(GIST OF YOJANA) Indigenous Culture

(GIST OF YOJANA) Indigenous Culture


Indigenous Culture


  • Indigenous communities around the world are bearers of strong traditional culture, art, craft and knowledge of the environment. Recognising their skills to sustainably use local, cultural and natural resources forging a balanced nature-culture relationship, in 2007, the UN General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This Declaration establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world, and elaborates on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms as they apply to the specific situation of indigenous peoples. It is estimated that there are more than 476 million indigenous people in the world, spread across 90 countries and representing 5000 different cultures. They make up 6.2 per cent of the global population and live in all geographic regions.

The Adis of Arunachal Pradesh

  • The Adis constitute one of the numerous indigenous communities of Arunachal Pradesh. They believe that they travelled from the North to settle down in their current locations of the temperate and sub-tropical regions of the districts of Siang, East Siang, Upper Siang, West Siang, Lower Dibang Valley, Lohit, Shi Yomi, and Namsai. The literal meaning of Adi is ‘hill’or ‘mountain top’. Adis speak the Sino-Tibetan language.

The Tangsas of Arunachal Pradesh

  • The Tangsa community inhabit the Changlang district of eastern Arunachal Pradesh, located in the lap of Patkai hills. The gorgeous Noa-Dehing river cuts through the pristine forests, providing life to the local settlers. 
  • The Tangsas have a rich cultural heritage and are the bearers of traditional knowledge and skills of natural food processing and preservation, sustainable cooking, weaving, architecture and basketry. Among these, one of the most fascinating practices that they actively continue till date is that of indigenous bamboo tea-making. The Tangsas, along with the Singphos, are believed to be the original tea-makers in India, much before the British introduced it commercially.

The Kalbelias of Rajasthan

  • Kalbelia is a unique community of traditional snake-charmers by profession. They belong to the family of Navnaths, a nomadic community from the Yogi sect. Locally, they are also referred to as ghoomantar’, meaning the ones who wander. A few decades ago. they settled in Chopasni region of Jodhpur in Rajasthan, where around 200 Kalbelias reside. About 100 of them are active performers at regional, national and international level.
  • The knowledge of their cultural forms and practices are completely oral and are passed down through generations. In the local language, Kal means ‘snake’ and Belia means ‘friendship’ Since the enactment of the Wildlife Act of 1972 and subsequent ban on snake-handling, the Kalbelias have lost their traditional profession and pursued their performing art for their livelihoods. The Kalbelia tradition is rich in indigenous music, songs, dance and handicrafts (embroidery and ethnic jewellery) all combining together to create this vibrant and colourful folk form. The striking features of their gorgeous costumes with swirling movements of the dancers and snake-like movements make Kalbelia one of the most stunning folk dance forms.
  • Kalbelia dancers are known worldwide for their exuberant and energetic dance. The men play music, their main instrument being the wind instrument called Pungi or Been that is accompanied by percussion instruments. Dafli and to the beats and tunes of which the Kalbelia women dance. They are also known for their extensive knowledge of local flora and fauna, and making of traditional medicines from natural ingredients.

The Rajbongshis of West Bengal:

  • Rajbongshi is an indigenous community living in West Bengal, Assam. Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and various North Eastern parts of India. They are one of the largest and ancient ethnic groups of North and South Dinajpur of West Bengal. Agriculture is the main pillar of their rural economy, owing to the rich and conducive natural conditions. 
  • They also have a rich heritage and culture which had been inherited from the ancient civilisation, including their own dialects, art forms, and way of living. The word ‘Rajbongshi’ literally means ‘royal community’, as they are believed to have hailed from the ancient Koch kingdom. Once, the rulers of their lands suffered loss of land ownership and their sustainable rural economy with the advent of the British and other external entities.
  • Rajbongshis have a diverse repertoire of indigenous art forms such as Bamboo and Dhokra crafts. performing arts like Gomira Dance (Mukha Nach) and the satirical folk drama, Khon.
  • The Rajbongshi community also practises a satirical improvisational folk drama called Khon, which is believed to be a nearly 200 years old traditional art form. The word Khon in Rajbongshi, means ‘moment’. Stories are based on local incidents which are dramatised with a comical style of presentation. A performance combines dialogues, songs and dance. Khon songs are said to have evolved from Ramayana songs. The uniqueness of Khon is that there is usually no pre-written script. The art form has been integral to local festivals and rituals.


  • It is evident that these unique traditional knowledge systems, art and crafts have a deep rooted relationship of interdependency and reverence with nature. From tune immemorial, indigenous communities have generated and nurtured oral cultural traditions of songs, theatre, dance, and social customs to help them survive the test of time with faith and hope. When the world is struggling for solutions and success in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, there are hundreds of indigeneous communities across the country which do not have any carbon footprint of their traditional ways of living. 
  • These communities are mostly self-sufficient and live with their wisdom of nature and culture that need to be recognised and protected urgently, instead of homogenising with the dominant global culture. A crucial element of conservation of natural and cultural heritage is in understanding and attaining the balance between man, nature, and culture in a conscious way.



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Courtesy: Yojana