Nilgiris - Peoples and Culture

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The Todas
The Todas are the original inhabitants of The Nilgiris Hills and they are one of the most picturesque tribes in India. Eventhough , there are six major primitive tribes in the district, the Todas have attracted for greater attention both here and abroad, than any other single tribal Community. Thier language, though of Dravidian origin, has no script. According to their creation myth, Goddess Teikirshy and her brother on first created the buffalo by waving a magic wand, and then created the toda man. The first toda woman was created from the right rib of the man. The Toda's first contact with civilization occurred. When the East India Company annexed the Nilgiris in 1799. In 1823, John Sullivan, the then Collector of Coimbatore, built the first stone house in ooty on land purchased from the Todas. Today there are only about 1,100 Todas left.The believe even today that their ancestors inhabited The Nilgiris Hills from the beginning of mankind. Todas are pastoral people and to a certain extent, nomadic. Most of the Todas, possess large herd of buffaloes; and milk products are their main source of living. Large extents of land are set apart as Toda patta lands over which the Todas have partial right to live., graze their cattle and to take cultivation. The Toda women have a great skill in embroidery work. The Toda embroidery garments are in great demand with visitors from other parts of India and abroad.

The Kotas, live in Seven settlements, generally known as Kotagiri or Kokkal. They are village artisans, who are good in carpentry, blacksmithy and pottery. But only a few families are engaged in these skills as a means of living. Most others are engaged in cultivation. Happily, most of the Kota families in all the settlements have their own patta land. Unlike Todas, they do not shy away from personal cultivation and are generally hard working people. In the field of education also they have stolen a march over other tribal communities. Today, many of them are working in the Government and non Governmental departments.

Kurumbas and Irulas

The Kurumba houses known as "GUDLU" are temporary constructions in the forests. The traditional occupation of the Kurumbas is food gathering, like collection of honey and forests produce. They are also cultivating millets like ragi and samai on a small scale mainly on hill slopes and mountain ridges. Honey fetches considerable remuneration for the Kurumbas. It is relished much by the public. Honey is collected mostly in the summer months from the cliffs, rocky crevices and the branches of giant trees. The supplement their usual diet with ample quantity of honey. Kurumbas are known to possess keen eyesight, gained possibly from constant watching of the honey bee to the hives. Now, they are mainly engaged in agriculture and those who do not own lands work as casual agricultural labourers. The Kurumbas are had working people, but the economic condition of the Kurumbas is very poor.

Irulas with a few subsects among them are living in Masinagudi area, and in parts of Kotagiri and Coonoor Taluks. They are generally engaged in collection of minor forest products. This is a seasonal operation and they work as casual agricultural laborers on local estates. Some of them are also engaged in looking after the herds of cattle belonging to others. Some are engaged in agriculture in the patta lands, conditionally assigned to them, where they have raised tea, coffee, jack trees, guava etc. However, due to their poor maintenance of their land due to lack of finance, the return from these lands is meagre. The general economic condition of these tribes is poor.

Paniyas(which literally means "workers" in local usage) are found in Gudalur taluk and many more in Kerala. Paniyas were found to be coming under a subtle from of bonded labour. They were released from bondage and a few have been since rehabilitated in various schemes. They are scattered throughout Gudalur Taluk and are one of the most backward tribal communities. Under an age old system, most of the Paniyas were working under local land owners for low wages with little and no liberty to work for others for competitive wages. After Independence, however, the majority of the Paniyas broke away from their masters and started working as casual agricultural labourers, bamboo cutters and estate labourers. The Paniyas, by and large, live in poverty irrespective of whether they are bonded or not. During 1976, 481 Paniyas in 252 families were freed from bonded labour and they have been rehabilitated in the Paniya Welfare Land colonisation Co- operative society and other schemes.

The Mullukurumbas of Gudalur are a District group and are believed to belong to a pre agricultural tribe, since they still use bow and arrow for occasional hunting.They live in nine settlements in Erumad area and Cherangodu village. They are mainly agricultural labourers. They are hard working people but their economic condition is poor.
This tribal community is also found only in Gudalur Taluk. They are like Paniyas, farm labourers and their condition is no
better than that of Paniyas.