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The Yerukula An Ethnographic Study: A Rare Book

The Yerukula An Ethnographic Study: A Rare Book
Item Code: NAB979
Author: Jakka Parthasarathy
Publisher: Anthropological Survey of India, Kolktata
Edition: 1988
Pages: 112
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.8 inch X 6.5 inch
weight of the book: 380 gms

This ethnographic study of the Yerukula aims at delineating their adaptive strategy for subsistence. The Yerukula, one of the major scheduled tribes of Andhra Pradesh inhabits more or less a compact area in the plains spread over A the districts of Guntur, Anantapur, Krishna, Kurnool, Nellore and some parts of Cuddapah and Chittoor districts.

The tribal population of Andhra Pradesh according to 1971 census is 1,657,657 which works out to 3.81 per cent of the total population of Andhra Pradesh. The total population of the Yerukula community as per the 1971 census figures is 1,62,560 and it forms 0.31 per cent of the total population of Andhra Pradesh and 9.8 per cent of the total scheduled tribal population of the state.

The Yerukula are known by several names like Korcha, Korava, Kaikadi etc. They were once a nomadic population and like many other nomadic groups they are also gradually settling drown. The Yerukula are experts in making baskets and ropes, but they engage themselves in several other occupations like fortune-telling, trade etc., The common impression is that the Yeru-kula are congenial theives and are kept under the strict vigilance of the police. They speak a dialect called ‘Yerka1i basha’, which appears to be a mixture of several languages. They are divided into three endogamous groups namely, Bidari Yerukula, Dabba Yerukula and Kunchi Yerukula on the basis of their traditional occupations.

Overview of literature on the Yerukula

In his book ‘Castes and tribes of Southern India’, Thurston (1909) vividly described about the Yerukula’s origin, legends, customs etc., under the name of ‘Korava’. Ramachandra Sastri in his Telugu book ‘Neramulu Cheyu Jatula Charitramulu’ (1918) described the criminal behaviour of different types of Yerukulas living in and around Madras presidency region. Ramesan (1960) in his article ‘A tribe in Andhra’, explained the nature of the nomadic movement of the Yerukula and the pattern of their settlement. Their mode of no-madism with reference to other nomadic population is described by Misra (1969). Simhadri (1974) in his book ‘Excrimina1 tribes of India’, described the intitu-tional factors and criminality among the Yerukula. A detailed account of their customary laws and their political organization has been discussed by Parthasarathy (1978).

The problem

The above studies, however, were confined to certain aspects of social organization of the tribe in the context of ethnography. But the present ethno- graphic study, which is holistic, also aims at studying the Yerukula community with special reference to their adaptive strategy for subsistence.

Theorists who advocated an ecological point of view usually observe environmental circumstances in combination with a community’s technology and even determining forms of social organ’sation, As Kroeber (1969 : 350) rightly opines "that on the one hand culture can be understood primarily only in terms of cultural factors, but that on the other hand no culture is wholly intelligible without reference to the non•cultura1 or so called environmental factors with which it is in relation and which condition it". In Levine’s (1975: 213) words, "Culture is composed of the energy systems of a population and its methods of exploiting them, of the organization of social, political and economic relations of language, customs, beliefs, rules and arts—of every thing that is learned from other people or their works". This view emphasizes the functional importance of culture as an adaptive mechanism, as a generic term for the sum total of the ways by which a society organizes its relations to its environment and the way it is internally organized. Thus culture can be conceptualized as a strategy of adaptation.

Cohen (1968 : 3) defines a population’s adaptation as its relationship to its habitat and states that "the adaptation of man is accomplished by cultural means, through the harnessing of new sources of energy for productive ends and through the organization of social relation that make it possible to use these energy systems effectively" (P. 4). And elsewhere (1968: 4) he says that “adaptation in man is the process by which he makes effective use for productive ends of the energy potential in his habitat". Thus adaptation refers to a particular aspect of ecological relationships. That is, how people in a particular environment characteristically extract and use the resources of that environment for their subsistence. Thus the present study also seeks to explain and to understand the l`fe of the Yerukula in two different locations in terms of environment and adaptation. The first methodological problem concerns the choice of the field. For the purpose of this study I have selected the State of Andhra Pradesh as the majority of the Yerukulas inhabit the state. According to the information given by the Census of India 1971, Andhra Pradesh, the concentration of the Yerukula is maximum in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh and they are also found in good numbers in Krishna and Anantapur districts. As the Yerukula population is large in Guntur district, in the beginning I wanted to select Guntur district, but through different sources I come to know that the Yerukula of Guntur and Krishna districts were settled by the Salvation Army Officials before Independence for supervision and rehabilitation. The Salvation Army is a religious body organized throughout the world. It was founded by William Booth in London, England, in the year 1861. Booth believed in Jesus Christ and God; yet believed that praying to God without proper food, shelter and clothing were meaningless. He thought we should change first the physical conditions and then aspire for salvation. His views were in accordance with the Indian saying that ‘Manava seve Madhava seva’ (Service to people is service to God). With the principles of soup, soalp and salvation, William Booth started the Salvation Army to work among the underprivileged. The symbol of the Salvation Army is "Blood and Fires" which meant blood of Jesus Christ and fire of the holy spirit. The main objective of the Salvation Army is described by Robert Sandal : "It is to relieve those miseries from which men suffer so much in this life, which seriously hinder their chance of Heaven hereafter, and refosms that conduct from which the bulk of this misery proceeds." Frederick Booth—Tucker, son-in-law of William Booth, born in India to British parents on March 21, 1853, started the Salvation Army in India, Under the Act of 1911, the Government of India thought to; put the wandering criminal groups in settlements and to rehabilitate them. The Salvation Army was found to be a good agency to be put in charge of the settlements. Some experiments were conducted on Doms, a tribe in North India. In the year 1911 the Salvation Army Officials who were operating in northern parts of India accepted the request of Madras Government to rehabilitate the criminals of Andhra areas. The Yerukula of Guntur and Krishna districts were handed over to them for supervision and rehabilitation. The Salvation Army was vested with full powers—1ike administration, political etc., and were allowed to preach Christianity and mend the criminal habits of these tribals. Apart from other activities the Salvation Army started educational institutions for them and also started giving them intensive religious preachings.

Keeping the above process of historical activity, finally I thought it better to avoid the Yerukula of Guntur and Krishna districts, who were in- fluenced by the Salvation Army, and hence I decided to study the Yerukula in Anantapur district, which is considered as the home ct the Yerukula. Anantapur district is the western most of the Ceded districts. In the year 1977 when I was involved in a National Project "Tribal Customary Law”, I studied the tribe Yerukula in the district of Anantapur and at that time I had covered Gooty and Anantapur taluks. But now in the year 1979 after consulting with the then District Collector Shri T. K. Diwan, I selected the taluks of Kadiri and Dharmavaram in Anantapur district for studying two Yerukula villages.

Selection of the villages

When I was in Anantapur town, district headquarters, I contacted the Office of the District Tribal Welfare and enquired as to the existing position of the Tribal settlements in general and the Yerukulas in particular in Kadiri and Dharmavaram taluks. Then I proceeded to Kadiri town, Taluk head- quarters and contacted Kadiri East Block Development Officer, Sri G. Shesha- giri Rao. Through his help, I made a quick reconnoitre tour of many Yerukula settlements and finally, Epilapalli, an interior village located amidst huge hills was selected as an interior village for this study. In Epilapalli village only the Bidari Yerukula inhabit. For studying the Yerukula in a plain and an exposed village, I selected ‘Ananthasagaram’ village in Dharmavaram taluk.

In Ananthasagaram village, the Yerukula traditional settlement is situated along with the other inhabitants of different castes. This village is encircled by isolated peaks and rocky clusters which is characteristic of the Deccan plateau. Since our interest was to understand how people in a particular environment characteristically extract and use the resources of that environment, Epilapalli and Ananthasagaram villages with sizeable Yerukula population at one spot I and amidst the village multi-caste respectively provided a reasonable settings for the investigation.

Field methodology

According to Andre Beteille "If we wish to investigate the social life of a particular set of people we may adopt either the method of social surveys or the method of intensive fieldwork. Each method has certain advantages. In the first case we can collect material in a standardized form, and eliminate or at least largely reduce the investigator’s bias, In the second case we are able to get a picture of the community in the round, so to say, and to probe into those aspects of its life whose relevance could not be anticipated in advance. Which method one chooses to emphasize will depend on the nature of the enquiry, and the two methods can of course be used in combination" (1975 : 99). The tradition of field work has strongly influenced the content and course of Social Anthropology.

My emphasis has been mostly on qualitative data in the two villages which are selected for intensive study. I depended mainly on observation, particularly participant observation, various types of interviews and collection of case histories, genealogies and also historical information.

I carried out altogether six month’s fieldwork in two phases of tours. The first phase of fieldwork was for three months during November—January of 1979-1980. The second phase of field work lasted for another three months i.e., from 25th July 1981 to 2lst October 1981.

I was first introduced to the Yerukula of Epilapalli village by the village Development Officer of Block Development Office, Kadiri East. In the first phase of field work I was convinced that the way in which I was introduced to the people of Epilapalli, an interior Yerukula village was wrong. I was introduced as one that had come to study the village people while the Yerukula thought that there was nothing to be studied about them and this made the Yerukula of Epilapalli to misunderstand my intentions. They took me to be a C. I. D or a man in disguise from the Police department. So whenever I approached them they maintained a distance. They were not willing to tell anything to me. I was completely left alone. Then immediately I rushed to the elderly and most respected person of the Bidari Yerukula who is living at Kondakamarla, 34 kms. to Kadiri town and he introduced me to the Yerukula headmen of Ep’lapalli village. Slowly I tried my best to come closer to all Yerukulas. I met some school going Yedukula students also and it created a further rapport with the Yerukula as the Yerukula, specially the aged people, have a favourable image about their school going children. Then only I started to take the census of the village during which I was acquainted with their dress, food and the ways of hospitality. Thus a good impression was created in the minds of the local Yerukulas about me. While I visited Epilapalli again during the IInd phase of fieldwork I felt that I came to enjoy the cultural life in Epllapalli. Thus I completed my fieldwork by following basically Participant observation for collecting the relevant data in both the Yerukula villages. At the same time regarding the information on food consumption, income and expenditure, through participant abservation I focused my interest on a set of selected families in a village and observed continuously for seven days, rather than on an analysis of the total configuration of the village community.

Language and dialect

Proper communication is also an essential factor and here lies the importance of knowing the language of the field area. Yerukulas have a separate dialect. They do not have any written script. Formal education is however in Telugu. Their dialect, known as Yérukula basha, is mostly derived from Tamil and Kannada. But the Yerukula very often speak the regional language i.e., Telugu as much as they use Yerukula basha. Though Telugu is my mother tongue I slowly picked up the dilect of the Yerukulas. Thus communication with the people of Epilapalli was easy and natural, and helped me to be accepted by the Yerukula.

Census data

Census details, in two selected villages were collected on name, age, relation with head of the family, sex, marital status, education, occupation etc., Land particulars were collected through village Karanam (Accountant). They were, however, cross checked with the land holders. The other field technique used is collection of genealogies, to get information on kinship and marriage networks.


1 Introduction1
2The Yerukula 7
3 Physical setting and demography 14
4 Material culture 28
5 The Yerukula Tribal Economy 41
6 Customary law : The marriage 54
7 Family kinship67
8 Religious life of the Yerukula 78
9 Conclusion 88
Bibliography and references 96

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