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Cultural adaptation to climate change among indigenous people of South India

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The mainstream discourses on global climate change have tended to focus on mitigation and have neglected the adaptive measures, particularly at the local level, even though the local/indigenous people have been considered to be more vulnerable to such change. However, climate change has a distinct local reality—since the way such change is perceived and addressed is linked with the local people and their practices. Although climate change largely affects the lives of the local poor, certain positive effects may also occur for those marginalized people. In other words, many of the indigenous peoples have an adaptive capacity to deal with climate change. Therefore, climate change adaptation has now increasingly gained prominence. In this context, this paper will investigate the impact of climate change at the local level and explain how an indigenous and vulnerable population, the Konda Reddis, respond to such change through cultural adaptation. The paper will focus on the cultural significance of the jeelugu (fishtail palm, Caryota urens) and Konda Reddis’ shift from the jeelugu to the tati (palmyra palm, Borassus flabellifera). I will argue that such a shift is an indication of an adaptation to climate change. I will also maintain that though climate change plays a dominant role in stimulating such adaptation, certain other factors also interact with climatic factors in the adaptation.

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  1. Pandugulu or Pandu Rajulu (i.e., Pandavas) were the kings and heroes in the epic of the Mahabharata, from whom Konda Reddis trace their origin. Konda Reddis say that the Pandavas had been dependent on the jeelugu sap during their forest exile.

  2. Kakawada Gandi refers to the hilly terrain of the Kakawada village/region in Rampachodavaram mandal. It covers about 20 villages, including my base (study) village.

  3. Kakawada Gandi is a place in the mixed geo-climatic zone. It is within Rampachodavaram mandal and is bounded by the mandals of Maredumilli and Devipatnam. Since the Dabbavalasa and Sokulagudem villages are located close to the plains and to the Devipatnam area (that covers the riverside settlements and adjacent areas with hot climate), and experience a relatively hotter climatic condition than the study area, this may explain why tati trees are growing there.


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This article is a revised version of the paper, “Cultural Adaptations to Climate Change: A Case study of the Konda Reddi of Andhra Pradesh”, presented at the International Seminar on Anthropology and Global Climate Change: Local Knowledge, Cultural Adaptation and Resilience among the Indigenous Peoples, held at the Department of Anthropology, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, India during 15th – 16th February, 2016. I used the primary/empirical data collected for and during my doctoral and post-doctoral research at the Department of Anthropology, University of Hyderabad. I express my gratitude to Prof. K.K. Misra, my mentor at the University of Hyderabad and currently the Vice-Chancellor, Utkal University of Culture (Bhubaneswar, Odisha), for the academic freedom during my doctoral and postdoctoral research. I am thankful to the Konda Reddi people of my study. I acknowledge the University Grants Commission (UGC), New Delhi for the award of Dr. S. Radhakrishnan Postdoctoral Fellowship. My special thanks to the editors of Climatic Change and three anonymous reviewers for their excellent critiques and advice. Finally, I am grateful to Dr. Ellen Zimmerman, Professor of Anthropology, Framingham State University, USA, for the editing help on the final version of the article.

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Correspondence to Koteswara Rao Kodirekkala.

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Kodirekkala, K.R. Cultural adaptation to climate change among indigenous people of South India. Climatic Change 147, 299–312 (2018).

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