The Paniya are one of the five ancient tribal communities of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Paniya tribes are one of the major tribal communities residing in different parts of Kerala. They are categorized as scheduled castes and they dwell in different hill and forest areas of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Various districts where the Paniya tribes have built their settlements include Kozhikode and Malappuram. The word ‘Paniya’ is derived from ‘pani’ which is a Malayalam word meaning work. The people of this tribal community are mostly labourers and their past history also suggests the same. In fact, the Paniya community is among those tribal peoples who have worked traditionally worked as bonded labourers in ancient days. Thick lips, dark complexion and curly hair are the typical physical characteristic of the Paniya people. There is some resemblance between the Paniya people and African natives, and some scholars are of the opinion that the Paniyan people may be of African origin. According to some scholars, Kapiri (Africa or the Cape) is the land of origin of the Paniya tribes.
The Paniya tribes are mainly concentrated in the northern part of the Western Ghats, Wayanad district, and the eastern regions of Kozhikode (Calicut), Malappuram and Kannur districts. Some are found in Gudalur and Pandalur area of Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu and in southern part of Kodagu district of Karnataka. Wage labour, small game hunting and collecting forest produce are the main means of living for this community. However, their movement within the forest has also been restricted by legislations designed to protect wildlife and biodiversity. Small scale traditional mixed millet food farming is practiced which includes exclusive varieties of little millets and maize other than pulses, cereals, greens, vegetables and tubers.
Sources: 1. Nath et al. (2007). Honey Trails in the Blue Mountains. Keystone Foundation