Photographer's Note


The Toto is a primitive Indo-Bhutanese tribe residing in a small enclave called Totopara in the Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal, India. Geographically the location is 89 20'E 26 50'N.

Totopara lies 22 km from Madarihat, the entrance of the famous Jaldapara National Park. So, we can safely assume that the Totos live near the northern edges of this forest.

Anthropologists agree that the Toto culture and language is totally unique to the tribe, and is clearly distinguished from the neighbouring Rajbongshis, Koch or the Bhutanese Sharchop tribes.

Totos were nearly becoming extinct in the 1950s, but recent measures to safeguard their areas from being swamped with outsiders have helped preserved their unique heritage and also helped the population grow. In the 2001 census, they numbered about 1184 - all living in Totopara.

Physical features
Totos have flat nose, broad and square cheeks, thick lips, small eyes and black iris. But their complexion rather on the darker side, which reflects their nearness to the equator. They are generally endogamous and marry within their own tribe. They are generally divided into 13 castes or groups of families from which they choose to marry. They do not marry anyone related to them on their father's brothers or mother's sisters.

Totos don't generally have more than one wife living. After their wife's death, they can marry the deceased wife's younger sister, but a woman cannot marry her deceased husband's brother. On the death of a spouse, the husband or wife has to remain single for twelve months before they can remarry again. There is no custom of divorce among the Totos.

Food habits
The staple food comprises rice, chura (parched rice), milk and curd. They also eat meat, generally of goat, pig, deer, fowl, duck and fishes of all kind. Women eat the same food as men and there are no restrictions on the widows of any kind.
Totos drink a fermented liquor called Eu which is served warm in Poipa (wooden glasses). Eu is drunk in all occasions.

Totos live in elevated bamboo huts. These are raised on machas (raised platforms), and have straw thatches. There is a single log placed to get to the hut, and this log is meant ot be drawn up at night.

They define themselves as Hindus, but have two main gods whom they worship:
1. Ishpa - He is supposed to live in the Bhutan hills, and causes sickness when displeased. He is offered animal sacrifices and also Eu.
2. Cheima - She keeps the village and its folks safe from troubles and sicknesses. She is also offered rice, fowls and Eu.
They have no priests and offer their worships and sacrifices on their own. Ishpa is worshipped in the open outside the house and Cheima inside the house.
Of late, there are a few Christian converts among the tribal, largely attributed to Christian missionary intervention. [1]

Economic activities
They are not much of cultivators and hence do not cultivate a particular crop to a great extent. Every home has a kitchen garden surrounded with bamboo fences and in the garden, they grow vegetables, potatoes, bananas among others. Sometimes they trade with traders from the outside world.
Rearing of cows and pigs is another occupation. Fishing is also done in the rivers.

1. A. K. Mitra - District Census Handbook, Jalpaiguri 1951, Appendix VIII, Directorate of Census Operations, West Bengal
2. Charu Chandra Sanyal - The Meches and the Totos - Two Sub-Himalayan Tribes of North Bengal. A North Bengal University publication.
3. The Totos : Cultural and Economic Transformation of a Small Tribe in the Sub-Himalayan Bengal/Bimalendu Majumdar

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