Introduction / History
There are two divisions of Bhil: the Central or "pure" Bhil, and the Eastern or part-Rajput Bhil. The Central Bhil live in the mountain regions of India, particularly in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Rajasthan. They are known as the connecting link between the Gujarati and the Rajasthani. They speak Bhili, which is an Indo-Aryan language.
Many years ago, Bhil rajas (kings) permitted immigrants from the plains to settle in the hill regions. To safeguard their independence and rule, the Bhil fought against the Moghals, the Maratha, and the British.
Many Bhil are being threatened by the Sardar Saravor Dam project, which when completed will flood the land where many Bhil currently live. Though re-settlement plans have been discussed, they remain incomplete.
What are their lives like?
Today, the Bhil primarily work as peasant farmers, field laborers, and village watchmen. With a growth in population, most of their land holdings are small and generally non-productive. The people are experts in handling bows and arrows. In fact, the name "Bhil" was derived from the word billee, which means "bow." For years, the bow has been a characteristic weapon of the tribe, and the men usually carry their bows and arrows with them. The women wear brightly colored clothes. The city boys are distinctive from other Hindus because they tie rags around their heads, wear earrings, and carry swords or guns.
The Central Bhil are usually shy and love their independence. Festivals, dance, drama, and music are a large part of their culture. The length and enthusiasm for these events is usually directly proportional to the amount of alcohol that is consumed.
The Bhil usually marry within their own classes. If they do marry someone of another class, the person of the lower class must convert to the higher, leaving behind all family ties. This custom is strictly enforced among the tribes.
Each village is led by a head man who deals with disputes. Respect among family members is strong, and there is a great sense of connection between the living and the dead. Property is shared equally by the male descendants. Bhil villages are rather widely scattered. The houses are located in fields where millet, maize, wheat, and barley are grown. The highlanders live in tidy houses made with walls of sticks intertwined with small branches. The roofs (shaped like bee-hives), are usually made of clay tiles, but are sometimes made of straw and leaves.
What are their beliefs?
Almost all of the Central Bhil practice ethnic religions that have been highly influenced by Hinduism. Shiva is considered the supreme god. Ancestor worship (praying to deceased ancestors) is also quite popular. Shamans (priests) are also called upon to offer sacrifices to the many gods and mud idols.
In spite of their traditional beliefs, there have been interesting manifestations of God's Spirit among the upper caste Bhagat gurus. They now worship light and "the Word," singing prophecies of the future, such as the coming sinless incarnation. At the turn of the century, one guru warned his disciples that there would be a great famine, after which they should look for teachers from the North and West who would teach them the true way of salvation from a book, free of cost. They would teach about the true God, and about a sinless Incarnation who was born of a virgin. The guru also said that they should worship this sinless, invisible God, turn away from stones and idols, and live blameless lives. A famine occurred in 1899-1900, soon after the guru's death.
What are their needs?
There are three segregated classes: the Bhagat Bhil, the ordinary Bhil, and the lowest class-the Christian Bhil. To accept Christ is like becoming an outcast.
Much intercession is needed to see their eyes opened to the Truth.
* Pray that God will raise up prayer teams to break up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go and share Christ with the Bhil.
* Pray for effectiveness of the Jesus film among them.
* Ask God to provide open doors for Bhil believers to share the Gospel with their own people.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.