A trip to India typically consists of experiencing various cultures, traditions, and religions. While there is no doubt that India is a vibrant and diverse country, one cannot forget the native or indigenous people who have protected the land for hundreds of years.
As per the 2011 census, India is home to 700 distinct aboriginal tribes, comprising at least 15% of the Indian population. The tribes live far from contemporary trends and have maintained their personal identities for years. Referred to as “Adivasis”, each tribe has its own language, festival, heritage, cuisine, music, and dance.
During your travels in the country, you can come across different Indian tribes, no matter the region. From the Himalayas to the Andamans and even Rajasthan, the aboriginal tribes are found all over India. However, the majority of the tribes reside in Central India.
The Indian tribes are especially popular for their handicraft industry. Each tribe has a creative style for various hand-made goods that reflect their culture. On the other hand, tribes celebrate their festivals, which are colourful and exciting to observe.
To gain more insight, here are eight diverse aboriginal tribes of India:
The Gond, Gondi, or Koitur are spotted in several states, including Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Odisha, and Andhra Pradesh. The Gond tribe is one of the largest Adivasi groups in India. Hinduism largely influences this tribe. Some of the festivals they celebrate are Pola and Phag.
Linguistically, the Gondi language is related to Telugu, but they also speak regional languages like Marathi, Odia, and Hindi. If you steer inside a Gondi forest, you can experience the tribe’s ritualistic performances and observe traditional villages and their cuisine.
The Santal, or Santhal, tribe belongs to the Munda ethnic group. In terms of population, they are largely found in Jharkhand, along with Assam, Bihar, and West Bengal. The tribe speaks the widely spoken Munda language, Santali.
Sohrai is the main festival of the Santal tribe, which celebrates the harvest. A feast is organised to honour and express gratitude to the livestock. During the festival, an indigenous Sohra art form is practised. This art is intricate and is usually done in traditional Santal homes. The Santhal dance and music are some of the major attractions that cannot be missed.
The Garo indigenous tribe remains one of the last matrilineal societies in the world. This Tibeto-Burman ethnic group is notable for its presence in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Nagaland, as well as in a few adjacent areas of West Bengal and Bangladesh.
The modern Garo tribe is significantly influenced by Christianity. They are easily distinguished from other Meghalaya tribes such as Khasi and Jaintia. The men and women of the Garo tribe are always adorned with beautiful ornaments such as jaksan (bangles), ripok (necklace), Pilne (head ornament worn by women), and turbans. They also carry a principal weapon called the Milam, which is a two-edged sword.
The Wangal festival is one of the biggest celebrations of the Garo tribe and is the Thanksgiving after the harvest. Moreover, the tribe is also prominent for its Garo architecture, such as Nokmong, Jamsireng, Jamadaal, and Nokpante.
The Jarawa tribe resides on the stunning Andaman and Nicobar Islands. They are one of the oldest tribes in India, having inhabited the islands almost 60,000 years ago. With a scanty population of just 200–400, the Jarawa are usually dispersed along the western coast of the south and middle Andaman Islands. They are part of the Great Andamanese Tribe, which also includes the Onge, Jangil, and Inelese.
Jarawas are traditionally hunter-foragers, fishermen, and warriors who protected their territory. However, contact with the outside world led to a decrease in their numbers, as Jarawas were at risk of several diseases. Today, they are largely dependent on campaigns led by Survival and Indian organizations.
Amidst the royal palaces and forts of Rajasthan, the Bhil tribe is an important community in the state. This aboriginal tribe is an Indo-Aryan-speaking ethnic group. They are mostly spotted in the Aravalli ranges in Udaipur and the Bhasawar district. Besides Rajasthan, they are found in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh.
The Bhil tribe is extremely popular for its rich culture. The notable Ghoomar dance is a traditional folk dance of the tribe that symbolises womanhood. The major festivals in Bhils are the Bhagorai Mela and the Gavari Festival, which attract a lot of tourists.
The Angamis belong to the Naga ethnic group and are notable for their majestic Hornbill festival. The Angami Nagas are settled in the Dimapur and Kohima districts of Nagaland and are divided into four regions.
The Agamis Nagas are hill people who depend on livestock rearing and cultivation. They are also known for terraced wet-rice cultivation on hill slopes. Furthermore, the artwork and handicrafts built by the Angamis are immensely popular.
While the tribe’s festival is well known around the country, the traditional attire worn by the Agamis is uniquely designed to signify prosperity and success.
Irula, also called Iruliga, is a Dravidian ethnic group settled in the South Indian states of Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. This tribe is especially known for being experts in rat and snake hunting. The Irulas are the second-largest tribe in Kerala and are mostly seen in the Palakkad district.
The indigenous Irula people are specialists in age-old herbal medicines and healing practises. They primarily engage themselves in agricultural labour. The Irula are famous for their ritualistic practises and produce their own wooden instruments. They also observe the Mattu Pongal festival and pay special homage to cows.
The Munda tribe belongs to the Austroasiatic (a large language family of Mainland Southeast Asia) speaking Indian ethnic group. They are found in the northern areas of the country, particularly in the states of Odisha, Jharkhand, and West Bengal. The Munda tribe is one of the largest scheduled tribes (ST) in India.
In the Indian tribal belt, the Munda tribes are nomadic hunters who are today employed in various government organisations. Munda people celebrate seasonal festivals such as Phagu, Mage Praba, Karam, and Sarhul. They participate in social events, perform traditional folk dances such as the Nupur dance, narrate tales, and dedicate songs to their supreme deity, Sing Bonga.
The indigenous people in India are extremely crucial, as they help protect our environment. Unfortunately, their rights aren’t safeguarded, and, in many cases, their land is taken away to make way for industries. Presently, there is a need to secure the rights of these tribes in order to keep their population and culture alive.
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