I work at two field sites, one in central India (Chhattisgargh) and one in north-east India (Meghalaya). There is a fully staffed field station and field vehicle at each site.
Since 2007 I have been working with populations of the Pahari Korwa (Hill Korwa), a small-scale, forager-horticultural society in the state of Chhattisgarh, India. The region contains the eastern edge of the Satpura Range and the western edge of the Chotanagpur Plateau.
Classified as a “primitive tribal group” by the Government of India, the Pahari Korwa live largely in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. They belong to the Kolarian ethno-linguistic group of tribes, and have a close affinity to the Austro-Asiatic Munda language family. The introduction of forest protection laws by the Government of India in 1952 precipitated a shift from their traditional nomadic lifestyle completely reliant on hunting, gathering, and swidden agriculture to settled communities based around individually owned land.
They remain heavily reliant on gathered forest products, which are a primary source of food and income, but they also practice agriculture on small tracts of land, usually adjoining forested areas. These economic resources are supplemented by opportunistic hunting and fishing as well as wage labor. Men hunt in groups with bows and arrows and both men and women go fishing. Typically hunted animals are wild boar, small deer species, and birds. The staple is rice, but maize, millet, pulses, potatoes, and small quantities of vegetables are also grown. Small numbers of goats, chickens, and pigs are reared by families, mostly for personal consumption.
All the populations we work in speak Sargujia, a regional dialect of Hindi; the Korwa language is infrequently used on an everyday basis. The Pahari Korwa typically live in nuclear households. The majority of Korwas marry monogamously, but polygyny is practiced by some, usually more affluent men. The Korwa practice bride-price and are a patrilineal (wealth is inherited down the male line) and patrilocal (wives move to their husbands homes after marriage) society.
Korwas live in either temporary huts made of Sal (Shorea robusta) tree branches with thatched roofs or more permanent mud houses with a roof constructed from baked mud tiles. Korwa settlements are usually dispersed, with large distances between houses, often spanning a kilometer or more.
The Korwa practice ancestor worship. They also worship indigenous gods and goddesses, often associated with the forest, hunting, or a prominent local geographic site, such as a big hill or cave in the region. They have recently started adopting Hindu practices and deities in some villages, although these still tend to coexist with their indigenous divinities. Korwa festivals are usually centered around the sowing or harvest of certain crops, the harvest of seasonal forest products, or protection and prosperity during particular seasons (e.g., the monsoon season). Celebrations often involve the slaughter and consumption of chickens and goats as well as the consumption of special foods and vast quantities of “hadiya” (rice beer) and “mahua” (potent alcohol manufactured from a flowering tree of the same name).
I have set up a field station in the town of Ambikapur, which is 350km north of Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh. From here we visit and live in our study villages where we spend most of our time.
Since 2012 I have been working with populations of the Khasi, another small-scale, horticulturist society in the state of Meghalaya, India. The region is mountainous with rich tropical flaura and fauna and receives the maximum rain of any state in India. The word “Meghalaya” means “Home of the clouds”.
The Khasi subsistence pattern includes swidden horticulture, paddy cultivation, waged-labour and small commercial enterprises. The Khasi follow a matrilineal form of kinship; the mother’s clan name and property is transferred to her daughters and women own land, buy and sell produce at market, run businesses and make major economic decisions. The Khasi are matrilocal which means that when they marry, the man joins the woman’s household.