2024 Narikurava – Mamallapuram, India

Outside the small town of Mahabalipuram in India’s southernmost state of Tamil Nadu, the settlement of Poonjeri is home to around 40 Narikurava families. The Narikurava are a semi-nomadic community of around 30,000 people that are spread in small groups across the state. Historically, their main source of livelihood was hunting, but this has become almost impossible since laws were tightened to protect wild animals. Today, the Narikurava make a living primarily from making bead necklaces and other jewelry which they sell on the streets, in front of temples and at festivals.
The Narikurava people have experienced discrimination ever since ancient times and were long considered “untouchables”. During British rule in India, they were placed under the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 and as a result were stigmatized for a long time, even after Independence in 1947 and their denotification in 1952.
In 2023, the Indian central government finally granted the Narikurava people “scheduled tribe” status. This is the official term in India for all indigenous groups and tribal communities that are not part of the caste system. According to the Indian constitution, disadvantaged groups recognized as a “registered tribal community” are entitled to state protection and support. But the Narikurava people continue to be marginalized to this day. Access to healthcare, education and formal employment is still limited. Historically rooted prejudices persist in the Indian population.

The Narikurava in Poonjeri, who are portrayed here, live today in small stone houses built for them by various organizations after a tsunami destroyed the community’s settlement a couple of miles away in 2004. A few years ago, a small association (Nafra.org) also helped the village build a school and sheltered sanitary facilities.

Camera (digital): Nikon Z8
Lens: Nikkor S Zoom 24-70mm/2.8
Strobe: Profoto A10 / Softbox Octa
Assistant: Christopher Jarvis