Introduction / History
The Kurichiya live in the forested areas of Kerala state, southern India, where they were the earliest known inhabitants. They are primarily located in the Cannanore and Tamil Nadu districts. Their language is called Kurichiya, although many also speak Malayalam. It is said that their name comes from the word kuri, which is the sandalwood that they put on their foreheads and chests.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The Kurichiya were the first migrants into the Wayanad hills and settled as the first farmers of the western region. When the Muslims and the British came into their area, the Kurichiya rose against them in revolt. Unfortunately, they were defeated by the strong arm of the British.
In India, there is a very complex hierarchy of castes, or social classes. This system is extremely important to the Indians and observed by all. However, the Kurichiya consider themselves to be above even the highest caste of Hindi Brahmin (priests and scholars).
On their small patches of land, the Kurichiya raise peppers and several other cash crops. Although they are primarily farmers, they are also expert archers and eat meat in addition to the crops they grow. Some must work on land provided by the government, while others are forced to make their living by cutting and selling wood from the forest.
What Are Their Beliefs?
The Kurichiya claim to be superior to all of the other Hindu castes. This is partially due to the fact that there are no beggars among them; their society does not tolerate the destitution of any of its members. Because they live in large family groups, it has always been possible for a poor Kurichiya to find food and shelter.
A typical Kurichiya would surprise even a casual observer with the strength of his convictions. The Kurichiya are so concerned with keeping themselves pure that they will burn their huts, if touched by outsiders. On returning from a journey, they will not enter their homes until they have purified themselves by bathing. They will neither eat food nor drink water that has been touched by non-Kurichiya. When visiting neighboring villages, they refrain from eating. Those who break dietary laws become outcasts.
One of the most powerful members of the Kurichiya tribe is the sorcerer, who is also the village headman. He is elected during a ritual performed before their idols. When someone in the group goes into a trance and does a frenzied dance, the Kurichiya believe that this is a sign that the gods have chosen this individual to be their leader. This person then assumes responsibility over the tribe by wearing the silver-handled knife (that was worn by his predecessor), on his waist.
One striking trait of the Kurichiya is the fact that they were traditionally a matriarchal (female-dominated) society. They are the only Indian community outside the province of Assam that has continued to follow this type of system, even as recently as 1970. Their society survived because of their deep-rooted conservatism, as well as, their isolation in the Wayanad plateau.
The Kurichiya share many traits with other tribes of their area. These include the traditional fore-lock of hair, their house patterns, ornaments, style of presenting offerings, observance of shamanism (a type of spiritism), and kinship terminology.
No group in India can equal the Kurichiya in devotion to their faith. The Kurichiya are Hindus and their supreme deity is, Shiva, "god of the hunt." They worship a variety of gods and demons in addition to their own tribal gods. While their faith may be as deep as that of the Brahmins, their rituals are much simpler.
What Are Their Needs?
Additional missionaries are needed to live and work among the Kurichiya. This people group must be told that righteousness comes only through Jesus Christ.
* Ask God to call forth prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies focusing on the Kurichiya.
* Pray that the Lord will raise up long term workers to join the few who have already responded.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to complete the work begun in the hearts of the few known Kurichiya believers through adequate discipleship.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a vigorous Kurichiya church for the glory of His name!