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This article is an excerpt from
Castes and Tribes of Southern India
By Edgar Thurston, C.I.E.,
Superintendent, Madras Government Museum; Correspondant
Étranger, Société d’Anthropologie de Paris; Socio
Corrispondante, Societa,Romana di Anthropologia.
Assisted by K. Rangachari, M.A.,
of the Madras Government Museum.

Government Press, Madras

The Chenchus or Chentsus are a Telugu-speaking jungle tribe inhabiting the hills of the Kurnool and Nellore districts. In a letter addressed to the Bengal Asiatic Society,18 transmitting vocabularies of various tribes inhabiting Vizagapatam, by Mr. Newill, it is stated that “the Chenchu tribe, whose language is almost entirely corrupt Hindi and Urdu with a few exceptions from Bengāli, affords one more example to the many forthcoming of an uncultured aboriginal race having abandoned their own tongue.” The compiler of the Kurnool Manual (1885) remarks that Mr. Newill’s vocabulary “seems to belong to the dialect spoken by Lambādis, who sometimes wander about the hills, and it is not unlikely that he was misled as to the character of the persons from whom his list was taken.” As examples of the words given by Mr. Newill, the following may be quoted:— • Bone, had.

• Cat, billeyi.

• Ear, kān.

• Elephant, hate.

• Tiger, bāg. • One, yek.

• Ten, das.

• Far, dūr.

• Drink, pi.

• Sweet, mithā. It is probable that Mr. Newill confused the Chenchus with the Bonthuk Savaras (q.v.) who speak corrupt Oriya, and are called Chenchu vāndlu, and, like the Chenchus, believe that the god Narasimha of Ahōbilam married a girl belonging to their tribe. As a further example of the confusion concerning the Chenchus, I may quote the remarks of Buchanan19 about the Irulas, who are a Tamil-speaking jungle tribe: “In this hilly tract there is a race of men called by the other natives Cad Eriligaru, but who call themselves Cat Chensu. The language of the Chensu is a dialect of the Tamil, with occasionally a few Karnata or Telinga words intermixed, but their accent is so different from that of Madras that my servants did not at first understand what they said. Their original country, they say, is the Animalaya forest below the ghāts, which is confirmed by their dialect.” In the Census Report, 1901, Chenchu is said to be the name by which Irulas of North Arcot and the Mysore plateau are called sometimes, and, in the Census Report, 1891, Chenchu is given as a sub-division of the Yānādis. There can be little doubt that the Chenchus and Yānādis are descended from the same original stock. Mackenzie, in the local records collected by him, speaks of the Chenchus as being called Yānādi Chenchus. The Chenchus themselves at the present day say that they and the Yānādis are one and the same, and that the tribes intermarry.

In Scott’s ‘Ferishta,’ the Chenchus are described as they appeared before Prince Muhammad Masúm, a son of Aurangzib, who passed through the Kurnool district in 1694, as “exceedingly black, with long hair, and on their heads wore caps made of the leaves of trees. Each man had with him unbarbed arrows and a bow for hunting. They molest no one, and live in caverns or under the shady branches of trees. The prince presented some of them with gold and silver, but they did not seem to put any value on either, being quite unconcerned at receiving it. Upon the firing of a gun, they darted up the mountains with a surprising swiftness uncommon to man. In Taylor’s ‘Catalogue raisonné of Oriental Manuscripts,’ the Chenchus are described as people who “live to the westward of Ahōbalam, Srisailam, and other places, in the woods or wilds, and go about, constantly carrying in their hands bows and arrows. They clothe themselves with leaves, and live on the sago or rice of the bamboo. They rob travellers, killing them if they oppose.

This people afflict every living creature (kill for food is supposed to be meant).” It is noted in the Kurnool Manual that in former times the Chenchu headman used to “dispose of murder cases, the murderer, on proof of guilt, being put to death with the same weapons with which the murder was committed.20 Captain Newbold, writing in 1846, says that, passing through the jungle near Pacharla, he observed a skull bleached by the sun dangling from the branch of a tamarind tree, which he was informed was that of a murderer and hill-robber put to death by the headman. In the time of the Nabobs, some of the Chenchu murderers were caught and punished, but the practice seems to have prevailed among them more or less till the introduction of the new police in 1860, since which time all cases are said to be reported to the nearest police officer.”

A Chenchu Taliāri (village watchman), who came to see me at Nandyal, was wearing a badge with his name engraved on it in Telugu, which had been presented to him by Government in recognition of his shooting with a double-barrelled gun two Donga Oddes who had robbed a village. Another aged Taliāri had a silver bangle bearing a Telugu inscription, which had been given to him in acknowledgment of his capturing a murderer who was wanted by the police, and came to his hut. The casual visitor explained that he was on his way to Hyderabad, but the Chenchu, noticing blood on his clothes, tied him to a post, and gave information that he had secured him. The same man had also received presents for reporting cases of illicit distillation under the Abkāri Act.


In recent accounts of the Chenchus of the Nallamalai hills by a forest officer, it is noted that pilgrims, on their way to the Srisailam temple, “are exploited at every turn, the Chentzu being seen in his true colours at this period, and, being among the most active agents in the exactions, but not being by any means the only plunderer. In return for the protection, the Chentzu levies a toll per head, and as much more as he can extort. We had to interfere with the perquisites of one drugged specimen of this race, who drew a knife on a peon (orderly), and had to be sent down under escort.... It is commonly supposed that the Chentzus are a semi-wild, innocent, inoffensive hill tribe, living on roots, honey, wild fruits, and game. If this was so, we should have no difficulty in controlling them. They are actually a semi-wild, lazy, drinking set of brigands. They levy blackmail from every village along the foot of the hills, and, if any ryot (cultivator) refuses to pay up, his crop silently disappears on some moonless night. They levy blackmail from every pilgrim to the shrines in the hills. They levy blackmail from the graziers in the hills. They borrow money from Kōmatis and Buniahs (merchants and money-lenders), and repay it in kind—stolen timber, minor forest produce, etc. They are constantly in debt to the Kōmatis, and are practically their slaves as regards the supply of timber and other forest produce. They think nothing of felling a tree in order to collect its fruits, and they fire miles of forest in order to be able to collect with ease certain minor produce, or to trace game. They poison the streams throughout the hills, and in short do exactly as they please throughout the length and breadth of the Nallamalais.” The Conservator of Forests expressed his belief that this picture was not overdrawn, and added that the Chenchus are “a danger to the forest in many ways, and I have always thought it a pity that they were given some of the rights at settlement, which stand against their names. These rights were— • (1) Rights of way, and to carry torches.

• • (2) Rights to draw and drink water from, wash or bathe in all streams, springs, wells and pools.

• • (3) Rights to forest produce for home use.

• • (4) Rights to fish and shoot.

• • (5) Rights to graze a limited number of cattle, sheep and goats.

• • (6) Rights to collect for sale or barter certain minor produce.

In connection with right (3), the District Forest Officer suggested that “the quantity to be taken annually must be limited, especially in the case of wood, bamboos, fibre, firewood and honey. The quality of the wood and of other forest produce should be defined. Chenchus do not require teak or ebony beams or yegi (Pterocarpus Marsupium) spokes and felloes for domestic purposes; but, as the right now stands, they can fell whatever they like, and, though we may know it is for sale to merchants, the Chenchus have only to say it is for domestic use, and they cannot be punished. The wood should be limited to poles and smaller pieces of third-class and unclassified trees.” In 1898 the Governor in Council made the following rules for regulating the exercise of the rights of the Chenchus living in the reserved forests on the Nallamalais:—

1. The carrying of torches, and the lighting of fires in fire-protected blocks during the fire season are prohibited.

2. There shall be no right to wash or bathe in such springs, wells, pools or portions of streams as are especially set apart for drinking purposes by the District Forest Officer.

3. No more than the quantity which the Collector may consider to be actually required for domestic use shall be removed in the exercise of the right to take wood, bamboos, fibre, thatching grass, firewood, roots, fruits, honey and other forest produce. The term “other forest produce” shall be taken to mean other minor forest produce, not including tusks and horns. No wood other than poles and smaller pieces of third class and unclassified trees shall be removed.

4. No gudem (Chenchu village) shall, without the special permission of the Collector, be allowed to keep a larger number of guns than that for which licenses had been taken out at the time of settlement. Every gun covered by a license shall be stamped with a distinctive mark or number. The use of poison and explosives in water, and the setting of cruives or fixed engines, or snares for the capture or destruction of fish, are strictly prohibited.

5. For purposes of re-generation, a portion of the area set apart for the grazing of cattle, not exceeding one-fifth, may be closed to grazing at any time, and for such length of time as the District Forest Officer deems fit.

6. The right of pre-emption of all minor forest produce collected by the Chenchus for sale or barter shall be reserved to the Forest department. The exercise of the right of collecting wood and other produce for domestic use, and of collecting minor produce for sale or barter, shall be confined to natural growth, and shall not include forest produce which is the result of special plantation or protection on the part of the Forest department.

In connection with a scheme for dealing with the minor forest produce in the Nallamalais, the Conservator of Forests wrote as follows in 1905. “I believe that it is generally recognised that it is imperative to obtain the good-will of the Chenchus even at a considerable loss, both from a political and from a forest point of view; the latter being that, if we do not do so, the whole of the Nallamalai forests will, at a not very remote date, be utterly destroyed by fire.

The Chenchus, being a most abnormal type of men, must be treated in an abnormal way; and the proposals are based, therefore, on the fundamental principle of allowing the two District Forest Officers a very free hand in dealing with these people. What is mainly asked for is to make an experiment, of endeavouring to get the Chenchus to collect minor produce for the department, the District Forest Officers being allowed to fix the remuneration as they like, in money or barter, as they may from time to time find on the spot to be best.” In commenting on the scheme, the Board of Revenue stated that “action on the lines proposed is justified by the present state of the Nallamalais. These valuable forests certainly stand in danger of rapid destruction by fire, and, according to the local officers, the Chenchus are almost entirely responsible.

The department has at present no means of bringing influence to bear on the Chenchus, or securing their assistance in putting out fires. Repressive measures will be worse than useless, as the Chenchus will merely hide themselves, and do more damage than ever. The only way of getting into touch with them is to enforce the right of pre-emption in the matter of minor produce reserved to Government at the time of forest settlement, and by dealing with them in a just and generous way to secure their confidence. If this is achieved, the department may hope to secure their co-operation and valuable assistance in preventing jungle fires. The department can certainly afford to sell at a profit, and at the same time give the Chenchus better prices than the sowcars (money-lenders), who are said invariably to cheat them. The Board believes that the ultimate loss from advances will not be serious, as advances will ordinarily be small in amount, except in cases where they may be required by Chenchus to pay off sowcars. It will be well, therefore, if the Collector and the District Forest Officers will ascertain as soon as possible how much the Chenchus are indebted to the sowcars, as it will probably be necessary for the success of the scheme to liquidate these debts.”

From a note on the Chenchus of the Nallamalai hills, I gather that “a striking contrast is afforded between those who inhabit the belt of forest stretching from Venkatapuram to Bairnuti, and those who dwell in the jungle on the skirts of the great trunk road, which formed the chief means of communication between the principal towns until the Southern Mahratta railway diverted traffic into another channel. In the former we behold the Chenchu semi-civilised and clothed. He possesses flocks and herds, smiling fields and even gardens, and evinces an aptitude for barter. The superiority of the Bairnuti Chenchu has been brought about by the influence, example, labours, and generosity of a single Englishman, who built a substantial stone dwelling in the depths of the great Bairnuti forest. There also he erected indigo vats, and planted indigo, and a grove of choice mango grafts, orange and lime trees. He bought buffaloes, and by careful selection and breeding evolved a magnificent type. These buffaloes have now become almost entirely fruit-eaters, and are engaged in seeking for and devouring the forest fruits, which—particularly the mowhra and forest fig—litter the ground in vast quantities. This habit of fruit-eating imparts to their milk a peculiarly rich nutty flavour, and the cream is of abnormally rich quality. The Chenchus manufacture this into ghee (clarified butter), which they turn to profitable account. The brethren of the Bairnuti Chenchus dwelling in the forest of Pacherla present very different conditions of life. They accentuate their nakedness by a narrow bark thread bound round the waist, into which are thrust their arrows and knife. This is their full dress.

The hair, they aver, is the great and natural covering of mankind. Why, therefore, violate the ordinary laws of nature by inventing supererogatory clothing? A missionary sportsman was fairly non-plussed by these arguments, particularly when his interlocutors pointed to a celebrated pass or gorge, through which the amorous Kristna is averred to have pursued and captured a fascinating Chenchu damsel. ‘You see,’ said the Chenchu logician, ‘the beauty of her form was so manifest in its rude simplicity that even the god could not resist it.’ En passant it may be noted that, when a Chenchu wishes to express superlative admiration of a belle, he compares her to a monkey. In his eyes, the supremest beauty of femininity is agility. The girl who can shin up a lofty tree, and bring him down fruit to eat is the acme of feminine perfection. ‘Ah, my sweet monkey girl,’ said a demoralised Chenchu, who was too idle to climb up a tree himself, ‘she has been climbing trees all day, and throwing me fruit. There is not a man in the forest who can climb like my monkey girl.’ The Chenchus are wisely employed by the authorities as road-police or Taliāris, to prevent highway dacoities. This is an astute piece of diplomacy.

The Chenchus themselves are the only dacoits thereabouts, and the salary paid them as road-police is virtually blackmail to induce them to guarantee the freedom of the forest highways. The Chenchu barters the produce of the forests in which he lives, namely, honey and wax, deer horns and hides, tamarinds, wood apples (Feronia elephantum), and mowhra (Bassia latifolia) fruit and flowers, and realises a very considerable income from these sources. He reaps annually a rich harvest of hides and horns. The sāmbur (Cervus unicolor) and spotted deer (Cervus axis) shed their horns at certain seasons. These horns are hidden in the rank luxuriant grass.

But, when the heat of the dry weather has withered it, the Chenchu applies fire to it by rubbing two dried sticks together, and, walking in the wake of the flames, picks up the horns disclosed to view by the reduction of the vegetation to ashes. He supplements this method with his bow and rifle, and by the latter means alone obtains his hides. The Chenchu is every bit as bad a shot as the average aboriginal. He rarely stalks, but, when he does, he makes up by his skill in woodcraft for his inexpertness with his gun. He understands the importance of not giving the deer a slant of his wind, and, if they catch a glimpse of him, he will stand motionless and black as the tree trunks around.

The ambush by the salt-lick or water-hole, however, is his favourite method of sport. Here, fortified with a supply of the pungent-smelling liquor which he illicitly distils from the mowhra flower he will lie night and day ruthlessly murdering sāmbur, spotted deer, nilgai (Boselaphus tràgocamelus); four-horned antelope (Tetracerus quadricornis). Tigers often stalk down, and drink and roll in the pool, but the Chenchu dares not draw a bead on him. Perhaps the indifference of his shooting, of which he is conscious, deters him.” When in danger from tigers or leopards, the Chenchus climb a tree, and shout. The Chenchus recognise two distinct varieties of leopards called chirra puli and chirta puli, concerning which Blanford writes as follows. “Most of the sportsmen who have hunted in Central India, and many native shikāris (sportsmen) distinguish two forms, and in parts of the country there is some appearance of two races—a larger form that inhabits the hills and forests, and a smaller form commonly occurring in patches of grass and bushes amongst cultivated fields and gardens. The larger form is said to have a shorter tail, a longer head with an occipital crest, and clearly defined spots on a paler ground-colour. The smaller form has a comparatively longer tail, a rounder head, less clearly defined spots, and rougher fur. I cannot help suspecting that the difference is very often due to age.”

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A Chenchu who was asked by me whether they kill wild beasts replied that they are wild beasts themselves. In devouring a feast of mutton provided for those who were my guests in camp, they certainly behaved as such, gnawing at the bones and tearing off the flesh. To the Chenchus a feast, on however liberal a scale the food may be, is nothing without a copious supply of toddy, of which even infants receive a small share. In the absence of toddy, they sometimes manufacture illicit liquor from the flower-buds of the mahua (or mowhra) tree. The man who gained the prize (a coarse cotton cloth) in a shooting match with bow and arrow, with the head of a straw scarecrow as bull’s-eye, was in an advanced stage of intoxication, and used his success as an argument in favour of drink.

In a long distance shooting match, the prize was won with a carry of 144 yards, the arrow being shot high into the air. It was noted by Captain Newbold that the Chenchus are not remarkably expert as archers, to judge from the awkwardness they exhibited in dispatching an unfortunate sheep picketed for them at forty yards, which was held out to them as the prize for the best marksman. Some time ago a Chenchu, who was the bully of his settlement, beat another Chenchu and his wife. The injured man appealed to the District Forest Officer, and, explaining that he knew the law did not allow him to kill his enemy, applied for a written permit to go after him with a bow and arrow.


Some Chenchus bear on the head a cap made of wax-cloth, deer or hare skin. By the more fashionable the tufted ear or bushy tail-end of the large Indian squirrel (Sciurus Indicus) is attached by way of ornament to the string with which the hair of the head is tied into a bunch behind. Leafy garments have been replaced by white loin-cloths, and some of the women have adopted the ravikē (bodice), in imitation of the female costume in the plains. Boys, girls, and women wear bracelets made of Phœnix or palmyra palm leaves. By some pieces of stick strung on a thread, or seeds of Givotia rottleriformis, are worn as a charm to ward off various forms of pain. Some of the women are tattooed on the forehead, corners of the eyes, and arms. And I saw a few men tattooed on the shoulder as a cure for rheumatism.

The huts of which a present day gudem is composed are either in the shape of bee-hives like those of the Yānādis, or oblong with sloping roof, and situated in a grove near a pond or stream. The staple food of the Chenchus consists of cereals, supplemented by yams (Dioscorea) which are uprooted with a digging-stick tipped with iron, forest fruits, and various animals such as peacock, crow, lizard (Varanus), bear, and black monkey. They are very fond of the young flowers and buds of the mahua tree, and tamarind fruits, the acidity of which is removed by mixing with them the ashes of the bark of the same tree.

The forest products collected by the Chenchus include myrabolams, fruits of the tamarind, Semecarpus anacardiúm, Sapindus trifoliatus (soap-nut), Buchanania latifolia, Buchanania angustifolia, and Ficus glomerata; roots of Aristolochia Indica and Hemidesmus Indicus; seeds of Abrus precatorius; flowers of Bassia latifolia; horns, and honey. The Chenchus recognise two kinds of bees, large and small, and gather honey from nests in trees or rocks. It is stated in the Cuddapah Manual that “the Yenādis or Chenchus alone are able to climb miraculously into difficult and apparently inaccessible places, and over perpendicular cliffs in some places from a hundred to two hundred feet high. This they do by means of a plaited rope made of young bamboos tied together. Accidents sometimes happen by the rope giving way.

It is a nervous sight to watch them climbing up and down this frail support. From below the men look like little babies hanging midway. The rope being fastened on the top of the cliff by means of a peg driven into the ground or by a tree, the man swings suspended in the air armed with a basket and a stick. The Chenchu first burns some brushwood or grass under the hive, which is relinquished by most of the bees. This accomplished, he swings the rope, until it brings him close to the hive, which he pokes with his stick, at the same time holding out his basket to catch the pieces broken off from the hive. When the basket is full, he shakes the rope, and is drawn up (generally by his wife’s brother). The bamboo ropes are never taken away; nor are they used a second time, a fresh one being made on each occasion, and at each place. They are to be seen hanging for years, until they decay and fall down of themselves.” Like other Telugu classes, the Chenchus have exogamous septs or intipēru, of which the following are examples:—gurram (horse), arati (plantain tree), mānla (trees), tōta (garden), mēkala (goats), indla (houses), savaram (sovereign, gold coin), and gundam (pit).

Of the marriage customs the following account is given in the Kurnool Manual. “The Chenchus do not follow a uniform custom in respect to marriage ceremonies. Their marriage is performed in three ways. A man wishing to marry selects his own bride, and both retire for one night by mutual consent from the gudem. On the following morning, when they return, their parents invite their friends and relatives, and by formally investing them with new clothes, declare them duly married. To complete the ceremony, a meal is given to those assembled. The second method is as follows. A small space, circular in form, is cleaned and besmeared with cowdung. In the centre a bow and arrow tied together are fixed in the ground, and the bride and bridegroom are made to move round it, when the men assembled bless them by throwing some rice over them, and the marriage is complete.

According to the third mode, a Brāhmin is consulted by the elders of the family. An auspicious day is fixed, and a raised pial (platform) is formed, on which the bride and bridegroom being seated, a tāli (marriage badge) is tied, and rice poured over their heads. The services of the Brāhmin are engaged for three or four days, and are rewarded with a piece of new cloth and some money. This ceremony resembles that of the ryot (cultivating) class among the Hindus. It is evidently a recent Brahminical innovation. On marriage occasions generally tom-toms, if available, are beaten, and a dance takes place.” In the second form of marriage, as described to me, the bride and bridegroom sit opposite each other with four arrows stuck in the ground between them. In Mackenzie’s record it is stated that the Chenchus make the bridal pair sit with a single arrow between them, and, when there is no shadow, some elderly men and women throw rice over their heads. The importance of the arrow with the Chenchus, as with the Yānādis, is that the moment when it casts no shadow is the auspicious time for the completion of the marriage rite. The remarriage of widows is permitted, and the second husband is said to be in most cases a brother of the deceased one. As an example of the Chenchu songs, the following marriage song, sung by two men and a woman, and recorded by my phonograph, may be cited:—

The tāli was of āvaram leaves,

Oh! the lord of the Chenchus.

The bashingham was made of the leaf of a wild tree,

Oh! the lord of the Chenchus.

Wild turmeric was used for the kankanam

Oh! the lord of the Chenchus.

Wearing a garment made of the leaves of the pāru tree,

Oh! the lord of the Chenchus.

Wearing a bodice made of the leaves of the pannu tree,

Oh! the lord of the Chenchus.

Roaming over inaccessible hills,

Oh! the lord of the Chenchus.

Wandering through dense forests,

Oh! the lord of the Chenchus.

Committing acts that ought not to be done,

Oh! the lord of the Chenchus.

Ōbalēsa’s marriage was celebrated,

Oh! the lord of the Chenchus.

A four-cornered dais was made,

Oh! the lord of the Chenchus.

On the dais arrows were stuck,

Oh! the lord of the Chenchus.

Bamboo rice was used to throw on the heads of the pair,

Oh! the lord of the Chenchus.

Cocoanut cups were stuck on the points of the arrow,

Oh! the lord of the Chenchus.

The marriage was thus celebrated.

At a dance in my honour, men and women executed a series of step dances in time with a drum (thappata) resembling a big tambourine, which, at the conclusion of each dance, was passed to and fro through a blazing fire of cholum straw to bring it up to the proper pitch. An elderly hag went through a variety of gesticulations like those of a Dēva-dāsi (dancing-girl). A man dressed up in straw and fragments of mats picked up near my camp, and another disguised as a woman, with bells round his ankles, supplied the comic business.


In the Kurnool Manual it is stated that “as soon as a child is born, the umbilical cord is cut (with a knife or arrow), and the child is washed in cold or hot water, according as the season is hot or cold. On the third day, all the women of the tribe are invited, and served with betel nut. On the fourth day, an old woman gives a name to the child. The baby is generally laid in a cradle made of deer skins, and suspended from a bamboo by means of strings or dusara creepers.” The dead are carried to the burial-place in a cloth slung on a pole. The body, after it has been laid in the grave, is covered over with leafy twigs, and the grave is filled in. The spot is marked by a mound of earth and stones piled up. On the second or third day, some cooked food is offered to the soul of the deceased person, near the grave, and, after some of it has been set apart for the crows, the remainder is buried in the mound or within the grave. The same rite is repeated after the eighth day.

The Chenchus are said like the Yānādis, to worship a god called Chenchu Dēvata, to whom offerings of honey and fruits are sometimes made. They believe, as has been mentioned already, that the god Narasimha of Ahōbilam, whom they call Ōbalēsudu, carried off a beautiful Chenchu girl, named Chenchita, and married her. To prevent the occurrence of a similar fate to other females of the tribe, Chenchita ordained that they should in future be born ugly, and be devoid of personal charms. The Chenchus claim Ōbalēsudu as their brother-in-law, and, when they go to the temple for the annual festival, carry cloths as presents for the god and goddess. The legend of their origin is told as follows [43]by Captain Newbold. “Previous to the incarnation of Sri Krishna in the Dwapara Yug (the third of the great ages), the Chenchwars were shepherds of the Yerra Golla caste. Obal Iswara, the swāmi (deity) of Obalam, a celebrated hill shrine in the Nalla Mallas, having taken away and kept as a Chenchita a maid of the Yerra Golla family, begat upon her children, of whom they are descendants.” Among other minor deities, the Chenchus are said to worship Ankalamma, Potu Rāzu, Sunkalamma, Mallamma, and Guruppa.

In the absence of lucifer matches, the Chenchus make fire with flint and steel, and the slightly charred floss of the white cotton tree, Eriodendron anfractuosum, I am informed that, like the Paniyans of Malabar, they also obtain fire by friction, by means of the horizontal or sawing method, with two pieces of split bamboo. Some Chenchus still exhibit the primitive short stature and high nasal index, which are characteristic of other jungle tribes such as the Kādirs, Paniyans, and Kurumbas. But there is a very conspicuous want of uniformity in their physical characters, and many individuals are to be met with, above middle height or tall, with long narrow noses. A case is noted in the Kurnool Manual, in which a brick-maker married a Chenchu girl. And I was told of a Bōya man who had married into the tribe, and was living in a gudem. In this way is the pure type of Chenchu metamorphosed.


By the dolichocephalic type of head which has persisted, and which the Chenchus possess in common with various other jungle tribes, they are, as shown by the following table, at once differentiated from the mesaticephalic dwellers in the plains near the foot of the Nallamalais:—


The visual acuity of the Chenchus was tested with Cohn’s letter E, No. 6. For clinical purposes, the visual acuity would be represented by a fraction, of which 6 is the denominator, and the number of metres at which the position of the letter was recognised by the individual tested is the numerator, e.g., V.A. = 13m/6 = 2.16. The average distances in metres, at which the letter was recognised by the various castes and tribes examined by myself and Dr. W. H. R. Rivers, were as follows:—


In all classes, it may be noted, the average acuity was between 12 and 13 metres (13 to 14 yards), and ranged between V.A. = 2•15 and V.A. = 2•03. The maxima distances, at which the position of the letter was recognised, were:—Shōlaga, 18m; Paraiyan, 19m; Badaga and Dīkshitar Brāhman, 20m. No cases of extraordinary hyper-acuity were met with. The nine classes, or groups of classes examined, cover a wide range of degrees of civilisation from the wild jungle Chenchus, Shōlagas, and Urālis, to the cultured Brāhman. And, though the jungle man, who has to search for his food and mark the tracks and traces of wild beasts, undoubtedly possesses a specially trained keenness of vision for the exigencies of his primitive life, the figures show that, as regards ordinary visual acuity, he has no advantage over the more highly civilised classes.

There were, in 1904–05, two Board upper primary schools for the Chenchus of the Kurnool district, which were attended by seventy-three pupils, who were fed and clothed, and supplied with books and slates free of charge.


Domestication of foxes

Appala Naidu Tippana, Chenchus believe the fox ushers in fortune, April 17, 2019: The Hindu

Unique bonding- A Chenchu tribal family with the domesticated fox near Krithuvennu mandal.
From: Appala Naidu Tippana, Chenchus believe the fox ushers in fortune, April 17, 2019: The Hindu

Found in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha and Karnataka

The nomadic tribal families have succeeded in domesticating the animal

The nomadic Chenchu tribal families have succeeded in domesticating the fox. “Beginning the day by seeing the face of the fox is a ‘fortune’,” Ms. Nancharamma told The Hindu. The tribal families in the district, less than 100, eke out a livelihood in fishing in the ponds, collecting wild crab and rats.

“We offer rats, fish and wild crab to our foxes as food. They also love to accompany us to the fields,” says Nagaraju Nallapothu, another Chenchu family member.

Most of the time in a day, the fox is left freely without being tied to a pole or tree.

For the children of these families, they are the prime source of entertainment.

“We do not catch the fox to make money from it by selling for any purpose. The new-born foxes are found in pits in the breeding grounds,” he said.

In a bizarre incident reported four years ago in the Krithuvennu mandal, a non-tribal man had offered ₹5,000 for the fox skin. “On being advised by a godman, he had meditated sitting on the skin for ‘fortune for two weeks’.

However, such a belief is arguably doesn’t exist now in our area,” a youth who skinned the fox said on condition of anonymity.

An offence: official

Senior official at the Srisailam Nagarjuna Sagar Tiger Reserve Nageswara Rao said: “The conservation of fox falls under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972, according to which hunting or domesticating it is an offence and attracts punishment.

“The possession of fox even by the non-forest dwellers also is an offence.”

Participation in elections

Tendency to prioritise voting over hardships

Voting a great privilege for these Chenchus, March 25, 2019: The Hindu

Candidates shun them owing to the tough terrain, but A.P. tribals never skip voting

A section of the people in cities and towns skip voting due to their pre-occupations while some others succumb to inducements and vitiate the democratic process in Andhra Pradesh classified by the Election Commission as “expenditure sensitive”.

Despite the hardship associated with life in forests, the Chenchu tribals, who share space with big cats and other wild animals, prefer to live a contented life collecting forest produce and compulsorily take part in the polls.

Forgoing work

Kudumala Venkateswarlu, 45, from the Pothulagudem hamlet in the thick Nallamalla forests says, “We consider it a privilege to exercise our voting right even if it means walking miles together for hours unmindful of the rugged terrain.

“It is not just long hours of travel. We have to forgo our daily work and start from our gudem at the break of dawn to reach the polling booth located at Chilakacherla by noon or so,” says Dasari Guravaiah, 40, before taking part in the Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) awareness programme organised by Society for Training and Employment (STEP) Chief Executive Officer B. Ravi at the Cheruvugudem tribal hamlet.

Dr. Ravi administered a pledge to the tribals to resort to ethical voting for a better government. “Carrying our children on shoulders and food for the day, we cross rivulets en route and climb hills before reaching the polling booth as we are very particular not to miss voting,” adds 42-year-old Kudumula Kondamma before hands-on-experience on an EVM with Voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT), being introduced for the first time in the State.

Pleasant surprise

Dasari Nagamma was surprised when the VVPAT displayed the person she had voted. Except the bed-ridden, the over 100 voters from these hamlets in and around Cheruvugudem took part in the elections.

Candidates keep away from campaigning in the 80-odd sparsely-populated gudems in the district in view of the inhospitable terrain.

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