Identification. The Malapantāram (hereafter anglicized as the Hill Pandaram) are a Scheduled Tribe of the state of Kerala in south India and inhabit the forested hills of the Western Ghats between Lake Periyar and the town of Tenmali, about 9° N. Although they share the name "Pandaram" with a caste community of Tamil Nadu, there appear to be no links between the two communities. Mala (mountain) refers to their long association with the hill forests, the Western Ghats, which form the backbone of peninsular India and range from 600 to 2,400 meters. A nomadic foraging community, the Hill Pandaram loosely identify themselves with the forest and refer to all outsiders, whether local caste communities or forest laborers, as nāttukāran (country people).
Location. Centered on the Pandalam Hills, the Hill Pandaram primarily occupy the forest ranges of Ranni, Koni, and Achencoil. The Ghats are subject to two monsoon seasons; the southwest monsoon, falling between June and August, being responsible for the bulk of the rain. Rainfall is variable, averaging between 125 and 200 centimeters annually, precipitation being high at higher elevations around Sabarimala and Devarmala. The forest type ranges from tropical evergreen to moist deciduous. The foothills of the Ghats and the valleys of the major river systems—Achencoil, Pamba, and Azbutta—are cultivated and heavily populated by caste communities who moved into the Ghats during the past century.
Demography. A small community, the Hill Pandaram numbered 1,569 individuals in 1971, and had a population density of 1 to 2 persons per square kilometer.
Linguistic Affiliation. Living in the hills that separate the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the Hill Pandaram also lie between two main language groups of south India—Tamil and Malayalam. They speak a dialect of one or the other of these languages, and divergences from standard Tamil or Malayalam seem to be mainly matters of intonation and articulation. Their dialect generally is not understood by people from the plains, and although there is no evidence available it is possible that their language may still contain elements of a proto-Dravidian language. Few Hill Pandaram are literate.