The Anamalais, known worldwide and considered one of major biodiversity hotspots is also rich in its anthropological diversity with six tribes living in 36 settlements all over its boundaries. Thus, ATR can also be called the anthropological reserve of the state of Tamil Nadu. The indigenous groups living here are the Kaadars, Malasars, Malaimalasars, Pulaiyars, Muduvars and the Eravalars. Of these, the Eravalars constitute just a small minority and are restricted to the foothills.

The other hill tribes in contrast are spread out in different settlements over one or more ranges of the sanctuary. Each of these tribes is headed by a moopan who is generally the oldest member in the settlement. I haven't been able to meet all the tribes due to various constraints on the work-front but I did get to spend some time at two places, Kodandhur [Pulaiyar] and Kumaatti [Malaimalasar].

With the changes in the priorities of forest management and modifications brought into their working, the avenues of avocation for the tribals in the forestry sector has really shrunk in the last 10 years or so. Therefore, their forest dependant lifestyle and pattern of living are also undergoing shifts in recent times. Since their focus is slowly changing to agriculture, the tribal settlements within the sanctuary have begun to be more or less permanent entities unlike in the past.

KAADARS

The Kaadars or Kadars are the most primitive of the hill tribes in the Anamalais. They are short in stature, dark-skinned with flat noses and slightly thicker lips than those of the other hill tribes. A small percentage of Kadars exhibit frizzly hair, a characteristic that affliates them with the aboriginal tribes of Australia. Each Kaadar settlement has a headman or Moopan who is the chief of the settlement in matters of all disputes and is their spokesman to interact with the Government.

The Kaadars are nomadic in nature. They lived by hunting and collecting forest produce and are excellent tree and rock climbers. They had the curious habit of chipping the incisor teeth to the shape of a cone as they reached adolescence. They speak tamil of a poor type, with a mixture of Malayalam. The Kaadars worship dead ancestors in times of illness and on auspicious occassions. They consider themselves to be superior to the Malasars and only adults marry - by mutual consent, with the family ties being well developed.

MALASARS

Also known as the 'Malai Arasar' or 'Malayar', the malasars live in settlements which extend along the outer slopes of the hills sometimes right upto the foot-hills. They are in close contact with the plains-men, often living close to them and providing them with domestic and agricultural labour.

The malasars are comparatively sturdier in build with respect to the other tribes and do not have the characteristics of regular hill-men. They speak a little Tamil and a greater part of their diet is wild yam. Bamboo seed boiled in honey is a delicacy and also go fishing by damming up streams in hot weather. They were also known to earlier eat carcasses left over by tigers and unlike the Kaadars, they also eat the flesh of gaur. They also eat deer but abstain from the flesh of cow, dog, tiger and elephant. By virtue of their expertise in catching and taming elephants, they make excellent elephant mahouts for the department. They are also excellent trackers, good axe men and baggage coolies.

MALAI MALASARS

They are also described as the Maha malasar or Kumaatti Makkal. They inhabit hilly terrain and dense forest areas. They collect minor forest produce and are expert honey hunters. They are a relatively small group confined to only four settlements and have the same manners and social customs as that of the Malasars, except that they do not eat any domestic animals. They do not drink even milk and anthropologists say that even touching cowdung is said to be taboo. August 09, 2002 Kumaatti is one of the farthest settlements that are still accessible by road, around 26 kms from the Top Slip range office.

The Mala malasars or the malai malasars are a unique kind of people as the facial features of all the people in this community are very much the same. The primary reason would be that all marriages generally happen not only within their own community but also within their own settlement. Kumaatti has a total of 27 houses with an overall strength of around 150. Most of the men from here were employed as department labour to maintain roads, build watch towers while a few of them were also employed as tribal watchers. Houses were constructed of granite blocks and tin roofs. Family planning was not in vogue with one 35 year old man having seven children. Food sources include rations provided by the department, collecting tubers & honey and also a little tapioca & banana cultivation. The settlement is completely surrounded by a dry moat to avoid confrontation with elephants. A couple of years ago, the community had lost a child to a leopard, that being the only instance. Other settlements of the Malai Malasars include Nagarooth [Pollachi] and Palaganar [Manamboly]. The entire tribe had the habit of consuming tobacco and other addictives and so most of them had chronic dental problems.

PULAIYARS

July 04, 2002 Kodandhur lies 7 kms off the Udumalpet-Munnar Highway from the Chinnar check-post on the Tamil Nadu border. This is one of the biggest settlements at the sanctuary with 87 Pulaiyar families living here with a population of over 300. A decent mud-road gives it easy access to the highway although the nearest village is still some distance away. A new school building has been constructed and has an attendance of 96 students of varying ages with a visiting teacher from Udumalpet. As an incentive, the students are provided with lunch [a basic meal to prevent malnutrition] everyday. The teacher strength would shortly be increased to three. They were also provided with a medical camp once every month and are generally averse to family-planning methods or even small families. Common ailments include fever and cold. Though they had their own concoctions to provide relief, they now have shifted to siddha and allopathic medicines. Vehicles of the Forest Department are used in times of medical emergency when a person has to be shifted to a hospital for want of infrastructure.

The Forest Department has provided them with water drawn from the river, Chinnar, by pipeline ensuring a continuous supply. Also, galvanised sheets have been provided by the department for housing. The shed thus constructed has a primitive kind of wall with bamboo reepers and stones and plastered with mud. The sheets are used for the roof. In all, the Pulaiyars had six settlements in the Udumalpet range with Kulipatti and Kurumalai being the biggest, but having a similar populace. Other than the Pulaiyars, the Muduvars also had five settlements in the range with each of them having around 15 houses. Basic activity consisted of trekking around collecting tubers & honey. They are also involved occassionally as labour for department work. The Pulaiyars also grow ragi, maize & pumpkin that are sometimes vandalized by the elephants. Cattle population numbered around 300.

MUDHUVARS

The Muduvars or Mudugars are a tribe of hill cultivators originally said to belong to Madurai district in Tamil Nadu. According to legend, owing to a war, some of them fled to the Nilgiris leaving the pregnant women behind. The bulk of the tribes went to live in the Anamalais and the Travancore High Ranges, carrying their children on their backs ['Mudugu' in Tamil]. Hence the name.

The Muduvars are distinctly of plain country origin as may be judged by their colour and regular features. They rank high among the hill tribes and shun all other tribes for fear of pollution. Their dialect is a poor form of Tamil mixed with Malayalam. Essentially cultivators, they are better that the other tribes and hard-working. They too were nomadic and indulged in shifting cultivation. Employed as forest labour to cut fire lines and clearing weeds, they also collect minor forest produce. ERAVALARS Also known as Villuvedans [hunters with bow and arrow], the Eravalars are a miniscule forest tribe inhabiting generally the foothills. There is a headman for the tribe called the moopan and at present there is only one settlement of Eravalars living near Amaravathi Nagar in the Amaravathi range of the IGWLS. They are Tamil speaking people.

Facts you should know

48 species of flora found in the Anamalai Tiger Reserve are considered rare and possibly extinct.