Tip | “How to address misconceptions on tribal customs and culture in the classroom?” – Ideas and practices worth sharing among peers and students

Find this publication and other titles by Adivaani >>

There’s much to learn from the positive contributions made by tribal communities on a daily basis. To start with, let’s learn from insiders and others who have dedicated their lives to ensuring that a precious heritage will continue to make a difference to people from all backgrounds all over India and even beyond:

Learn more from Virginius Xaxa & G.N. Devy Devy >>
Search publications via Indian publishers & libraries:
Virginius Xaxa & Ganesh Devy or G.N. Devy >>

For us it’s not so much about having a room of one’s own, as a roof over our head [but] affirmation and agency. – Ruby Hembrom at the Jaipur literature festival

Santali is not a dead language [and] does not need to be ‘revived’ [being] one of the two tribal* languages that have been recognized as official languages.Ivy Hansdak responding to an online magazine story on “reviving the Santali language”

The goal is to prepare some model students in our villages, so that others will be inspired to follow them. – Boro Baski in his article “Long-term success of non-formal Adivasi* school in West Bengal”

[The] morungs of the Nagas, the dhumkuria of the Santals and the gotuls of the Gonds [are] equivalents to schooling systems in mainstream societies.Subhadra Mitra Channa in Anthropological Perspectives on Indian Tribes (Caravan Magazine, 1 March 2020)

The tribal world and the tribal way is complete in itself. – Mahasweta Devi quoted by Gopalkrishna Gandhi in The Hindu

Tribals* do not exploit other people’s labour for the sake of their own avarice, nor do they destroy nature to build monuments to the human ego. […] It is almost impossible to characterize all of India’s tribals in a single ethnographic or historic framework. – Ganesh Devy in Painted Words: An Anthology of Tribal Literature

It is wrong and does not help the tribal cause either to reduce the image of the Indian tribal* society to that of destitute remnants, on the verge of dying out. – Voices from the Periphery, a multidisciplinary book on “reversing the gaze”

Adivasi* people have an alternative world view, which has rarely been acknowledged or recognized. Their existence was never based on accumulation or consumerism. […] All of us can learn from them. And it’s about time we started. – Mari Marcel Thekaekara

Gandhi believed that giving more importance, value and relevance to practical skills, and applying traditional knowledge to solving day-to-day problems were essential for the development of rural India. – Bunker Roy, the founder of Barefoot College, which helps rural communities becomes self-sufficient

Enabling people to learn from each other opens up the possibility of creating learning organisations – where people are learning from each other every day at every level. […] It seems like going back to the way things were done in the past – learning by telling stories, learning by hearing how other people did things. – Scene magazine

In India, the term ‘tribe’ has referred, since the 16th century, to groups living under ‘primitive’ and ‘barbarous’ conditions. The colonial administration used the term to distinguish peoples who were heterogeneous in physical and linguistic traits and lived under quite different demographic and ecological conditions, with varying levels of acculturation and development. In the various countries of South Asia, tribal peoples were often called by derogatory terms such as jungli (‘savage’) during the colonial period. – Marine Carrin, General Introduction to Brill’s Encyclopedia of the Religions of the Indigenous People of South Asia >>

Bengali literature celebrated the natural, healthy Santal way of living. – Partha Mitter in The Triumph of Modernism: India’s Artists and the Avant-garde

Adivasi* women in post-independence era have suffered because tribes have been assimilated within the dominant patriarchal model [so] we need to rescue tribal narratives from a certain homogenising tendency. – Vasundhara Gautam analyzing the poetic world of Nirmala Putul in its appropriate socio-cultural milieu

But what amazed me was that none of the implements that were being used here were ‘bought’. They were all made by them. And necessity being the mother of invention, you could see innovation at its best. […] In one of the typical Warli houses, the walls were made of Karvi sticks tied together and the roof was made of tiles. This house was much cooler than the concrete structures nearby which were like ovens. But somehow such simple houses were being looked down upon and were being replaced with modern monstrosities. So much for ‘progress’.Gangadharan Menon in The Better India, “You’ve Seen Warli Paintings Before. Now Get Ready To Visit The Warli Tribe & Listen To Their Music”

[T]he writing of South Asian as well as colonial scholars caricatured tribal communities by misrepresenting or fetishising their existence, and sometimes overcompensating for earlier misunderstandings—all of which further pushed tribes into obscurity. […] I also noticed that tribal people entering academic environments today are distressed by representations of themselves they encounter in texts, and that these sometimes amount to micro-aggressions and various forms of discrimination. For one, tribal people are made to believe that they must give up their value systems, culture, religion, customs and aspirations, and that they must embrace the new order of the nation state to repay the favours done to them until they become self-sufficient through economic upliftment. – Richard Kamei in “Uncivilising the Mind: How anthropology shaped the discourse on tribes in India” (Caravan Magazine, 1 March 2020)

* Please note that the preference for either “tribal” or “Adivasi” (Adibasi) depends on the region or historical context under discussion, just as an particular person’s outlook. | Classifications in different states >>

Adivasi [adibasi] – which is derived from Sanskrit – is applied to the dark-skinned or Austro-Asiatic indigenous groups of India (usually those from Eastern India). It is a commonly-used term in Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha. It is also used by the local Mongoloid tribes of North Eastern India for the migrant workers who were brought in as indentured labourers to work in tea plantations during the colonial period. ‘Tribal’ is a very broad term in the English language, as we all know, and includes all the different indigenous groups of India.” – Dr. Ivy Hansdak (email dated 27 March 2020) | “Who are Scheduled Tribes?” (National Commission for Scheduled Tribes) | Demographic Status of Scheduled Tribe Population of India (Census figures 2011) | Classifications in different states >>

Watch “The Good Ancestor – The Legacies We Leave” (3 min.): An animation that explores the legacies we might leave for future generations >>

Themes for classroom and self education

As India’s tribal communities are among the most diverse anywhere in the world, teachers and students will benefit from the success stories told by indigenous educators like Dr. Boro Baski and Dr. Ivy Hansdak or publisher Ruby Hembrom: from them we may learn more about new opportunities just as the need for a better understanding of “cultural heritage” while rectifying past mistakes just as present-day misconceptions:

  • customs like the maintenance of sacred groves that benefit modern society: medicinal plants preserved in “biodiversity hotspots” for scientific research (ethnobotany, food security in the face of global warming)
  • aspirations of tribal youth within and beyond their own communities
  • constitutional rights and efforts to avoid “adverse inclusion”
  • modern history: how Nehru, Gandhi and Tagore envisioned rural development
  • colonial policies: stigmatisation and discrimination (“criminal tribes”) yet to be overcome in educational and other institutions
  • linguistic heritage and the value of endangered languages
  • proper nutrition and education for young children and women
  • rapid changes that affect entire communities (modernity)
  • mass media (dignified portrayal of tribal communities)

Simply use the search field, menus and maps found on this website to explore these issues in greater depth.

Learn more about Jawaharlal Nehru’s “five principles” for the policy to be pursued vis-a-vis the tribals >>
Photo © Indian Express
Find this title in several languages here: tulikabooks.com >>
Gandhian social movement | Warli art and culture >>

Book tips

Find up-to-date information provided by, for and about Indian authors, researchers, officials, and educators
Search tips: in the search field seen here, type the name of any tribal (Adivasi) community, region, state or language; add (copy-paste) keywords of special interest (childhood tribal education language sacred grove women); specify any issue you want to learn more about (biodiversity ecology ethnobotany health nutrition poverty), including rights to which Scheduled Tribes are entitled (Forest Rights Act Protection from illegal mining UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) | More search options >>

For a list of websites included in a single search, see below. To find scholarly books or search Indian periodicals, magazines, web portals and other sources safely, click here >>

Try the following in case Google Custom Search window or media contents are invisible here: (1) switch from “Reader” to regular viewing; (2) in browser’s Security settings select “Enable JavaScript”; (3) check Google support for browsers and devices | More >>

List of sites covered by this Google custom search engine

Online resources

About website administrator

Secretary of the foundation
This entry was posted in Adverse inclusion, Biodiversity, Childhood and children, Colonial policies, Community facilities, Cultural heritage, Customs, Democracy, Ecology and environment, Economy and development, Education and literacy, Endangered language, Ethnobotany & ethnomedicine, FAQ, Gandhian social movement, Health and nutrition, History, Languages and linguistic heritage, Misconceptions, Modernity, Multi-lingual education, Names and communities, Networking, Organizations, Particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG), Press snippets, Quotes, Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Sacred grove, Storytelling, Success story, Tagore and rural culture, Tips, Tribal identity. Bookmark the permalink.