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India’s Tribal Communities- The Vasava Tribe of Gujarat

  • The Vasava are a clan of the Bhil ethnic community found in the states of Gujarat,  Maharashtra and Rajasthan in India.
  • They have scheduled tribe status. In Rajasthan, they are also known as Vasave.
  • The Vasava in Gujarat trace their mythological descent from Eklavya.
  • They originally hail from south Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
  • The community are now found in districts of Baroda, Surat, Bharuch, Narmada and Panchmahal. They speak Bhili language, although most can now speak Gujarati.
  • The Vasave in Maharashtra are found mainly in the Khandesh region.
  • Their settlements exist mainly in the hilly and forest terrain of the Satpuda range.
  • The Vasave speak the Bhil language, but most also speak Marathi.
  • The Vasave are mainly a community of farmers, with animal husbandry being a  secondary occupation.
  • Historically, the Vasava were influenced by the Marathi, who had fought the Muslims of  the Moghul dynasty and established their own empire in Gujarat.
  • In 1817, while war raged among the Moghuls, the Marathas, and the Portuguese over  the Gujarat territory, England slipped in and established its own power in the region.
  • One of England’s actions on behalf of the native people was to distribute farmland to  Vasava settlers.
  • The Vasava consider themselves to be superior to other District Bhil groups because  their raja ruled the Kingdom of Sagbara in the Baroda District until the beginning of the  twentieth century.
  • The Vasava language, Vasavi, is part of the Indo-Aryan linguistic family.

VASAVA TRIBE OF GUJARAT 

POPULATION: 1,173,000

RELIGION: About 80% of the Vasave are Hindu, while the other 20% are Christians

LANGUAGE: Bhil language, but most also speak Marathi.

LOCATION: Gujarat and Maharashtra

What Are Their Lives Like?

Surrounding Bhil tribes avoid the Vasava because they are aggressive and warlike.

MARRIAGE 

  • Traditionally, outsiders feared the women because the women chose their partners by  spitting on them.
  • If a woman succeeded in spitting on a stranger, he was accepted and did not dare refuse  admittance to the tribe for fear of his life.
  • Another custom required the bride and groom to spit into each other’s mouths during the wedding ceremony.
  • Today Vasava men usually buy their wives and marry while the girls are still adolescents. Cross-cousin marriage is acceptable.
  • If a man cannot afford a bride price and the girl agrees to the marriage, the couple elopes.
  • They return home after several months to have their union sanctioned.

 ECONOMY AND OCCUPATION 

  • The Vasava’s economy depends on successful hunting in the lush forests specially in the  forests north of the Tapti River where there is an abundance of rabbits and birds.
  • During the short summer monsoon period the Vasava catch fish in the nearby swollen  rivers and streams.
  • The Vasava often travel for miles on foot or in ox-carts to participate in weekly village  markets.
  •  They bring honey, wild roots, and berries to sell; in exchange they buy the majority of  the materials they need for daily living (tools, clothing, and jewelry).
  • Their contact with other Bhil groups and Hindu shopkeepers during these weekly market visits is superficial and wary.

HOUSE TYPE 

  • Their houses are simple made of timber and bamboo’s available in the forest.
  • The bamboos are used to build the sidewalls which are plastered with cow dung mixed  mud. The roofs are covered with tile in pyramidal shape.
  • Depiction of a peacock marks the corner of a rooftop.
  • Prosperous Vasava build houses with bamboo walls and tiled roofs.
  • The poor enlist the help of family and friends to build mud huts.
  • They build the houses near streams and rivers to be near water for household purposes,  but they are careful to locate the buildings above the tidal flow or flood line.

BELIEFS

  • Although the Vasava have a high opinion of their own social standing, other tribes  consider them to be a low social class.
  • In fact, only the Kotwalia, or bamboo workers, and Kokni, woodcutters, are ranked as low.
  • However, other groups do respect the Vasava for their strong powers of magic.
  • They are masters of magic religious type ceremonies.
  • They worship the crocodile and make offerings to Mogra Deo, the crocodile god.
  • The people are extremely superstitious and hold deep-rooted beliefs in demoniac influence.
  • They believe that witches are possessed by the ghosts of people who died unnatural and  violent deaths. On the other hand, they appear to know how to cure illnesses.
  • The Vasava Bhils worship local gods, ghosts and spirits.
  • Animals, plants, trees and places, which are useful or induce fear, and forces of nature  like rain, mountains and mysterious phenomenon beyond their comprehension, are  held in high esteem, looked at with awe and worshipped

IMPACT OF THE MODERN WORLD 

  • Most of them are displaced due to the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam
  • Lack of Basic facilities like water, electricity, education, etc.
  • Huge water scarcity for irrigation for agriculture
  • Less agricultural production
  • Migration towards cities for work
  • Demand for land, shelter and employment which was destroyed after Dam construction.
  • Poor political representation