Bicultural Versatility as a Frontier Adaptation Among Paliyan Foragers of South India

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Dr. Peter Gardner’s ethnographic study of Paliyans is one of the most complete and up-to-date accounts of a South Asian hunting and gathering people. It covers the spectrum of Paliyan culture, from subsistence to medicine and word play, and it details the beliefs and practices which allow Paliyans to achieve their extreme egalitarianism and non-violence. Brief case studies throughout the account not only bring the people to life, they give the reader a sense of the rich, complex texture of Paliyan existence. The study uses recent perspectives and modes of analysis, situating the foragers in their time and place and employing tools such as fuzzy-set analysis. An appendix includes a topical Paliyan lexicon.


"This is a remarkably fine descriptive ethnography of the Paliyans, one of the relatively few groups in India who still subsist through hunting and foraging. Despite their theoretical importance as hunters on the outskirts of a high civilization, they would be virtually unknown to anthropology but for Gardner's previous articles. His documentation of their culture is much more thoroughly grounded in the ecological features of their surroundings than has usually been the case with Indian ethnographies. He is at pains to describe precisely the geographical settings in which Paliyans live, on the border between Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and the species of flora and fauna on which their lives depend." - Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland

“This book is a much welcome contribution to the study of South Asian anthropology. It is enriched with photographs, figures, tables and maps; it has a glossary of the most important Paliyar concepts and a rich index that allows for cross-readings and references. Written in a clear and sensitive style, this monograph makes vivid and important reading not only for scholars of South Indian foraging cultures but, as Richard B. Lee points out in the preface, for the comparative research on gatherer-hunter communities at large.” – Anthropos, 2006

Table of Contents

Preface by Richard B. Lee
1. The People and the study
2. Life in a zoned environment
3. The food quest
4. Employment and the overall economy
5. Respect, equality, and anarchy
6. Social organization
7. Gods and spirits in everyday life
8. Medical knowledge and practice
9. Words and thoughts
10. Tamil criticism and Paliyan response
11. The gift of Tamil respect
12. Conclusions: Paliyans through time
Appendix: A topical Paliyan lexicon

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