Interacting with the Soliga Tribals of BR Hills is one of the most interesting things I’ve done since I’ve lived in India. While touring Karnataka with goMowgli, we went up to the famous BR hills to glamp at Gorukana, an NGO which helps the tribals keep a sustainable lifestyle. (I’ll tell more about that next week).
Who are the Soliga Tribe?
The Soliga tribe has been in the Hills for centuries, but with the government turning these places into parks to protect the animals (tigers, leopards, sloth bears, etc), it seemed the Soliga were in a tough spot. Legally, the government couldn’t force them out of their homes, but they could no longer hunt and were in need of help for their diminishing population.
they don’t get much sun in the jungle, so on a great day like this they dry out all their grains & of course laundry!
Gorukana, the nature resort I stayed at gives 100% of their profits to VGKK, a non-profit committed to development of aboriginal people and conservation of diversity in BR Hills. There are 5 clans and about 300 people in each clan.
The Tribals still do the same work they did before- only now products are sold and they make a profit. Some examples are silk weaving, making honey, mid-wives getting properly trained to work in the new hospital (which is free for all tribals), or even collecting tumeric. They have built school for the kids who are far away to stay overnight at, and send an ambulance for people that are too far from the hospital.
The school above, and below the hut that started it all with a doctor who stayed and started treating them, eventually starting VGKK.
Tamarand above, and honey making below.. further down is the silk
Some Tribals that finish school at the NGO go on to University and a couple even got their PhD’s. The older generation were slower to come around, but all agree education is important. They do have some drop outs who go to work in the fields, but it’s a small number.
At Gorukana, we saw Tribal dances, which were re-enactments of a few fun tribal moments. They did a really cool dramatic dance that honors Parvati when she defeated the monster of Mysore which they do during Dashara. I’ll tell you this story later!
During festival time, the 5 clans come together and the men dance for the women. The women can throw stones at the man they like most, until finally the man will come ask her to marry him and they run away. When they come back the next day, the man pays 12 rupees and some change, which is because of this story:
Lord Biligiri Ranga (B R where the name BR Hills comes from, meaning in Kannda white hill) came to this place and saw Kusumaledevi’s beauty and wanted to marry her. She was a tribal. They ran off and after 8 days came back to seek approval. The father was angry so Ranga tried to pay with gold and diamonds which the father rejected. The mother scooped up the old coins though (12.25 in worth) and ever since they pay this amount for marriage!
We took a walk through a Tribal Hamlet and I had lots of photos to share. Had this been 10 years ago, they would have all hid in their homes but now they are becoming less shy. Deep down, I had worries that I was invading their space. I know it’s tricky visiting tribals anywhere in the world, but the NGO explained their view & it did seem that the tribals had been in need of help.
As I said, I was concerned that they might not need the NGO and were fine in the forest on their own, or that maybe we were taking advantage of them by touring their hamlet- but other than having guides explain the need of the NGO, a documentary explained how with the place becoming a National Park and their already small numbers dwindling, the only way to keep the Soliga around was to teach them how to make actual money since they couldn’t live off the land completely anymore. The Soliga tribe was at risk of being extinct.
Voluntourism helps keep VGKK making money to support the sustainable lifestyle of the Soliga Tribals. Luckily, now their numbers are growing!
I was on this guide in part with goMowgli, but all opinions are my own.
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the only experience I have had of tribal life is when the parish priest took me and my friend to palghar close to Mumbai..about 20 years ago to celebrate Christmas..i remember staying at the priest’ residence and they had a mass for tribals..and then at night the tribals were probably partying or finding their mates..,and they were banging on our door,and I was scared they would break it open.. recently I also had a tribal Christian lady domnika from chattisgarh in north india.. as my parttime househelp for two years..
I liked the information you gave about gorukana the nature resort that gives 100 percent of its profits to the tribals..
Oh wow what an interesting experience!! Thank you for sharing.
This is a great article. I have not even heard of this tribe so, it is very informative. Actually, the Govt. does damage the livelihood of many tribals to safeguard forests and natural reserves, but then are clueless on how to resettle them. The whole Naxalite issue in central India is due to this. Kudos to such NGOs to take up their causes and improve their livelihood. There is a tribe in Andaman & Nicobar islands called the Jarawa tribe. It is a criminal offence (there is a law against it) to contact or visit this tribe. You probably will end up in jail if you go there and get their pictures as you have done with the Soliga tribes. :-) BTW, great pics.
thanks for all that info, very nice!
Interesting to know about Soliga tribe. Waiting for more!
Thanks!! I have on more post coming with more about them and their home, BR Hills
It sounds like the NGO’s presence is a positive one. Reading about situations like this is always conflicting for me. On the one hand I’m all about protecting the animals and land. But on the other hand it’s tough to hear how much this impacts the livelihood of the Soliga people who depend on these things to survive. So I think it’s great the NGO has helped to teach the people trades to help them adjust to a new way of life.
It’s always important to understand how an NGO works before we (as bloggers) share b/c we want ppl to donate to a good NGO. too much responsibility ;)
Tribal life always fascinates me. I love the simplicity and the respect for tradition they have. It will be interesting what happens with the current generation though – they all seem to be going off to university and getting Nikes. My recent trip to the Amazon was the same. Of course you can’t blame them, but it’s sad to think their old way of life is slowly disappearing. I suppose we just need to embrace change.
So true! And that’s a good point that they can do what they want and if that’s get Nike’s it’s none of our business to try and keep them the “way they were”
You educate me yet again! I didn’t even know this place or tribe existed! Interesting! Thank you for sharing :)
it is great artical ,is there any tribe peoples now also in karnataka?
Thank you for your information about soligas i have interested research that place
Great read. Is it true these people co exist with Tigers peacefully?