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Life, Culture & Food Of Ten Of The Surviving Tribes In India

Updated: Jan 9


A picture of one of the tribes in India belonging to the the group Tagin
Tagin Tribe | Source: Indian Gov.

The world must hold itself accountable for looking back on history and putting together efforts to save the planet. Analyzing the correlation between dominance and change requires a continuous examination of the historical and contemporary periods. One must know that nature is the culmination of past activity, not independent of it. Looking back on this nature through the dense forests of India, we find many interesting people and clades with their sustainable lifestyles. I am sure you know what I mean: we're talking about tribes. But before we get onto them, let's briefly talk about the geography of India. The culturally rich spiritual land stretches across like a peninsula, surrounded by water on three sides. In the North, the Himalayas cover it, and the southeast and southwest part is bordered by the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea respectively. The fertile alluvial land of the Ganga Brahmaputra basin and the dense forests of Assam, Arunachal are noteworthy. We will begin with the article's main topic, tribes, and learn about them in detail. It is not that rare talking about them since they have become so extensive and proliferating in the literature. There are as many as 645 tribes in India (considered by the constitution), registered in Schedule 5. It identifies them as a community of indigenous people and socially disadvantaged people. Generally speaking, tribal communities reside in forests and hilly regions that are not easily accessible. They have a simple economy that is reliant on natural resources. In the wake of the process of modernization, the life and livelihood of tribal communities have changed.


Landscapes around the village of Kodanad in the Nilgiri mountains in India
Landscapes around the village of Kodanad in the Nilgiri mountains in India | Source: @travelholics / Unsplash

They exhibit a variety of distinct cultural traits. Socio-economic factors, ecological factors, historically developed technologies, and demographic features are some influencing matters in tribal life. They do not have access to modern agricultural tools such as hybrid seeds, pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers, etc, resulting in low yields and being highly dependent on the weather. There are traditional healing practices and taboos included in their health management style. Tribes in India are unique and have a rich culture, music, entertainment, and habitation. The structure of their houses, eating habits, resource utilization, coping mechanism, and socialization processes are typical. Indigenous modes of production connect to the biophysical environment (jal meaning water, jungle meaning forest, and jameen meaning land). They derive their identity, sense of unity, and resistance from their relationship with the ecosystem. These individuals are intrinsically linked to their environment through numerous means, including economic exchange, ceremonies, language, and spiritual practices. Surprisingly, they use the term phrase of the place to explain their deep connection with their micro-ecology. For them, the meaning of forests is not by their physical peculiarities but through their interaction with their environment. Particularly, their ecology shapes their 40 collective imagination, beliefs, and social systems. It comes in one direction how well they manage forests and their cultural linking. They are the reasons for the rich habitat and preservation of forests. It is they who made us believe that forest dwelling is a safe and beautiful experience.


Portrait of 2 Indian women working in fields
Portrait of 2 Indian women working in fields | Source: @story_from_slowman / Unsplash


Before putting more thoughts about these indigenous people in your brain, there is much more that you must know. The word tribe has a vast history that you must consider. We know that traditionally all ethnic groups of India are classified as Jatis. Tribes are generally Berkeleian groups. And the most acceptable form with Tribes in India was Jannah, which consisted of people from a recurrent cultural pattern (Chaudhary 1977). In the 1891 Census, they have named forest tribes. However, in the 1931 Census, forest tribes were again replaced by primitive tribes. In 1935, they were referred to as backward tribes. The habitat of scheduled tribes has recently been called the tribal region, as part of the market in roads and neocolonialist expansion.

There are numerous policies for the development of these groups. The Government of India has initiated grand economic and social developments among them, starting with the five-year plan. Though the Panchasheel Yojana bought not much change to their conditions. In India, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs is responsible for the overall development of scheduled tribes. After the bifurcation of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in 1999, this Ministry was established to provide integrated socio-economic development for the Scheduled Tribes in India (STs), the most disadvantaged in Indian society, in a coordinated and planned manner. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs shall develop policy, plan, and coordinate programs of development for Scheduled Tribes. It will be the responsibility of the Central Ministries/Departments, State Governments, and Union Territory Administrations to plan, coordinate, monitor, and evaluate sectoral programs and schemes designed to develop these communities. For each sector, a central ministry or department acts as the nodal ministry or department. These Tribes in India are in the developing stages with respect to education and basic necessities.


One of The State Tribal Research Cum- Cultural Centres And Museums In India
One of The State Tribal Research Cum- Cultural Centres And Museums In India | Source: Government Of India

Coming on the article, we will discuss ten of the major tribes in India belonging to PVTGs (Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups) that have a specialty in their culture, festivals, food, and living standards.



Major Tribes in India That Survived Ages.


Map of India in the Age of the Mahabharata (Ancient India Map)
Map of India in the Age of the Mahabharata (Ancient India Map) | Source: Historilicious / Etsy

1. Chenchu Tribe.


Chenchu, also known as Chenchuvaru or Chenchwar, is a small nomadic forest tribe of Orissa. They belong to the hunters and gathering category for sustaining their livelihood. Some believe that they are named after an interpretation that they live under a ‘Chettu’ tree or their habit of eating mice. Inhabiting in Nallamalai hills of eastern India, they believe in the female deity Brahma Rambha of Srisailam. There is a belief that Chechus was the first forest dweller who came before even the Dravidian people. As per the 2011 Census, their population numbered only 13 people. They have their own language known as Chenchu- a dialect of Telugu from the Dravidian style. Tribes in India are prevalent as discussed above but the Chenchu Tribe is slowly decreasing.


A family belonging Chenchu tribes in India
A family belonging to Chenchu Tribe | Source: Government of India

Dress And Ornaments.


Men do wear loincloths (gochi). The females prefer to wear sarees. Additionally, they have ornaments of cheap metal bought from nearby cities. The young kids of 2-3 years are usually naked. It appears that females dress well than men then.


Chenchu woman with her kids, standing near the door her house
Chenchu woman with her kids | Source: Government of India

A man wearing loincloth (gochi), from Chenchu Tribe of India
A man wearing loincloth (gochi), from Chenchu Tribe of Orissa | Source: Government of India

Ornaments worn by Chenchu women
A picture of Chenchu women feet showing her ornaments | Source: Government of India


Living Standards.


In the past, they slept under trees or rocks, without building any homes. It was because they lived entirely in the forest. Presently, they have temporary settlements of thatched huts. Some can even be found inside forests. However, most of their habitats are located near the edge of forests. They live in small settlements called gudem or Penta. The main type of huts is cone-shaped thatched huts, with 5-8 at one place and others scattered over a range of 5-6 km. Huts are built with bamboo wattle walls. Generally, having three kinds of them- chuttu gudhisa (round hut), Mula gudisha (square hut), and kottamu (rectangular hut). Due to suspicion of wandering evils, they change their settlements from place to place.


A hatched hut of Chenchu tribe of India
A hatched hut | Source: Government of India

Food.


As previously stated, these tribes in India are proclaimed hunters and gatherers. They usually hunt animals for their survival. Additionally, they consume tubers, roots of different trees, fruits, and honey. Because they do not kill female animals due to their superstitions, it has a positive impact on the ecology. Smoking and drinking are prevalent in them. They make liquor from Mahua flowers and even sell them for extra income. In agriculture, they rely on millets, like Bajra and Jowar. They have the same eating habits as the other Tribes in India with a small variation.


A group of Chenchu tribe in India walking towards the forests
A tribal group going into the forest to collect food or to hunt | Source: Government of India


Religious Beliefs and Practices.


Usually, they worship both Hindu gods and goddesses as well as their own tribal deities. Stone slabs are propitiated under a tree and used for this. Their traditional god is Lord Venkateshwar. As well, after hunting any animal, the flesh is offered to their deity Garelamai-Sama. While they used to celebrate all festivals, Shivaratri is an important festival for them. There is a belief in witchcraft, black magic, white magic, and other forms of supernatural power in them.

Their dance form is just for social interaction and not for religious purposes like other tribes in India. One of their dance forms is Chenchu Natakram, which is a combination of step dance and drum beat. Their primary song theme is love and romance.


Religious place of Chenchu tribes of India to worship their ancestors
A place to worship ancestors | Source: Government of India

2. Gadaba Tribe.


In one of the prominent tribal communities of Orissa, Gadaba tribe presents some spectacular characteristics. They are one of the prominent tribes in India.


Gada refers to a brook in the Godavari valley, and so the name Gadaba. They belong to Proto-Austroid origin, speaking the Gutob language of Autsro-Asiatic origin. Their habitat belongs to the areas of the southern district of Koraput, Orissa, and extends across zones of the Vishakapatnam and the Bastar region. Living above 3000 sea level, they lie in the central belt of Koratpur, the eastern Ghats of Orissa. As per the 2001 Census, their population is 72,982, which accounts for 0.90 percent of the total tribal populace of the state.


Habitat of Gadaba Scheduled Tribes in India
The Gadaba habitat | Source: Government of India

Dress and Ornaments.


Gadabas dress in very scanty clothes. Women wear colorful striped cloth, big-sized rounder silver necklaces, and copper earrings with a long circumference, whereas men use a piece of cloth called lenguthi with a flap, which hangs down in the front. Alongside, the ladies majorly decorate their bodies with ornaments. They wear peculiar earrings: made from brass, silver, or aluminium. Besides, they use ornaments like rings and mudies for fingers and nose, bangles for hands made from brass, and beaded necklaces. Their hair is combed neatly with a neat look, pinned at the back.


A couple belonging to Gadaba tribe of India
A portrait of a couple belonging to the Gadaba tribe | Source: Government of India

Women of the Gadaba tribes of India wearing traditional jewelry
Women of the Gadaba tribe wearing traditional jewelry | Source: Government of India


Living Standards.


Their village consists of well-defined compounds marked by stone walls. The Sardar or village chief house with a dance arena and shrine of village deities are all located in the center of the structure. Their housing colony has no particular layout, but they lie on both sides of the street. The three types of houses they reside in are Mahad Dien, Dandual Dien, and Chhendi Dien. The first two are rectangular and square, whereas the third is a conical-shaped house with a circular shape. They are made of stone and mud walls with grass as the flooring of thatched roofs. For extra earnings, they work on daily wages. Additionally, hill-brooming is common among them for generating supplementary income.


Houses and Streets of Gadaba tribes in India
The housing structures and streets of the Gadaba tribe | Source: Government of India

Food.


Their primary food item is Mandia Pej, a traditional recipe. Besides, boiled rice, tamarind chutney, and mango with pulses are prevalent. Among other vegetables they consume are roots, bamboo shoots, and jackfruit. On festive occasions, they eat meat, fish, and chicken. The Gadaba tribes usually believe in drinking and smoking. Landa bear, which is a rice beer, is prevalent in them. They also collect the juice of the salap tree, which is also their favorite among drinks. They manufacture Cheroot powder from dried tobacco that they use to smoke through dry sal leaf. They usually practice Swidden cultivation and majorly depend on rainwater. They grow rice, some pulses, and practice pastoralism and fishing for survival. These are one of the tribes in India who are good agriculturists.


Food of Gadaba tribe of India
Boiled rice with pulses and tamarind chutney served in traditional form | Source: Government of India

Food preparation by Gadaba men
Preparation of food in black pots | Source: Government of India

Women and children eating their meals
Women and children eating their meals | Source: Government of India

Gadaba men climbing Salap tree to collect it's juice and make a drink
Gadaba men climbing Salap tree to collect it's juice and make a drink | Source: Government of India


A man belonging to Gadaba tribes in India
Gadaba man smoking | Source: Government of India

Gadaba woman smoking
Gadaba woman smoking | Source: Government of India

Gadaba man consuming the group's favorite drink
Gadaba man consuming the group's favorite drink | Source: Government of India


Religious Beliefs and Practices.


Their spiritual world revolves around natural as well as supernatural objects. An enshrined deity resides in their homes on a sacred pillar near the hearth. When laying the foundations of a house, it is ritually installed as protection from evils and as a blessing. They worship God and Goddesses, the chief of them is Thakurani, enshrined on the outskirts of the village. The evil spirit Duma, according to them, causes diseases and calamities.

For them, dance and music are love. Their famous Dhemsha dance is performed by women who wear Kerang clothes. The men play musical instruments, and the women dance in semi-circles.

They spin threads immensely from the Kerenga type, extracted from forests. Then, the women swirl them into colorful clothes. They have many festivals like Chaita Parab, Dashera, Dewali, and Banandapana Parab, each of their significance.


Tribal women dancing in semicircle
Women dancing in semicircle | Source: Government of India

Worshipping God on the outskirts of a village
Worshipping God on the outskirts of a village | Source: Government of India

Sacred pillar inside a home of tribes of India
Sacred pillar inside a home | Source: Government of India

A group of men belonging to a tribe in India playing musical instruments
A group of men playing musical instruments | Source: Government of India

Gadaba women spinning thread
Gadaba women spinning thread | Source: Government of India

Balls of red, blue and white thread made by Scheduled Tribes in India
Balls of red, blue and white thread | Source: Government of India

3. Dongria Kandha.


The Dongria Kandha, considered forest dwellers among the category of Tribes in India, live in the Niyamgiri hills in Bissamcuttack, Kalyansingpur, and the Muniguda hills in Rayagada. These mountains, which are part of the Eastern Ghats, rise steeply from 1000 feet to several peaks, of which the highest is 4970 feet above sea level. Being hill-dwellers, forest dwellers, and highland dwellers, their neighbors call them Dongria, but they call themselves Dongran Kuan or Drili Kuan.


The habitat of Dongria Kandha tribes in India
The Dongria Kandha habitat | Source: Government of India

Dress And Ornaments.


Dongrias are wholly fashionable compared to other Tribes in India when it comes to their attire. Apart from their famous festival, Meria Festival, this is one of the qualities that makes them stand out from others. The men wear a long and narrow loincloth with two embroidered ends at the front and the back. They are called Drili. In contrast, the women use two pieces of cloth, each measuring 3-4 feet and an inch and a half wide. Wrapping the first piece around the waist with a knot in front, another covers the upper body, like an apron. The women fix a wooden comb to their hair knot, which adorns their hair and keeps it tucked away. Women and men alike can complement their unique hairstyles with a wide variety of hairpins and clips. Women wear brass for ornaments such as bangles, anklets, toe rings, neck rings, and nose rings.


Tribal women wearing several hairclips and other cultural jewels