Identification. The Nayaka are a tribal people. Their various names relate to the fact that they live in the forest and collect honey from wild bees' nests: kāṠṠu and sōla mean "forest," while jēnu means "honey." The names were given to them by outsiders. The name "Nayaka" probably originated in Malayalam. They refer to their own people by the phrase nama sonta, which roughly translates as "our family."
Location. The Nayaka live in the Nilgiri Hills in south India, at 11° N and 75° E, on the western jungle slopes, from 1,000 to 300 meters above sea level. The area, called the Wynaad (or Wainad), is divided administratively between the Nilgiris District of Tamil Nadu and the adjoining Malappuram District of Kerala. The Nayaka are scattered there amid other populations in small communities between which there are virtually no ties of any kind. The monsoon is at its height during July, while February is the middle of the dry period.
Demography. The Indian census of 1981 estimated their total number at 1,400. Local communities comprise three to thirty nuclear families each. The average number of children per family is probably about two.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Nayaka language, which the Nayaka call nama baśa, "our language," belongs to the Kannadoid Subgroup of the Nilgiri South Dravidian Languages. It contains elements of Kannada, Tamil, and Malayalam, Kannada being predominant. There are linguistic differences between the various Nayaka local communities, reflecting their contact with different neighbors, but not to the point of mutual unintelligibility. Most Nayaka speak in addition to their own language at least one of these three major South Dravidian languages.