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Tribal Life-style

Tribal people in different parts of India were involved in a variety of activities.

  • Shifting Cultivation
  • Hunting & Gathering Forest Produce
  • Herding Animals
  • Settled Cultivation

Shifting Cultivation

Let us see how shifting cultivation is done

  • A plot of land is cleared by felling the trees and burning them. Small patches of land in forests were used for this kind of cultivation.
  • The cultivators cut the treetops to allow sunlight to reach the ground.
  • The ashes of burnt trees were mixed with the soil to fertilize it.
  • They used the axe to cut trees and the hoe to scratch the soil in order to prepare it for cultivation.

An Hoe          A Axe

  • They scattered the seeds on the field instead of ploughing the land and sowing the seeds. 
  • Once the crop was ready, it was harvested.
  • After the soil lost its fertility, the land was abandoned and the cultivator moved to a new plot. 
  • Shifting cultivation is also known as ‘slash and burn’ agriculture.

Shifting Cultivation

Shifting cultivation usually starts with cutting trees and a fire which clears a spot for crop production. In the ideal case, shifting cultivation is a cycle where farmers come back to the original place after a couple of years.

  • Shifting cultivators were found in the hilly and forested tracts of north-east and central India.

  • The lives of these tribal people depended on free movement within forests and on being able to use the land and forests for growing their crops. This allowed then to practise shifting cultivation.

Hunting & Gathering forest produce

Many tribals in India earned their livelihood by hunting animals and gathering forest produce. To these tribals, forests were essential for survival.

Now let us look at the Khonds tribe, a community living in the forests of Orissa.

A Khond Woman

  • The Khonds went out on collective hunts and then divided the meat among themselves.
  • They ate fruits and roots collected from the forest and cooked food with the oil they extracted from the seeds of the sal and mahua.

Sal Tree

Sal Flower


Mahua Tree

Mahua Flowers

Mahua seeds being separated from the flowers

  • They used shrubs and herbs found in the forest for medicinal purposes.
  • The Khonds sold forest produce in the local markets.

The Khonds marketing their produce

  • The Khonds also marketed kusum and palash flowers which were used for colouring cloth and leather.
  • They traded the forest produce for rice and other food grains.
  • The Khonds did odd jobs in the villages, like carrying loads, building roads and working in fields.

The trials in India preferred to be independent. They did not like to work as labourers in the fields of farmers and peasants. The tribals were put to hardship, if the forest products became scarce.

Tribal groups often needed to buy and sell in order to be able to get the goods that were not produced within the locality. This led to their dependence on traders and moneylenders.

High cost of goods charged by the traders, high interest rates charged by the money lenders often pushed the tribals into debt and poverty.


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