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a group of peoples in India (the Munda proper, Santal, Ho, Kharia, Korku, Birhor, Bhumij, Juang, Savara [Sora, Saora], Gadaba) who live mainly in southern Bihar and in Orissa and West Bengal. Total population, approximately 5.7 million (1971, estimate).
The Munda speak Munda languages; many also speak Hindi, Bengali, Oriya, and other languages of neighboring peoples. The Munda religion contains a mixture of animistic and Hindu beliefs. The Munda are the descendants of the ancient population of India, which was driven into the mountainous forested regions of central India by later arrivals—the Dravidians and, later, the Indo-Aryan peoples. Munda tribal groups differ greatly in their socioeconomic and ethnic development. Alongside developed groups (Munda proper, Santal), there are groups (Juang, Birhor) that have only recently begun to shift from hunting and gathering to primitive agriculture and that retain many survivals of the clan and tribal system. Most Munda engage in farming (rice, millet, beans, vegetables), although hunting and gathering continue to play an important role. Well-developed crafts include pottery-making, wickerwork, and woodworking. Some Munda work in the mining and metallurgical industries.