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The habitat of the Kurumbas

The Kurumbas setllemtns are located in the Nilgiris district of Tamil nadu which is one of the smallest administrative districts in this state. Nilgiris literally tranlates to  “blue mountians” due to the blue haze that envelops these mountain ranges with vio;let blossoms of the Kurunji (strobilantes) flower

This region is largely hilly with an area of 2550 sq. km at located ar the junction of Eastern and Western Ghats (Sahayadri ranges).  The elevation of Nilgirs ranges from 2500 ft till 8500 ft above MSL bounded on the west by the state of Kerala and in the north by Karnataka and south east by Coimbatore district of Tamil Nadu.

The inhospitable climatic condition of the blue mountains’did not attract territory invaders  except for the tribal people who were primary hunter and gatherers.  Little is known as to how or from where  these tribal groups came.  The tribe of Kurumbas in the nilgiris is divided into 5 ethnic groups, viz. Alu or pallu Kurumbas, Beta Kurumbas, Jenu Kurumbas and Urali Kurumbas.  Each of these groups have their own distinctive habitats within the Nilgiris

The Alu or Pallu kurumbas are to be found only in the taluks of kotagiri, Coonoor and Kundah.  From the accounts of the British travellers in the Ninetheenth centuryt we  learn that this group resided in caves or rock shelters or huts in small hamlets on the steep slopes of this region. The Alu Kurumbas are considered as medicine men, faith healers who had the capacity the exploit the medicinal properties of plants available in their habitat. Recently the Govt. of India has uspported the construction of small houses with bricks and metal sheet roofs  through their Hill Area Development Program.

The Beta Kurumbas reside in the taluk of Gudalur in and around the Mudhumulai wildlife sanctuary.  Most of the Beta Kurumbas live in small and low huts thatched with leaves and walls made of bamboo and wattle. The settlements are largely selected on the basis of availability of running water.

The Jenu Kurumbas also reside in the Gudalur taluk of Nilgiris largely in newly developed agricultural areas and tea estates of the region.  They live in groups of 10 – 15 families in lands that have been cleared from the forest usually on banks of small streams.

The Mullu Kurumbas are residents of Pandalur taluk of the Nilgiris and their settlemtns are concentrated in a radius of 25 kms on the border of Kerala Wayanad region.  These settlements are uni-ethnic and territotially divided into administrative units – traditionally 4 in number.  These are Kallunadu, Karanadu, Neriyanadu and Paekkanadu.  The hosues are arranged in a planned manner with the center devoted to a temple house called koilveedu. Houses are rectangular in layout and have 1 room and have a verandah running on all 4 sides.  Doors of some houses are made of soikd timer with fine carving.

The Urali Kurumbas live adjacent to the Paniyan settlements and a few live in Pandalur taluk of Nilgiris.  The huts are scattered with open compounds and adjacent to their cultivable forest lands or land owned by rich non-tribal landlords.

The Kurumbas Population

An interesting note from history is to be found in the writing of W. Francis (1908)

“The Nilgiri District contains far fewer people than any other collectorate in the Presidency, fewer, indeed than many taluks in the plains and less, than a fourth of the population of Madras town and the number of persons to the square mile there is less than in any other part of the province…… The population is least sparse (220 persons in the square miule) in the Coonoor Taluk, but even there it is 50 per square mile below the average for the Presidency as a whole, while in the Ootacamund and Gudalur Tuluks it is as small as 86 and 75 persons respectively to the square mile. During the twenty years 1881-1901 the population increased at the rate of 22 percent. In the ten years 1891-1901 the people of Coonoor and Ootacamund taluks increased by 22 and 20 percent, respectively. The figures in the table below, make things evident:

Particulars Population Percentage
1891 1901
Badagas 29362 34152 16
Kotas 1201 1267 5
Todas 739 805 9
Kurumbas 3966 4083 3

These statistics show that the castes indigenous to the plateaus increased less rapidly. The People of the Nilgiris consist, indeed, very largely of immigrants. At the census of 1901, W. Francis (1908:124) wrote that, out of every 100 of them only 59 were bornwithin the disrtict, while the remainig 41 came from elsewhere

As you are aware the Nilgiris is divided into 6 taluks, viz. ooty, Coonoor,, Pandalur, Kotagiri, Kundah and Gudulur.  The total population of Nilgiris in the 2001 census was approx 7.5 lakhs out of which the total tribal population was 28,000.  The total poulation of Kurumbas was 7,700 (27% of total tribal population o the district),  About 77% of all Kurumbas are Alu Kurumbas who reside 49 settlements across the taluks of Kotagiri, Kundah and Coonoor.

Spread of Kurumba Population
Taluk of Nilgiris No. of Settlements Population
Pandalur 18 2346
Gudulur 4 355
Ooty 1 18
Coonoor 35 2545
Kotagiri 26 1577
Kundah 12 848
Total 96 7689

(Data: Courtesy HADP)


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One  Earth Foundation
E-mail: raminder14@gmail.com