Toda cultural history – Tamil Nadu

THE TODA AND CULTURE HISTORY: SOME REFLECTIONS FROM A DRAVIDIAN TRIBE OF NILGIRI HILLS

Jakka Parthasarathy
Key Words: Cultural relativism, Tamil Language, Acculturation, Culture Core

Culture history is a perspective developed by anthropologists whose common concern is the inference of historical relationships from the observed spatial distribution of culture traits. Culture history continues to be an influential force in anthropology.

Each culture or each society in tribal communities possessed its own rationality and coherence in terms of which its customs and beliefs are to be interpreted. In India, the ethnographic world is in fact made up of communities and cultures in constant contact and change.

The paper seeks to examine the culture history and increasing rationality in the contemporary world among the Toda, a primitive tribal group inhabiting the Nilgiri District of Tamil Nadu State. The Toda people are living only on the upper plateau of the Nilgiri hills with an average elevation of 2300 ft. at the junction of the Eastern and the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu State of India. The total Toda population as per 2001 census is 1560. It has been inferred that the Toda people are not aborigines, but came probably as conquerors or immigrants from the sea. The cultural relativism of the Todas with the hill habitat raised curious academic inquiry about ‘Who are the Todas?, How do they come to be living on the Nilgiri Hills? The manuscript written by a Portuguese priest named Finicio in the year 1602, after his two day’s stay in the Nilgiri hills, is the earliest record on the Todas. From 1602 up to 1812 of the English occupation, we do not have the culture history of the Todas. Todas have received much attention mainly from their pastoral occupation of tending herds of buffaloes, living in half-barrel shaped huts, lacto-vegetarianism, fraternal polyandry, colour of the skin and unique physical features. Todas today believe that they had always been on the Nilgiri hills. The ritual aspect of religion around sacred buffaloes and dairies, system of kinship, life cycle rituals connected with birth and death, dry funeral ceremony after nine months of cremation, priests who are bound to lead a life of celibacy with worldly thoughts, divination and magic, the custom of giving a cloth as the essential marriage ceremony etc., defend that Todas are a Dravidian tribe. Toda people speak a distinctive dialect which is not a blend of other languages. The Toda priests use sacred words during prayers. Earlier scholars, Bernhard Schmid, Caldwell, Pope and Rivers had accepted that Toda dialect is Dravidian and ascribed two-thirds of the Toda vocabulary to classical Tamil language. The paper also focuses attention on the possession of Toda rationality and coherence in understanding their own culture history. The paper concludes by arguing that the Toda customs and beliefs are in fact in constant contact and change but not going away form Dravidian philosophy. The study is based on field work conducted as a cultural anthropologist for the past two and half decades.

Source:  http://www.thehindu.com/multimedia/archive/00151/WCTC_Souvenir_-_Par_151107a.pdf
Date Visited: 16-4-12

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