However, a set of people throughout the world have opted out of this path and have instead decided to live at subsistence levels with minimal or no accumulation still practising hunting and gathering or shifting agriculture. These people have customs in place that ensure that accumulated household surpluses are periodically distributed to the community through celebratory festivals so as to maintain economic equality. The societal formation that corresponds to this is generally referred to as tribe. So there are tribes throughout the world and some of them are still uncontacted. In India even though there are no uncontacted tribes there are still some that have minimal contact with the mainstream civilisation.
The tribes in India have been wary of the mainstream civilisation and been at odds with it for several millennia. Due to their existence in dense forests they mostly retained their independence from the mainstream kingdoms and empires. However, the British changed all that as they aggressively entered into and decimated forests to expand settled agriculture, plantations, mining and timber felling. This led to a tremendous amount of conflict which left the tribes severely devastated. Nevertheless the British colonialists also instituted a policy of protection for these tribes in the later stages of their rule and it is this that was formalised in the Constitution of India after independence in 1947 with the provision of protection and reservation for the tribes in a special schedule and thereby they have come to be officially known as Scheduled Tribes.
Globally the tribes of the Americas have been very active politically and have since the formation of the United Nations been campaigning for their rights. In the context of the Americas they have coined the term Indigenous Peoples to indicate those who were residing in the Americas before the Europeans colonised their areas, decimated them and migrated heavily to set up mainstream economic and social systems. Their efforts resulted in the United Nations constituting a group in 1982 to formulate a draft Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for adoption by the General Assembly.
Following this the International Labour Organisation adopted a Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous peoples in 1989 and in it Indigenous people have been defined as -
Consequently the name to be given to these people who have traditionally led a non-accumulative lifestyle in tribes has become a contentious issue. Primarily because most of them have now become part of the mainstream socio-economic system and want to take advantage of the benefits of this system while ensuring that they do not have to bear the costs as they have had to so far. So one can say that they are tribals, adivasis and indigenous peoples all rolled into one!
The nomenclature may be useful to these people in their fight for their rights but what is more important is that they insist on a reorientation of the path that mainstream society has followed so far. Today is another of those international days - Earth Day, to be celebrated ostensibly to underline the importance of nature. However, unless the traditional conservationist culture of the indigenous peoples is adopted by more people worldwide there is no real hope of saving the earth or humanity.