Through a description of the interactions of Christian missionaries in Chhotanagpur with the Oraons, this article illustrates the different ways in which the missionaries grappled with and restructured their notions of the ‘tribe’ and the ‘Oraon’ across the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Oraon, I argue, was initially recognized in terms of his heathen practices, his so-called compact with the Devil, and his world of idolatry and demonology. But, by the end of the nineteenth century, he increasingly became, in missionary language, an animistic aboriginal tribe, a ‘primitive’ within an evolutionary schema. As the missionaries searched for an authentic Oraon language, for myths, traditions and histories, an array of categories—heathen, savage, race, tribe, and aboriginal—seemingly jostled with one another in their narratives. Indeed, the tension between religion and race could never be resolved in missionary narratives; this was reflected in colonial ethnographic literature that drew upon and yet eventually marginalized missionary representations. I conclude by referring to a case in the 1960s filed by Kartik Oraon against the Protestant convert David Munzni before the Election Tribunal at Ranchi, which was ultimately resolved in the Supreme Court, that raised the question whether religion or race determined tribal identity.