The Gujarat tribes are Bhils, Kuknas, Warlis, Naikas,
Dublas, Gamits, Dhankas and Dhodias, the largest being Bhil. Tribal
population is concentrated in the Panchmahals, Baroda, Broach, Surat,
Dangs, Bulsar, Sabarkantha, Banaskantha.
The earliest traditional rulers of Gujarat were 'Bhils' or 'Kolis', namely Asha Bhil, the founder of "Asaval Ashapalli" the oldest site of the modern city of Ahmedabad and Anahil, the local Bharavad or shepherd chief, who helped Vanaraja to found the city of the same name.
Their origin is traced by Major Erskine to the Dravidian word 'Bilu' for a bow, which is the characteristic weapon of the Bhil tribe. Bhil means bowman and they are experts in the use of bow and arrows.
There are Tadvi Bhils, Valvi Bhils, Vasava Bhils, Bhil
Garasia and Bhilala. Members of each clan live in separate Pals or Phalas.
These denote a distinct culture and mode of living.
Bhils are organized into a number of large patrilineal groups known as 'Atak', 'Odakh', 'Got' or 'Kul'. Atak is a clan consisting of a number of lineages each bearing the same name and claiming descent from the same mythical ancestor. There is a fundamental unity underlying the Indo-Aryan group visible in the Bhili group of dialects.
Bhil social customs demand large expenditures on weddings
and rituals call for liquor, so debt persists. In the forest joint,
communal life has folklore and folk song parties with men and women
dancing. The women have a secure position and enjoy economic and social
equality from childhood.
Tribal produce in Sabarkantha, Panchmahals, Surat is Jowar, Bajra, Ragi and cattle fodder while poultry is used for economic and dietary purposes. A cook or chicken is used for ceremonial and sacrificial rites for Tribals Gods and Goddesses and at Holi, Tribal Gatherings, Marriages, and Death.
Occupied with agricultural activity, they sell products at weekly Haats. They believe in free sexual activity so marriage is inevitable and bride price is heavy.
Lifestyles are largely dependent on the forest and habits and beliefs have an irresistible charm because they have maintained time honoured and fascinating traditions. Tribals have an inborn resistance to modernization. While it retards progress, it keeps them nearer to nature and removed from life's banality.
Despite inequalities of ritual and political status, Bhils and Kumbis share a common culture, heritage and pattern of life and are collectively called 'Dangi'. Both groups have a distinct lifestyle.
Adivasis catch fish with small nets called 'Achh' tied to bamboo poles; big nets are called 'Surpal'. Traps are made of bamboo sticks of a conical shape.
Earlier aboriginals used grass for garments, now replaced
with mill cloth in certain colours, symbols or patterns rooted in past
Orthodox Dangi tradition is to wear as little as possible. Some believe that Bhagwan ordained that they should wear only a 'Langota', their traditional dress. The Langot has hanging ends in front and back adding a touch of grace to this simple garment.
Earlier males wore Fentas or 'Pagris' but now they wear white 'Khadi' caps, and Langot or loincloth is replaced by dhoti and 'Dagalo' or half shirt with Kurta. Sometimes a jacket with pockets is worn but the coat is considered expensive. When going out they wear a cap or Pagri, jacket, white sheet of cloth called 'Shel' on the body.
The Sari girdle worn by women appears to be a remnant of the bark fibre girdle of ancient times. Women wear a 'Luguda' or small Sari (also spelt as saree) which is a large sheet covering the lower portion of the body from waist up to the knee, but it doesn't form a skirt.
tattoos, body painting, use of leaves, flowers feather satisfy aboriginal
artistic impulses of decoration.
Lamp black and antimony are commonly used on eyelids, eyebrows, cheeks, ears of young children and mothers with round or pear shaped spots that are decorative and ward off the evil eye. Women use kohl around eyes as a mark of beauty and also to cool the eyes and add luster. Tatooing is not just for personal decoration but has a magico-religious significance using patterns with specific names and meaning. Bhils have tattoos of 'Ambe Moidi' or a square and 'Sitan Van' or garden of Goddess Sita.
Totems are tribal ancestors of the clan as well as tutelary
spirits and protectors. Members of the same totem cannot enter into sexual
relations with each other. These restrictions on totem members are known
Wooden panels are found erected in some villages on the boundary, also on the Waghai Saputara road near Sakarpatar village. These panels are carved first, on upper part, with Sun and Moon as eternal twin witnesses; on the middle the Tiger with its raised tail and on lower part, the snake and the scorpion.
Bhils of Sabarkantha and Panchmahal celebrate Akhatrij, or the beginning of summer, with ritualistic making of simple dolls followed by a simulated marriage ceremony reminding nature to followed by a simulated marriage ceremony reminding nature to perform its function of fructification, while boys enact ploughing.
Hindu festivals like Holi, Dussera and Diwali are celebrated. Mahadeo is supreme creator of life and universe. 'Bhairav' or 'Bheron' is a powerful deity. Bhils believe that the soul returns after death to earth to fulfill unsatisfied desires.
simple folk enjoy festivals whole-heartedly. Adivasis and Hindus have
lived together for over 3,000 years so the symbiosis encourages respect of
culture and traditions of each community.
At Holi they light a bonfire and worship the goddess. Villagers bring 'Kesuda' and mango spring flowers and grains signifying new life. The young form liaisons leading into marriages. When the fire is lit loud cries of Holimata rend the air. Holi is the chief festival of Bhils and Kuknas.
"Nandarvo" is of tribal origin and is a mid monsoon festival of new grass sprouts. 'Dudh Pak' and wheat 'Roti' is distributed. Rice is cooked in an earthen pot. When ready it is checked to see which corner is unboiled and which is cooked. The former denotes famine in its direction and the latter prosperity, according to popular belief. It is also a time for marriage arrangements.
"Divaso" in end July is held among Bhils when young unmarried girls celebrate by performing mock marriages of dolls on a large scale.
Diwali or festival of lights is held at the end of the agricultural season. Tribes in Gujarat have adopted Hindu festivals as part of village life. These offer social solidarity and opportunities for selection of brides and grooms.