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The Kurichiya are one of the earliest inhabitanats of the Wyanad forest areas in the Indian state of Kerala

Contents

Etymolgy

They apply "Kuri", a sandalwood paste on their foreheads and chests, and it is possible the name Kurichiya is derived from this custom.

History

The Kurichiya were the first migrants into the Wayanad hills and settled as the first farmers of the western region. The Kurichiya are marginal farmers and most of them have small plots where they grow pepper and other crops.

The Kurichiya claim to be superior to all of the other Hindu castes. This is partially because there are no beggars among them; their society does not tolerate the destitution of any of its members. Because they live in large family groups, it has always been possible for a poor Kurichiya to find food and shelter. A typical Kurichiya would surprise even a casual observer with the strength of his convictions. The Kurichiya are so concerned with keeping themselves pure that they will burn their huts, if touched by outsiders. On returning from a journey, they will not enter their homes until they have purified themselves by bathing. They will neither eat food nor drink water that has been touched by non-Kurichiya. When visiting neighboring villages, they refrain from eating. Those who break dietary laws become outcasts. Some historians are saying that Kurichiyas are defeated Nair warriors of north Malabar because of their defeat and some other wrong things taboos to their cast ,they lost their cast and became" Vana vasis".

They are expert archers and hunt for game meat. When the Muslims and the British came into their area, the Kurichiya rose against them in revolt, supporting the Pazhassi Raja in his guerilla warfare against the British at the end of 18th century. Unfortunately, they were defeated by the strong arm of the British.

Culture

In India, there is a very complex hierarchy of castes, or social classes. This system is extremely important to the Indians and observed by all. However, the Kurichiya consider themselves to be above even the highest caste of Hindu Brahman (priests and scholars).

Being isolated jungle dwellers, the Kurichiya continue to practise age-old customs. On returning from a journey, they will bathe before entering the home and those who break dietary laws become outcasts. Kurichiya society follows a matriarchal system. The village headman is elected during a ritual performed before their idols. When someone in the group goes into a trance and performs a frenzied dance, he assumes responsibility over the tribe by wearing an auspicious silver-handled knife on his waist.

Lifestyle

On their small patches of land, the Kurichiya raise peppers and several other cash crops. Although they are primarily farmers, they are also expert archers and eat meat in addition to the crops they grow. Some must work on land provided by the government, while others are forced to make their living by cutting and selling wood from the forest.

One of the most powerful members of the Kurichiya tribe is the Mooppar (sorcerer), who is also the village headman. He is elected during a ritual performed before their idols. When someone in the group goes into a trance and does a frenzied dance, the Kurichiya believe that this is a sign that the gods have chosen this individual to be their leader. This person then assumes responsibility over the tribe by wearing the silver-handled knife (that was worn by his predecessor), on his waist.

Similarity to other castes

One striking trait of the Kurichiya is the fact that they were traditionally a matriarchal (female-dominated) society. They are the only Indian community(Including Nairs and some Hindu castes excluding Ezhavas and Namboothiris) outside the province of Assam that has continued to follow this type of system, even as recently as 1970. Their society survived because of their deep-rooted conservatism, as well as, their isolation in the Wayanad plateau.

The Kurichiya share many traits with other tribes of their area. These include the traditional fore-lock of hair, their house patterns, ornaments, style of presenting offerings, observance of shamanism (a type of spiritism), and kinship terminology.

Faith

The Kurichiya are Hindus and their supreme deity is, Shiva, "god of the hunt." They worship a variety of gods and demons in addition to their own tribal gods. While their faith may be as deep as that of the Brahmans, their rituals are much simpler.

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