With over 500 different tribes mixed together in a pot, India was born. A country so diverse that it gives a new meaning to the word.
There is an Indian saying “Kos-kos par badle paani, chaar kos par baani” – which loosely translates to “The taste of water changes every kilometer and the language ever few kilometers” This is about the most appropriate saying to describe the diversity in India.
Overlanding across this magnificent country, you’ll come across unique cultures, local customs, culinary experiences which will stay with you forever. So whether you’re an Indian exploring your home or an outsider drawn in by the magnificence of this country, you won’t be disappointed.
While many tribes have been completely assimilated into the local culture of the state, some have kept their uniqueness and still live their lives based on their traditions and culture. With so many cultures and tribes to pick from, here are few to begin with:
- Apatani Tribe, Ziro: One of the most photographed tribes in India and definitely the most recognizable. The Apatani people of Ziro, Arunachal are warm and friendly. Welcoming visitors into their homes and festivities during their two main festivals Dree in July and Myoko in March-April each year. Recognizable worldwide because of their face tattoos and large nose plugs, the women of Apatani tribe were considered the most beautiful women in the region and the reason behind their tattoos and plugs.
- Siddi Tribe, Gujarat: Siddi people are descendants of the African people from the Bantu tribe of Sub Saharan Africa. They were brought to India by the Portuguese as a gift to the then ruler of Junagadh. While they speak Gujarati, they have preserved their heritage and traditions in the form of their dance and music. Their Goma music and dance form is an ode to their heritage and still practiced.
- Changpa People of Ladakh: The Changpa people are a semi nomadic Tibetan tribe who live in the Changtang area of J&K. Known to be shepherds, historically they would graze their animals in the Ladakh region of India and into Tibet. They mainly raise yaks and goats and the prized Changra goats are reared by them which is used to make the famous pashmina stoles.
- Bhils, Rajasthan: Bhils reside in the north western part of India with a majority of them in Rajasthan. They speak Bhili which is an Indo Aryan language and are known as the Bowmen of Rajasthan. Their Archery is so renowned that they have been mentioned in Indian mythological texts as well. Well known for their dance and music, their Ghoomar dance is famous and well known.
- Khasi Tribe, Meghalaya: The Meghalayan tribe of Khasi is a peace loving and warm tribe. A matriarchal society, the women make all key decisions in the family and community. In Fact the youngest daughter of the family inherits the property from her mother. They are known for their rice beer which is a part of all their religious ceremonies and like most tribes and cultures music and dance holds importance at all ceremonies and festivals.
- Kurumba Tribe, Tamil Nadu: Known to be the earliest settlers of the Western Ghat and descendants of the Pallavas, they were mainly hunter gatherers. Now mostly settled in the Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu, they have now abandoned a lot of their traditions and are mainly Hindus. The Kurumba tribe still retains its traditional music, language and rituals. An interesting ritual is when a girl reaches adolescence, she is kept in a cottage away from the main house for the first month and not allowed any interaction with the family. Post this, she is brought in and greeted with new clothes and a feast.
- Sentinelese, Andaman Islands: The Sentinelese tribe is one of the most protected tribes in India and there is no interaction between them and the outside world. Residing on Islands where others aren’t allowed to visit, the sentinelese people are hostile towards outsiders. Believed to be living in the North Sentinel islands of Andamans for above 55,000 years and are hunter and gatherers. They are also seen fishing in the waters around the island.
- Bonda Tribe, Orissa: The Bonda tribe resides in the hilly area of Malkangiri and they live a secluded life from other inhabitants of the region. They are said to be one of the first migrants to India from Africa some 60,000 years ago. They have their own language, religion and traditions like most tribes in India and interestingly a unique naming convention. A newborn is named after the day that she or he is born on.
- Baiga Tribe, Madhya Pradesh: Residing mainly in the Balaghat and Mandla districts of MP, the Baiga tribe are forest dwellers and expert hunters. They are semi nomadic because they never cultivate the same piece of land repeatedly, per them the earth is like their mother and ploughing it again and again for it to produce food would weaken it. The Baiga women sport multiple tattoos all over their body and face and it’s an art and tradition that usually gets passed down from mother to daughter.
- Konyak Tribe, Nagaland: The Konyak tribe, are part of the Naga people but are recognizable by their tattoos on face and arms etc which are earned on beheading an enemy. The communal home or the chief’s/king’s home was often decorated with skulls of enemies, a tradition which is slowly dwindling away. They are known as the headhunters of East India.
Many of these are protected and need to be preserved. While we did our research to find out more about communities we interact with on our journeys, we would love to hear more from you all. The first step is to learn more about them and their culture. What may be not normal to us, is perfectly normal for someone else and in that faith, we want to ensure social protection of tribes and cultures across India and the world. Social sustainability is all about keeping the social fabric of a society intact as they open up to tourism and explorers.
All pictures are taken from public sources on the internet, please write to us at [email protected] to claim credit. We’ll be happy to feature you on the blog.