The Koyas are mainly inhabiting the hilly areas of West Godavari, East Godavari, Khammam and Warangal districts and are sparsely found in Adilabad and Karimnagar districts. The Koya population as per 1991 Census is 4,56,496 in Telangana.
Koyas popularly call themselves as Dorala Sattam (Lords group) and Putta Dora (original lords). Koyas call themselves “Koitur” in their dialect, like Gonds. Though strongly influenced by neighbouring Telugu speaking people, they retain the typical cultural traits of Koya culture.
The Koya tribe is divided into several functional, endogamous groups who are in turn divided into several exogamous phratries.
The phratry structure of Koyas is identical with the phratry system of Gonds and are divided into 1) Mudava gatta, 2) Nalgava gatta, 3) Idava gatta, 4) Arava gatta and 5) Yedava gatta. These divisions are exogamous and are meant mainly to regulate marital alliances and other family relations. Each phratry is again divided into several clans.
The Godavari and Sabari rivers which are flowing through their area of habitation exercise profound influence on Koyas’ economic, social and cultural life.
Koyas living in Adilabad, Karimnagar, Warngal and some parts of East Godavari have forgotten their own Koya (Basha) dialect and adopted Telugu as their mother tongue. The rest of the Koyas found in Khammam district (Bhadrachalam division), Polavaram area of West Godavari district speak Koya. It is also called “Chettu Basha” (Tree language) or Gali basha (Air language) in Telugu language as it is spoken by people living under the trees and forests.
Nuclear and monogamous families are predominantly found. Marriage among Koyas takes place after attainment of puberty and cross cousin marriages are encouraged. Levirate is socially accepted. The following four types of acquiring spouses are in vogue among Koyas. Marriage by negotiations Marriage by love and elopement Marriage by capture Marriage by service
Marriage by negotiations is the most preferred mode of acquiring mates in modern times among Koyas.
Monogamy is the general practice among Koyas though polygamy is socially approved. Descent is through male line only. Koya woman is industrious and she is an economic asset to the family. The woman attends to all agriculture operations except ploughing besides domestic work.
Divorce is oral and conventional but not legal and it may be initiated from either side. The Kulapanchayath plays an important role in administering the divorce. Widow remarriage known as Maru Manuvu is allowed among Koyas, though the remarried widow is not allowed to wear “Puste” (marriage badge), she is given equal status with other married women in all social and religious functions.
The Koyas are mainly settled cultivators. They grow Jowar, Ragi, Bajra and other millets. Most of the Koyas living in midst of forest collect tubers and roots such as Tella Chenna Gadda, Kirismatilu and edible green leaves such as Clencheli, Doggali, Gumuru Thota kura, Boddukura and prepare curries for their domestic consumption. Their lands are very fertile due to periodical floods of Godavari in the Koya habitat.
Koyas either bury or cremate the dead. In case of children or pregnant women, the corpse is buried while the corpse of others is cremated. Only clan members carry the corpse to the burial ground.
Koyas perform a robust colourful dance called Permakok ata (Bison horn dance) during festivals and marriage ceremonies. The men put Bison Horns on head and wear colourful skirts. They carry a big cylindrical drum and beat it rhythmically. The women form a circle by holding each other’s hands over their shoulders and dance while singing rela songs.
Lord Bhima, Korra Rajulu, Mamili and Potaraju are the important deities to Koyas. Their main festivals are Vijji Pandum (seeds charming festival) and Kondala Kolupu (festival to appease Hill deities). Koyas have a number of religious functionaries who attend to different aspects of their religious life.
Most important fair celebrated by Koyas is the Sammakka Saralamma Jatra once in two years on full moon day of the Magha Masam (January or February) at Medaram village in Mulug taluk of Warangal district. In modern times, lakhs of non-tribals particularly from backward classes also attend to this fair with much devotion and traditional gaiety.
The traditional village panchayat of Koyas (Kula Panchayat) consists of Poyi (headman), Pinapedda (who assists headman in conducting enquiries) and Vyapar (messenger). Disputes like divorce, inter-caste marriages etc, are dealt by this panchayath. It also takes active part in the marriage ceremonies and conducting of fairs and festivals.