For a long time, Adivasi literature has largely remained in the shadows. The Adivasis (or people from tribal communities) have a rich tradition of oral storytelling and their exquisite tales are likely to leave you in awe. Thanks to the work of publishers like adivaani, Zubaan, and even mainstream publishers, Adivasi literature has now been translated into English, and has finally been made accessible to us. These are stories, not only about their culture, but about nature, philosophy, and the human condition, and the interconnection between them. From stories by Temsula Ao to fiction by Easterine Kire, these books by Adivasis are sure to astound you.   


Laburnum For My Head

Temsula Ao

A collection of eight short stories, Temsula Ao’s Sahitya Akademi Award winning novel is nothing short of a wonder. These stories take us on a journey through the vibrant region of north-east India and also focus on the atrocities the natives have to endure. While Death Of A Hunter talks of a hunter haunted by the ghost of his prey, A Simple Question is the story of how a woman freed her husband from the army by asking a simple question. Laburnum For My Head is full of stories that evoke a number of emotions within us and this work of Adivasi literature helps us understand the Adivasis’ suffering a little better.

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The Mysterious Ailment Of Rupi Baskey

Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

Hansda Sowendra Shekhar, author of the well-known The Adivasi Will Not Dance, won the Yuva Puraskar for The Mysterious Ailment Of Rupi Baskey. Rupi Baskey, once fully healthy, comes down with a mysterious ailment, ultimately making her bed-ridden. Everyone is suspicious of Gurubari, her husband’s lover, who is said to practice black magic. Add in an alcoholic mother-in-law  and a willful child, and Rupi’s life seems bleak at best. Set in a Santhal village, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s debut novel shows us the Santhali way of life, where the drama of a family in Jharkhand and their interactions with other Santhalis keeps us hooked with its story of gods and human emotions. This is a must-read work of Adivasi literature.

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A Girl Swallowed By A Tree: Lotha Naga Tales Retold

Nzanmongi Jasmine Patton

The Lotha tribe in Nagaland believe in keeping their culture alive through their folk tales. Nzanmongi Jasmine Patton has translated 30 of such stories into English, while still keeping certain Lotha words to preserve their originality. Ranphan, The Brave tells of a man who fights the tiger that killed his wife, while in Longtsarhoni And The Snake Man, a shape-shifting male snake forces a human female to marry him. These stories open a window to a culture about which not much is known. With a foreword by Easterin Kire, who calls it “a pathfinder for other books on oral narratives”, this work of Adivasi literature is surely not to be missed.

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Becoming Me

Rejina Marandi

Liya is a young girl who struggles to survive in a riot-ridden Assam, all the while trying to keep her hopes and dreams alive. Rejina Marandi’s debut novel is “a coming of age story” of an Adivasi in a place full of atrocities, discrimination, and prejudices. The sufferings of the Adivasis in Assam are exposed through the story of a girl, and is sure to be a wake-up call for those ignorant about such a dark past in our country’s politics.

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Painted Words: An Anthology Of Tribal Literature

G. N. Devy

Editor G.N. Devy has collected and compiled a number of writings, songs, folk tales and even tribal versions of Ramayana and Mahabharata in Painted Words. Not only that, this work of Adivasi literature brings to attention how deeply the tribal culture is interwoven with mainstream culture, and even showcases how Adivasis are being exploited all over India. With such rich information gathered from all over India, it’d be a shame to miss such an insightful book.

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The Black Hill

Mamang Dai

During the 1850s, when the British were seeking to take over India, the north-east region was not spared. The local tribes of Abor and Mishmee tried in vain to keep “outsiders” away from their territory, but their efforts were in vain. In this backdrop of looming war, Gimur and Kajinsha fall in love, and set out to marry. But the murder of a priest, who wishes to reach Tibet, foils their plan. The winner of Sahitya Akademi Award, Mamang Dai’s The Black Hill is a story of survival, and highlights just how important their land is to Adivasis.

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A Respectable Woman

Easterine Kire

Eastern Kire’s novel uses storytelling traditions that are typical of Nagaland to recreate the aftermath of WWII. The decisive battle of Kohima is over and the people of and around Kohima are left to pick up the pieces. Political unrest and social changes have created new social problems, like alcohol abuse and domestic violence. 45 years later, Khanuo recreates the events for her young daughter as she tells her all about the past while highlighting the present, which is fraught with a different set of challenges. Through Khanuo’s journey, we learn of Nagaland’s history and of a society in transition.

Buy it here.

Which of these gems of Adivasi literature have you read? Do you have any other recommendations? Share with us in the comments.

Prasanna Sawant

Prasanna Sawant

Prasanna is a human (probably) who makes stuff up for a living. When she's not sleeping or eating, you'll find her in the quietest corner of the library, devouring yet another hardbound book. She vastly prefers the imaginary world to the real one, but grudgingly emerges from her writing cave on occasion. If you do see her, it's best not to approach her before she's had her coffee.

She writes at The Curious Reader. You can read her articles here