31 January 2015

Tribes, Nomads and Settled Communities

NCERT / CBSE NOTES : Chapter Summary

Tribes, Nomads and Settled Communities

Tribal Societies

Indian civilization consisted of many different societies following different systems. Some people followed the Varna or caste system prescribed by the Brahmins, where people were classified on the basis of their occupation. Under the Mughal Empire, this division became even more prominent.

There were some people who did not follow the caste system and rituals prescribed by the Brahmins and were often called tribes. The tribal societies did not have hierarchy or class inequality as the members were tied by family relationships.

Some tribes were nomadic and moved from one place to another, while others earned their living from agriculture. They did not keep any written records about their traditions but had a rich history of arts, rituals and customs, which they passed to the next generation through oral communication.

During the 13th and 14th centuries, the Khokar tribe was very influential in Punjab and was succeeded by the Gakkhars. The Langah and Arghun tribes dominated extensive regions in Multan and Sind before they were subdued by the Mughals.

The Balochis were a large and powerful tribe that lived in the north-west region and consisted of smaller clans, which had their own chiefs. The Gaddis were a tribe of shepherds that lived in the western Himalayas while the distant north-eastern part of the subcontinent was entirely dominated by tribes like the Nagas, Ahoms and others. Chero chiefdoms emerged in Bihar and Jharkhand during the 12th century.

Other important tribes such as the Mundas and Santals lived in Orissa and Bengal. The Kolis, Berads and others lived in the Maharashtra highlands, Karnataka and also in some parts of Gujarat.

Large populations of Koragas, Vetars, Maravars and many others lived in the south while the Bhils were spread across western and central India. The Gonds could be found in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.


The Banjaras were nomadic traders who move from place to place for selling goods. They moved in a tanda or caravan with families, oxen and wares.

A tanda would consist of 600 or 700 people and would travel around 8-10 kilometres per day. They bought grains from a cheap place and sold to a place where it was dearer which they transported on their oxens.

For food, they would depend on pastoral goods such as milk, ghee and other animal products. They exchanged craft articles either created by them or bought from far off places and pastoral products such as wool, ghee for the grains, cloth and utensils.

They were important traders, as kings would often ask them to provide food to their soldiers. 

Gonds and Ahoms

During the Vedic period, two important tribes which interacted with other tribes and rose to power were the Gonds and the Ahoms. The Gonds were a large tribe, living in forested regions called Gondwana or the “country inhabited by Gonds.” It consisted of smaller clans ruled by individual rajas or rais and practiced shifting cultivation.

During the decline of the Delhi sultanate, the chiefs of large Gond clans started dominating the smaller clans, leading to a gradual centralization of their administrative system. Every kingdom was divided into garhs, which were further divided into village units called chaurasis. A chaurasi was further subdivided into barhots.
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The Ahoms were another important tribe, predominant in Vedic India. They lived in Myanmar and migrated to the Brahmaputra valley in the early 13th century. The Ahoms did not possess their own kingdoms, but created their state by suppressing the older political system of the landlords, known as Bhuiyans.

The economy of this new state was dependent on forced labour called paiks. Their state was divided into clans or khels. The men of the Ahoms built dams, irrigation systems and public works and encouraged art and literature. They also translated Sanskrit works into the local language, and wrote historical works known as buranjis in the Ahom language, and then in Assamese.