The word Kattunayakan means the king of the jungle in Tamil. The Kattunayakan are one of the earliest known inhabitants of the Western Ghats, who are engaged in the collection and gathering of forest produce, mainly wild honey and wax.
The members of this community are short, have black skin, and have protruding foreheads. The men wear short dhotis and half sleeved shirts. The women attach a long single piece of cloth round their body just below the neck, leaving the shoulders and arms bare. Child marriages were common before the 1990s, but now the girls marry after attaining puberty. Monogamy is the general rule among the Kattunayakan community.
Kattunayakan believe in Hinduism and have a language, which is a mixture of all Dravidian languages. The main deity of the tribe is Lord Shiva under the name of Bhairava. They also worship animals, birds, trees, rock hillocks, and snakes, along with the other Hindu deities.
Kattunayakan are non-vegetarians and are fond of music, songs, and dancing. They are also called Cholanaickan and Pathinaickans.
Kattunayakan in Kerala
Kattunayakan are one of the five ancient tribal groups in Kerala. They live very much in tune with Nature. Hunting and collecting forest produce are the two main means of living for the Kattunayakan tribe. However, the restrictions to protect native forest and wildlife have forced them to find work outside the forests. Although willing to work for very low wages, unemployment and poverty is very severe among the Kattunayakan. Another important factor for the tribe is the medicinal system and its close association with the culture. They use traditional medicines for common ailments, but they use modern medicines in an emergency. Even then they only use modern medicine after seeking consent from “God” by the chieftain or priest (generally both roles are taken by the same person), through a well-defined set of traditional rituals or poojas.