KEY WORDS: Coorg, Meda, Yerava, Jenu Kuruba

Abstract : In the post-Independence period, while the Constitution protected the rights of the Scheduled Tribes and accorded them reservation in the legislature, educational institutions and government jobs, other ‘development’ activities, such as the construction of large dams or the sale of timber, led to the further marginalization of some tribes. The scenario is therefore a mixed one. It may be necessary to use natural resources to improve the living conditions of the people of poor economic status. Histori­cally, the tribal economy was based on subsistence agriculture and/or hunting and garnering. However, since the tribal people treated land as a common resource, they rarely had land titles, and thus, lost their lands to outsiders when exploitation of forest resources began to take place on a significant scale. This ensured that a majority ended up as small and marginal landholders. The Scheduled tribes largely own low productivity assets. This scenario is exacerbated by their low literacy and lack of vocational skills, which pushes them into jobs with poor remuneration, where men, women and children, between them, earn insufficient wages, as represented by their monthly per capita expenditure. Tribes confined to the forests through the process of migration and rehabilitation especially in the district of Coorg show slightly higher rate of transition. Globalization and modernization also are the influencing factors in this process.


Tribal economy is intimately connected with the forests. For centuries the tribals have lived in or in the fringes of forests and depended entirely on forests fortheir livelihood. Even today, forest products continue to be the main source of income and sustenance for many tribal communities. These communities live in abject poverty having very little access to capital assets, health and educational facilities and hardly any protection against vagaries of nature. Their dependence centres on nature. To a vast majority of the tribal people, extraction, processing and marketing of NTFPs is a source of employment throughout the year. Without much capital investment and with little skill it provides employment opportunities to all groups of tribals and the income generated by NTFPs significantly contributes to household income in tribal areas. Though, they lived in forests, they had known cultivation for generations. Some staple food grains were raised by them in the forests themselves. This practice made them somewhat nomadic and did not attach them to a particular bit of land or dwelling. The method of living involving shifting cultivation and food gathering in the forests did not develop interest in them for permanent housing or interest for property. In view of this, much attention has been given by the government for their rehabilitation and development.

The forest conservation measures adopted in India have put an end not only to the shifting cultivation but also to the living of the tribals in and around the reserved forests. These measures have limited their scope to derive their income from forest based activities, especially, from NTFPs. Therefore, in the NTFPs domi­nated tribal economy, a number of issues have emerged in the process of exploitation of NTFPs, tribal development and forest conservation. In view of the growing national and international interest in protecting and preserving biodiversity, greater restrictions are imposed on the use of a number of different plants and animals, which are very important NTFPs. This has also posed serious conflict between the forests dwellers, wild animals and the state. The conflict of interest between the forest dwellers and the state forest department with regard to exploitation of forest resources are induced by their respective roles as a consumer and a conser-ver. The former needs a means of livelihood while the latter is interested in the ecological sustainability and preservation of biodiversity. Therefore, preservation of biodiversity, sustainable extraction of forest products and tribal development has become the major issues facing the government. In order to conserve the biodiversity, government intervention by way of legislation and other programmes have alienated the forest dwellers from management of the forests for sustainable development. Thus it is evident that extraction of NTFPs, tribal economy and sustainability have very strong inter-linkages. However, the exact nature of linkages and its impact on the income and quality of life of people engaged in this occupation are not known.

Strict conservation measures are necessary in order to protect fragile eco-system of the Rajeev Gandhi National Park, Nagarahole which is exposed to increased pressure both from human and cattle trespasses. Thus the bulk of the collection comes from illegal means. Sale through the private trader/middlemen is the most common and popular channel of marketing.. The role of NGOs in organizing the tribals in other subsidiary enterprises or in agriculture was rather meager or totally lacking.

Coorg is a rural region with most of the economy based on agriculture and plantations and is one of the more prosperous parts of Karnataka. This is due primarily to coffee production and other plantation crops. Rice and other crops are cultivated in the valleys.Coffee plantations became characteristic of the district in the 20th century, situated on hillsides too steep for growing rice, and taking advantage of shade from existing forests. Today coffee is a major cash crop.In recent years tourism has also begun to play a role in the economy. Eco-tourism, such as walking-and trekking-tours, take advantage of plantation buildings converted into guest-houses.

While Coorg District in the Western Ghat range accounts for a heavy concentration of tribal population, 90% of them subsist on their traditional economic system of hunting and gathering minor forest produces besides attempting subsistence farming. Kudiyas are mainly found in Madikeri and Somvarpet taluks of Coorg district. They speak Kodava and thulu languages. The clan has two sub divisions namely Poomale Kudiyas and Thyaamale Kudiyas. Poomale Kudiyas and Thyamale Kudiyas comprise 150 and 70 families respectively living in remote and border areas of Karnataka and Kerala states. Their main occupation was collecting honey and forest products from the dense forests which they lived. Some migrated to other mountainous regions but major population migrated down to the villages. In the recent years after the government took the initiative to restrict the entry into the forests, the Kudiyas being the forest tribes had to migrate from the forests to other places living behind their traditional occupation. Many have been working as daily wage labourers in coffee estates and cardamom plantations. Due to the intervention of various educational policies many has availed the facilities and are placed in good jobs in army and other offices. Women also have empowered them selves.

Medas are the scheduled tribe populations of Coorg district. They are mainly confined to the hilly areas of the district. They mainly depended on forest produce for their livelihood. They collected cane and bamboo for weaving baskets, onali, pacche and other household items, which was sold to the local people during shandy days. Weaving was their major means of livelihood. The introduction of forest policies curbed the rights of these people. There are countable numbers of families who still practice basket making, but not as a major means of livelihood. They have been forced to opt for other occupations.

The Jenu Kurubas are primarily gatherers. Some of the popula­tion has been rehabilitated at colonies built by the government. Some have been provided lands for cultivation. They collect honey and wax. They are expert climbers and are very skillful in the use of the stringed bow to hit birds. They always carry net around the waist to catch squirrels and black monkey. They have intimate knowledge of jungle and habits of animals. Many of them are confined to the dense forests of Coorg. Some reside in line houses built by estate owners of coffee plantations of Coorg. At times they become migrants within the district.

The Yeravas are the major tribal population of Coorg district. Most of them are engaged as agricultural labourers in coffee plantations and paddy fields owned by the landlords or owners. Some of them have piece of land provided by the Government for agricultural purpose. Some of them have been rehabilitated in the resettlement areas. Some of them have been employed in forest department as watchers, mahouts and guards.

All the tribals living in this district face the problem of beimg forced out of their original habitat. Though the government’s initiative was to uplift the tribes and give them a better 1 ivelihood, the programmes taken up did not help much for their living. The major problem was the change in their original occupation. As in the case of the Yeravas and the Jenu Kurubas they were unaware of agricultural techniques and hence the programmes were not very successful. In case of the Medas and the Kudiyas, especially the Kudiyas came down to the plain lands, utilized the programmes of the government and many were placed in good jobs. But the Medas who were ignorant could not utilize the programmes which lead to serious effects.

Conclusion : The tribes ofCoorg especially the JenuKurubas, Kudiyas, Yeravas and the Medas are backward both socially and economically. There is no tribe which has sticked to their original habitat and living methods. They have been either forced to come out of their original homes or have willfully found new means of living. Modernization has also played a very important role. Though in the recent years the literacy rate is notable the drop out rate is also high which equalizes. There is a need to motivate the tribals to send their children to the schools specially the ashram schools opened for their children near to their settlements. This would help them to acquire good education so that in future they can be placed in good jobs which would inturn enhance their living standards. Proper utilization of the programmes offered, dedicated involvement of the tribals and self awareness are the key aspects for better living.


Bhamini Raghavaiah K 2004. Genetic Demography ad Dermato-glyphic variations among the Tribes: The Medas, the Kudiyas and the Yeravas of Coorg District, Karnataka, India (Ph.D. Thesis), University of Mysore, Mysore

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