Tribes in Karnataka
Kannada is the most widely spoken and official language of the State. Apart from Kannadigas, Karnataka is the home to Tuluvas, Kodavas and Konkanis along with minor populations of Tibetan Buddhists. Although there are other ethnic tribes, the Scheduled Tribe population comprises some of the better known tribes like the Soligas, Yeravas, Todas and Siddhis and constitute 6.95 per cent of the total population of Karnataka2.
Currently there are 50 Scheduled Tribes (ST) in Karnataka notified according to the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Act 2003.
The names of these tribes, along with their population in the State and districts mostly inhabited by them are listed in. As many as 14 of these tribes are either exclusively found in Karnataka or are predominant inhabitants of the State.
The tribes of Karnataka
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.
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.
Bavacha/Bamcha are Hindu tribes who speak the Bavchi dialect. 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 occupation3,4. The Bhil population in Karnataka is 6,204 and are scattered in most districts of the State, more so in Uttara Kannada and Belgaum districts4.
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.
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.
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 occupation4. They are also very few in number (264) and are mostly scattered in distribution over the State.
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.
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 data2, and speak Gowdalu language. They are mostly found in Chikmangalur and Bengaluru Urban districts in the State.
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 Census2. The tribe has taken up hunting as their occupation but many are now showing more interest in agriculture and floral decoration.
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.
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.
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.
Jenu Kurubas is 36,076 in Karnataka2 mostly living in the districts of Mysore, Kodagu, and Chamarajanagar. A few are also found outside the State mostly in the border forests of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Also known by the names ‘Then Kurumba’ or ‘Kattu Naikar’, they are members of the primitive tribal group and are now mostly occupied as daily labourers for landlords in plantations in the region. They have a close-knit community and rarely mingle with other neighbouring tribal communities. The literacy rate is 47.66 per cent5.
Kadu Kurubas are the original inhabitants of the forests of Nagarahole and Kakanakote in the Western Ghats of Karnataka. Kadu Kurubas are about 11,953 in number, mostly living in Mysore, Kodagu, Chamarajanagar, and other districts of Karanataka and the remaining in the forests of Tamil Nadu. They are primarily Hindus, speaking Kannada language.
Kammara live in Dakshina Kannada district and Kollegal taluk of Chamarajnagar district of Karnataka. They speak local language and are 949 in number and the majority of these tribe are scattered in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, and Chattisgarh. They are blacksmiths, carpenters and also involved in cultivation.
Kaniyan is a tribe from Kerala found mostly in Kollegal taluk of Chamarajanagar district of the State. Only 413 in number reside in the district. These people speak local language although the majority of these tribes speak Malayalam. The members of this tribe are mostly Hindus.
Kathodi or Katkari tribe Among the approximate 3,00,000 members of the Katkari and Marathi-Konkani speaking Kathodi or Katkari tribe, only a few (275) live scattered in the State of Karnataka. The Kathodi are recognized as the primitive tribal group by the Government of India in the State of Gujarat.
Kattunayakan :About 168 members of Kattunayakan tribe which total around 70,000 mostly inhabiting Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry, are scattered in various districts of Karnataka. This tribe is regarded as a primitive tribe in Kerala.
Kukna An extremely small number (32) of the Kokna tribe are scattered over several districts of Karnataka. They are mostly Hindu by religion. Their primary language is Kukna perhaps derived from Konkani.
Koli dhar Karnataka State has the third largest share (1,12,190) of the Koli Dhor tribe. They are scattered in the North and North-West parts of the State including Bidar, Yadgir, Gulbarga and Bijapur.
Konda Kapu About 7,438 members of the Konda Kapu tribe live in the districts of Karnataka, mostly adjoining Andhra Pradesh.
Koraga tribe is among the two primitive and most backward tribes declared by the Government of India5. This is not only one of the most notable tribes of Karnataka, but also one of the primitive tribal group. This tribe is scattered over many districts of the State, particularly in Udupi and Dakshina Kannada. They are also found in Haveri and in small numbers in Shimoga, Uttara Kannada and Kodagu districts. Their number is 14,794 as per the 2011 Census2.
Koragas spend most of their income on alcohol, which is consumed by all ages, and also indulge in smoking beedi and chewing betel. They subsist mainly on rice and meats such as pork and beef, although they are increasingly also using produce such as pulses and vegetables. Diet is poor and malnutrition is common in children6. Education level is low.
Kota tribe is a small group of ethnic people indigenous to the Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu and are recognized as primitive tribal group. They are about 1500 in number7, of which about 121 are in Karnataka State2. They have been subject to good amount of anthropological, linguistic and genetic analysis.
Koya tribe In Karnataka State, particularly in the Bidar district, there are only about 365 members of the Koya tribe which is a very large tribe in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.
Kudiya tribe mainly belonging to the State of Karnataka, and 2,169 of individuals of this tribe live in the State, mostly in Kodagu district.
Kuruba inhabit the thickly forested slopes and foothills of the Nilgiri plateau in Kodagu district of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu States. Their population in Katnataka is 3,1112.
Kuruman tribe of Karnataka is represented by only 347 individuals of this ethnic group who are mostly located in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. They speak southern Kannada language.
Maha Malasar is a very small group of ethnic tribe living in Annamalai Hills in south India. Karnataka has about 36 of these people while Tamil Nadu and Kerala house most of them.
Malaikudi is also a Karnataka ethnic group with about 9,236 people belonging to this tribe inhabiting the Sahyadri hill ranges of Dakshin Kannada, Udupi and Chikmagalur districts of Karnataka. The Malaikudi tribe speak a dialect of the Dravidian language, Tulu. Tulu and Kannada are spoken by them for inter-group communication.
Malasar tribe has about 9100 ethnic people in the States of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, of whom about 84 inhabit Chikmagalur district of Karnataka. They speak a mixture of the Malayam and Tamil languages.
Malayekandi tribe has also been listed separately as Malaikudi and Maleru. There are 116 of the approximate 2,000 people7 of these tribes in Karnataka. Apart from Chikmagalur district, these tribes are scattered over Koppal, Raichur and Gulbarga districts.
Maleru tribe is about 440 in number and is almost exclusive to Karnataka State. They mostly inhabit Chikmagalur, Shimoga, Davangere, Dakshin Kanada, Udupi, Hassan, and Kodagu districts. The Maratha of Kodagu and Marati of Dakshina Kannada are groups that have received tribal status only in these districts of Karnataka. According to the 2011 census2, there are 3,396 Maratha people in Kodagu district while there are 82,447 Marati people in Dakshin Kannada. These communities speak Marathi among themselves and in Tulu and Kannada with others. They are normally vegetarians.
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.
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.
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.
The total number of tribal people recognized by the Government in Karnataka is about 42,48,978 which is 6.95 per cent of the total population of the State. There has been a 6 per cent increase in the tribal population during the last decade. It was 6.6 per cent of the State population in 2001 with the absolute number of 34,63,9862,8.
Bellary has the highest population (10.6%) of Scheduled Tribes (ST) as a percentage of the ST population in the State. Raichur has the second highest percentage of ST population followed by Mysore, Chitradurga and Belgaum, Bellary, Raichur ,Mysore and Chitradurga are also the districts where the maximum number of tribals reside.
Raichur has the highest population of the STs as a percentage of the total population of the district (19.03%), followed by Bellary (18.41%) and Chitradurga (18.23%) districts. The ST population of Karnataka is primarily rural (84.7%).
Among major STs, Koli Dhor have the highest (92.2%) rural population, followed by Gond (91.7%), Marati (90.8%) and Naikda (85.1%).
Case study of tribes
A genome wide study was carried out using autosomal markers to survey and understand the population history of the Siddis. This study showed their link with Africans, Indians and Europeans (Portuguese), confirming the belief about their origin. The genetic affinity of the three tribes, Jenu Kuruba, Betta Kurubaand Soliga tribes of southern Karnataka was studied using ten polymorphic genetic markers16. The authors concluded that the Jenu Kuruba and Soliga tribe who exhibited less inter-group genetic distance, clustered together, whereas Betta Kuruba who possessed comparatively higher genetic distance with the former populations fell out of the cluster. However, these three tribes showed a low genetic distance suggesting a recent divergence or low degree of genetic isolation.
Availability and utilization of health care
A study was carried out among the Koraga tribes in Dakshina Kannada district to assess the availability and accessibility of basic facilities and to determine the utilization of health care facilities by them17. The study showed an overall literacy level among Koragas for both the sexes to be 70.5 per cent which was higher than the State level literacy rate for STs. The study further revealed that poverty among Koragafamilies was a problem. The study stressed on scaling up of efforts to improve their housing, sanitation, literacy and employment conditions which ultimately contribute to improvement of quality of life.
Case study for anthropology: hakki pikkis
Practices such as late initiation of breastfeeding, no feeding of colostrum, and faulty weaning practices, are of particular concern, in the tribal areas due to certain adverse conditions like lack of access to health services, illiteracy, unhygienic personal habits, etc18. A study was carried out to understand the breastfeeding practices among the Hakki-Pikkis, a tribal population of Mysore district. The study revealed that about 76 per cent of the study population breastfed their children immediately after birth while 20 per cent of the mothers initiated breastfeeding on the second day, and 4 per cent on third day of the birth of the child. Those 24 per cent of the mothers who did not feed colostrum at birth considered colostrum as thick, cheesy, indigestible, unhygienic and not good for the infant, in tune with their traditional belief. The study highlighted the need for conduct of various awareness programmes on feeding education to mothers belonging to these tribal communities and to mitigate various myths about breastfeeding. The authors concluded that the poor infant and child feeding practices might be linked to high rate of illiteracy and poor socio-economic condition. This study highlighted the importance of intense literacy campaign, income generating activities and health education by health personnel among these tribes19.
Chronic and lifestyle diseases
Case study for anthropology : jenu kuruba at hunsur taluk mysore
The study estimated prevalence of hypertension among this tribal community to be 21.7 per cent. Prevalence of hypertension among men was 28.2 per cent and among women it was 16.5 per cent which meant that one-third of the men and one-fifth of the women were hypertensive12. The prevalence of hypertension among Jenu Kuruba tribe found in this study was comparable to the composite nationwide data of National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB) which estimated prevalence of hypertension among rural adults to be 25 per cent. This study corroborates the increasing recognition of burden of hypertension among the tribal population.
Case study for anthropology: koraga
A study was carried out among chronic alcoholics from the Koraga tribe to assess the extent of liver damage as compared to healthy controls and other alcoholics32. Serum and urine samples were collected from 28 Koraga alcoholics, 30 general alcoholics and 31 healthy controls and were analysed for liver function parameters and antioxidant markers. Results indicated that the extent of alcohol induced liver damage in Koraga subjects was comparatively lower than general alcoholics, even though alcohol consumption was found to be higher in them. The authors concluded that there might be some mechanism that rendered the Koraga tribe resistant to alcoholic liver damage.
Case study for anthropology:Iruligas
The study revealed a relatively low prevalence of periodontal disease among these people perhaps because of their practice of using of chew stick which was observed in as many as 80 per cent of the tribal population.