The social Life of an Ethnonym: The “Kattu Nayaka” of South India

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In this article I trace the ironic social life of the ethnic names used for a forestdwelling people living in the Nilgiri-Wynaad in South India in various intersecting arenas: local, colonial, and postcolonial. They call themselves sonta (translatable as “own, relatives who live together”), usually prefixed by nama (our). Outsiders, such as the neighbors in their multi-ethnic region, and colonial and postcolonial administrators, have regarded them by various ethnonyms including Nayaka/Kattunayaka. I examine the meanings and politics of their appellations in this case study of the complex processes of making indigenous polities in India.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-153
Number of pages15
JournalAsian Ethnology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture.


  • Ethnic identity
  • Ethnic names
  • Foraging people
  • Indigenous polities
  • Nilgiris
  • South India

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Anthropology
  • Religious studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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