The Lambadas are a scheduled tribe inhabiting throughout of Andhra Pradesh. They are also known as Sugalis. Their population according to 1991 census is 16,41,897. The total literacy rate among Lambada is 15.22.
The Lambadas are the largest tribe in Andhra Pradesh. Lambadas live in exclusive settlements of their own called Tandas, usually away from the main village, tenaciously maintaining their cultural and ethnic identity.
The traditional dress of the men comprises of dhoti, upper garment and bright coloured turbans. The womenfolk wear ‘langa’ of coarse cotton prints, richly embroidered with several fold at the waists and white bangles
Lambada tribe is divided into five phratries viz.,
These phratries are further divided into a number of patrilineal kin groups called Pada or Jath(Clan) in their dialect. Bhukya Phratry consists of 27 clans, Vadthiya consists of 52 clans, Chowhan consists of 6 clans, Pamar consists of 12 clans and Banoth consists of 13 clans.
Each phratry is an exogamous unit, and one has to marry outside his phratry. Clan is a patrilineal kin group. The girl loss the name of the clan of her parents as soon as she marries and acquires the clan of her husband.
Traditionally joint family was playing a dominant role in choosing the mates, determining the residence, controlling the property, watching the morals and managing the affairs of the youngsters. The joint family was the norm in the early days among Lambadas but now it is breaking down gradually into nuclear families. Marriage by negotiations is the only accepted way of performing marriages and sometimes marriage by service is also practised. The married women wear ivory bangles or imitation of them above their elbows, which are referred as ‘Balia’.
There are traditional musicians and bards to Lambadas called ‘Dappans’ depend mainly on the gift presented by Lambadas on various occasions and also work as manual labourers. There are three divisions among Dappans viz: 1. Bhat, 2. Dhandi, 3. Dhalia.
Bhats and Dhadis sing songs on family history by playing musical instruments called “Jange” and “Kinjri” during marriage ceremonies. Dhalia or Dapdiya plays dappu. There are traditional barbers to Lambadas called ‘Navi’. There is another endogamous sub-division called Sonar Lambadas who manufacture silver and gold ornaments. All these groups are endogamous sub-division of main Lambada Tribe. These groups also adopted the Clan orgnanization of main Lambada Community. But inter-group marriages are strictly prohibited. All these sub-divisions are considered inferior in social status to main group.
The Lambadas believe that the world is protected by a multitude of spirits-benign and malign. Hence the malignant spirits are periodically appeased through sacrifice and supplication. The Lambadas also worship and pay reverence to the benevolent Gods such as Vishnu, Rama, Venkateswara and Seva Bhaya. Meraima is beloved to protect their females and children and preserve the fertility of their lands and females while Seva Bhaya and seetala are regarded as the protectors of the cattle. They also celebrate the Hindu festivals like Ugadi, Balaji, Raki, Naga Panchami, Dasara, Deepavali, Sankranthi, Sivaratri and Holi. The important traditional festivals are Teej, Seetala and Tulja Bhavani and they regularly celebrate them. The dead are cremated in separate cremation grounds.
Lambadas have their own traditional council for each Tanda for the disposal of disputes originating form economic and social causes. This council consists of one headman (Nayak), one advisor (Karbari) and one messenger (Dappan). All the offices of the council are hereditary. They call traditional council as ‘Naiker Ghar’.
Lambadas are expert cattle breeders and largely subsist by sale of milk and milk products. They have settled in modern times on land and also became good agriculturists. Lambadas are giving up their nomadic habits and permanently settling on land. The landless families are migrating to towns and cities and eking out their livelihood by driving auto rickshaws and by rickshaw pulling. They are also engaged as labourers on daily wages in construction work of buildings, roads etc.