ETHNONYM: Jungle people
The Chenchus of Andhra Pradesh (formerly Hyderabad) inhabit the hilly country north of the Kistna River, which forms the most northerly extension of the Nallamalai Hills and is generally known as the Amrabad Plateau. It lies between 16° and 16°30′ N and 78°30′ and 79° 15′ E. The whole of the plateau belongs to the Mahbubnagar District, but a few scattered Chenchus live on the other side of the Dindi River in the district of Nalgonda. In the north the Plateau rises steeply about 200 meters over the plains and in the south and east drops precipitously into the valley of the Kistna River. The Amrabad Plateau falls naturally into two definite parts: the lower ledge to the northeast, with an elevation of about 600 meters, that slopes eastwards to the Dindi River; and the higher ranges to the southwest, averaging 700 meters. On the lower ledge, where there are large cultivated areas, lie Amrabad, Manamur, and other villages inhabited by Chenchus and others. The higher ranges are a pure forest area and are almost exclusively inhabited by Chenchus. In 1971 there were 24,415 Chenchus.
The Amrabad Plateau has three seasons: the hot season, which lasts from the middle of February to the end of May, with temperatures rising to 39° C; the rainy season, early in June until the end of September, and the winter from October to February. The upper plateau is a dense forest jungle of bamboo and climbers, with heavy rainfall in the rainy season but an arid sun-baked land in the hot weather. There is a great variety of animals, such as bears, panthers, hyenas, wild cats, tigers, antelope, monkey, peacocks, jungle fowl, and snakes. In 1941 the upper plateau was declared a game sanctuary.
The economic system of the Chenchus is primarily one of hunting and gathering. The Chenchus depend on nature for nine-tenths of their food supply. Traditionally Chenchus roamed the jungles, living under trees and in rock shelters. The common food was honey, the roots of trees, plants, and the flesh of animals caught in hunting. A typical day was spent in gathering the fruits and roots to be eaten that day. Gathering may be done in small groups but is still today a solitary activity without cooperation from others. Hunting is also a solitary rather than cooperative effort that rarely produces much game. Hunting is done with bow and arrow, occasionally with a gun. No trapping or snaring is done. Very few things are cultivated—mostly tobacco, corn, and some millet—and little provision is made for "a rainy day" (i.e., there is no storing of grain). There is division of labor Between the sexes: men hunt, gather honey, and make baskets; women prepare most of the food. Gathering is done by both sexes although the men may go further afield, even spending two to three days away from the community. A few buffalo cows may be kept in a village for milk but are not eaten.
Recently (ca. 1943) most Chenchus lived in houses of bamboo and thatch. A part of the population remains dependent on food collected in the forest (1943). This forces them to follow the train of the seasons and at certain times of the year to leave the villages for places with more water and increased probabilities for collection of edible plants. Permanent village sites are occupied for ten to fifteen years unless disease ravages a community and many deaths occur. The size varies from three to thirteen houses, with an average number of six or seven. The permanent house ( gada illu ) is solidly built with a circular wattle wall and conical thatched roof and bamboo roof beams. Temporary dwellings may be low grass huts or shelters constructed of leafy branches.
The principal units of social organization are the clan, the local group,
and the family. There is a pronounced lack of tribal feeling with few
traditions. The tribe practice clan exogamy. The clans are patrilineal.
There are four principal clan
groups on the upper plateau: (1) Menlur and Daserolu; (2) Sigarlu and
Urtalu; (3) Tokal, Nallapoteru, and Katraj; and
(4) Nimal, Eravalu, and Pulsaru. Villages are usually mixed clans. Individuals may join at will any local group with which they have relations; however, they always remain "linked" to their home village where their parents lived and where they grew up. There they are coheirs to the land, whereas a man living in his wife's village is only a "guest." The family consists of the husband, wife, and unmarried children. The husband and wife are partners with equal rights and property jointly owned. There is a concurrence of patrilocal and matrilocal marriage. In the kin group there is a spirit of cooperation and mutual loyalty that is not seen at the tribe and clan levels.
The Chenchus speak a dialect of Telugu interspersed with a number of Urdu words, as do most people of Andhra Pradesh. Increasing exposure to the plains peoples has led the Chenchus to adopt the cult of various deities of the Telugu's Hindu religion.
Fürer-Haimendorf, Christoph von (1943). The Aboriginal Tribes of Hyderabad. Vol. 1, The Chenchus. London: Macmillan.
SARA J. DICK