Yerukala is scheduled tribe found throughout Andhra Pradesh. They call themselves ‘Kurru’. They are called ‘Yerukula’ after their women’s traditional profession of fortune telling ((Eruka chepputa). The population of Yerukala tribe according to 1991 census is 3,87,898. The total literacy rate among Yerukula is 25.74.
The Yerukala tribe has a dialect of its own which is called ‘Yerukula basha’ or ‘Kurru basha’ or ‘Kulavatha’. It is derived from Dravidian languages, mostly Telugu, Tamil and Kannada.
The Yerukala tribe is divided into a number of functional and endogamous sub-divisions and each such sub-division is named after the commodity, which they traded in and the occupation they adopted. The sub-divisions are Dabba Yerukala (those who make baskets from split bamboo), Yeethapullala (Date twigs) ‘Yerukula (those whom make baskets from wild date leaves), Kunchapuri Yerukala (those who make weaver’s combs), Parikamuggula Yerukala (sooth sayers and beggars), Karivepaku Yerukala (hawkers of curry leaves), Uppu Yerukala (salt hawkers).
Each sub-division is dividend into four phraties viz., Sathupadi, Kavadi, Manupati and Mendraguthi. The first two phratiries Viz, Sathupadi and Kavadi are considered to be superior to the other two. Each phratry is further sub-divided into a number of exogamous intiperlu (surnames). Some of the intiperlu are Kumbha, Mogili, Katta, Devara, Sreerama, Palaparthi, Meda etc, Endogamy at community level and exogamy at phratry and intiperlu level are observed.
Family and Marriage
The type of family among Yerukala tribe is usually nuclear. Descent is patrilineal, residence is patrilocal and authority is patriarchal. Cross-cousin (menarikam) marriages are preferred. Marriage between the maternal uncle and niece is also permitted. Monogamy is the common form of marriage, but polygyny is also socially permitted. Marriage through negotiation and exchange are the common modes of acquiring mates. Traditionally, the married women used to wear a bead necklace as the symbol of marriage. But now thali bottu or mangal sutram, the marriage pendent is being worn as a marriage symbol by most of the women. Divorce is permissible on grounds of adultery, barrenness and incompatibility between the spouses. Widows are permitted to re-marry.
Yerukalas worship Hindu benevolent Gods i.e. Lord Venteswara, Narasimhaswamy, Narayanaswamy and Rama. The Yerukalas are a spirit haunted and ghost-ridden people and attribute every disease or misfortune to the action of some malevolent spirits and ancestral ghost. The influence of evil spirit is averted by sacrificing goats, pigs, fowls etc. They worship benevolent Gods, which are common Gods in Hindu pantheon and appease malevolent deities such as Ankamma, Kollapuramma, Sunkulamma, Poleramma and Ellamma. The Yerukalas celebrate Hindu festivals such as Sankranthi, Sivarathri, Sreeramanavami, Dasara, Ugadi (Telugu New Year’s Day).
The Yerukala tribe has its own social control mechanism at each habitation inhabited by Yerukala to ensure proper observance of prescribed codes of conduct. This traditional council (Kula Panchayat) is headed by an elderly man whose office is hereditary traditionally. The traditional council (Kula Panchayat) try and decide the domestic disputes, disputes relating to theft, adultery, loans, property, and land. The characteristic feature of deciding guilt or innocence of an accused among Yerukalas was through trial by ordeal, which was in vogue till recent times such as 1. Dipping of fingers in boiling oil, 2. Picking up the burnt iron crowbar and, 3. Walking bare foot through the fire bed. Apart from solving disputes, the Kulapanchayat is also competent to maintain the solidarity of the community by checking the behaviour of the individuals. If a person commits the breach of incest taboo, he is excommunicated and denied all community rights. The defaulter is readmitted into the community after the purificatory ceremony is observed.
Yerukalas are non-vegetarians. Rice is their staple cereal in coastal Andhra Pradesh, while jowar is the staple cereal in Rayalaseema and Telangana regions. They eat pork.
The traditional occupations of Yerukalas include basket-making, mat weaving, pig rearing, rope-making etc. The Yerukala women are specialized in sooth saying and fortune telling. Some of them also participate in economic activities like basket making, mat weaving etc, and make baskets with wild date leaves.