The Aboriginal tribes of Himachal Pradesh


As much as Himachal offers to a traveller in terms of adventure and never ending breath taking views of diverse geographical conditions and challenging terrain, it has the rich cultural history of diverse tribes. The people here are culturally and linguistically distinct from their plains-dwelling Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu speaking people.

From all the expeditions and tours with Nomadic Feet, one of the major take away for a traveller is the exposure to the cultural experiences that we integrate with the adventure and travel experiences.

Himachal as it appears currently in terms of culture is conglomeration of the tribes aforementioned. This brief account of the tribes gives the clear idea of tribal scenario in Himachal. The pace of evolving changes with time, in contemporary society, has also affected the living style of these tribes, which poses a great threat to their culture, costume, jewellery, folklore and lifestyle.

Gaddis

The Gaddis are a semi-nomadic semi-pastoral tribe who inhabit the austere Dhauladar ranges of the Indian Himalayas. The cornerstone of Gaddi culture is the town of Bharmour which lies in Chamba, the valley between the Dhauladar and Pir-Panjal ranges.

The main occupation of Gaddi tribes is shepherding and they make their livelihood by rearing and selling sheeps, goats, mules and horses. A pure Hindu tribe, Shiva being the most important deity, with Aryan features, physically Gaddis are of medium height and have a lot of stamina.

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A Gaddi Woman in tradional dress

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Gujjars

Though Gujjars population is scattered throughout the Himachal Pradesh, they majorly are scattered in Chamba Valley. Originally Gujjars were all Hindus and with the passage of time some of the Gujjars embraced Islam and now some of them are even embracing other religions Mainly divided into two sections according to religion, Hindu Gujjars are found mostly in Mandi, Kangra, Sirmaur, Solan and Bilaspur and Muslim Gujjars are scattered in Chamba region. Mostly, Gujjars rear animals for their domestic and commercial activities, including buffaloes, goats and sheep.

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A Gujjar grandfather with her granddaughter.

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Their staple food consists of maize, chapatti, pulses of urad; mah etc. and International Journal of Multidisciplinary Education and Research suggests that 105 milk products like lassi and dahi also form a part of their daily diet. The majority of Gujjars are pastorals and they eke out their livelihood through the sale of milk and milk products. Smoking is common habit among them.They are skilled in embroidery with coloured thread on caps and jawahar jackets.

Wounded Buffalo

Gujjar Men carrying their wounded cattle.

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Pangi / Pangwals

The people of Pangi valley, staying in a remote, rugged and less developed tribal area in Himachal Pradesh which is also the most beautiful region in the upper part of Chamba district, are known as Pangwals. It is placed in the middle of Jammu and Kashmir, Chaurah, Lahual and Spiti and the Greater Himalayas. Pangi valley is divided into the Sural, Saichu, Hudan, Bhatori and Kumar-Parmar valleys. All these valleys are connected with Zanskar rang. A fair number of people of this tribe are settled in the small pockets of isolated villages.

Pangi Women

A pangi woman.

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There are many legends that attempt to spell the origin of this tribe. However, the real origin still remains a mystery. According to a legend, many women were escorted to safety of this isolated pocket and as they were unable to return, this led to the settling of the area. Another legend suggests that original people of Pangi were people banished from the Chamba durbar who were sentenced to live in the remote area like Pangi who settled there permanently. The major language spoken by this tribe is Pangwali and they are majorly Hindus with some Buddhists followers.

Old Pangi Women

An old Pangi lady.

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Women enjoy good amount of freedom in Pangwal community. They are hardworking, beautiful and taking part in the agricultural works also. They have freedom for leaving their husband, whenever they desire.

Lahaula / Lahaulis
Old Pangi Women

Tribal Women of Lahaul-Spiti.

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Lahaulis are primarily the residents of the Lahaul region in Himachal Pradesh. Tribes are observed to follow both Hinduism and Buddhism, and their dialect resembles Tibetan. They have a close resemblance with Tibetans and people of Ladakh.

They usually follow an extended family system, an inheritance from the polyandry system of the past, meaning a woman has multiple husbands in the society. The head is known as 'Yunda' and his wife 'Yundamo'.The main source of livelihood for the Lahaulas is agriculture and allied activities. Occupations include animal husbandry and crafts like weaving.

Kinnauris
Kinnauri Women

A Kinnauri woman in traditional dress.

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Kinnauris are said to be the successor of Kinners of Vedic time, some also looks their ancestors Kirata, the Vedic tribe. There are references about Kinners in the epic “Mahabharatha”. The Kinners speak the Kinnauri dialect, which, according to G. A. Grierson comes under the Himalayan group of Tibeto-Burman family of languages. Speaking about the religion, Kinnauris have both Hindu and Buddhist followers.

Polyandry prevails in the villages but is rapidly losing ground to monogamy. The Himachalis practise fraternal polyandry and the patriarchal system of inheritance.

Kinnauri Women

A Kinnauri woman in traditional dress.

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All the brothers of the bridegroom are considered automatically the husbands of the bride. Polyandry helps the people of Kinnaur to perpetuate the name of their family and safeguard the family property from fragmentation. The polyandrous tribes of the Himalayas can be compared with the Pandavas of the ancient Indian epic of Mahabharata, who are believed to have had a polygamous system. However, such marriages are on the decline.

Swangla
Kinnauri Women

A Swangla woman

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Swanglas are residents of the Pattan Valley tract along the River Chandra Bhaga in disctrictLahaul- Spiti. speaking a local variation of language that has a mix of Hindi and Tibetan called Manchhad, Chinnali ( spoken by Sipi and the Lohar), Bhoti and Tinan (Spoken by people of Sisu area).

Their local drink consumed by men is called Chhang. Also, referred to as the Spiti Tibetans of India, they are part of the Tibetan people cluster within the Himalayan Peoples. The primary religion practiced by the Spiti Tibetans is Buddhism.