Tracing Tribes Across South India

Trujetter Team

, Cover Story

Largely unaffected by the modern world, they’re very simple and often curious people, who have retained their rituals and customs. Meet these unique tribes inhabiting the suburban parts of southern Indian states.

It is a known fact that India is an amalgamation of several cultures and multiple faiths, but it also has, along with Africa, the largest tribal population in the world. Every nook and cranny of this country boasts of hosting a variety of truly diverse, colourful and indigenous people with fascinating lineage. The traditional and cultural distinction of each tribal community has made them distinguishable from each other and their traditions and heritage add colour and variation to the Indian culture as a whole.

There are a total of 533 indigenous tribes that make up for more than 80 million tribals and accumulates into 10 per cent of India’s population. Most of these tribes inhabit destinations that are pristine and picturesque and away from the hustle-bustle of the city life. If you look closely into the southern states of India, there are many such unique tribes inhabiting the suburban parts of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Goa. Here are five such tribes, each from a state of southern India:

Kurumba Tribe, Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu

Settled in the mid-ranges of the Nilgiris, the Kurumba Tribe have called this region home forcenturies. They are believed to be the descendants of the 7th century Pallava Dynasty and hence are one of the earliest known inhabitants of the Western Ghats, who were known to be engaged in the collection and gathering of forest produce, mainly wild honey and wax. The members of this community are short, have dark skin and protruding foreheads.

The tribe is rich in culture and has talented artists and musicians. The village priests not only perform rituals but also create beautiful works of art for the temple. Their traditional music includes a unique sound created by blowing into a bamboo pipe, called Kolu. They also use drums which they call Tambette.

Confined to the forest area – the foothills of the Nilgiri plateau, the Kurumbas are traditionally hunters and gatherers. Even today, a lot of them prefer living in caves and rock shelters instead of concrete houses. Although, over the years, some of them have built huts in small hamlets interspersed with garden patches.

Halakki Tribe, Karnataka

Inhabited in northern Karnataka’s picturesque Ankola town, the Halakki Vokkaligaru, a forest tribe, is popular for their exotic culture and melodious singing style. Spread across scores of hamlets in Uttara Kannada district, about 470 km from Bengaluru, the women of this tribe are famous for writing poetry, sonnets and composing songs about their daily lives. They also adorn themselves with beads and necklaces, heavy nose rings and distinctive attire.

The tribe makes its livelihood by farming paddy and other seasonal crops. It also has several seasonal occupations like fishing in ponds, rivers, lakes and collecting forest produces, such as firewood, herbs for natural remedies (Ayurveda) and dry leaves for rolling beedis.

Koya Tribe, Andhra Pradesh

They are one of the only multilingual and multi-racial tribes living in India. The Koyas are one of the major peasant tribes of Andhra Pradesh who also call themselves as ‘Koithur’. The region that this tribe inhabits include the Indravati, Godavari, Sabari, Sileru rivers and the dense forest area of Eastern Ghats, covering parts of Bastar, Koraput, Warangal, Khammam, Karimnagar and the east and west Godavari districts. They speak a blended language called ‘Koyi’ which is similar to Telegu.

The origins of this tribe dates back to pre-historic times. The Koyas believe that life originated from water,
and the friction between the fourteen seas resulted in the emergence of moss, toads, fish and saints. And God was the last saint. An interesting Koya tradition is to consume a beverage called ‘Ippa Sara’ which helps them to unwind and relax after a hard day’s work.

Chenchu Tribe Telangana

rigid tribal group, their hamlets or Pentas dot the Nallamala forest range across four to five districts in Telangana. They are inveterate forest dwellers, who have, over centuries, steadfastly refused to move out of their woods regardless of the perils of such life. While a lot of tribes in southern India worship mother nature, this tribe however believes in deities such as Lord Eshwara (Lingamayya for the Chenchus).

The Chenchu marriage is known as ‘Pelli’ and is performed by elders from the ‘Uttaluri’, the superior clan within the tribe. One of the members of this clan presides over the marriage as the priest or ‘Kularaju’. Those who attend the wedding collaborate to construct a hut for the newly married couple as their wedding gift.

Gowda Tribe, Goa

They may be a primitive tribe, but the Gowdas were always progressive. They have a matriarchal society and it is women of the tribe who do the decision making in economic, social and political matters. Although, they were originally Hindu, a lot of them converted toC hristianity during the Portuguese reign over Goa. However, they
practice both religions equally. For instance, a lot of the Hindu Gowda, don’t cremate their loved ones, instead bury them like in Christianity.

The tribe inhabits most of the rural parts of Goa. They are also strict about marriage and preserving their bloodlines. The laws of the tribe forbids members from marrying outside of their community.

These fascinating tribes, although very much in contact with the new world have takensteps towards development and prosperity but at the same time ensured that they kept their traditions and their roots intact.


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