The Koli society has a number of divisions namely Koli Raja, Koli Kshtria, Koli Suryavanshi, Koli Mahadev, Koli Thakor, Koli Rajput, Koli Patel, Pathanvadia, Mein Koli, Mandhata Patel, Nagarkoli, Gondakoli, Bavraya, Tharkarda, Koyeri etc. Although Koli tribes can be segregated into several groups, the Koli tribes can be broadly divided in to two broad divisions, namely, the Hill Koli tribes and the Sea Koli tribes. Sea Koli tribes are also known as Son Koli. The Son Koli tribes represent the highest group and the Dhor Koli falls just below the Son tribes in terms of the total number of people.
As per the popular saying, the word 'Son' signifies turmeric. All the members of these tribes regard this color to be very sacred as the family God Dhandoba, is painted in 'Son' color, i.e. 'golden' or 'yellow' colour. Apart from these three broad divisions, other groups of Koli tribes are Bhas or 'pure' Kolis; Akaramase or 'impure' Kolis; Dshatreiga, Naiks, Nimar or soldiers; the begging Kolis, Watandars (village sentries), and the Mohammedan Kolis.
A little has been known about the origination of these Koli tribes in Orissa. However, over the years several anthropologists have tried to enlighten the people with various theories. According to one school of thought, they have been migrated from the foreign countries, while another school holds that these Koli tribes belong to the western group of the great Kol or Munda tribal family. As per the history, the Kolis are possibly transmigrated from Sind and were said to be the descendants of White Huns. There are also some other opinions, which also are quite significant. Like the Bhil tribes of India, these Koli tribes too are thought to adapt to the practice of robbery during 18th century. Hence till date, the term 'hill robbers' was used to identify a class of Kolhi tribes. Also there is a popular saying that 'The Koli was born from Lord Shiva's wallet.' The Son Kolis have got ancient origin. In fact according to the Mahikavatichi Bakhar Koli tribes and quite a number of other tribes of the region have emigrated in the region as early as 1138 A.D. It was at the time of Pratap Bimb's invasion to Mahim.
The Koli tribes basically converse in Marathi language, which belongs to the Indo-European language family. Also there are various dialects, which are also spoken widely by several groups of these Koli tribal communities. These Koli tribes have got unique style of building houses, which again differ from region to region. These include simple huts with thatched roofs, mud walls, and also mud floors to decorative homes with roof full of tiles, brick walls, and coated or cement flooring.
As far as the occupations of these Koli tribes are concerned, these tribes mainly have taken up fishing as their major occupation. Some of the members of these Koli tribes too have worked as 'village servants', village sentinels, and luggage 'handlers'. The meals that these Koli tribes generally consume in large amount are fish, fowl, and pork. However, they restrained from devouring things like from beef, and different types of alcohol. Unlike many of the tribes of the region, the anthropologists have rightly found out that the status and prestige of these Koli tribes are not that of the untouchables since other tribes of high castes accept water from almost all the groups of Koli tribes.
Marriage plays an important role in the life of any of the Koli tribal communities. They follow the rules of exogamy. Marriage is prohibited between the members of the same clan or sector and also a man cannot marry the daughter of his maternal uncle. Koli girls usually got married at quite an early age. Ceremony, rituals and norms associated with the Koli marriage too are quite luxuriant thereby ennobling the whole culture of the tribal community.
Marriage is a sacred bond among the tribal people of Kolis. The marriage is completed by the priest or Brahman. The marriage is held at the time of sunset when both the bride and the groom hold a cloth and as the sun sets in slowly it is dispatched and they hold their hands. This was followed by the marching of the couple almost seven times round a stone slab covered by four braces of a plough. Maximum of these Koli tribes are devotee of all the Hindu gods and goddesses. Followers of Islam religion are only a handful.
The Koli tribes are basically the followers of Hindu religions. The supreme deity of the Koli tribes is the goddess Bhawani, and almost each and every home of Koli tribe has a silver idol of the goddess. Some of the Koli tribes regard Khandoba, another deity, as an incarnation of Lord Shiva. All the fishermen community reveres the sea as a deity. The Koli also has the custom of either bury or burn down the body of the deceased person.