A book reveals how fiercely tribal communities guard their varied, and vibrant, traditions.

The life and culture of tribespeople have always held researchers in thrall. Many a time their explorations unveil the stories of men and women who prefer to be cocooned in their vibrant traditions, at a safe distance from modernity.

In her latest book Gothrasamoohangalude Drisya Samskaram (Visual Culture of Tribal Communities) P.V. Mini, Deputy Director-in-charge of the Kerala Institute for Research, Training and Development Studies of Scheduled Castes and Tribes (KIRTADS), Kozhikode, has presented some exclusive facets from select tribal hamlets of Kerala. The 114-page book explains how each tribe has made their identity unique, and appealing, by sticking to their ornaments, tattoos, hair styling, attires, and craftsmanship.

The writer focusses on four tribal communities — Kurumbar, Mavilan, Paniyan, and Kurichiyar. Their means of communication, through ethnic signs, carvings, and symbols, are lucidly explained. Their distinct tattooing methods too are elaborated. In some cases, she says, designs are artfully carved on teeth. “The differences in their facial decorations provide a key to a new world,” says Ms. Mini. Their art denotes the communities’ lifelong fight for survival against exploiters.

Their attires too have a stamp of uniqueness. Descriptions on ‘Kunchattamkettal’, ‘Mekkettu’, ‘Arattu’ and ‘Mundurumal’ show how they make themselves easily identifiable, while fiercely guarding their identity. “Each tribe has ornament collections they have been using for several years. The crafting techniques are quite different,” says Ms. Mini. Kurumba community uses ornaments such as ‘Panathali’ and ‘Panasangili’ and the Paniyars go for ‘Patta’, ‘Vellichangala,’ and ‘Panakkallu.’

The book, published by the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi, presents over 60 photos taken from various tribal hamlets. “It was the support of tribespeople that helped me to complete the work,” adds the writer.

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