue speakers in devising orthographies, developing materials, and managing the project.  Local ownership and community involvement are encouraged as this sustains success and ensures the longevity of the project. The materials produced by the Santali people, in partnership with the literacy project, include a pre-reader, books systematically teaching the alphabet with an accompanying tale, a basic mathematics book, teacher's instructions, a spelling guide, and an alphabet chart, all of which follow a pre-designed layout and technique.


As of January 2021

In order for the project’s long-term viability, the need for literacy among community members must be recognised.  When they realise the importance and are given the opportunity to take action and equip themselves, they take ownership of the programme.  Enthusiasm, initiative and independence carry the Santali speakers in producing literacy materials that are relevant to their environment and culture. A trail orthography has been developed in Santali.  The alphabet chart and spelling guides were tested in community villages, and they have started writing things down in their own language.  A literacy committee made up of community members will be trained in how to carry out their responsibilities of planning and managing the programme.  They will also learn how to train and recruit mother tongue Santali language teachers. There are several cognitive, social and economic benefits envisaged as a result of this programme.  The community will have access to literature that has been developed for them, by them.

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