Primitive inhabitants in Kerala are only about two hundred thousand now and these are scattered in the jungles and hills of the state prominants. There are about 35 different types of tribals, among whom the Kurichiyar, Nayadi, Mullakurumbar, Uralikurumbar, Paniya, Mudaga, Irula, Ernadar, Kadar, Muthuvan, Kanikkar, Uralees, Paliyan, Malavedan, Vettuvar, Eravallan, Veda and Malayan are the notable ones.
Each of these aboriginal tribes has its own distinct dance tradition and invariably all of them are interwoven with the life of the people who perform peculiar dances so much so that it seems that some of their daily tasks are set in rhythmic pattern. In the background of mystery shrouded nature, tribal celebrations originate and the dances work up intoxicating excitement; manifesting physical expressions of their joys and griefs, hopes and fears.
Some times the dancing is extremely simple and consists of little more than shuffling of the feet or waving of the hands. At other times it is swaying of the body to the clapping of hands or beating of primitive drums to mark time. Yet another form shows only the monotonous movement of the hands and feet. But generally speaking, a wide range of movements involving all parts of the body, the head, back hips, arms, fingers and the feet and even facial muscles are utilized in tribal dances
There are very complicated tribal dances as well in which dancing harmonises gesture, expressing the whole gamut of sentiment, where rhythm is kept by swaying the body and intricate steps executed with adept foot-work. Usually the dances have a slow beginning, but gather momentum and work up to a heavy tempo of the vociferous climax of the drums, and the ecstacy of the ever-mounting rhythm of spontaneous music. Many of these dances are heroic or martial in character.
Some tribes have songs to accompany their dances. Either the dancers themselves sing or the on-lookers sing and thus every one participates in the whole exercise. Special musical instruments are sometimes used, but the drum is almost an indispensable feature. The costumes of the dancers vary from approximate nudity to full attire and ornaments which are extremely colourful.
Like all tribal arts, Kerala's tribal dances are also spontaneous. It is the most direct expression of the inner most spirit of a people and the instinct of rhythm is as natural and basic as human nature.
Some of the better known tribal dances of Kerala are Elelakkaradi, Kadarkali, Kurumbarkali, Paniyarkali, Edayarkali, Mudiyattam and Vedarkali.
This is a highly heroic group-dance in which almost the whole community of men, women and children participate. The dance is very common with the tribals called Irular of Attappadi in Palakkad district. The dance brings out the fight of the people against the wild boars which very often attack their tribal hamlets.
Waynad district has different types of hill tribes of which the Kurumbar and the Kattunayakar are the most prominent ones.. They perform a special type of dance which is staged in connection with marriages.