Portrait of Tribal Life in Irula Folklore
THE folklore is a vital factor in a living culture and it very often throws light on the complex traditions and social beliefs of a people. Sociologists consider it as a reliable index to the background of groups and communities. As Roy Chaudury puts it'.
The folk tales through phantasies, make-beliefs and complacent understanding help the primitive man to satisfy his curiosity about the mysteries of the world and particularly the very many inexplicable phenomena of nature around him. We have an element ofprimiti-veness in our mind in spite of the advancement of science around us.1
Irulas belong to one of the aboriginal tribes sporadically settled in various districts of Tamil Nadu. They are also living te the adjoining states of Kerala and Karnataka, but their kindred is unknown. The present study is confined to the Irulas inhabiting the lower jungle slopes of Nilgiri hills of the Western Ghats, who d ffer from Irulas elsewhere in their socio-economic and cultural background. The Nilgiri Irulas are called Malana:du Irulas or Malade^a Irulas. The eastern and southern slopes of the Nilgiris are their native territory. The present Malana:du Irula population is roughly about 4500. Most of them are plantation labourers. They have some land on which they cultivate fruits and millets or cereals. They are used to collecting wild roots for their food. In olden days honey-collecting, hunting and primitive agriculture were their occupations. White a majority of them are illiterate they know Tamil and Badaga (language of another Nilgiri tribe) and speak Irula only among themselves. They are generally reluctant to speak their language before non-Irulas. Their hobbies arc music, vocal and instrumental, dance and folk tales. A study of the folklore reveals interesting aspects of their social set up, group consciousness, social realities and myths. Besides songs, music and dance, the Irula tradition is rich in stories, proverbs and riddles.