Indigenous peoples live in all regions of the world and own, occupy or use some 22 per cent of global land area, according to UNESCO. Numbering at least 370-500 million, indigenous peoples represent the greater part of the world’s cultural diversity, and have created and speak the major share of the world’s almost 7000 languages. Yet, as UNESCO pointed out, many indigenous peoples continue to be confronted with marginalization, extreme poverty and other human rights violations.
Outlook Traveller believes travel is one of the best ways to learn about the indigenous peoples, to understand the significant role they play in sustaining the diversity of the world’s cultural and biological landscape.
On International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, here is our short guide to what you can do to learn about the tribes of India.
Exlore the Offbeat
The best way to learn about the indigenous peoples of India is to visit their remote homelands. For instance, Odisha is one of the states where you will find the richness of adivasi cultures still reserved. Read our story about an adivasi food festival held near the Niyamgiri hills in the state. Indigenous foods are all the rage around the world. But for these communities, these ancient grains and forest foraged foods are art of an identity that lays a part in protecting their habitats.
Niyamgiri hills form a mountain range in southern Odisha, are home to the Dongria Kondh, whose traditional practices have helped nurture the area’s dense forests and unusually rich wildlife. The Dongria Kondh have been in the news since 2014 after successfully fighting off Vedanta Resources, a company that has been trying to mine their sacred mountain’s rich seam of bauxite (aluminium ore). At the centre of the struggle was the Dongrias’ sacred mountain, Niyamgiri–the ‘mountain of law’. The Dongrias worship the top of the mountain as the seat of their god and protect the forests there. The heroic victory had gained the tribe worldwide attention, with the western press dubbing them the ‘real-life Avatar’ tribe after the Hollywood blockbuster. Unfortunately, the hills are facing a renewed threat after a fresh legal bid was launched by the state government to dig up the Niyamgiri mountain and turn it into a bauxite mine.
ALSO READ: Exploring Tribal Cultural Identity in Bastar
Visit a Museum
There are some fantastic museums showcasing the history, lifestyle and culture of the various tribes of India – the Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum in Bhopal, the Tribal Culture Centre in Jamshedpur, Museum of Tribal Arts and Artefacts in Bhubaneswar, Tribal Cultural Museum in Silvassa, Tribal Cultural Museum in Pune, etc. Read about them here.
Take a Walk
Why not go on a guided walk through the tribal lands with a friendly member of the community as your guide? For instance, Vanvadi in Maharashtra (close to Pune) is a a ‘forest collective’ on a 64-acre stretch of undulating land at the foothills. They conduct food walks with the adivasis who live and nurture the place. You will be able to identify many lants and trees after the walk, and sample collected produce. The mahua (or Indian butter tree), for instance, with its sweet flowers which are used to make jaggery and porridge, and fermented to make liquor, its fruit is highly nutritious. Read about it here.
Adivasi food systems are deeply embedded in local culture and traditions, given that the way of life of these indigenous peoples is so closely linked to nature and its resources.
One of the highlights for travellers in India, especially the ones who travel primarily for their love of good food, is getting to taste indigenous cuisine. The capital of Jharkhand, Ranchi, too has its share of tribal cuisine offerings. And leading the way is Ajam Emba, known for authentic indigenous cuisine from the tribal hinterlands of the state. In the Kudukh language, spoken by the Oraon tribe, 'ajam emba' stands for 'great taste'. The restaurant was started with an aim to revive and revitalise adivasi cuisine as an inseparable part of Jharkhand’s culture. Read our account of a meal here.
Youngsters from indigenous communities have been documenting their food cultures and showcasing them online in interesting ways. You can read about six such peole here.
Bond over a Drink
While most of these are an acquired taste, most states in India have their own versions of indigenous liquor across its states. Made from millets, rice, cashew, coconuts, they taste fantastic. They are also loaded with pro- and pre-biotics thanks to all the fermentation. We have a list for you here.
Pick up Handicrafts
From terracotta to casting images in metal through the ancient lost wax process to weaving textiles, the tribal people of India produce an amazing range of handcrafted products. Some are protected under the Geographical Indication mark.
ALSO READ: On a Craft Trail around Namsai