The Muduga and Kurumba of Kerala, South India and the Social Organization of Hunting and Gathering

By Tharakan, George C. | Journal of Ecological Anthropology, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview
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The Muduga and Kurumba of Kerala, South India and the Social Organization of Hunting and Gathering

Tharakan, George C., Journal of Ecological Anthropology


This article examines the subsistence practices among the Muduga and Kurumba of Attappady in Kerala paying close attention to the socio-ecological basis of their economic activities. This facilitates an understanding of the close relationship between the distribution of natural and cultural communities, and the way in which the society is organized to reach a successful accommodation of a specific set of environmental needs. The data presented relate to wild and domesticated food products and the kin and social systems employed for obtaining them. I conclude that, although hunting and gathering alone could provide a subsistence, in a modern situation, dependence on agriculture is necessary for a 'better' and 'successful' economic system.


Recently, several articles have appeared which consider that, for hunter-gatherers, subsistence based on foraging alone is impossible for survival in tropical rain forests (Headland 1987; Headland and Reid 1989; Headland and Bailey 1991; Bailey et al. 1989; Bailey and Headland 1991). However, there are also "strong evidences that people can live by foraging alone in ....rain forest and have done so in the past" (Endicott and Bellwood 1991:15; see also Brosius 1991; Bahuchet et al. 1991; Dwyer and Minnegal 1991; Stearman 1991). At the same time, it is an established fact that the cultural environments of tropical South Asian foragers - their intimate and long-term interaction with the neighboring agricultural groups - have greatly shaped their socio-economic systems (e.g., Bose 1956; Gardner 1966, 1985, 1991, 1993; Deetz 1968; Fox 1969; Morris 1977, 1982a, 1982b; Peterson 1978; Bird-David 1988, 1990; Tharakan 2003). Though engaged in hunting and gathering, these foragers combine and navigate between hunting and gathering, shifting cultivation, trade and occasional wage labor - depending on conditions and available resources - ecological parameters, technology, and relations with neighbors (cf. Tharakan 2003:323; see also Lee and De Vore 1968; Denbow 1984; Myers 1988; Lee 1992; Bird-David 1988, 1992; Guddemi 1992). The purpose of this article is to attempt to understand the human ecology of the Muduga and Kurumba of South India, and examine the extent to which hunting and gathering is accompanied by other modes of subsistence and why.

The Muduga and Kurumba are non-intensive agriculturalists who both hunted and gathered in rain forests while frequently interacting with outsiders. Through data on the subsistence pattern and organization of the Mudaga and Kurumba, this article describes the ways in which people are adapted to their natural (tropical)1 environment and attempts to point out that their contemporary subsistence practices need to be viewed as part of a wider social system of trade, interaction and exchange, and in the context of a changing ecological system resulting from climatic changes, deforestation and restrictions imposed by forest officials, and local socio-economic interaction. Accepting the ecological constraints experienced by rain forest foragers, the paper shows that a mixed procurement system is a possible solution to the problem.


This study is based on an independent field investigation among the Muduga and Kurumba of Attappady employing mainly methods of participant observation and unstructured interviews. The data were collected in the context of a larger study on the social organization of Muduga and Kurumba. Out of the 21 Muduga hamlets, Veettiyoor, Anakkal, Thaze-Abbanoor and Mele-Abbanoor, and among the 14 Kurumba hamlets, Thadikundu, Anavai and Thaze-Thodukki were selected and household-survey was conducted for about 150 households. The villages were selected by a random sample so as to constitute 15% (around 700 members) of the total population of Muduga and Kurumba estimated to be about 4500. Data were collected in two different field trips on the sample population. The first study was conducted between March 1995 and June 1995.

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