Koya - Orientation

Identification. The Koyas are a subdivision of the Gond tribes of central India. They are most closely related to the Bison Horn Maria Gonds of Bastar.

Location. The majority of Koyas live in Andhra Pradesh, but significant numbers also live in Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. Their habitat is the alluvial plain of the Godavari River and its tributaries and the forested hills that rise up on both sides of the Godavari River. The hills range from 60 to 1,200 meters above sea level and are cut by numerous short streams that are dry for much of the year but become impassable in the monsoon. Approximately one-third of this habitat is reserve forest administered by the Forestry Department of the state government. The alluvial soils are rich and fertile, but the hill soils are thin and subject to erosion when deforested. Rainfall is abundant but dependent on the monsoon. Koyas recognize three seasons: the hot weather (April-June), with highs regularly above 38° C; the rains (June-November) ; and the cold weather (December-February), when night temperatures are frequently around 4° C. Communication within this area is poor. Only one major road parallels the Godavari River for approximately 160 kilometers, and it is unusable during most of the rainy season. The hills away from the river are reachable only by cart trails and footpaths. The area is also isolated by its reputation as a center for endemic malaria.

Demography. In 1971 there were approximately 344,437 Koyas, of whom roughly 285,226 lived in Andhra Pradesh, 59,168 in Orissa, and the remainder in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Population density varies considerably between plains and hills, with the plains areas adjacent to the main road being much more densely populated.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Koyas speak a Central Dravidian language closely related to Gondi. The language, both in vocabulary and grammar, has been strongly influenced by Telugu, the language of the neighboring Hindu population. Most Koyas are bilingual in Gondi or Telugu, and in the plains villages many are now literate in Telugu. Koya has no literature of its own aside from two books of the Bible translated into Koya and printed in Telugu characters by Christian missionaries in the nineteenth century.

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