The south Indian State of Karnataka, once part of several kingdoms and princely states of repute in the Deccan peninsula, is rich in its historic, cultural and anthropological heritage. The State is the home to 42,48,987 tribal people, of whom 50,870 belong to the primitive group. Although these people represent only 6.95 per cent of the population of the State, there are as many as 50 different tribes notified by the Government of India, living in Karnataka, of which 14 tribes including two primitive ones, are primarily natives of this State. Extreme poverty and neglect over generations have left them in poor state of health and nutrition. Unfortunately, despite efforts from the Government and non-Governmental organizations alike, literature that is available to assess the state of health of these tribes of the region remains scanty. It is however, interesting to note that most of these tribes who had been original natives of the forests of the Western Ghats have been privy to an enormous amount of knowledge about various medicinal plants and their use in traditional/folklore medicine and these practices have been the subject matter of various scientific studies.
Tribes of Karnataka:
Members of the Adiyan tribe live mostly in Mysore and districts bordering Kerala and speak Kannada. They are only 758 in number and are mostly agricultural labourers. They remain poor and have a low literacy rate. Marriages among cousins are common. There are a few members (266) of the Barda tribe of Gujarat and Maharashtra found in the State, mostly in the northern districts. They speak Barda language which is similar to Marathi and Gujarati. They are agricultural labourers, and are mostly endogamous. The Bavacha/Bamcha are Hindu tribes who speak the Bavchi dialect3. They are 960 in number and are mostly inhabitants of Ramanagar district.
Bhils are adivasis of Central Indian origin. The Bhil tribes are divided into a number of endogamous territorial divisions, which in turn have a number of clans and lineages. Most Bhils now speak the language of the region they reside in. Originally hunters and soldiers, they are mostly agricultural workers with hunting and gathering remaining a significant subsidiary occupation. The Bhil population in Karnataka is 6,204 and are scattered in most districts of the State, more so in Uttara Kannada and Belgaum districts.
The Chenchus are an aboriginal tribe who speak the Chenchu or Chenchwar language, a branch of Telugu, and live mostly in the forests of Andhra Pradesh. About 954 of them inhabit bordering districts of Karnataka like Yadgir and Kolar. The Chenchus are one of the original primitive tribal groups that are still dependent on forests and do not cultivate land but hunt for a living. Some however, live symbiotically with non-tribal communities and many collect forest products for sale to non-tribal people. The Chodharas are a group of about 117 people living in Karnataka among the 20,000 odd members most of whom inhabit Gujarat and Maharashtra. They are related to the Rajputs and speak Chodri. Most of the Chodhari people work as small farmers growing cotton, vegetables, and rice.
The Dublas, some of whom are also called Talavia or Halpati, are Hindu tribes originating from the Rajputs in Gujarat and Maharashtra. Dubla society consists of several endogamous sub-divisions with agriculture as primary occupation. They are also very few in number (264) and are mostly scattered in distribution over the State.
The Gamit tribe (also known as Gamit, Gavit, Mavchi and Pandvi) people speak in Gamit. They are about 516 of them who are now inhabitants of Karnataka, mostly found in Koppal and scattered over several other districts.
The Gond tribe is the largest of Dravidian people of central India, spread over various States including the North-Western districts of Karnataka. They are the second largest tribal group found in the State. Gondi language is related to Telugu and other Dravidian languages.
Gowdalu are 8,617 in number according to the 2011 Census data and speak Gowdalu language. They are mostly found in Chikmangalur and Bengaluru Urban districts in the State.
The Hakki-Pikki clan is a semi-nomadic group and they live near Bidadi in Karnataka. Their population in the State is 11,892 as per 2011 Census. The tribe has taken up hunting as their occupation but many are now showing more interest in agriculture and floral decoration.
The Hasalaru are Hindu tribes of Karnataka. They are 24,466 in number and speak Tulu and concentrated in several districts including Chikkamangaluru, Shimoga, Udupi, and Davangere. In
Karnataka, people belonging to Irular tribe are about 700 in number. They are more conspicuous in the Nilgiri Hills of neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Kerala and are listed under the Primitive Tribe Group. They are Hindus and speak Irula which is related to the Dravidian languages Tamil and Kannada. These people are descendants of gypsies living in caves with hunting and gathering as their ancestral occupation. They subsequently learnt the art of cultivation. People from the same clan within the Irular tribe do not intermarry. Their literacy rate is very low at 36.27 per cent5. The Iruliga are also primarily tribes of Karnataka with a total population of about 10,259, mostly living in Ramanagar and Bengaluru Urban districts. They are Hindus and while Kannada is their principal language, a few other languages are also spoken.
In Karnataka, there are two communities with the name Meda; one of these is restricted to the district of Kodagu. They speak Kodagu, a Dravidian language. In other parts of Karnataka, there is another community of basket-makers known as Meadar of Meda. The Meda community is almost exclusively present in Karnataka with a population of about 44,160 scattered throughout all the districts.
Nayaka, tribe as the name implies ‘a leader’ is mostly non-vegetarian. Nayaka, popularly known by Palegar, Beda, Valmiki, and Ramoshi Parivara are found all over the State but they are concentrated in the Chitradurga, Shimoga, Bellary and Tumkur districts. Their population is 32,96,354.
The Paliyan, or Palaiyar or Pazhaiyarare are a group of more than 10,000 Adivasi Dravidian people living in the south Western Ghats mountaneous rain forests in south India, especially in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. They belong to the primitive tribal group. About 226 of them inhabit the southern tip of the State of Karnataka especially in Kodagu district. Most people of this tribe are traders of forest products, food cultivators and beekeepers. About 495 people of the Paniyan tribe reside in Karnataka mainly in the southern districts Kodagu, Dakshin Kannada and Mysore.
The Pardhis are migrant people, scattered over a wide area of central India in the States of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka. In Karnataka, their population is about 10,746 and are mostly found in the districts of Dharwad, Bagalkot, Gadag, Bijapur and Gulbarga. Their language, Pardhi, is one of the Bhil languages. Among the western Indian Patelia tribe, only 57 inhabit Karnataka, most of them in Bidar district alone.
The Rathwas derived their name from the word ‘rathbistar’, which means inhabitant of a forest or hilly region. They are a moderately large tribe but very few (45 individuals) inhabit Karnataka State. Only a few are located in Bengaluru Urban and Bidar districts. They are endogamous, and consist of a number of exogamous clans. They are at present mostly small and medium sized farmers.
The Soliga/Sholiga and Sholigaru/Soligaru tribes inhabit the Biligirirangan (BR) Hills and associated ranges in southern Karnataka, mostly in the Chamarajanagar and Erode districts of Tamil Nadu. Many are also concentrated in and around the BR Hills in Yelandur and Kollegal taluks of Chamarajanagar District. They use the title Gowda, which means a headman. In Karnataka, they are mainly distributed in the hilly parts of Mysore district, Ramanagar, and Mandya. This area is covered with forests, and experiences low humidity and heavy rainfall. They are normally vegetarians, and eat mainly tubers. Toda tribe is one of the most ancient and peculiar tribes of Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu. There are only a few (157) of them in Karnataka in the district of Udupi. The Todas have their own language and own secretive customs and regulations.
The Varlis/Warlis are Adivasis, living in mountainous as well as coastal areas of Maharashtra-Gujarat border and surrounding areas. There are only 58 of them in Karnataka, mostly in Kodagu and Koppal districts.
Vitolia is an extremely small group of 23 people living scattered over many districts including Koppal, Belgaum, and Bengaluru. They are believed to the descendents from the Gambit tribe and were regarded as untouchables. Vitolia is included the primitive tribal group by the Government of Gujarat where they are found most. A few might have migrated to Karnataka from south Gujarat and Maharashtra earlier. Their literacy rate is 43.8 per cent. A few
centuries ago the Yerava/Ravula was a thriving, agriculture and forest-based tribe, in Wayanad and Kodagu districts of Kerala and Karnataka, respectively. The population as per 2011 census2 is 30,359 in Karnataka and found mostly in Kodagu and Mysore districts.
The Siddis tribe of Karnataka is an ethnic group. There is a 50,000 strong Siddi population across India, of which about 10,477 are loacated around Yellapur, Haliyal, Ankola, Joida, Mundgod and Sirsi taluks of Uttara Kannada district and in Khanapur of Belgaum district and Kalghatgi of Dharwad district.
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