Chapter 6

Tribes, Nomads and Settled Communities

Over the centuries, important political, social and economic developments has taken place.Social change was not the same everywhere because different kinds of societies involved differently.Society was already divided according to the rules of varna. These rules, as prescribed by the Brahmanas, were accepted by the rulers of large kingdoms.The difference between the high and low, and between the rich and poor, increased.

Tribal societies

Tribal area

Many societies in the subcontinent did not follow the social rules and rituals prescribed by the Brahmanas.  Nor were they divided into unequal classes. Such societies are called tribes.Tribes were united by kinship bonds. Many tribes obtained their livelihood from agriculture.Some tribeswere nomadic and move from one place to another.A tribal group controlled land pastures jointly, and divided these amongst household according to its own rules.Many tribes usually lived in forests,hills, deserts and place is difficult to reach.The tribes retained their freedom and preserved their separate culture.Caste based and tribal societies also depended on each other for their diverse needs. This relationship, of conflict and dependence gradually caused both societies to change.

People and Indian Tribes

Who were tribal people?

Mostly tribal people did not keep written records.But they preserved rich customs and oral traditions. These were passed down to each new generation. Present day historians have started using such oral traditions to write tribal histories.Some powerful tribes controlled large territories. In Punjab, the Khokhar tribe was very influential during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.Later, the Gakkhars became more important.Their chief Kamal Khan Gakkhar was made a mansabdar by Emperor Akbar.In Multan and Sind, the Langhas and Arghuns dominated extensive regions before they were subdued by the Mughals.The Balochis were another large and powerful tribe in the northwest. They were divided into many smaller clans under different chiefs.In the western Himalaya lived the shepherd tribe of Gaddis.North Eastern part of the subcontinent was entirely dominated by the tribes- the Nagas, Ahoms and many other.In many areas of present-dayBihar and Jharkhand, Chero chiefdoms had emerged by the 12th century. Raja Mansingh, Akbar's famous general, attacked and defeated the Cheros in 1591.Under Aurangzeb, Mughal forces captured many Chero fortresses and subjugated the tribe. The Mundas and Santals were among the other tribes important tribes that lived in this region and also in Orissa and Bengal. Koli’s, Berads were another tribe that belonged to Maharashtra highlands in Karnataka.Koli’s also lived in many areas of Gujarat.In South, there were large tribal population of Koragas,Vetars, Maravars and others.

The large tribe of Bhils spread across western and central India. By the late 16th century, many of them had become settled agriculturists and some even Zamindars.The Gonds were found in greater number across the present day states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andra Pradesh.