Fascinating Indigenous Tribes of Asia

Kalash Tribe Pakistan


One of the perks of traveling to less known places is to meet some intriguing indigenous tribes, where you will get to hear interesting stories and learn some of the unique cultures. Asia-the land of the many civilizations holds around 60% of the world’s population, including some indigenous people who still live in the remotest places. And if you’re someone who values these ‘forgotten people’, then learn more about these fascinating tribes of Asia below:

Dongria Kondh Tribe- Odisha, India

Protector of the streams, the fearless adivasi (indigenous people) of Odisha-Dongria Kondh is among the less known indigenous tribes living in the Niyamgiri Hills of the eastern part of India. This hill range is sprawled over 250 kilometers square in the districts of Kalahandi and Rayagada (of Odisha), home to some dense forests, deep gorges and incredible streams which turn into gushing rivers during the monsoon seasons. A blossoming area equally home to the Dongria Kondh tribe, who has a similar philosophy as the Native Americans. They revered nature as their holy spirits, especially the mountains as their Gods. The tribe relies on the Niyamgiri forests where they practice horticulture and shifting cultivation on the fertile slopes. Today there are about 8000-plus Dongria Kondh who live in this area protecting their culture and environment. Unfortunately, they were threatened by the mining company Vedanta Resources which was planning to extract bauxite (the raw material for aluminum) worth $ 2 billion, lying under the surface of the hills.  Despite, being vulnerable these indigenous people fought back to resist the exploitation.

image: survival international

Tagin Tribe-Arunachal Pradesh, India

It is not a surprise to find interesting tribes who fled from the neighboring countries like Tibet to seek protection in the luxuriant Arunachal Pradesh in the northeastern part of India. Majestically praised as the ‘land of the rising sun’, where the first-morning sun rays touch down upon India, it is of no wonder why the local tribes revere the Sun. There are over 25 different groups of the indigenous population living in the hill state. And the Tagin indigenous people (descendants of the Abu Tani who came from Tibet in the ancient times to settle in the Subansiri valley) possess great knowledge of medicinal plants that are grown in their nearby forests to cure common illness in their community. They lead a rural life and mostly depend on the available resources of the surrounding forests, which is bestowed with rich biodiversity consisting of incredible wildlife especially the big cats like snow and clouded leopards, and tigers.

The Tagin tribe are proud of their culture and are usually decked out with vivid colors and colorful gemstone pendants. They have great respect towards their environment and as such venerate the earth (si) and the sun (donyi). You can see them paying tribute to their Gods during the Si-Donyi festival which is celebrated with much pomp every year.

image: Arne Hodalič

Kalash Tribe-Hindu Kush, Pakistan

Secretly hidden in the impressive snow-capped Hindu Kush mountain range in the isolated northwest region of Pakistan, the Kalash tribe is renowned for their beauty and colorful crafts. The Kalash women lauded for their glowing complexion and flawless skin are usually dressed in long black dresses adorned with fine and colorful embroideries (which to some extent are similar to the Ladakhis way of dressing).

These Dardic indigenous people are scattered across Rumbur, Bumburet and Birir valleys in the Chitral district where they once ruled. The Kalash tribe speaks the Kalasha language which is from the Dardic family of the Indo-Aryan branch. As per census report, the tribe consists of around 5000 individuals who represent a unique minority among the peoples of Pakistan. According to journalist Frud Bezhan the Kalash tribe practice ‘a form of ancient Hinduism infused with old pagan and animist beliefs.’ It was noted that there are many similarities between the Kalash deities and ancient Vedic Gods like Lord Indra. Much importance is given to their religious traditions and as such, they perform sacrifices and celebrate many festivals.

According to speculations, the Kalash tribe is believed to be descendant of Alexander-The Great or came from Afghanistan (Nuristan). However, as per the Foundation Jean Dausset’s Human Genome Diversity Project and Centre d’Etude du Polymorphisme Humain (HGDP-CEPH) which collected DNA samples of the Kalash people claimed that they share genetic drift with Paleolithic Siberian Hunter-Gatherers. Kalash was the first population to split from the other Central and South Asian cluster around 11,800 (95% CI = 10,600−12,600) years ago. They also have predominantly western Eurasian mitochondrial lineages and no genetic affiliation with East Asians.’  The study has confirmed that the tribe’s DNA does not show any connection with the Alexander theory.

Besides their glorious celebrations and exceptional beauty, the tribe is fighting back to preserve their culture and land, however, they are still vulnerable to religious conversion, and extreme weather conditions like floods.

image: Fahad Bhatti

The Tsaatan Tribe-Khövsgöl Aimag,  Mongolia

One of the interesting Asian tribes is the Tsaatan or Dukha indigenous people who live in the remotest northern region of Mongolia. The tribe who has been surviving the very cold weather condition was once around 200 families but today there are only 40 families left with their 1000 reindeers.

These nomadic herders depend enormously on their reindeers for survival and move every seven to ten weeks from pasture to pasture where the climate is ideal for their animals. The reindeers do not only have an economic importance but also have a cultural and spiritual significance in the Tsaatan culture. Interestingly, the word Tsaatan means ‘those who have reindeer’ in the Mongolian language, and the tribe believes their culture will die if their reindeers disappear. What is particular about the Tsaatan people is the fact that they do not use their animals for meat which is quite rare among herding communities.

Unfortunately, the community is slowly declining because of modernization, and extreme weather conditions. Due to the rise of gold mining in the area, the government has put mobility restriction on the Tsaatan’s hunting ground, thus exacerbating the situation.

image: Dominique Mills

Southeast Chinese Tribes

The panoramic southeast China unveils its beauty and charm through its surreal landscapes and its diverse ethnic cultures. One of its gems is the Miao tribe which consists of Hmong, Xong, Hmub and A-Hmao people. These indigenous people mainly live in the provinces of Guizhou, Yunnan, Sichuan, Hubei, Hunan, Guangxi, Guangdong, and Hainan. Some of the Hmong have migrated to neighboring countries like Burma, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand.

One particularity of the Miao women from the Daluo village of the Leishan County is their display of stunning silver headdress and jewelry. These ornaments are part of their culture and traditions, similarly to their lusheng music instrument which they have been using for years.

image: Asher Svidensky

Another sub-ethnic group of the Miao tribe is the Suojia (Long Horn) people who live in the Guizhou province. This ethnic group is known for their huge headdresses wore by their women. The headdress materials which consist of wrapping wool, linen, a wooden clip or a pair of animal horns and a white ribbon are believed to be passed down from generation to generation.

image: Kevin Frayer

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