Sunday, July 13, 2008

126. Totems in our antiquity

An image of a totem of Rabbit.

We generally take for granted that totems were traditionally used by the primitive aborigines of Africa or America. The Oxford dictionary defines totem as ‘a natural object or animal believed by a particular society to have spiritual meaning and adopted by it as an emblem’.
Our analysis and earlier discussion on the antiquity of Sāliyān lineage led straight into the realm of totems. Analytical inputs from Manjunath and Ashok Shetty unravelled ‘spider’ (or ‘Tālya’) as an ancient totemic emblem of the Sāliyān/ Tāliāna lineage of Tulu communities. This leads us to investigate deeper into the footprints of totemic emblems in Tulunadu.

African heritage
I have emphasized earlier that Tulu people were immigrants and have had African heritage in their antiquity. This is in conformity with the popular recent concept of migration of people from Africa. The basic words ‘Tulu’ and ‘Bant’ have been shown to be imported from our African roots. Similarly our word ‘Kola’ (the celebration or reception, the custom) is from Africa. There have been several other borrowed items that have been part and parcel of our culture: the cult of Spirit worship, Tree worship (Marava), the tradition of Oral literature (PaDdana), Totems

Totem of Rabbit:‘Muger’
One of the major tribal groups at present in Tulunadu is called ‘Mugera’ or ‘Méra’. The words ‘muger’ or ‘mér’ refer to rabbit. Dr. Abhaya KaukraDi in his work on ‘Mugeraru’ (1997) infers that the word ‘Mugera’ or ‘Mera’ came into being because these tribes are experts in hunting rabbits. However there is a strong possibility of the rabbit being a totem for this tribal community in the antiquity.

There is one more community not related to ‘Mugera’ / ‘Mera’ tribes discussed above but also called ‘Mugér’ or ‘Moger’ especially along the coast. These are fishers by profession and in Tulu regions they have been renamed as ‘Mogaveera’ during the beginning of the Twentieth century. I have tried to explain the word origin of ‘Moger’ (now, Mogaveera) earlier based on the words ‘mogaru’ or ‘mugér’ which means river-plains (as in ‘Jeppina mogaru’, Narimogaru etc). There is also a view that Moger is derived from the word 'moge' to draw water.The availbility of alternate choice of meanings for the words is inevitable during word-analysis due to ambiguities in the origin and existence of dual (or more) meanings for many of our words.
However in the light of our discovery of totemic roots of Sāliyān/ Tāliāna lineage, it appears that apart from the tribes ‘Muger /Mera’, there is a possibility that ‘Mogera’(Mogaveera) tribes in the antiquity also may have had rabbit as their totem in the antiquity.
More data on these aspects would be welcome.

One of the ancient tribes I described based on relics of village names is the tribe of ‘Iruva’ or ‘Irava’. These may also be related to ‘Irula’ tribes and language found in interior Kerala. The name has close affinity to the tiny animal ant (‘Iruve’) which is a totem among some of the primitive African/American tribes.

More on elucidation on these aspects and suggestion of other totems may be expected from knowledgeable persons.


Dr Abhaya KaukraDi (1997) ‘Mugeraru: Janjanga, Janapada adhyayana’ (in Kannada). Directorate of Kannada and Culture Bangalore. 292 p.

Blog Archive

Books for Reference

  • A Comparative Study of Tulu Dialects By Dr. Padmanabha Kekunnaya. Govinda Pai Reserach Centre, UDupi. 1994
  • Koti Chennaya: Janapadiya Adhyayana. By Dr. Vamana Nandavar. Hemanshu Prakashana ,Mangalore.2001.
  • Male kudiyaru. Dr B. A.Viveka Rai and D.Yadupathi Gowda, Mangalore University,1996.
  • Mogaveera Samskriti By Venkataraja Punimchattaya. Karnataka Sahitya Academy.1993.
  • Mugeraru:Jananga Janapada Adhyayana. By Dr Abhaya Kumar Kaukradi.Kannada & Culture Directorate,Bangalore & Karnataka Tulu Academy, Mangalore,1997.
  • Puttubalakeya Pad-danagalu. Ed: Dr B.A.Viveka Rai,Yadupati Gowda and Rajashri, Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheswara Tulu Peeta. Mangalore University.2004
  • Se'erige. Ed:Dr K.Chinnapa Gowda.Madipu Prakashana,Mangalagangotri,2000.
  • Studies in Tuluva History and Dr P Gururaja Bhat (1975).Milagres College,Kallinapur,Udupi.
  • Taulava Sanskriti by Dr.B.A.Viveka Rai, Sahyadri Prakashana,Mysore 1977
  • TuLu naaDu-nuDi By Dr.PalthaDi Ramakrishna Achar, Puttur.
  • TuLu NighanTu. (Editor in Chief: Dr U.P.Upadhyaya, Govinda Pai Research Centre,Udupi. Six volumes. 1988 to 1997
  • Tulu Patero-A Philology & Grammar of Tulu Language by Budhananda Shivalli.2004.Mandira Prakashana Mangalore. p.317. (The book is in Tulu Language using Kannada script)
  • TuLunadina ShasanagaLa Sanskritika Adhyayana. By Shaila T. Verma (2002) Jnanodaya Prakashana,Bangalore, p.304.(Kannada)
  • Tuluvala Baliyendre. Compiled by N.A.Sheenappa Hegde,Polali,Sri Devi Prakashana,Parkala,1929/1999

A Coastal estuary

A Coastal estuary
Holegadde near Honavar,Uttara Kannada dist, Karnataka

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