Koya tribe’s Kommu dance form faces risk of extinction

The tribals, who are set to be rehabilitated from the flood-prone mandals, are in for a culture shock

Deep inside Chintoor Agency, on the banks of the Chandravanka stream near the Andhra Pradesh-Chhattisgarh border, Kunja Santhi Kumari and Kunja Sailaja were unstoppable for a few hours performing their traditional Kommu Koya dance.

However, the usual sparkle that lit up their faces during a dance was missing — the reason being a constant worry over the future of their dance tradition that has been handed down over generations.

Situated in the Polavaram project submergence area, seven mandals including Chintoor, Kunavaram, and V.R. Puram of Telangana State were merged with East and West Godavari districts (Andhra Pradesh), where the Kommu Koya tribal dance is thriving now. Until the merger, the seven mandals were part of Khammam district in Telangana State.

“The future of Koya tribal culture, primarily the dance form, looks bleak in Andhra Pradesh as a majority of the Koya tribals will face a cultural shock with the submergence of our region and rehabilitation to non-forest-dwellings to make way for the Polavaram irrigation project,” said Kunja Santhi Kumari of Ganganametta-Tummala area. Five teams, with at least ten performers each, are actively promoting the dance in the Ganganametta-Tummala area in Chintoor Agency.

In East Godavari, nearly 200 performers are active. Half of them are women performers who perform anywhere outside their habitations. Over 90% of them are in the 20-30 age group, according to the Koya tribals. The tribe’s tradition is to perform the dance during the festivals of local deities, Mahua harvest, ‘bhumi puja’, and weddings.

“Our tribe did not hear about any policy from the State government for the promotion and conservation of our dance since the merger. Once rehabilitated, the future of our tribal cultural practices and dance will be in question. Had we not been merged, our future would have been rosy,” Kommu dance performer Veka Lenin told The Hindu.

Accompanied by her team manager Mr. Raj Kumar, performers Kunja Sailaja and Vetti Chinnammi said; “We have decided to continue to be the performers even after our wedding. Our families allow us to perform the dance as long as we wish to as it is an integral part of our traditional life. However, there would be no cultural life for us in the absence of our forests.”

“Once displaced, we cannot even imagine the changes to our cultural and traditional life. The impact that the absence of the forests will have on our life cannot be expressed in words, given our association with it for generations,” Mr. Lenin said.

Another performer, Madakam Durga Rao, said, “In the new settlements of the Koya tribal families, the unique drum will fall silent. The horns of the Bison (Indian Gaur), worn by the male dancer, will be the sole reminder of our past.”

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