Tribal Societies

Beyond Big Cities : Tribal Societies

Indian history has witnessed various changes in society. Most of it encompasses the caste system followed religiously in our society. Apart from the social structure in the cities, there were other societies that flourished on the sidelines known as tribal societies. These societies did not follow the rules of Brahmins and had their own set of customs and rituals. Furthermore, they were also not divided into subclasses or caste, like other religions. 

These tribal societies were usually groups of people who had kinship bonds. These tribes were mostly involved in primary activities related to agriculture or animal husbandry. Some of them are also hunter-gatherers. Out of these tribal societies few tribes were also Nomadic. 

This meant that these tribes or groups of people move from one place to another and search for livelihood or other reasons. The settled tribal groups on the other hand had land and animals which they owned jointly as a tribe. The Tribe leader divided the animals and lands according to the needs and requirements of his people. 

These tribes were spread all across the country. Most of the tribes lived in forest Hills desert and far-fetched places. There are even shreds of evidence of tribal clashes amongst themselves as well as societies of other religions. The tribes continue to keep their freedom and culture separate from the rest of us. On one hand, they kept their societies separate from us but on the other hand, they were also dependent on us for their needs. We also traded in many handmade articles and wares from them. This led to a gradual change in both societies.

Tribal Society Meaning

Definition: A tribe is a group of people who live and work together in a shared geographical area. A tribe has a common culture, dialect, and religion. They also have a strong sense of unity. The tribe is usually headed by a chief. A tribal society is a group of tribes organized around kinships. Various types of tribal society are mentioned below.

Contemporary historians and travelers give very little information about the tribes. Except for a few exceptions, tribal people have not kept written records. Yet rich rituals and oral traditions have been preserved. They were passed down to each new generation. Present-day historians have begun to use such oral traditions to write tribal histories.

Tribal people have been found in almost every region of the subcontinent. The area and influence of the tribe varied at different times. Some powerful tribes were in control of large territories. They were divided into a number of smaller clans under different chiefs.

Types of Tribal Society in India

The Khokhar tribe in Punjab was really influential in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Later on, the Gakkhars became much more important. Their chief was made a mansabdar by Akbar. Multan and Sind were dominated by the Langahs and Arghuns. The Balochis were another big and influential tribe in the northwest. The Shepherd Tribe of Gaddis lived in the Himalayas. The far north-eastern part of the subcontinent, too, was entirely dominated by tribes like the —Nagas, Ahoms, and many others.

In several areas of modern Bihar and Jharkhand, Twelfth-century Chero's chiefdoms had also emerged. Raja Man Singh, the renowned Akbar's General, in 1591, attacked and defeated the Cheros. They had taken a big amount of spoils but were not entirely suppressed. Under Aurangzeb, the Mughal army invaded many of the Chero fortresses and subjugated the tribe. The Mundas and the Santals were among other important tribes who lived there, as well as Orissa and Bengal.

The highlands of Maharashtra and Karnataka have been home to Kolis, Beards, and many others. Kolis also existed in many parts of Gujarat. Large tribal societies of Koragas, Vetars, Maravars, and many others were even farther south. The big tribe of Bhils was scattered across the whole western and central regions.  By the end of the 16th century, most of them had settled.

Farmers and even some of them were zamindars. However, many Bhil clans remained hunter-gatherers. The Gonds have been found in large numbers all across modern-day Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh.

The Banjaras were the most important nomadic traders. Their caravan was commonly called the tanda. Sultan Alauddin Khalji used Banjaras to transport grain to town markets. Many pastoral tribes have been rearing and selling animals, like cattle and horses, for the rich. Different small peddlers also travelled from village to village. They've made and sold goods such as ropes, reeds, straw mattresses, and coarse sacks. Occasionally, the beggars acted as wandering merchants. There were castes of entertainers who performed for their livelihoods in different towns and villages.

Modern Tribal Society

Varna-based society and culture and tribal people have constantly interacted with each other. This interaction has caused both kinds of cultures and societies to adapt and change. There were a number of different tribes, and they took on a wide range of livelihoods. 

Over a span of years, many of them merged into a caste-based society. Others, however, have rejected both the caste system and conservative Hinduism. Some tribes have established extensive provinces with well-organized systems of government. They have thus become powerful and influential. This pulled them into conflict with larger, more complicated states and empires and evolved into the modern tribal society.

Did You Know?

  • The Khasi, Jaintia, and Garo people practice matrilineality and create one of the largest communities in the world that believes in this system. 

  • Birsa Munda, a revolutionary in the Indian Independence Struggle, originated from the Munda tribe, found primarily in Jharkhand. 

  • The Ghoomar, a folk dance of Rajasthan, was created by the Bhil tribe.


This is all about the age-old history of the tribes. Learn how they have evolved to become a modern tribal society. Focus on the type of tribal societies present in India and discover how they have changed in due course of time.

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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. How were the Tribes different from Other People in Society?

Most of the communities in the subcontinent did not comply with social rules that were prescribed by the Brahmanas and also they were not divided into a number of unfair castes. Such societies were mostly referred to as tribes. 

Members of the tribe were united by lineage. The tribes earned their livelihood from agricultural activities. Some were hunter-gatherers and herders. The tribes used to combine both activities so that they can make use of the natural resources. Some of the tribes were migratory and moved from one place to another. 

The tribal group jointly controlled land and pastures and split them between households as per their own rules. There were many tribes that resided in many parts of the subcontinent. They used to live in forests, hills, deserts, and hard-to-reach places. Sometimes they have conflicts with the powerful.

2. Describe the various professions followed by tribals?

Nomadic pastoralists used to move with their animals to long distances. They used to survive on milk. Most of them traded wool, ghee,  and this settled the farmers for grain, cloth, utensils, and other products. These products were traded when they relocated The Banjaras were nomadic traders. The grains were transported in Sultan’san Alauddin Khalji reign

There were many tribs who reared and sold animals like cattle and horses. Even some of the small peddlers also travelled from place to place. These tribes usually sold wares such as ropes, reeds, straw mattresses, and coarse sacks.

3. What do you know about the different tribes of India?

In India, a wide variety of tribes are found. India is a big country and has different states. For example, in Punjab, the Khokhar tribe was found in the 13th and 14th centuries. After that, another tribe emerged which was called Gakkhars. In the northwest part of India, the Balochis tribe was found. In the Himalayas, the Shepherd Tribe was the most popular. In the northeastern part of India, many tribes such as Nagas, Ahoms, etc. were popular.  Tribes such as Kolis, Beards, etc. were found in Maharashtra and Karnataka. In the southern part of India, large tribes such as Vetars, Maravars, and Koragas were popular.

4. Write a short note on Modern Tribal Society?

The people belonging to the Varba society and many tribes have communicated with each other and they have exchanged many cultural views. This led to a change in their cultures. Different tribes took over different livelihoods. As time passed, some of them changed into a caste-based society. But, many rejected the caste system as well as the idea of Hinduism. Some tribes live independently as a well-organized system and they have their own rules. They become powerful and influence other people. They had a conflict with large states which led to the formation of modern tribal society.