Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Toda are a small group of indigenous people living in the Nilgiri mountains of southern India. They were long portrayed as isolated pastoralist people with their own distinct culture involving a vegetarian diet, worship of dairy-buffalos, and fraternal polyandry (a practice in which a woman marries a group of brothers). As of the 1980s, however, many Toda earned their income from agriculture and other non-farm activities. They also tended to be monogamous, and increasingly interacted with people of different religious faiths, food customs and economic pursuits.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Asia --South Asia



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

The AW60 Toda collection covers a variety of cultural, linguistic and historical information from 1870s to 1980s.

The earliest account in the collection was compiled by William Marshall (1873, no. 2), a British colonial official who, with some help from European missionaries in the Nilgiri hills, visited the Toda in 1870. This book provides a first hand description of Toda villages, family system, marriage and burial customs, diet, religion and rituals. Yet, as readers would note, Marshall’s portray of the Toda was largely shaped by a mix of European stereotypes and phrenological inferences. The remaining documents in the collection are by professional anthropologists and linguists who conducted research among the Toda in the 1900s, 1930s, 1940s and 1980s.

W. H. R. Rivers (1906, no. 1) systematically covers a broad range of Toda culture as observed in 1901-1902, and is the basic ethnographic account to be consulted. The works of Emeneau and Peter compliment Rivers by documenting and examining more specific aspects of Toda culture including marriage regulations and taboos (Emeneau 1937, no. 5; Peter 1963, no. 13), beliefs and practices associated with menstruation (Emeneau 1939, no. 11), language and social forms (Emeneau 1941, no. 12) and patterns of acculturation (Emeneau 1939, no. 10).  Over all, these authors portrayed the Toda as "isolated" and "non-Hindu tribal people,” except Walker (1986, no. 14) who sought to rectify this image by examining household and community –level effects of external forces including missionaries, British colonial government, and expanding markets and new economic opportunities.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document. For information on a neighboring group in the Nilgiri plateau, see the Badaga collection in eHRAF World Cultures.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Ârs - house – use "DWELLINGS (342)"

Bazaar - use "COMMERCIAL FACILITIES (366)” with "DOMESTIC TRADE (438)"

Ichchil, or icïl - condition of ritual impurity - use "PURIFICATION AND ATONEMENT (783)"

Ko.ltmox, or kaltmokh - use "PRIESTHOOD (793)"

Kur - grain given by Badaga to Toda - use "INTER - ETHNIC RELATIONS (629)" with "GIFT GIVING (431)"

Kwïr - literally, horn, segment of a partriclan for ritual purposes - use "LINEAGES (613)" and/or "CLANS (614)"

Kwïdbïl - family, or household  - use "HOUSEHOLD (592)"

Marfon.yno.lxor or mârvainolkêdr - second funeral ceremony - use "BURIAL PRACTICES AND FUNERALS (764)" with "CULT OF THE DEAD (769)"

Manigar, or [n]monyxo.rn[n/] - government appointed head-man - use "LOCAL OFFICIALS (624)"

Mociny, or matchuni - cousin (male or female) who is also regarded as preferred spouse - use "COUSINS (605)" with "REGULATION OF MARRIAGE (582)"

Mod - hamlet, residence of a patriclan - use "SETTLEMENT PATTERNS (361)" with "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621)" and/or "CLANS (614)"

Naim (no.ym)-  caste council - use "CASTES (564)" with "COUNCILS (623)"

Palol, or poto.t- dairy man attending sacred buffalos – use "PRIESTHOOD (793)" with "SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)"

Patta - land titles issued to household members - use "REAL PROPERTY (423)" with  "HOUSEHOLD (592)"

Pïsïtt, or pursüt - act of giving the bow to recognize paternity of a child - use "SOCIAL PLACEMENT (851)"

Pólm, or po’lm - segment of a patriclan for economic purposes - use "LINEAGES (613)" and/or "CLANS (614)"

Polyandry - use "POLYGAMY (595)"

Shola - trees forming patches of temperate forest  - use "FLORA (137)" with "TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)"

Ti, or - highest grade sacred dairy - use "SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)"

Tö.kisy, or teikîrzi - goddess and pre-eminent Toda deity - use "SPIRITS AND GODS (776)"

Water buffalo - use "FAUNA (136)"with "DOMESTICATED ANIMALS (231)"

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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