Scheduled Tribes in Malappuram District

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Scheduled Tribes in Malappuram District

The Scheduled Tribe Population in the District is 14,410 as per the available records. They live in 2882 families comprised in 182 tribal settlements stretched in the hill ranges of Nilambur and Eranad Taluks. Muthuvans or Malamuthans, Paniyans, Aranadans, Kurumans, Kattunaickens and Cholanaickens are the Scheduled tribe communities in Malappuram District. Of these the Kattunaicken and Cholanaickens are primitive tribal groups. The paniyans of the district are known as Kattu Paniyans/Kurinhi paniyans and they are different from the other Paniyans of the state and also have primitive nature. Apart from the departmental schemes, the Integrated Tribal Development project, Nilambur is implementing various programs for habitat/economic/educational development of the tribes.

Paniyan / Kattu Paniyans / Kurinhi Paniyans

Paniyas are the largest tribal community in Kerala and are found in Wayanad, Kannur, Kozhikkode, and Malapuram districts. They had been agricultural labourers and worked as slaves of land lords for several decades. They were believed to be brought to Waynad by the king of Malabar, centuries ago as slaves for agricultural labour.  It is said that they were sold and bought along with the fields they lived in. After the government of Kerala abolished slavery system, they had been rehabilitated in different colonies set up by the government. Kattupaniyar is a subgroup seen in the forest region of Nilambur (Malappuram District) leading a life style of primitive tribes.


The Cholanaikkans are the most primitive and vanishing tribes in Kerala and one of the oldest native communities of Kerala. They are only seen in the Karulai and Chungathara forest ranges in Nilambur in Malappuram district. They are one of the last remaining hunter- gatherer tribes of South India, living in rock shelters or crude huts beside brooks. When they were first contacted in the late 1960s they did not have any clothes or anything outside of a stone-age culture. The outside world came to know about them in the early seventies through a survey published in the Manorama Daily by journalist Mathew Kadalikkad. This had led the people of the plain to pioneer in to the deep forests to meet them. Eventually their lifestyle has been changed but most of them do not leave forest.
They speak the Cholanaikkan language, but around half of them can interact in Malayalam. The Cholanaikkan call themselves as ‘Malanaikan’ or ‘Sholanaikan’. ‘Shola’ or ‘chola’ means deep thicket in the forest and ‘naikan’ means king. They are said to be warriors, migrated from Mysore of Karnataka along with a king but had to hide into forests more than a century ago due to the war in the region. They are generally of short stature, well built strong bodies, fair complexion, round or oval face and curly hair.
Cholanaikkans are animists and worship ‘ancestral spirits’. They don’t have any idols or images but go behind a big tree and whisper something. They do not intermarry with any other tribes.

These food gatherers survived on hunting and collection of minor forest products. They ate wild roots, tubers, seeds, fruits and meat.  Since the 1970s, they used to come to the plain and exchanged honey, wax and cardamom in exchange of salt, match boxes and clothing. The tribal welfare departments’ society started collecting these produces for better prices and began to provide rations and provisions at locations in the forest. The tribe, unlike any other tribes, under the leadership of the Mooppan (Elder) is unwilling to come out of the deep forest but use dress and ornaments, household articles, tools and weapons in their day today life.


The Kattunaikans and Cholanaikkans are said to be two groups of the same tribe.
The Kattunaikans are seen in Wayanad, Kozhikode and Malappuram districts..
Kattunaikans are also called as Ten-Kurumans (Ten means honey) and found in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu also. Kattunaikan means ‘king of jungle’ and they have very little contact with the main non-tribals. As interior forest dwellers until recent decades, they did not have access to dress items and used bark of trees for clothing.  They also used ornaments made of materials available in the forests. They consider the Paniyans as inferior to them and observe pollution against them. They are tall, dark and have curly hair.
Kattunaikans believe that they are the descendents of a kingdom which was powerful a few centuries ago. Some of them are educated and send their children to schools through tribal hostels run by the government. Most of them at schools show high aptitude towards modern education.

Their huts are made of bamboo, straw and grass. They usually keep footwear outside the house. Leather made of cow-skin is considered as polluting and not used. They are good hunters and are skilled gatherers of forest products such as wax and honey. They use to breed pigs, goats and poultry.

They are non-vegetarian in food habits but do not eat beef. Drinking alcohol is occasional. Cultivation is a recent development among the Kattunaikans. The forest Department used to employ them as guards and for labour. Kattunaikans are animists and worshiped trees, rocks, hills and snakes. Due to interaction with the outside communities, they also worship Hindu deities and celestial bodies like sun and moon.The headman, known as muttam has much respect with in the society and has great powers in matters such as marriage and divorce.

He also plays the role of priests and holds the right of oracle. They follow the patrillineal rule of succession and used to marry off their daughters even before puberty. They observe any of the three kinds of marriages- by elopement, purchase and by service.  In case of purchase, bride price is fixed after negotiation and this can be given in installments even after the marriage. Some use tali (the wedlock badge) made of beads and shells. Exchange of betel nut and chewing pan leaf are symbols observed in the marriage ceremony. Marriage between relatives is in existence.  Female cohabited with a non-tribal is considered an outcaste.  It is said that marriages and adultery are considered as social recreation. However, they observe pollution at the time of puberty and childbirth.They give little importance to funerals. It is said that, in the past, they used to place the dead bodies on top of rocks or trees to be eaten by animals and birds. Now a-days, they bury the dead body in deep graves with a cellar in the bottom. The body is pushed into the cellar and later filled with soil. It is not clear if they observe pollution after death. They have no firm belief in life after death.

Aranadan / Eranadan

This community seen in Eranadu taluk of Malappuram District- mostly in Vazhikadavu, Edakkara, Aranadankara, Kavalamukkatta, Telppara, Pattakkarimpu and Chokkad. They were nomadic hill tribe and engaged in hunting. Some of the families are settled by the tribal colony colonies constructed by the Government including one near to Chokkad.


Aalar people are tribals but not listed in the scheduled list of tribes in the state. They are a small number of people found in Malappuram district.

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