The Kattunayakans

The Kattunayakan tribe are found in Southern Indian, in the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. The Kattunayakans believe they are "Chiefs of the Forest", with "kattu" meaning forest and "nayakan" meaning chief in their language namma bashe. At the 2011 census the Kattunayakan population was estimated at 1629 individuals, spread over 452 households.

As with many primitive tribes, their origin and early history is a mystery, although they claim to be the indigenous people of the Western Ghats. In Tamil Nadu the Kattunayakans are split into a number of clams and lineages and prefer to live in small settlements of less than 10 families.

The Kattunyakans were originally hunter gatherers, experts in fishing, bird trapping and foraging for forest produce such as honey and fruit. Whilst these activities are still the main form of livelihood for many, some Kattunayakans are now employed on tea estates and spice plantations. Kattunayakans typically live in clusters of small and very basic mud huts, plastered with charcoal and cow dung and thatched with paddy straw or grass.

The community structure is very basic, with families preferring to act as independent units. However there is a traditional tribal council designed to maintain social decorum and tribal elders will be consulted on difficult issues. The Kattunayakan diet is based on forest and local produce, occasionally supplemented by purchases from local markets.

Music and dance are very important to the Kattunyakans, acting as the main source of knowledge on their environment, culture and respect for kin. A variety of musical instruments have been fashioned by the tribe; most resemble drums and flutes.

Black magic and sorcery are both practiced by the Kattunayakans and they have a strong belief in the power of herbal medicine, prayer and animal sacrifice as a cure for disease. Kattunayakan women are renowned for their practice of black magic, with members of the Paniyan and Kurumba tribes visiting the Kattunaykan magicians hoping for easy child births, success in love, employment and the ripening of fruits.