The primitive societies have passed through several stages of economic development everywhere in the world. Thus one finds the stages of food gathering, hunting and fishing, farming, etc. among the Indian tribes.
The tribes living in the forests and hills usually earn their livelihood by means of food gathering, hunting and fishing. Such is the life of Kadar of Kerala, Birhor and Kharia of Bihar and other tribes. The tribes living in dense forests, full of wild beasts, live on hunting. Such are the tribes of Naga, Kuki, Bhil, Santhal and Gond.
The hunters leave the females to carry out household activities in the morning and return in the evening after hunting. In some tribes there is a usual custom of hunting collectively. The Nagas use spears and arrows and bows. The Bhils are very much specialized in shutting by arrow.
The tribes living near rivers and seas usually earn their livelihood by catching fish. The hilly tribes rear the cattle, an example of which are Goojars and the tribes of Chamba. The Todas of Nilgiri rear buffaloes. Some tribes also carry out cultivation, but they are generally shifting from one place to another.
Among the cultivating tribes are the Santhals and Gonds. Cottage industries, such as weaving cloths, preparing ropes and skins and utensils of different metals are prevalent in many tribes. The Kharia people are very much specialized to cottage industries.
Classification of Economic Organization
The Indian tribes can be divided into the following classes in the economic organization:
1. Hunting and food gathering tribes include Kadar, Chenchu, Kharia and Korawa etc.
2. Cattle rearing tribes such as the Todas and Bhils.
3. Cultivating tribes such as Kumar, Vega and Birhor.
4. Industrial tribes such as Kharia and Nagas.
The tribal economic organization is mainly concerned with producing such things asarenecessary for their daily needs and consuming them. These activities are very much determined by the geographical environment of the tribe. Usually, the tribals have to struggle very hard to meet their economic needs. The following are the important characteristics of Indian tribal economic organization.
1. Production without technological aids
As the tribals are illiterate and cut off from the civilized world, they generally carry out production without adequate technological aids with the result that there is much loss of material with very little production. The tribals are, therefore, generally very poor inspite of working very hard.
2. Mixing economic activities with religion and magic
The tribals live in a natural environment where there is no distinction of economic, religious and magical activities. There is, therefore, a tendency to mix all these. In the economic activities also religious and magical activities are utilized to attain economic ends. Many superstitions in this respect are prevalent among the tribals, for example, among Nagas there is a custom of human sacrifice and sprinkling human blood over land in order to increase its fertility.
3. Production for consumption
In the absence of sufficient technological aids and scientific knowledge regarding agricultural and other production, the tribals generally produce only to consume. Hardly anything is left for exchange or hoarding. In the materials of consumption, food and clothing are generally given first preference, and then there is the place for the home.
4. Absence of currency
The tribal people do not use currency in deciding the price of commodities and in exchange. There are no banks of economic exchanges in their societies. They hardly carry out any exchange of economic goods with outside groups.
5. Absence of regular markets
There are no regular markets found in tribal societies and, therefore, there is no competition, monopoly, business or trade in their economic organization.
6. Absence of profiteering
There is absence of profiteering in tribal economic organization due to two important causes. Firstly, the absence of currency to fix the price of commodities and secondly the connection of unity sentiments with economic activities.
7. Community basis of economic activities
Thus the chief aim of economic activities in a tribal society is to fulfil the community duties. The organization of most of the economic activities is cooperative and communal.
8. Absence of specialists
There are no specialists in different branches of economic organization in tribal societies, with the result that there is no division of labour and specialization.
9. Concept of property
Some conception of personal property is found in almost every tribal society. A person is allowed a right over the things produced by him or his family. There is, however, group ownership over the ponds, the land and the forests, etc.
10. Economic backwardness
The above mentioned characteristics of tribal economic organization account for their economic backwardness. They do not know the new changes and inventions in different fields of production. Their methods and implements of cultivation, hunting and fishing are very primitive. They do not know anything about trade and commerce. The cottage industries are carried on by means of unrefined and primitive tools and methods. Hence the economic status of Indian tribes is very much backward.