Tribus – A Latin term used by the Ancient Romans to distinguish the three societal distinctions made based on class, family and money. However, somewhere between intellectual advancement and transforming societies, the archaic definition was buried and replaced with the word Tribe referring to a group of people that share common ancestry and culture while living inside an enclosed society.
The idea of tribes may seem quite fascinating, like something out of an Indiana Jones movie but finding one is not that difficult in India. All we would need to do is look for an economic disparity, geographical seclusion, or an ideological separation that hinders societal development in a place that people inhabit. We would certainly find a ‘tribe’ that is somehow managing their livelihood with barely enough.
The Toto people:
Let’s take ourselves to the North East of India, to a tribe that lives at the border of India and the Kingdom of Bhutan, in the Alipurduar district of West Bengal, called the Toto. In a country of 1.3 billion population, these people currently account for a fragment of the consensus – counting in the range of 1600s.
Toto people are found only in the village of Totopara in Dooars. So, learning about a heritage with enough modernization to set up contact with the modern world while maintaining proper seclusion to preserve their own identity is a must visit for you.
History of Toto tribe :
Totos are known to have descended from what looks like the Mongoloids. From being almost driven to extinction in the 50s, these indigenous people have somehow managed to survive the influx of ethnic coalescence and cultural confluence that took over the country since its independence. Although they managed to keep their heritage intact, this came at a price of shunted development in the area of Totopara, the place they inhabit. The government took measures to seclude them from the outside world in order to let their population grow.
Toto Tribe Lifestyle
True, Totos are not like tribes from Sentinel Island or Northern Africa. Because of the seepage of the modern economy and business of the country, there are more than just flimsy straw and bamboo sheds masquerading. Houses and schools provide education till the 10th. But to get anything more than that, like higher education or medical attention, one needs to travel over 22 kilometres outside the village to avail it.
As the economy started to instil its roots inside Totopara, their primary source of income became trading a specific indigenous species of beetle-nuts, which they now farm, with the outside world. Totos also engage in cattle farming, but the harvests are mostly bought and sold among themselves. They live in elevated bamboo huts, raised on machas (raised platforms) and the huts have straw thatches. There is a single log placed to get to the hut and at night the log is meant to be drawn up.
Marua, a kind of Millet, is one of the most consumed grains among this tribe, but recently they have started to consume common-day Bengali food. Eu – a locally brewed alcohol fermented from marua and served in Poipas are a very common indulgence amongst the people of Totopara. Totos use Eu for religious ceremonies too. Their religion is not idolatry. Instead, they pray to mother nature in hopes of being given all that is required for their survival. The Toto tribe still rely on their surrounding environment for both food and water.
Because of the conservative nature of their heritage, the Toto tribe engages in exogamy. Although this protects them from losing their heritage, it comes with biological complications that have reduced their average life span to around 35 years, as per a study done by Indian Anthropological Survey.
How to Reach Totopara
To access Totopara, we would need to travel across 4 small rivers that run dry in the summers and winters. But, during the monsoon, the rivers cut off all routes to the entire village from the rest of civilization. Totopara is located 22 kilometres inside Madarihat – a town in Alipurduar district. There are buses and other vehicles from Alipurduar that drive up to the village but reaching it dependent on the weather conditions.