Toda tribes live in the highest altitude of the Nilgiris mountains in South India, mainly in the surroundings of Udhagamanalam (Ooty) and Kunda taluks. They are part of the pastoral tribes and worship buffalos. The ‘hamlets’ of Todas comprise only a few houses. Todas normally live in half barrel houses. Nowadays there are only ca. 1200 Todas. They way on how they wear the black-red-white colored scarfs and the particular house buildings as well as the fair skin are indicators that their origins might go back to the old Romans.
When we arrive in the Toda village a few women are expecting us. They show us their embroidered scarfs and bags and explain some details about their culture.
Toda women are experts in an indigenous embroidery
Without variation in gender or age Todas wear the embroidered shawl (putkuli) which form a tribal and very ‘visible’ identity.
The sacred stone
Besides a few houses they have a very interesting temple and sacred stones: “When we celebrate weddings the future husband has to demonstrate his strength. He has to lift in front of all one of our sacred stones. We need to make sure that. Todas are strong,” she says and smiles.
After a short walk around we come back to the house where we met the woman first. Now also two men are there. They invite us to enter the house. It’s a small house, but with two levels: “We live here with ten family members”, they explain. It’s very clean inside. In one bed room there is a small TV. They are very friendly and tell me that they like soccer so much. And name German soccer players…
When we sit down and drink tea they take two photo album and start to explain who is who, how they live and show us wedding pictures where they all dress with their typical embroidered scarfs. Special formats and patterns for special roles in that special celebration day. Some pages later they pose like Indian Bollywood stars. Modern, young people.
I have met several tribal people over the last five years and one thing is obvious in all of them: understanding and keeping the own identity and values and combining it with the requirements and influences from outside is a huge challenge. How to combine modern life and traditions, how to integrate digitalization, what about the artificial (and useful) protection of tribal places that more and more is separated from the rest of the world?
They tell us about the buffaloes and their daily life. Times pass quickly. But at the end the conversations have become very intense and I’m sure I will come back to this village. Todas are amazing, somehow they reflect remote and mysterious times – while being highly influenced by things that have never been part of their culture. At the same time they are very open and friendly. How would it be to stay and live with them for some weeks, I ask myself when we leave. Would I discover real ancient ways of life? Could I understand more about identities crisis and values?
On our way through Ooty we stop also at the Tribal museum
The Tribal Museum is home to rare artifacts and photographs of tribal groups of Tamil Nadu and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It also displays houses belonging to local tribes.
Without doubt: if you are in Ooty you should go and see. There is so much too learn: a lot of information about more than 30 different tribes, tribal paintings, and their way of living.