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Major Tribals in Kerala

Tribals in Kerala are living on the hill ranges, mainly on the Western Ghat, bordering Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. As a natural border, the mountain has branches in Kerala as well as in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The tribals on the Kerala hills are only listed here.

Adiyan Irular Kattunaikkan Kurichiyan Malavedan Mannan
Alar Kadar Kochuvelan Kuruman Malakkuravan Muthan
Aranadan Kammara Koraga Kurumban Malasar Muthuvan
Cholanaikkan Kanikkaran Koda Malapandaram Malayan Mudugar
Iravallan Kani Kudiya Malappulayan Mala Arayan Palaiyan
  Ulladar Urali Paniyan

1. Adiyan

Alternate Name: Adiaya
Population: about 10,0000

Adiyan - The word Adiyan  means “slave” in Malayalam. The Adiyans are found in the Wayanad and Kannur districts of Kerala and some of them in the Karnataka boarder  areas of Wayanad . Most of them are agricultural labourers, worked mostly in paddy fields. It is believed that they were agricultural slaves in the past. During the annual festival at the Valliyurkkavu temple in Mananthavady, Wayand, the Adiyar people used to gather where they were sold and bought by landlords.  In Manathavady of Wayanad, many of them live close to the forest, and away from fields like in Baveli, Begur and Tholpatty areas.

2. Aalar

Aalar people are tribals but not listed in the scheduled list of tribes in the state. They are a small number of people found in Malappuram district.

3. Aranadan

Alternate Name: Eranadan Literacy rate: 17.2. Population About 300

Ernadan people were a nomadic hill tribe and engaged in hunting and food gatherers who lived on collecting fruits and roots of forest. Some of the families are settled by the tribal colony colonies constructed by the Government including one near to Chokkad. They are seen in Chokkad, Telppara, Pattakkarimpu, Kavalamukkatta, Vazhikadavu, Edakkara, Aranadankara and other fringes of forest on the Western Ghat. Ernadan tribe is very primitive, curly haired, rounded nose and head.  They used to be In Nilammbur, Ernadan settlements are found on the hills of Chokkad (Nalpathu centu (40 cents) toward the Thulappainkai colony. They have been resettled by the tribal welfare societies and their living has been improved. Their dialect is a crude mixture of Malayalam and Tamil with a special tune of intonations.

4. Cholanaikkan


Population: (now: 191) 1991 census: 360

The Cholanaikkans are said to be the “most primitive and vanishing tribes of Asia” or the “last remaining hunter- gatherer tribes” and one of the oldest native communities of Kerala. They are world famous among anthropologists and students as cave dwellers. Their life and story is illustrated and these misconceptions corrected by Philipose Vaidyar in his new book, Trekking the Tribal Trail. (For more information or to order your copy, contact the author at

Cholanaikkans are only seen in the Karulai and Chungathara forest ranges in Nilambur in Malappuram district. When they were first contacted in the late 1960s they did not have any clothes or anything outside of a stone-age culture. The outside world came to know about them in the early seventies through a survey published in the Manorama Daily by journalist Mathew Kadalikkad. This had led the people of the plain to pioneer in to the deep forests to meet them. Eventually their lifestyle has been changed but most of them do not leave forest.

They speak the Cholanaikkan language, but around half of them can interact in Malayalam. The Cholanaikkan call themselves as ‘Malanaikan’ or ‘Sholanaikan’. ‘Shola’ or ‘chola’ means deep thicket in the forest and ‘naikan’ means king. They are said to be warriors, migrated from Mysore of Karnataka along with a king but had to hide into forests more than a century ago due to the war in the region. They are generally of short stature, well built strong bodies, fair complexion, round or oval face and curly hair.

Cholanaikkans are animists and worship 'ancestral spirits'. They don’t have any idols or images but go behind a big tree and whisper something. They do not intermarry with any other tribes.

These food gatherers survived on hunting and collection of minor forest products. They ate wild roots, tubers, seeds, fruits and meat.  Since the 1970s, they used to come to the plain and exchanged honey, wax and cardamom in exchange of salt, match boxes and clothing. The tribal welfare departments’ society started collecting these produces for better prices and began to provide rations and provisions at locations in the forest. The tribe, unlike any other tribes, under the leadership of the Mooppan (Elder) is unwilling to come out of the deep forest but use dress and ornaments, household articles, tools and weapons in their day today life.

Read the real story at Trekking the Tribal Trail

5. Iravallan

Alternate Name: Eravallan
Population: about 4,000

Eravallans live in the Chittur taluk of Palakkad district and the border areas of Coimbatore. This tribe was originally known as Villu-Vedan (hunters using bows and arrows).The present name may be the corruption of an early name 'Eravan' (beggar) because some of them subsisted by begging. Eravallans are commonly agritural and other farm labourers and many of them are staying in resettled colonies set up by the government. They are animists and worship icons are animals, trees and some stones. However there Hindu religious and cultural festivals like Onanm, Vishu, Pongal being practiced by them. Eravallans speak a dialect close to Tamil but they can also converse well in Malayalam.


6. Irular

Alternate Name: Irulan
Population: 18,698 Literacy rate: 11.8.

Irulars are seen in Attapady area of Mannarkadu Thaluk in Palakkad District and also seen in Nelliyampathy, Pothuppara, Mayamudi, Palakkapandi, Koonapalam of Chittur Thaluk and Valayar hills. They are engaged in agriculture and cultivate paddy, raggi, dhal, plantains, turmeric etc. Forest produce collection is also a source of income. They are also seen in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka states. The Irular community in Kerala are different in features and occupation from the Irula people seen near Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

"Long long ago there lived a man named Pattan. As humankind increased they also increased in wickedness and wrongdoings. God then decided to destroy mankind from the face of earth. But Pattan was leading a good life. In a vision God directed Pattan to get into a hollow and escape from the punishment. The pumpkin was so huge to accommodate Pattan and his family. It began to rain for many days and the pumpkin floated and saved only Pattan and his family…."

This story, similar to that of Noah and the flood in the Bible, is told by the Irular who live on the hills of Mannarkkadu, a taluk (block or county) in Palakkad district of Kerala in the southern part of India. The hills ranges of Mannarkad are connected to the Western Ghats bordering the state of Tamil Nadu.  The Irular are a native tribal group found in both sides of these hills -- in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and speak two different dialects. The legend continues that God instructed Pattan to live there by cultivating the land. The Irular tribe believe that they descended from Pattan. If iniquity increases with the rise in the population, a goat or hen has to be sacrificed. One sacrifice is sufficient to ward off sin for a year. The Lord has kept heaven and hell for people according to the “wrongdoings and the sacrifice” offered.  The word Irular comes from the word Irul which means darkness.  Irular means those who are in darkness.

I reached a village 10 km away from Gulikadavu, which is situated close to the Anakatty-Mannarkad road. It was just a day after the village celebration and a sacrifice. The youth were blaring on trumpets, celebrating the penultimate day of the festival. Curly haired and dark complexioned Irular number around 15,000 in Attappady Hill alone. Seventy-five percent of the tribal people in Attapady are Irular. Living in caves, they used to hunt and procure forest resources. They were descendants of gypsies. Subsequently they began to live in huts made of bamboo and slowly learnt the art of cultivation. The Irulars looked on helplessly when licensed contractors went on a deforestation spree..............

Read more about Irular…

Occupation, Lifestyle, Child Birth, Marriage, Death and much more in A Peep into the Tribalscape

7. Kadar


Population About 1600

Kadars are now found in 15 settlements of Palakkad and Trissur districts; Kuriarkutty, Parambikulam, Parambikulam dam, Thekkady, Kalchady, Cherunelli, Thaliyakallu settlements in Palakkad district, and Anapantham, Vazhachal, Pokayilapara, Porigalkuthu, Vachumaram, Anakayam, Ambalapara (Sholayar) and Malakkapara in Thrissur district. Kadar is listed as a ' primitive' tribe by the government. Kadars are also seen in the Western Ghat regions of Coimbatore district in Tamil Nadu. Kadars were nomadic in nature and used to live in clans of 3 to 10 families. They survived mainly by collecting forest produces. They make temporary leaf shelters for their stay in forests for the purpose of minor forest produce collection. Now-a-days they are seen leading a settled life, with the exception of a few families. They live in poorly huts made of mud, wooden poles, bamboo and leaves.

Kadars were in the habit of using bamboo nodes for carrying water but now a days they use aluminium and earthen pots. The custom of chipping of incisor tooth was common amog them. Kadars are non-vegetarians and their staple food is rice. They are skilled in hunting wild animals and eat most of the animals except buffalo and cow. In every Kadar settlement a headman viz, moopan controls the social customs and tribe administration. The moopans were said to be the servants of the Royal family of Kochi.

Kadars are generally monogamous. Marriages between cousins are prevalent and there is no practice of dowry or ‘bridal price’; patri-lineal inheritance is dominant. They observe pollution at childbirth, puberty and death. The dead body is buried along with all the belongings of the dead. Though animists they worship Hindu gods along with their ancestral spirits. Before going for gathering forest produces, they appease the spirits by fire walking and other rituals. They celebrate Hindu festivals like Onam and Vishu.

8. Kammara

Kammaras are found in Kasargode district in Kerala. They are blacksmiths by profession. Their total population in Kerala is only 123.

9. Kanikkaran

Alternate Name: Kanikkar
Population: – 12,725  Literacy: 53.84 %

Kanikkars are inhabitants of the area around  Agastyakutam and Mahendragiri peaks of the Western Ghats in the Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam districts of Kerala. They are also seen in the Adimali hills of Idukki. They are engaged in agriculture and collection of forest produces.

Black body, circular head, curly hair, broad nose -all these are characteristics of the Kanikkar who form the largest tribe in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. According to the 1981 census there were 14,000 Kanikkars, living in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. They dwell in forests or their neighbourhood in Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam in Kerala, and Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu.

Although there are some financially well to do people within this group, most of them are poor. Though they cultivate everything and have agriculture as their main profession, they have a special liking for fishing and hunting. Concerning their genealogy and origin they have interesting stories. The Aryans who moved from north to south called them Kanikkar, which literally means landlords, descendants of the Kings, and gave their offerings to King Attingal. Another story is that they derived the name Malayarayan from the Hindu mythological Sage Agasthya.

Till the advent of the 20th century they lived in the interior forests, where the common people have no access. Those who were not accustomed to live anywhere permanently made tree huts of bamboo and lived there.

Read more on Kanikar  (Village administration,  medicines and magic for healing marriage, Death and burial, hobbies, art forms and artifacts etc) at A Peep into the Tribalscape (10 narrative profiles and travelogues)

10. Kani

Kani is a nomadic tribe in Kerala. They were known for familiarizing Kallana, allegedly a cryptic elephant and a herbal medicine known as jeevani. The medicinal properties of the plant called Arogyapacha (Trichopus zeylanicus) were also discovered through them.

11. Kattunaikkan

Population: About 12,155.

The Kattunaikans and Cholanaikkans are said to be two groups of the same tribe.
Cholanaikan habitats are seen in the Karulai and Chungathara forest ranges in Nilambur in Malappuram district.  The Kattunaikans are seen in Wayanad, Kozhikode and Malappuram districts. Both these communities are listed as primitive tribes.

Kattunaikans are also called as Ten-Kurumans (Ten means honey) and found in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu also. Kattunaikan means ‘king of jungle’ and they have very little contact with the main non-tribals. As interior forest dwellers until recent decades, they did not have access to dress items and used bark of trees for clothing.  They also used ornaments made of materials available in the forests. They consider the Paniyans as inferior to them and observe pollution against them. They are tall, dark and have curly hair.

Kattunaikans believe that they are the descendents of a kingdom which was powerful a few centuries ago. Some of them are educated and send their children to schools through tribal hostels run by the government. Most of them at schools show high aptitude towards modern education.

Their huts are made of bamboo, straw and grass. They usually keep footwear outside the house. Leather made of cow-skin is considered as polluting and not used. They are good hunters and are skilled gatherers of forest products such as wax and honey. They use to breed pigs, goats and poultry.  They are non-vegetarian in food habits but do not eat beef. Drinking alcohol is occasional. Cultivation is a recent development among the Kattunaikans. The forest Department used to employ them as guards and for labour. Kattunaikans are animists and worshiped trees, rocks, hills and snakes. Due to interaction with the outside communities, they also worship Hindu deities and celestial bodies like sun and moon.

The headman, known as muttam has much respect within the society and has great powers in matters such as marriage and divorce. He also plays the role of priests and holds the right of oracle. They follow the patrillineal rule of succession and used to marry off their daughters even before puberty. They observe any of the three kinds of marriages- by elopement, purchase and by service.  In case of purchase, bride price is fixed after negotiation and this can be given in installments even after the marriage. Some use tali (the wedlock badge) made of beads and shells. Exchange of betel nut and chewing pan leaf are symbols observed in the marriage ceremony. Marriage between relatives is in existence.  Female cohabited with a non-tribal is considered an outcaste.  It is said that marriages and adultery are considered as social recreation. However, they observe pollution at the time of puberty and childbirth.

They give little importance to funerals. It is said that, in the past, they used to place the dead bodies on top of rocks or trees to be eaten by animals and birds. Now a-days, they bury the dead body in deep graves with a cellar in the bottom. The body is pushed into the cellar and later filled with soil. It is not clear if they observe pollution after death. They have no firm belief in life after death.

12. Kochuvelan

Kochuvelans are inhabitants of the Ranny Forest Range in Pathanamthitta, Kottayam and Idukki districts. They were known to be the priests (Moopanmar) who perform the religious ceremonies of Ullada community.

13. Koraga

Population: About 1600

Koragar people, listed as primitive tribe, are found in Kasargod and Majeswaram. A good number of Koragas are also seen in Karnataka, the neighboring State. The Koragas are believed to be the ancestors of a defeated dynasty, which was driven to forests and subsequently became slaves to the mighty. According to another legend, they allegedly were considered as a mixed offspring and were looked down upon with contempt and their future generation was named as Koraga.

The Koragas are seen mostly in rural areas and due to their unhygienic way of life all other communities used to observe untouchability with them. They have very little interaction with other communities. It is said that in earlier days they used to remove carcasses and ate the flesh of dead animals. All of them were slaves until the State banned slavery through the Bonded Labour Abolition Act. The Koragas speak a language of their own which resembles to Tulu and Kannada.

The Koragas who live in plain areas are called Kuntu Koraga and those found in forests are named as Sappu Korag. Both these groups observe different dress code.  Kundu Koragas are seen only in Kerala and the Sappu Koragas are found in Karnataka State. The Kuntu Koraga further has two sections-  Badiyadika and Pulikoor.

A large section of the Koragas is engaged in basket making. Some resort to begging while a few to agriculture or minor forest produce collection. Koragas were experienced in capturing crocodiles and used to eat its flesh. Usually the Koraga huts are thatched with grass or leaves, with open sides. Now most of them live in houses provided by government. Traditionally they used to worship sun and a few other gods, but the younger generation is interested in worshipping the Hindu deities.

14. Koda

Alternate name: Kota

Kotas are mainly found in the Nilgiris district of Tamilnadu, but a few families live in the Malappuram, the bordering district of Kerala.  Population in Kerala: 36.

15. Kudiya

Alternate name: Melakkudi
Total Population - 597 Literacy 38.31 %

They are seen in the Kannur and Kasaragode district of Kerala District. The main occupation is agriculture. The rest of the tribe is found in Coorg (Kodaku), the neighbouring district in Karnataka.


16. Kurichiyan

Alternate name: Kurichchan, Kurichiyar
Population: about 23,000  Literacy 28.06 %

Kurichiar people are found in Wayanad and some parts of Kozhikode districts in Kerala. They were warriors and had served the king Pazhassi Raja with utmost honesty and courage during his fight against the British. They were archery and martial arts.

Though they live on the hills in isolation, the architecture of their house and other artifacts suggest of a recent past life in the mainstream. They are considered as the highest tribes among Adivasis and strictly follow un-touchability (ayitham). According to a legend this warrior caste of the mainstream community lost a war and they had to go the jungles as "vanavasis" (jungle dwellers).

The Kurichiyas are divided into matrilineal clans known as kulam. The Kurichiyas worship their deceased ancestors, called Nizhal (shadows) along with a few other deities unique to their tribe and worshipped by Hindus.

17. Kuruman


Alternate name: Kurumar.
Subgroups: Urali Kurumar, Then Kurumar Mullu Kuruman, Mulla Kuruman, Mala Kuruman
Total Population – 23,444 Literacy 38.69 %

They are seen in Wayanadu district close to forests but live good houses. All the different communities among them are jointly listed as Kuruman in the scheduled tribe list of the government. Traditionally Vetta Kurumar are hunters, Then Kuruamar are honey gatherers, and Urali Kurumar, agriculturists. Urali Kurumar are settlers and live in pukka/ good houses and engage in agriculture. They also collect honey and other forest products as they continue to live in the forest land. Nowadays they are in to all kinds of jobs and manual labour, wood cutting, climbing trees, working at tea and coffee plantations and in forest department.

18. Kurumban

Population: About 1,900

Kurumban is considered as a ' primitive' tribe in the list of scheduled tribes of Kerala. Their hamlets are found in both sides of the Bhavani River in Attapady area of Palakkad district. Most of them are still food gatherers and also do shift cultivation. Near some of their colonies in the interior forest they cultivate ganja plants. Their staple food is used to be ragi but now-a-days they also use rice. Consumption of liquor is common among them.

The language they speak is close Kannada but also converse in Malayalam and Tamil. The clan system is of very high order among Kurumbas.

Old Kurumbas wear very minimum clothes and young women wear rings, chains, and ear ornaments made of brass, tin, aluminium, plastic and glass.

Traditional houses of Kurumbas are built with bamboo, mud and wild-grass. They are made as linear structures with compartments, each to be occupied by a marital family. Usually two to three such families live together in such houses. Temporary huts are also made in the middle of cultivated land for guarding crops and destroyed after harvest.

They use bamboo, reed, and cane to make carrying vessels and baskets. Now- a-days they use vessels made of aluminium and pottery for cooking.

A hamlet is called Ooru and the head of the ooru is called Oorumooppan who administers the socio-political unit. He represents the Ooru in interacting with Government Officials and settling inter-hamlet disputes, assisted by other social functionaries like " Bhandari, Kuruthalai and mannookaran'. The bhandari serves as a treasurer to social functions and the mannokaran is a traditional agriculture expert. The society is divided into eight clans and various social functionaries are from different clans.

Kurumbas worship both their traditional gods and the Hindu deities. They are famous for which-craft, and magical performances, and traditional herbal medicines.  The families are nuclear and they observe matrilineal inheritance. Kurumbas have marriage relationships with the Mudugar, another major tribal community found in the lower valleys of Attapady hills. They observe pollution around life-cycles. The dead are buried on the third day of the death.

19. Malapandaram

Total Population - 2122 Literacy 35.4 %

Mala Pandarams are found in Achancoil, Pathanapuram, Naduvathumoozhy and Mannarappara forest ranges in the Pathanamthitta and Kollam districts of Kerala. They live by hunting and collection of forest products.

20. Malappulayan

Alternate Names: Hill Pulaya, (Mala Pulayan, Kurumba, Pulayan, aravazhi Pulayan, Pamba Pulayan)
Total Population -3092 Literacy 45.9 %

Malappulayan are seen in Chinnar and Marayur area (Devikulam taluk) of Idukky district. Main occupation of Kurumba pulayar are goat farming and collection of forest produces, Karavazhi Pulayan are engaged in cultivation. It is believed that they had migrated from Madurai (Tamilnadu). Near Marayur there is a Malappulayan community settled in a colony built by the government. They cultivate sugarcane which is popular in the area.

Other settlements are more in Kummithankuzhi, Thattikkad, Nachivayal, Malakkad,and Chavakkalam and Marayoor. They speak a dialect with Tamil and Malayalam words. With others they speak either Malayalam or Tamil language and use its script. As land was provided by government for each family, cultivation is their major source of income. Other manual labour, animal rearing and petty businesses are also done by some for an additional livelihood.  Though tribes, they are practicing Hinduism in recent years have stone idols of gods and goddesses.

21. Malavedan

Alternate name: Malai Vedan
Population: About 2,500 Literacy 44.53%

Mala Vedans are found in the Pathanamthitta, Thiruvanathpuram and Idukki districts in Kerala. The main occupation is hunting and collection of forest produces.

22. Malakkuravan

Population - 584 Literacy 49.38 %

The Malakkuravan’s are found in Thiruvananthapuram, Pathanamthitta, and Kottayam districts. They are engaged in hunting, collection of honey and agriculture. Women are engaged in fire-wood collection, fortune-telling and palmistry.

23. Malasar

Population - 967 Literacy 12.47 %

Malasar people are seen in Palakkad and Thrisur districts. This once nomadic people are now they are settled in colonies, provided by the goverment. Maha Malasar is a subcommunity among them who are found at some parts of Thekkedi in the Parambikulam forests.

24. Malayan 

Alternate names: Malayan, Nattu Malayan, Konga Malayan
Population - 2395 Literacy 39.51 %

The Malayans are mainly found in the hilly regions of Palakkad and Thrissur districts of Kerala. Most of the Malayans at present are agricultural workers and some of them involved in collecting forest produce. Those who speak Malayalam are called as Nattumalyan and those who speak Tamil are known as Malayan. A few of them are now in government services also. Their total population in Kerala is 7542.


25. Mala Arayan  (Malayarayar)

Total Population – 24,949  Literacy 73.24 %

Mala Arayans are found in Meenachil and Changanasseri Taluks of the Kottayam district. Due to the educational work of the CMS missionaries, they are well educated, socially and economically more developed than any other tribal communities in Kerala.

26. Mannan

Population: About 6,000 Literacy 19.12%

Mannan people are seen in Idukky and Kottayam districts and a few in Palghat district. They are engaged in agriculture, collection of forest produces and fishing. They used to live in bamboo huts on tree tops, in the forest areas until the recent past. They were experts in weaving thin mats named 'Kannadi paya' (Mirror mat). Even now they have their own king named Kozhimala Raja-Mannan and his subjects used to gather together for meetings every year.

Fort-like mountains can be seen from Adimali, a hill town in Idukki district on the eastern border of Kerala. Steep rocks are featured with occasional trees. It is hard to imagine that a community has survived, living beyond these monolithic mountains with a lifestyles that haven’t changed in the past hundred years. We continued trekking to the top of the rock hill, heading towards Chinnappara kudi. (‘kudi’ means village).

Chinnappara kudi is situated down the valley. The Mannan settlement nearest to the town can be viewed at a distance from the top of the rocks. Each Mannan cluster of about 50 houses is referred to as a kudi.  There are altogether 600 houses in Chinnappara, dotted about sporadically on the hill slopes between cultivated lands. A plain valley in the middle is visible from here. It was made into a field with paddy, plantain, tapioca and corn. Because of the rats, tapioca has become rare. Small houses built of bamboo were seen among cashew and areca nut trees. Most of the houses built with handmade bricks and with thatched roofs were untouched by the development or the town at the corridor.

It is estimated that 70 percent of the population in the four provinces of Idukki districts are tribal people. The sources add that there are totally 14 tribal communities. Among those who stay in the interior hills there are many who are totally insulated from the outside world. Malayarayan, Muthuvan, Mannan, Urali, Ulladan, Palian, Irular, Malappulayan, Malavedan, Malappandaram are the known tribes. Records show that they have existed for at least 600 years.

Read more on…

Heritage and migration, the Mannan king in Kozhimala, Worship hill gods- the spirits of their forefathers…
Displacement through the forest department laws, Village clusters and village headmen, Visitors guest house- Sathram, Village dormitory of girls until marriage, a strange practice, Bridal hunt by grooms for marriage!...........
Their neighbours- the Muthuvan tribe.....

Read the complete story of Mannan in A Peep into the Tribalscape

27. Muthan

Alternate Name: Malamuthan

Othai, at the foot of the Cholar hills on the banks of Chaliar River, can be reached by travelling through Arikode or Edavanna in Malappuram district, Kerala. Looking to the east from Othai, one can see Cholar hills. Mala means hill in Malayalam, and the inhabitants of these hills are called Malamuthans. They are seen in many hills in Nilambur forest region.

Although the government provided them with colonies for rehabilitation in Nilambur, Kalkulam, Chokkad and Cherupuzha, Malamuthans prefer to remain in the Cholar hills. Malamuthans living in the hills have a higher standard of living than their counterparts who settled in urban, tribal colonies.

While scaling the steep mountains and reaching the summit, one can see occasionally cashew plantations and some houses, roofed with tiles.  Some houses are camouflaged by surrounding trees. People carried tiles and the materials for constructing these houses from the nearby towns on their heads.

While climbing up, we saw many people on a downhill journey. Some were on the way to their daily jobs in the nearby towns and children were going to school.

Bamboo, which is abundantly grown here, is cut and dispatched to the valley for sale. The felled trees are laid, stacked and fired to make coal. This coal is in great demand since it is the most commonly used fuel in hotels in the towns. The wholesalers of bamboo and coal used to come to the valley. Other important cultivations of Malamuthans are plantain, tapioca and paddy. Some fields of these Muthans are given on lease to the people in the town at throwaway prices.

Read more on …

Livelihood, un-touchability and racial taboos, Worship of the hill goddess.....

Read the complete story of Malamuthan at A Peep into the Tribalscape

27. Muthuvan


Alternate names: Mudugar, Muduvan
Population -11213 Literacy 10.49%

Muthuvan are found in Idukky and Eranakulam districts. They are believed to be migarated from Madurai in Tamil Nadu. The Mudugar people seen in Attappadi (Palghat) are considered belonging to the same community but their features are slightly different with darker complexion. Muthuvan are food-gatherers also engage in cultivation especially in cardamom and ginger.The Muthuvan people live on the hilly forest regions bordering Kerala and Tamil Nadu. They are found in the Adimali and Devikulam forest areas of Idukki district. The highest concentration of these people is on the Anamudi hills, the highest peak of the Western Ghats. There are two different groups among the Muthuvan and they speak two slightly different dialects. They are Malayalam Muthuvan and Pandi Muthuvan. The Malayalam or Nadan Muthuvan hail from the Adimali areas and the Tamil or Pandi Muthuvan are found in the Munnar and Devikulam areas.

The Muthuvan must have migrated from the plains, most likely from Madurai. The root word Muthuku means the back of the body. It is said that when they migrated to the hills they carried their children and their belongings on their backs. Even today, Muthuvan carry their children on their back.

Read more on…

Settlements and housing Food, Occupation,Cultivation, Transport and Communication, The still alive Sathram- the guest house, Religion and Worship, Medicine and Healthcare, Social Administration
Schools and Education, The Muthuvan Language....

Read the complete story of Muthuvan  at A Peep into the Tribalscape


28. Mudugar

Population: About 10,000

Mudugar are a native people group who live in the Attappadi hills in Palghat district of Kerala, Anakkatti hills of Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, and some in Guddalore, Nilgiris and Dharmapuri Districts of Tamilnadu.

The tribe though often misidentified as Muthuvan or Muduvan, including the Census of India List of Scheduled Tribes, they are a distinct people from Muthuvan (Muduvan) who live in the Anamudi hills of Idukki district.

The traditional occupation of the Mudugars is collection and trading of forest products like honey, spices, medicinal herbs and wild foods.

Many of them nowadays work as daily laborers or for the forest department as guards and travel guides at the Silent Valley National Park.

Most of the tribal settlements in the Attappady hill ranges used to notorious for ganja cultivation and it is said that the many tribals who live in abject poverty are employed by such cultivators.

29.  Palaiyan


Alternate names: Palleyan, Palliyan, Palliyar, Paliyan
Total population: 1909

The tribal groups known in three names are seen in Idukky district. Their cultures seemed to be a mixture of Tamil and Malayalam traditions. Though all these three names are listed as separate communities in the list of scheduled tribes in Kerala, according to Tribes of Kerala (book by A.A.D. Luiz), all these three names are used for the same tribal community.


30. Paniyan

Alternate name: Paniya, Paniyar
Population: 67,948 Literacy 11.01 %

Paniyas are the largest tribal community in Kerala and are found in Wayanad, Kannur, Kozhikkode, and Malapuram districts. They had been agricultural labourers and worked as slaves of land lords for several decades. They were believed to be brought to Waynad by the king of Malabar, centuries ago as slaves for agricultural labour.  It is said that they were sold and bought along with the fields they lived in. After the government of Kerala abolished slavery system, they had been rehabilitated in different colonies set up by the government. Kattupaniyar is a subgroup seen in the forest region of Nilambur (Malappuram District) leading a life style of primitive tribes.

31. Ulladar


Alternate name: Ulladar
Total Population - 11687 Literacy 50 %

Ulladar communities are seen in the forest as well as coastal areas. Both these communities are included in the Scheduled Tribes list and are seen in Thrisur, Idukki, Kottayam, Alapuzha, and Kollam districts. Their main occupation of those on the hills used to be cutting trees, collection of fire woods while those who are in the costal area engage in making country boats and it’s maintenance. Some of them are also experts in catching turtle with special type of rode (Amakkole).

The Ulladar are so called because they come from the interior forests. Ullu means inside parts and ulladar people of the interior. [Ulladan is a singular, but Ulladar is plural.]  There is also a story behind this name. Before the advent of the British Empire a group of soldiers belonging to Central Travancore in Kerala went to the forests with their families to protect their lives from a war between local kings. They settled themselves in the forests. After being in exile for several years some of them returned to their native places. Those who came back were uncivilized due to their lost connection with the civilized country. The locals called them Ulkadans, which means forest-dwellers possessing uncivilized nature. That term Ulkadans was modified to become Ulladans after a period of time.

Those who eked out a living by hunting and eating root vegetables and fruits had to seek new avenues for living when they migrated to the towns. At that time the feudal lords who were high caste people gave them a safe haven by making them their tenants. Cultivating in their lands and working in the fields, they got a new lease of life in the country. Dependents of their feudal masters, they not only faced social discrimination but also were deprived of education.

Read more on ….

Settlements, village leadership, meetings, practices around marriage, death, funeral etc.

Read the complete story of Ulladan at A Peep into the Tribalscape


32. Urali  (Uraly)

Population: 10,335  Literacy 50.4 %

Urali tribe is found in Idukky, Kottayam and Kollam districts. Until the recent past, most of them used to live on small huts made on tree tops inside the forest. They are engaged in cultivation and collection of forest produces.

The Urali make a wound on the thigh, keep ash in it and chant a particular mantra to keep elephants away! They talk about themselves how they manage to live in the dense forests. Although Uralis reside in the woods they are not strangers to the towns and its developments. Moving from one mountain to another, the Uralis settled in interior forests. Uralis are mostly found on the Idukki hills of Kerala, known as God's own land in south India.  The inhabitants of Memari (a place on the hills) reached these higher hills as a result of the construction of the Idukki reservoir for the hydro-electric project.

The Uralis do not fear elephants. In Memari there are other wild animals too. In order to stop wild beasts from entering residential areas, electrified fences powered by solar energy have been provided. Some houses have lamps lit by solar energy.

A few hundred years ago the Uralis went into the interior hills to escape the heavy taxation of the Kochi kings and fearing Tippu Sultan's onslaught. Some from Tamil Nadu also migrated to these hills and joined the Urali. More than their history, their present plight of life is of utmost importance. With the advent of new administrative reforms the tribal head, Kani, does not have much say. The Uralis do incorporate changes. Those who inherit property through maternal line, elect the Kani in the same way.

The community, which once ate roots and fruits, has started cultivating all sorts of food crops now. Root vegetables, tapioca, plantain and paddy form their staple foods. Cash crops like coffee, cardamom and areca nut are also found there. There are enough remains to prove that they had even tried planting rubber trees.

Though they are inclined to eat wild beasts, they show little interest in hunting. Their old style of chewing pan with wild ingredients has given way to betel, areca nut and lime. Traditionally they did not consume alcohol. But recently they have begun distilling country liquor and selling it.

The Uralis were quick to changing life trends. One can discern changes in their food habits, dress and houses. Earlier they used to live in tree huts. Now besides houses made of bamboo, one can see houses made up of bricks, hollow bricks and tiles.

Read more on…..

Division of land, housing, Education, Marriage of the children, Wedding feast, Contribution of guests, Death and magic around funeral, strange beliefs.....

Read the complete story of Ulladan at A Peep into the Tribalscape

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