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Cholanaickan is an indigenous community found exclusively in the evergreen recesses of the forests in the Ghat section of Karulai and Vazhikkadavu forest ranges of Nilambur Valley in Wayanad district, Kerala. Geographically isolated, they lead their lives amidst the dense tropical rainforest environment.

Language and Social Structure:

The name "Cholanaickan" is derived from "Chola" (shade) and "Naickan" or "Nayakan" (leader), signifying their role as leaders in the forest. They speak a unique dialect that combines elements of Kannada and Malayalam. The community is organized into ten hamlets in the deep forest, called 'Jemmom,' and each 'Jemmom' has a leader known as 'Jemmakkaran.' These leaders fulfill both socio-political and religious functions within their respective hamlets. Cholanaickans practice Jemmom exogamy, where families associated with each 'Jemmom' do not marry within their own group.


Cholanaickans have a distinct way of life compared to other tribes in Kerala. They are entirely dependent on non-timber forest products for their sustenance and trade. Their territory is abundant in a variety of non-timber forest produces, which form the core of their diet and are also used for exchange or sale. Additionally, they have excellent knowledge of the forest resources and their uses.

Living in Harmony with Nature:

Cholanaickans are deeply connected to the natural world and spend most of their forest life in natural rock shelters. They have developed a harmonious relationship with the forest, relying on it for their basic needs. Their traditional knowledge of the forest and its resources is invaluable for conservation efforts and sustainable use of forest products.


Cholanaickan is a unique community that exemplifies a close connection with nature and the forest ecosystem. Their way of life and reliance on non-timber forest products sets them apart from other tribes in Kerala. Preserving their traditional knowledge and promoting sustainable practices in the forest can help ensure the continued well-being of the Cholanaickan community and contribute to the conservation of the rich biodiversity in their forest habitat.

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