They Call For Us
Strategies for Securing Autonomy
Among the Paliyans, Hunter-Gatherers
of the Palni Hills, South India

By Christer Norstrom
December 2003
Almqvist & Wiksell International
ISBN: 91-7265-704-9
320 pages, Illustrated, 5 " x 8 "
$67.50 Paper Original


Throughout the world, societies based on hunting and gathering have been drawn into the market economy due to increasing social and economic pressure on their territories. This anthropological study analyzes this process in the 1990s among the Paliyans of South India. During the first half of the twentieth century most Paliyans avoided contact with outsiders, preferring a livelihood based on the hunting and gathering of forest resources inside the steep forested valleys of the Palni Hills.

By the end of the century their lives had significantly changed to a situation involving wage labor on plantations owned by neighboring caste people, the collecting of non-timber forest produce for forest contractors and the herding of other people's cattle. In spite of these changes the Paliyans still hunt and gather forest food and through the building of temporary alliances with non-governmental organizations they try to uphold a high degree of autonomy toward outsiders, comparable to the individual autonomy they enjoy within their own group. This autonomy is based on individualism, gender equality, social and economic flexibility and individual rights to common resources.

Today many hunter-gatherers around the world have reformulated their history and identity to link up with the more politically recognized identity as 'indigenous'. In India many forest-related groups have adopted this notion. Tribal organizations in the region of the Palni Hills have regularly invited the Paliyans, due to their downplaying of group interaction and authority, have so far stubbornly ignored these invitations. For the Paliyans, in a life-world where individual autonomy seems more rational, the virtue of group loyalty has little value.

Stockholm Studies in Social Anthropology, No. 53

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