There are over 600 tribes in India, all vastly different from one another. They range across the expanse of our country, from Naga tribes in the northeast to the Kurumba tribe in the Nilgiris. They all have a rich history and unique traditions. But our quest to understand them more, and to bring them into the so-called 'civilised' fold creates a flat understanding of their lives, a one-dimensional look into their heritage. And dabbling into tourism can become a gimmicky exercise that doesn’t help anyone.
Recently, genuine efforts are being made towards decolonising the approach to viewing their cultures, and gathering information that gives people a more layered understanding. Some museums across the country are doing just that. Here are five tribal museums that aim to showcase their culture beautifully, some with help from the tribals themselves. If nothing, they pique our interest in wanting to learn more.
Living and Learning Design Centre, Kutch
It was a series of drought in Gujarat and the will to empower locals that led to the creation of Shrujan Trust, and then, of the Living and Learning Design Centre (LLDC). The tribal women who were reluctant to accept charity began working on the traditional crafts to sustain themselves with the help of Shrujan Trust. Belonging to over 12 different communities, these women bring with them around fifty styles of tribal embroidery styles such as rabari, ahir and meghwal. These are all showcased at the LLDC. It is as much an education centre as it is a museum. Visitors can explore the many galleries that exhibit their unique work and spend time at the library or the studio where artists practice. On weekends, LLDC hosts workshops for visitors where they can try their hand at embroidery, and other crafts.
Tribal Museum, Bhopal
The Tribal Museum in Bhopal is one of a kind. At its inception, it was decided that the tribes from Madhya Pradesh will make this museum themselves. And so they did. This museum is not a mere display of artefacts and instruments, it is a living structure, an experience to be enjoyed. It displays the traditions and aesthetics of seven indigenous tribes--Gond, Bhil, Baiga, Kol, Korku, Sahariya, and Bhariya. The museum has six galleries, full of vivid, life-size (and some larger than life) installations.
The galleries weave a colourful narrative. The life gallery shows the beautifully decorated dwellings of each tribe made in mud, plant parts and bamboo grills. The spiritual world gallery is more abstract, portrayed with huge mounds of skulls, or flags, lamps, tridents and pillars. Each exhibition is sheathed in knowledge and art; from melting of iron to dyeing cloth, every tradition is incorporated by the communities themselves. The museum is definitely worth a visit, or two.
Odisha State Tribal Museum, Bhubaneswar
Located in Bhubaneswar, the Odisha State Tribal Museum is a reflection of the lives of the local communities in the state. Over 62 communities are represented through various digitised galleries. Conceptualised as the ‘Museum of Man’, it is home to five life-like tribal homes made by the tribals themselves, and a herbal garden. The galleries showcase various themes of adornments, agricultural objects, art and dokra items. The library at the museum documents their life. Perhaps one of the more unique endeavours of this museum is its food court. Not only does the museum talk about tribal food, but it also serves it. Expect simple, authentic thalis with delicious flavours.
Tribal Museum, Araku Valley
The Tribal Museum in Araku Valley is native in its build, using mud and metal and colours that are indigenous to the state. Inside too, it reflects the tribal lifestyle with ease, meandering through cultural norms and customs. The colourful dioramas display artwork, textiles, utensils and technology. Structures stand out to show societal hierarchy and a separate section is reserved for music and dance. Interestingly, the museum is home to a fortune-teller who only speaks the local language, but people flock to him for his predictions, which many believe come true.
Nehru Centenary Tribal Museum
The building, painted in red and white, would be the first thing to draw any visitor’s attention. Inside the Nehru Centenary Tribal Museum in Hyderabad, one can glimpse into the lives of the various tribes of the state. Simple exhibition, literature, figurines and dioramas dot the galleries. In some places, it looks like a tribal village come to life, as human figurines go about their day in markets using local tools and techniques. The museum is also home to an actual market setup where tribals come to sell their products and handicrafts, sometimes visitors can catch a glimpse of their traditional music and dance performances.