Environmentally Sustainable Cultural Practices of the Indigenous People s


The role of culture in the conservation of environment is immensely significant. The main purpose behind the study is to explore the ways in which one of the Tribes of Assam has sustained the environment around them culturally. The Tiwa tribe of Assam is a scheduled tribe whose tradition and culture over time has been to live in close connection with nature. Thus, the practices of these people and their culture are deeply related to the conservation of the environment. In the following study focus has been to look at this indigenous group of people and explore the measures that they employ in order to create a space of sustenance with the environment. The research study is entirely qualitative and the data which is collected has been based on secondary sources of information. In the study it would be revealed how different beliefs and practices of these communities including, taboos and totemism, have all been instruments at protecting the environment. The paper explorers the indigenous knowledge of the river community people to make the best use out of the natural environment around them without hampering the ecology. In the conclusion of the study the researcher gives forth an analysis of how the government policy makers as well as the environmentalists can benefit immensely from learning and employing the different modes in which the environment is being protected by the traditional knowledge of the indigenous community.


The research problem:

The Tiwa community of northeast India is a very diverse community with different social cultural traits. The diversity can be witnessed in terms of the cultural, social and geographical disparity between the Hill Tiwas and Plain Tiwas. The aim of the study was to find out more about the indigenous practices of the members of Tiwa community which are in turn environmentally sustainable. The festivities, taboos and certain conservation practices of the Tiwa tribe have been studied to exemplify how they are rooted on the ideals of environmental sustainability.

Aims and Objectives:

The main objective behind writing this research paper remains the following:

a) To explore the various sustainable practices of the members of the community
b) To understand how the cultural practices of the Tiwa community are environment friendly
c) Understanding the importance of indigenous knowledge in sustaining the environment.
d) Finally, to analyze how these traditional practices are significant in helping community and the government in implementing its developmental policies.

Research questions:

As the study was conducted based on secondary sources of information collected in a short span of time, there are a few research questions prepared instead of any hypothesis. These questions were:
a) What are the cultural practices of the Tiwas?
b) What constitutes the indigenous belief systems of the Tiwas?
c) How are the individual and collective practices of the Tiwa people environmentally sustainable?
d) What is the role of members of the community in protecting the environment?
e) How can these practices be used by the policy makers in implementing sustainable development policies?


Every research study has its own limitation. The following are some of the main problems which were faced by the researcher in the course of her study:

  1. The following research paper was prepared in the month of August and September, 2020. As the paper was written in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, thus movement across different parts of the state was restricted. This was the major limitation of the study as field study could not be conducted.
  2. The region of Morigaon and Nagaon are severely flood affected areas. Thus, the monsoon season made it difficult to procure primary data.
  3. In the short period of the study it was not possible to explore each and every practice of the Tiwa community which would have made the paper more resourceful and holistic.
  4. Some of the books referred to in the study of this research paper are written in a regional language. Thus, translation of original texts has been a limit of this study. While being able to access these sources acted as an advantage for the researcher herself, the non-availability of translated versions of these original texts may be a limiting factor for readers interested in further exploration who may not have access to the language.


The North-East of India is a melting pot of numerous tribes with their own distinctive ethnicityand cultures. Traditionally, the North East of India is comprised of the seven sister states namely: Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura, along with the state of Sikkim. Each of these states has a significant share of their population comprising of the indigenous people, i.e., the Tribal population. The North East of India, being a culturally diverse ad rich zone has been a melting pot of indigenous cultures. One of the tribes of Assam, the Tiwa community has been studied in this paper. The central idea remains to understand the tribal or indigenous beliefs and practices which help sustain the environment. Thus, the indigenous knowledge system and culture also showcases a new culture of consumption very different from the dominant contemporary models, which are exploitative in essence. When we reflect on the varying traditional ways of living of these people, it provides an explanation for why the contemporary idea of prioritizing want over need comes at the immense cost of the environment. 


Understanding the indigenous people: 

Among others, people belonging to tribes constitute the indigenous population. Such tribes are enlisted by government census data and have varied representations in numbers. The term Indigenous has been defined extensively by scholars, anthropologists and other social scientists globally. Anthropologists over time have, however, struggled to define what a tribe is and to distinguish them from the other social formations. Initially, in the 19th century, tribes were not just understood as a particular type of society but also as a particular stage of evolution (Beteille, 1998). They were considered to be primitive, isolated and self-contained social formations. The indigenous peoples were universally given a political recognition when the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples was adopted in 2007. With its 46 articles, it emphasizes on the need for guaranteeing the environmental rights, land rights to these peoples to ensure their cultural sustainability.

Indigenous People in India

The Scheduled Tribes or STs:

In India, the indigenous people or the aboriginal ethnic groups are recognized legally as the scheduled tribes or STs. The Indian constitution has defined the Scheduled Tribes in its Article 342 and Article 366.

Scheduled Tribes
1. The President may with respect to any State or Union Territory, and where it is a State, after consultation with the Governor thereof, by public notification, specify the tribes, or tribal communities or parts of or groups within tribes or tribal communities which shall for the purposes of this Constitution be deemed to be Scheduled Tribes in relation to that State or Union Territory, as the case may be. 

2. Parliament may by law include in or exclude from the list of Scheduled Tribes specified in a notification issued under clause (2) any tribe or tribal community or part of or group within any tribe or tribal community, but save as aforesaid a notification issued under the said clause shall not be varied by any subsequent notification.


In this Constitution unless the context otherwise requires, the following expressions have the meanings hereby respectively assigned to them, that is to say – “Scheduled Tribes” means such tribes or tribal communities or parts of or groups within such tribes or tribal communities as are deemed under article 342 to be Scheduled Tribes for the purposes of this Constitution. (Constitution of India)

The Indian Constitution provides for an extensive system of affirmative action for its tribal population by assuring reservation in education, government jobs. The affirmative action policies are undertaken by the constitution of India to do away with the social and cultural ‘backwardness’ of the tribal people as well as to prevent discriminatory practices directed at them.

According to the last census of India In 2011, the scheduled tribes constitute an 8.6% of the total population, the total number stood at 10,42,81,034. A large section of the tribal population is concentrated in the North East of India. Lakshadweep, Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Dadra & Nagar Haveli are predominantly tribal States /Union territories where Scheduled Tribes population constitutes more than 60% of their total population (Census
of India Report, 2011). The states of Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Jammu & Kashmir, Tripura, Mizoram, Bihar, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, account for 15.3% of the total Scheduled Tribe population of India (Census of India Report, 2011). The state of Assam alone has nearly 18 notified tribes. The total scheduled tribes population of Assam in 2011 was 3,884,371 (Census of India Report, 2011). In the state of Assam, the total population of the scheduled tribes stood at 12% (Census of India Report, 2011).

Just like the indigenous peoples all across the globe, the tribal population of the state of Assam has also maintained cultural practices and values which are consistent with the idea of sustainability. The idea of sustainability stems from their notion of conscious strategy building aimed at striking a balance between the human world of survival and the natural environment, keeping in mind the needs of the future generations. Indigenous cultures may represent sources of such environmental values alternative to dominant materialistic ones. Historically, indigenous cultures were underpinned by eco-centric values and holistic, non-materialistic worldviews. (Banerjee, 2002)