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Penan Naikas Bushmen




The Naikas

Jungle dwelling hunter-gatherers of the Western Ghats, India.

Join me in my search for the last of the Naikas still living in the mountainous jungles of India.


Discovering some of the settled hill tribes of the Western Ghats...




Traditional dam-fishing with the kattu-naikas...




Trekking into the jungles of the Wayanad to look for forest nomads...




Searching for Naikas who still live a traditional life in the jungle...

CURRENT STATUS

Most of the Naikas have now been forcibly removed from the jungles by the government and resettled in villages.

They are no longer allowed to hunt but how strictly this is enforced is entirely at the discretion of local officials, many of whom are corrupt. Naikas who have been resettled in villages find even the most basic of produce, such as grass for their roofs, almost impossible to find.

Much jungle has been destoyed by agriculture and hydro-electric projects but most of what remains is securely protected and is either a forest reserve or a national park. Tribespeople are forbidden from living, hunting and gathering in the national parks and so now tend to live in resettlement villages just outside.

The remaining jungle areas are strictly protected by the forest department, with checkpoints and permits required in order to enter. Any tribespeople still living in these forests are entirely at the mercy of corrupt local officials and criminal gangs, and risk beatings, extortion and imprisonment if they are found collecting forest produce. Foreigners and journalists are stricly forbidden from entering these forest reserves so most of what goes on is unreported.

Due to the predominance of the Hindu religion, and the incredibly diverse nature of Indian society, tribespeople feel less pressure to abandon traditional beliefs here than they do in other, less-diverse, monotheistic nations. This means that old animist religions and traditional beliefs still thrive here. Hindu gods are now worshipped alongside the old tribal gods and nature spirits.

Despite India's huge population density distinct tribal identities are still maintained, with the population of each village being composed mainly of a single tribal identity and little inter-marriage between the tribes. Most tribespeople now adopt Indian-style clothing of shirt and lungi (sarong) so in that respect it can be difficult to tell one tribe from another.

As elsewhere in the world the former hunter-gatherers have now joined 'civilized' society at the very lowest rung of poverty. Subsistence farming and malnutrition are the norm.

Some Naikas are still living a semi-traditional lifestyle in the jungle but are only allowed to remain there for as long as the local official does not perceive them as a nuisance, which is entirely down to his own personal whim and temperament. It is likely that very soon all the remaining forest-dwellers will be resettled in agricultural villages.

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Copyright 2008 Robert H Taylor