Tribes Of India – Part 1

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They say everything in this world is trying to get back to its source. Setting forth into a new era, we often forget where we come from. While travelling to different parts of the world, I got a glimpse of it observing and interacting with the different aborigines of India. From the highly-secretive Jarwas, to the lovers-of-nature Bishnois, to the Khanabadosh Gaddis, this journey will take you into the heart of India, and get you acquainted with what’s truly real. Simple lifestyles, beautiful cultures, mysterious customs, here’s a lowdown on the wonder that is India.

The Jarwa Tribe – Andaman
In an extinct language of the Andaman Islands called Aka-Bea, Jarwa means hostile people. This is by far the oldest tribe of India and one-of-a-kind. Why? Many factors, including their location on the island and their nature that doesn’t allow them to make contact with the outside world has left a great aura of enigma around them.

While no one really understands their traditions and their culture, like what they do for a living, or what they celebrate as a festival, recent news has it that people from the modern world have crossed the backwaters that separate them from the main island, and have spent time in their company.

As per the Aboriginal Tribes Regulation of 1956, attempting any kind of contact with the Jarwa people, trying to mingle with them, and stopping over in their settlements is absolutely forbidden. However, like other rules, these too are being continuously broken as tour operators in Andaman run under-cover tourist bus services to the internal areas of the Jarwa settlements.

Jarwas live in a naturally maintained fragile ecosystem, which is now under threat due to such acts of tourism. Mingling with them is a greater risk to their lives than ours. The two outbreaks of measles in tribe’s settlements – one in 1997, and the other in 2006 – facilitated by the building of The Andaman Grand Trunk Road is proof of that.

Jarwas aren’t used to outside contact and if there is anything tourists can do for the tribe, it is to leave them to their natural habitat, and enjoy themselves in their own.

A Bhil Tribal WomanThe Bhil – Rajasthan
Living in deep forests and natural born hunters, the Bhils of Rajasthan aren’t confined to the area. The people of the tribe are spread out in the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, as well as Chhattisgarh.

In earlier days, they were a feared tribe, and were often hired as shikaaris by the Rajput regime. Their knowledge of the terrain they resided in was impeccable. Many became warriors, showing amazing capabilities to conduct excellent guerrilla operations. If you can’t associate with Bhils, you’ll sure be able to associate with the mythological figure Eklavya, an expert archer from the epic Mahabharata, and Matanga, a Bhil sage. 

Do you know of the popular Rajasthani folk dance called Ghoomar? Performed by groups of Rajasthani Bhil women, it is one of those things that carefully preserve the essence of traditional Bhil culture.  

Changing times have transformed the face of Bhil community as well. While most of them are now settled as petty farmers, or landless labours, just a fraction of the community has been able to stay attuned to their true nature – the nature of a hunter. 

There are many more tribes I have explored, like the Gaddis of Himachal Pradesh and the protectors of nature, Bishnois. I will share it all in a post to follow soon…

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Rakhee Ghelani

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  1. […] clear turquoise waters, unspoilt beaches, stunning rainforests, gorgeous corals, ancient tribes – where in India can you find all this and more? Why, on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, of […]

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