Introduction / History
The Chenchu live in the hills of southern India, primarily in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The higher ranges of the Amrabad Plateau are pure, dense forests and are almost exclusively inhabited by the Chenchu. Other Chenchu communities can be found in the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Orissa. Their native language (also called Chenchu) belongs to the Dravidian language family. Many also speak Telugu, the language of their Hindu neighbors.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Life for the Chenchu revolves around the struggle to survive. Whenever food resources become scarce, they migrate to another place in search of new possibilities. A market economy and sophisticated machinery are totally absent from this group of hunters and gatherers. Likewise, concepts such as 'profit' or 'accumulation of wealth' are unknown to them. As Hindus, the Chenchu hold a relatively high caste (social class) status. They prefer to remain segregated from other groups, living on the outskirts of multi-ethnic villages.
The Chenchu depend on nature for nearly all of their food supply. They are hunters and gatherers, just as they have been for many generations. In former times, they hunted as a unified tribe. Today, they still hunt with spears or bows and arrows, but it is no longer a cooperative effort. Instead, each individual is responsible to provide for his own family, and their efforts are not very productive. The men are known as expert bamboo cutters and honey collectors. Very few crops are cultivated: tobacco, corn, and some millet. A few cows may be kept in a village for milk, but they are not eaten.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Many Chenchu have been forced out of their wandering, food-gathering lives by the growing number of peasant farmers. They now work as farmers or forest laborers and live in towns and well-settled villages. Their permanent villages have an average of seven houses and are occupied for only 10 to 15 years-unless disease ravages the community and causes a massive number of deaths. They live in hive-shaped houses made of wattle thatch (poles intertwined with twigs, reeds, or branches). Temporary shelters, which take only three or four hours to build, are made of grass or leafy branches.
Chenchu society consists of clans (extended family units), local groups, and families. They are exogamous, which means that they do not allow marriage within the same clan. They are also patrilineal, tracing the line of descent through the males. There are four main groups on the upper plateau, and villages usually have a mixture of various clans. The nuclear family (husband, wife, and unmarried children) is the basic unit of Chenchu society. One distinguishing factor of their tribe is the clear division of labor. The men hunt, gather honey, and make baskets, while the women prepare the food. The husband and wife are considered partners with equal rights; even their property is jointly owned.
Within the tribe, there are a number of differences between the older and younger generations. The older people remain rather scantily dressed, while the younger boys like to wear shirts and pants. Girls still wear the traditional sarees (colorful wrap-around dresses) or skirts and blouses, and some may wear more modern styles. Traditionally, both the men and women wore long hair that was tied up in a knot. Today, the older generation still lets their hair grow long, but the young people often cut their hair.
Due to increasing exposure to the plains peoples, the Chenchu have adopted the Hindu deities of the neighboring Telugu tribe. Today, they are virtually all Hindu, worshiping millions of gods and goddesses. Chenchus worship Bhagwan Taru who they believe lives in the sky and looks after Chenchus in all their doings. They also worship Garelamai Sama, the goddess of forest. They believe she protects them from any danger.
What Are Their Needs?
Alcoholism is a serious problem for many of the Chenchu. Their addictions allow them to temporarily escape from the reality of their difficult lives, but they need to find the permanent source of peace. Missions agencies focusing on the Chenchu have had very little success. Prayer is the first step toward reaching these precious people with the Good News.
* Ask the Lord to send laborers to India to share the hope, peace, and love of Jesus Christ with the Chenchu.
* Ask the Lord to save key leaders among the Chenchu who will boldly declare the Gospel.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin faithfully interceding for the Chenchu.