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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tribe: The terminology

[Extracted from M.Phil. Thesis (Role of micro project in the development of Primitive Tribal Groups....) of Mr. Bibhuti Bhusan Pradhan, M.Phil in Tribal Studies, Berhampur University.]
The travel writers and missionaries were the first to use the term ‘tribe’ and ‘caste’ to describe a vast variety of ethnic and occupational groups in Indian society. Initially, these two terms were used by the western nations as synonymous, the difference only being in the social status of the group they described. In 1872, through a legal intervention, an official list of tribes was prepared. Prior to this, in 1871, a list was prepared for communities that were mistakenly thought of as ‘criminal’ and covered by the provisions of an inhuman “Criminal Tribes Act of India, 1871”. Since then ‘tribes’ are perceived as a distinct segment of the society. In 1935 the tribal communities received a special mention under Government of India Act, 1935 where a special reference was made to the ‘backward tribes’. Certain tribes were specified as backward in the then provinces as per 13th Schedule to the Government of India (Provisional Legislative Assemblies) Order, 1936. It is Dr. J.H. Hutton who made the first attempt to list these Primitive Tribes at the Census of 1931. The lists of SCs and STs notified by the President of India in 1950 were revised by the SCs and STs Order (Amendment) Act, 1956 and the SCs and STs List (Modification) Order, 1956. The Scheduled Tribes are enlisted according to the Article 342 of the Constitution of India.
The term “tribe” is derived from the word “tribus” which refers to a particular kind of social and political organization existing in traditional societies, where there is an internal relationship, real or implied, between kinship and political organizations. This relationship can be understood better if the nature of social groups is designated as clan, phratry, genos and tribes. Morgan typified tribe as a completely organized society. A tribe is an aggregate of clans. A clan is a consanguine group, real or fictive of relations and all the members believe to have descended from a common ancestor or ancestress. Each tribe is culturally homogenous and is individualized by a common appellation, by a common dialect or language, by a law-enforcing mechanism, by professing animism, and by possession of a common territory, which it claims to be its very own. In other words, a tribe may be described as system of social organization with a common territory, a tradition of common descent, common language, a common name, above all a common culture. Words like ‘tribe’ and ‘tribals’ have come to acquire extensive usage in social science and social change. They denote both an anthropological category akin to its classical form as a metaphor for the most victimized segments in our society. The expression “Tribal Identity” has sharp political resonance and is felt and read almost entirely in ethno-social terms. The discipline of Ethnology is to understand and make sense of social facts and forms of thought. Levi Strauss sensed in ethnology a belated sense of remorse. As an intellectual artifact, it is inherently ambiguous and seeks remembrance for facts and forms.
From the study of the anthropological literature, it appears that the term tribe has been used for those groups of human beings, whose place of residence is situated in remote areas like hills, forest, sea coasts and islands; and whose style of life is quite different from the present day civilized men. Local indigenous people residing in these places of the world are termed a tribe or tribal, to distinguish them from other people of the world. Anthropology and tribal study are closely related. Anthropology as a discipline of subject and research has come into existence to study the local indigenous people of Africa, Asia, Australia and New world. It is because of this fact that some scholars criticize Anthropology as ‘tribalogy’. Like other societies, tribal society is also not static, rather is quite dynamic. But the rate of change in tribal society is very slow. That is why they are called backward and poor in comparison to other people.

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