Social and Economic life of Todas (Toda Tribe)

Toda Tribes

The Toda Tribe in India is the only pastoral group inhabiting Nilgiri Hills of South India who have the tradition of polyandrous marriage system.

This tribe is of special attention to the ethnographers and physical anthropologists as they belong to Caucasoid racial stock, surrounded by Proto-Australoid groups like the Badaga, Kota, Kurumba and the Irula with whom they are in socio-economic symbiotic relation. They speak a language which is very close to Tamil.

The numerical strength of the members of Toda tribe has gone down considerably during the past few decades. Extra-ordinary care has been taken to study their steady decrease in numerical strength. Government of India has taken serious steps to increase the population of this decaying tribe. According to 1960’s survey, the estimated population of theirs was roughly about 768.

Economic and Material Culture


The Toda Tribe of Nilgiril Hills are pastoral people. They rear buffaloes arid produce different milk products, like ghee, cheese, butter, curd which they sell or exchange with the different products of the neighboring tribes to procure the things of their day-to-day use. Thus, they are involved in “socio-economic symbiosis” with the neighboring tribes, as mentioned above.

The dairy works are absolutely the males’ business. Females are debarred from entering the dairy house even. Previously, males were engaged in cooking but now this duty has been shifted to the female inmates of the house. They are also assigned such duties like, the rearing of children, fetching of drinking water, and fuel from the jungle. Milking, churning, etc. are males jobs. They milk their buffaloes twice a day i.e. in the early morning and also in the evening. The lifestyle of Todas are mainly pastoral. In recent times, they are also engaged in other economic activities (such as agriculture) to subsidize their pastoral economy.

Domestication of animals

The most important domestic animal of the Toda is the buffalo. They generally classify two types of buffaloes – ordinary and sacred buffalo herds. The former type is being owned by individual Toda family while the latter type is supposed to be the property of the clan.


The Toda people are purely vegetarians. Seldom have they taken non-vegetarian dishes. Rice is their staple food which they procure from the neighboring tribes in exchange of milk or milk-products. The most favorite dish of the Toda is rice boiled in milk, locally known as ‘jagari’. They usually prepare different vegetable dishes to round up their diet. They habitually take different milk-products too.

Smoking is the common form of taking narcotics, which is practiced by both sexes. They also use snuff in the nostrils and mouth. They are habituated to country liquor which they purchase from the market.

Huts and settlement pattern

The Toda villages are usually situated on the hill-slopes. Half-barrel shaped, long hut is generally occupied by two or three Toda families. Each hut roughly measures 15 feet x 12 feet. Walls are made of bamboo splits, plastered with mud. In this type of dwelling roof and wall cannot be distin­guished. A single low door allows entry to a dwelling hut Due to the lack of proper ventilation; the inside of such hutment is stuffy and dark. A few huts like these, com­prise a village.

Cattle-shed is separately constructed

The dairy-house is generally attached to it. Two or three apartments are found in a dairy house of average size: the first one being used by the guardsmen as their sleeping room, while in others dairy operations are being done.

Household utensils and furniture

The Toda use earthen containers and cooking pots in their kitchen. Wooden kiddies, wooden plates, leaf-cups, iron-cauldron and fry pans are found in their kitchen as well. Aluminium buckets are used in fetching water for home consumption and also for their dairy activities.

Dress and ornaments

The Toda men and women wear loose garments, covering almost the entire body. A type of long, stitched garment made of loin cloth is usually worn by men. A part of this garment is thrown over the shoulders. This cloak-like attire of the males is provided with pockets’. Women wear loose loin garments of multi-colors. The female garments are divided into two parts – blouse-like upper part and skirt-like lower part Children generally shave their head in a peculiar fashion: they are found to have neat shaving all around and the top, leaving lock of hair in front and back. Women decorate their bodies with designed tattoo marks and they are very fond of using ornaments of silver, brass, and iron. Ear-rings are worn by both the sexes. The Toda are having nasty habit so far personal hygiene is concerned. They take bath twice or thrice a month and smear buffalo ­ghee (butter-oil) on their bodies as a protection against chill, dry wintry climate.

Also read about Toda Embroidery.

Social Organisation


The Toda tribe is endogamous in nature. Marriage with a non-Toda is not socially permissible. The Toda is in close inter-tribal contact with the neighbor­ing tribes which the anthropologists declare as ‘socio-economic symbiosis’, as men­tioned earlier. Mutual reciprocative behaviour is observed in all spheres of their life.

Dual organization and Sub-Tribe Divisions

The Toda possess a peculiar of dual organization in which the two sub-tribe divisions i.e. moieties are exclusively endogamous. The superior moiety is known as Tarthar while the inferior one is Teivali. The former one is major and the latter one is minor. Tarther owns the sacred buffalo herds and the Teivali supplies all the dairymen to tend the owed herds.

Clans and sub-clans

Each moiety division is divided into a number of exogamous, totemic, patrilineal clans. The major moiety, the Tarther, possesses twelve clans and its counterpart has only six clans in its constituted body. Each clan is territorial in nature. It possesses a number of villages within its purview and it derives its name from the chief of the village.

Each clan has two types of sub-clan divisions.


A sub-clan is divided into a number of families. The composite conjugal family is fairly common which is based on fraternal polyandry. A woman with his multiple husbands and children lives in a single dwelling. In Toda society, sociological fatherhood is more important than biological fatherhood. In a polyandrous family, a new born is identified through his sociological father but not through his mother, as she is common to every child of that family. The senior most persons in the husband’s rank will automatically get the fatherhood of the first issue of his common wife. He is to present a ‘bow and arrow’ in a ceremony, held in the seventh month of her pregnancy to the expected mother. This ceremony is known to them as pursuptumi. Monogamous, simple or nuclear family is also met with.

The authority in a Toda family rests on the senior most male member. A sharp division of labor is observed in a Toda household which is based on sex, as already mentioned.

Kinship terminology

The Toda mainly follow the classificatory system of kinship terminology. A single term is used to designate a number of relatives of the same rank and sex. Cross-cousins and own spouses are called by a common term of address. The term ‘father’ is applied to all male relatives of father’s status.


The most common form of marriage is fraternal polyandry i.e. multiple marriage on the part of a woman. Due to the disparity in male and female numerical strength, a few uterine brothers are found to share a woman. The traditional female infanticide practice might be one of the reasons of steady decease in female ratio. The then British administration had been able to stop this evil social custom totally, as a result, the female population has found to be increased considerably during past few decades. They indulge, at present; to a sort of group-marriage i.e. more than one woman marry more than one man. Monogamy is not uncommon.

Adult marriage is the general practice. Both types of cross-cousin marriages i.e. with mother’s brother’s daughter and with father’s sister’s daughter are the preferred forms of marriage. Sororate is practiced while levitation is not met with. Bride-price is to be paid to girl’s parents. In polyandrous marriage, the amount of bride-price is found to be shared by the prospective husbands.


Descent is always patrilineal. Clan-name, family-name flow through the male lint. A man becomes the father of a child long after his death even. Sociological fatherhood comes into operation in such polyandrous marriage.

Inheritances of Property

The Toda recognize two types of property: private or personal and communal. Dress, ornaments, household utensils and ordinary buf­falos herd belong to private property. Homestead, pasture ground, and sacred buf­falo-herds are owned by the clan. The legal sons inherit the parental property. Among the Toda, the patrilineal inheritance is guided by the combined rules of primogeniture and ultimo geniture.

Village council

The Toda are a timid type of peace loving people. Theft and robbery are unknown to them. In case any disputes, this village council comes into operation for their settlements. This council is known as Naim. The Tarther moiety supplies three of the five-member council, the Teivali supplies one, and the other member comes from the neighboring tribe, the Badaga. As the occurrence of criminal case is so rare that the council has to operate in civil matters exclusively.

Death and Funeral

The funeral ceremonies are of two types – Green and Dry disposals of the dead. In case of child-death, both these types of disposal are held simultaneously. On the event of adult-death, the green type of disposal is held in the first stage, and a few months later dry function is held which may not be for single individual but for a number of dead persons together. The chief-mourner, in the case of a man, is his son or brother but for a woman, her husband is considered to be the chief-mourner. If an unmarried person dies, his cross-cousin (female) plays the role of wife and widow. The funeral pyre is lighted from a fire ignited by friction which is thought to be sacred. After cremation, pieces of charred bones and cranium are kept carefully for the dry disposal rite to be held later on singly or jointly. These human body-remnants are burned subsequently. Pollution is maintained for a specific period. Purificatory bath is generally taken by the mourners or the completion of the pollution period. Then, the post-funeral ceremony is held.


According to census report of 1961, 88 Todas are returned as Christians while 626 as having traditional animalistic tribal religion. Toda religion is marked by polytheism, as they believe in an indefinitely large number of spirits, gods and goddesses. Of these, two are most important – Teikirzi and On. The former one is the goddess who has over-all command on the people and land. The latter is a male deity, supposed to be the brother of the former, who rules the world of the dead. Transmigration of soul is typically present among the Toda. The soul is indestructible and often takes rebirth.

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