Among the tribal populations of India there is none which rivals in numerical strength and historical importance the group of tribes known as Gonds. In the late 1970s, numbering well over four million, Gonds extend over a large part of the Deccan and constitute a prominent element in the complex ethnic pattern of the zone where Dravidian and Indo-Aryan populations overlap and dovetail.
In the highlands of the former Hyderabad State (now Andhra Pradesh) concentrations of Gonds persisted in their traditional lifestyle until the middle of the twentieth century: feudal chiefs continued to function as tribal heads and hereditary bards preserved a wealth of myths and epic tales. It was at that time that Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf first began his study of this group of Gonds, spending the better part of three years in their villages. While observing their daily life and their elaborate ritual performances, he also saw the threat which more advanced Hindu populations, infiltrating into the Gonds’ habitat and competing for their ancestral land, were posing to their way of life.
During the thirty years prior to publication the author had frequently revisited the Gond region and in 1976-7 he undertook a detailed re-study of social and economic developments in the villages he knew best. His long-standing familiarity with many individual Gonds has allowed him to draw in this book, originally published in 1979, an intimate picture of the life of a specific village community and to trace the fates of individual men and women over a long stretch of time. While his earlier book The Raj Gonds of Adilabad: Myth and Ritual concentrated mainly on the Gonds’ mythology and ritual practices, the present volume devotes more space to a detailed analysis of the operation of social forces and the traditional structure of a society characterised by a high degree of cohesion.
In 1979 the Gonds were once again being subjected to the pressure of outside forces and Professor von Fürer-Haimendorf lays special emphasis on the analysis of the process of social change forced upon the Gonds by settlers from outside. The last part of the book thus represents a case history of the transformation of a tribal society under the impact of modernisation and relentless population growth.
Preface. 1. The Gonds in History and Literature 2. The Material and Cultural Environment 3. The Settlement Pattern 4. The Village as a Social Unit 5. The Neighbourhood 6. Phratries – The Main Pillars of the Social Structure 7. The Clan System 8. The Feudal System – Past and Present 9. Pardhans – The Bards of the Gonds 10. Tribal Justice and Social Values 11. The Mythological Foundations of the Social Order 12. The Early Phases of Life 13. Avenues to Marriage 14. Marriage, Divorce and Inheritance 15. The Kinship System 16. Death and the Cult of the Dead 17. Farming – The Basis of Gond Economy 18. Religious Beliefs and Practices 19. The Cult of the Clan Deities 20. The Changing Fortunes of the Adilabad Gonds. Glossary. Bibliography. Index.