Vijayawada

In Sri Lanka, this tribe speaks Telugu

Dwindling numbers: Snake charming is the main livelihood of the Ahikuntaka tribe.   | Photo Credit: Dilhan C. Fernando

The Telugu diaspora is a large and vibrant community found in almost every country where there are Indian-origin populations. But they are migrants. So when an indigenous, Telugu-speaking tribe believed to have been around for centuries outside India — in Sri Lanka, to be precise — was identified, it attracted the attention of researchers.

The CEO of Andhra Pradesh Creativity and Cultural Commission (APCCC), Vizai Bhaskar, said on Tuesday that a team of anthropologists and linguists will soon leave for the neighbouring country to gather more information on the tribe. Speaking to The Hindu, he said the Ahikuntaka (Telugu tribe) had been living on the island for many centuries but its population was on the decline. “As per our information, just a few hundred of them are left. They are not migrants from India but natives of Sri Lanka. They are believed to have lived there even before the Tamils,” he said. Both the APCCC and the Cultural Centre for Vijayawada and Amaravathi (CCVA) will take up the project and decide on the team members soon.

“Available information suggests that the members were snake-charmers, and faced untouchability,” Mr. Bhaskar said.

The last king of Sri Lanka before the British took over in 1817 was of Telugu origin, he said. “Our team will collect all the facts about the existence of Telugus in Sri Lanka. As a Telugu-speaking State, it is our responsibility to gather information about our legacy.”

Life as nomads

Mr. Bhaskar said Telugus played a role in developing Burma and the Commission and CCVA will felicitate a popular Telugu native known as “Burma Naidu”, who worked to promote Telugu. “He (Mr. Naidu) will be felicitated next month,” he said. Ahikuntaka have lived as nomads, with their own institutions for dispute resolution.

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Printable version | Nov 23, 2020 10:20:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Vijayawada/in-sri-lanka-this-tribe-speaks-telugu/article22810325.ece

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