The Chenchu Tribal People
The Chenchu are one of the important tribes living in Andhra Pradesh. The main concentration of them is found in Mahabubnagar, Kurnool districts of Andhra Pradesh. They had a hunting-gathering tradition. But at present, they are engaged in day-labor and agriculture. They are a Proto-Australoid tribe, speaking a language with Telugu accents.
The Chenchus depend on forest produce for their livelihood. They move in the dense forests in search of roots, fruits, and honey. They also collect leaves to manufacture leaf-plates and leaf-cups which they sell to earn cash. Tobacco leaves are also gathered by them which are used in smoking by them. Mahua flowers are also collected to prepare distilled liquor for home consumption as well as for the outsiders. Honey is also being collected and sold to earn ready cash. Hunting and gathering and also occasional fishing are found to subsidise their main source of livelihood. They hunt deer, rabbit, wild boar, field rats, wild cock, and birds. Both sexes participate in hunting. Hunting is done by weapons as well by trapping. Fishing by poisoning is also known to them. Agriculture has been recently introduced among the Chenchus who are living in rural-urban set-up. Some of them are found to be engaged in agricultural labors in the fields of advanced people. Some of them possess agricultural lands in which they cultivate themselves.
At present, the major bulk of the Chenchus are taking resort to manual labor as the forest yields are too meager for them to pull on. They work under the forest and road contractors on daily wage basis. Thus, they are exposed to the outside world. Both sexes work to earn their livelihood. They also serve as porters and guide to the pilgrims to different Hindu shrines located in this state. Indeed, they lead a ‘hand-to-mouth’ existence.
Forest dwellers depend on forest produces as their staple food. They take the boiled form of different roots, tubers and leaves. The flesh of hunted animals is taken in roasted form. The interspersed Chenchus, however, take boiled rice along with gruel twice or thrice a day. A little amount of salt and green chilies add flavor to their routine diet. They smoke tobacco and drink mohua liquor. They do not take any other beverages. Hand-made breads are sometimes prepared from millets.
The hunters rely on hunting equipments for the collection of forest produces. The implements include bow and arrow, cutters, axes, etc. are provided with iron blades or heads. The agriculturists, however, have all the implements required in cultivation. These may be owned or procured or even hired. Household utensils consist of earthen pots and aluminium containers and cooking pans. Wooden ladles and leaf-cups and leaf-plates are used in serving food. Leaf-mats are used for sleeping. Bamboo-framed cots are also used by some well-off Chenchus.
Domestication of animals
The Chenchus are in the habit of domesticating sheep, goat and poultry birds besides the dog. Some of the well-to-do cultivators rear cattle even. They purchase young cattle, sheep, goat and rear them at home. The grown-up animals are then sold in the market to get better return either to their original masters or to outsiders. Sometimes, simple rearing of animals fetches them fifty per cent share of the value of the grown-up animals from the persons who engage them in such a vocation.
The village and settlement pattern
The villages of Chenchu Tribe are located at the foot-hill jungles of Andhra Pradesh. The huts are scatteredly distributed in a village. No systematic planning is observed in erecting houses in a Chenchu village. The huts are invariably mud-walled and are thatched with straw or wild leaves.
The forest-dwelling Chenchus are being offered some communal huts, recently constructed by the Forest Department and the Forest Co-operative Society, free of cost, especially in Mannanur and Mahabubnagar districts. This rehabilitation scheme aims at the resettlement of the primitive group so that they could not misuse the forest property.
Dress and ornaments
The traditional dress of the Chenchu was very simple. They used to wear the stitched bark and skin garments. Some old persons try to cover their genital organs by bark-strips, hanging in front and back front a waist string. It is known as gachi-bata. In winter season, they wrap the upper portion of the body with a cotton-wrapper purchased from the local weavers. The modern dresses of the Chenchu have been modified largely due to the influence of their neighbours belonging to advanced groups. The women wear short, coarse saris to cover their upper and lower parts. Modern blouses and petticoats are in use among some of the acculturated groups. The school-going boys and girls use pants, shirts, blouses when they go to school.
The Chenchu are not very much fond of wearing ornaments. Women use ear-rings, and foot-bangles, necklaces of metals. Very colourful glass-bangles are in use among the young girls. Tattooing is very common among the Chenchu females. The tattoo marks of different designs are found on the forehead and upper arms of the Chenchu women. They use coconut oil profusely on the head.
The only handicraft manufactured by the Chenchu are the musical drums known as thapetu, prepared from circular bamboo frame covered by sheep-skin.
The Chenchu tribe is an endogamous unit. They marry among themselves. Marriage with non-Chenchus is not socially approved. They have a feeble in group feelings.
The Chenchu tribe is divided into four local groups such as,
- Konda Chenchu: They are found in Kurnool and Mahabubnagar districts;
- Koya Chenchu: They are found concentrating in Bhadrachalam district,
- Ura Chenchu: They are scatteredly distributed in towns and cities and live interspersed among advanced groups;
- Dasari Chenchu: Thy live mainly in Kurnool district.
These groups are principally endogamous units. But the Ura and Konda Chenchu, at present, have started marrying amongst themselves. There is a feeling of superiority and inferiority prevailing amongst these regional groups.
Each regional group is further divided into a number of patrilineal, totemic, and exogamous clans. Marriage within a clan is not permissible. Prof. Haimendorf has recorded as many as 26 clans among the Chenchus.
Each clan consists of a number of families. Simple, monogamous families are common. Husband, wife, and unmarried children live in an average Chenchu family. Families are patrilocal in nature. Sons stay in their parental houses permanently, while daughters move out at marriage. Married sons with their wives live in separate hutments within the domicile of their father’s. Father is the head of the family while mother enjoys her supremacy in domestic affairs. A sharp division of labor is marked in a Chenchu family. Men move outside to earn the main sources of subsistence. Women stay in to perform all household works, it includes rearing of children, cooking, fetching of drinking water, collection of fuel etc. Adult sons try to help their father while grown-up girls assist their mother at home.
The kinship system is of classificatory type. A single term is applied to designate a number of persons of the same status, same sex, and same age. They distinguish the affinal kins from the consanguinal relatives.
Monogamous marriage is the rule among the Chenchu. The practice of polygyny, though very rare, is socially approved while polyandry is unknown to them. Cross-cousin marriage is preferred. Marriage with mother’s brother’s daughter or father’s sister’s daughter is followed in such type of preferential marriage. Negotiation marriage is the usual form of acquiring mates. Wedding takes place in the house of the bride and bride-price has social sanction. Divorce and re-marriage is normally allowed.
Property and inheritance
The Chenchu practice individual as well as communal ownership of property. The hunting and collecting grounds are owned communally, and the movable assets consisting of clothes, cattle, household utensils and implements, dress and ornaments, homestead land with the dwelling are considered as private properties which are inherited by sons on the event of possessor’s death. Daughters, however, inherit nothing.
The Chenchu are governed by village-council. The village is headed by a village headman, peddamanchi. The elderly kin-groups are the members of the village council. No women are allowed to be a member of this council of the elders. This council stands for all civil and criminal disputes of the villagers. There are arrangements for punishing the offenders.
Death and funeral
The Chenchu observes two types of funeral ceremonies chinna-dinal and padda-dinal. The former is held in the case of death of a child or unmarried person while the latter is observed on the event of death of married persons.
The Chenchu religion centers round the belief in supernatural beings. In their religious beliefs and practices, the influence of the local advanced Hindu groups could be felt.
The Chenchu have a well-defined concept of soul. Transmigration of soul is held responsible for death and rebirth. Divination is practiced occasionally. Magic and sorcery are generally done by some special agents, like the magician and sorcerer. The magician commands high social status while the sorcerer does not have that.