Outlook traveler believes that travel is one of the best ways to learn more about indigenous peoples, to understand the important role they play in maintaining the diversity of the world’s cultural and biological landscape.
On International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, here’s our little guide to what you can do to learn more about the tribes of India.
Explore the unknown
The best way to learn more about the indigenous peoples of India is to visit their remote homelands. For example, 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 hills of Niyamgiri in the state. Indigenous foods are all the rage around the world. But for these communities, these ancient grains and forest fodder foods are the art of an identity that helps protect their habitats.
The Niyamgiri Hills form a mountain range in southern Odisha and are home to the Dongria Kondh, whose traditional practices have helped nurture the region’s dense forests and exceptionally rich wildlife. The Dongria Kondh have been in the news since 2014 after successfully battling Vedanta Resources, a company that attempted to mine the rich layer of bauxite (aluminum ore) from their sacred mountain. At the center of the struggle was the sacred mountain of the Dongria, Niyamgiri, the “mountain of the law”. The Dongrias worship the top of the mountain as the seat of their god and protect the forests there. The heroic victory had captured the attention of the tribe around the world, with the Western press dubbing them the “Avatar of Real Life” tribe after the Hollywood blockbuster. Sadly, the hills face a new threat after a new legal offer was made by the state government to dig up 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, way of life and culture of the different tribes of India – the Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum in Bhopal, the Tribal Cultural Center in Jamshedpur, the Museum of Tribal Arts and Objects in Bhubaneswar, the Tribal Cultural Museum in Silvassa, Tribal Cultural Museum in Pune, etc. Read about them here.
To take a walk
Why not take a guided walk through the tribal lands with a friendly member of the community as a guide? For example, Vanvadi in Maharashtra (near Pune) is a “forest collective” on a 64-acre expanse of hilly terrain at the foot of the foothills. They organize gastronomic walks with the adivasis who live and maintain the place. You will be able to identify many lants and trees after the walk, and sample the products collected. The mahua (or Indian butter tree), for example, with its sweet flowers which are used to make jaggery and porridge, and fermented to make liqueur, its fruit is very nutritious. Read about it here.
Adivasi food systems are deeply rooted in local culture and traditions, as the way of life of these indigenous peoples is so closely tied to nature and its resources.
Read: Adivasi foods are part of Jharkhand culture and identity
One of the highlights for travelers to India, especially those who travel primarily for their love of good food, is to sample the indigenous cuisine. Jharkhand’s capital, Ranchi, also has its share of tribal cuisine offerings. And at the top is Ajam Emba, known for his authentic indigenous cuisine from the state’s tribal hinterland. In the Kudukh language, spoken by the Oraon tribe, “ajam emba” means “good taste”. The restaurant was established with the aim of reviving and revitalizing Adivasi cuisine as an inseparable part of Jharkhand culture. Read our story of a meal here.
Young people from indigenous communities documented their food cultures and presented them online in an engaging way. You can read about six of those people here.
Bind around a drink
Although most of them are an acquired taste, most Indian states have their own versions of native spirits in all of their states. Made from millets, rice, cashews, coconut, they taste fantastic. They are also loaded with pro- and pre-biotics through all the fermentation. We have a list for you here.
From terracotta and image casting in metal to the ancient process of lost wax and textile weaving, the indigenous people of India produce an astonishing range of handcrafted products. Some are protected under the Geographical Indication brand.
ALSO READ: On an artisanal trail around Namsai