Bringing back memories of CHS co-founder Winin Pereira’s visits to live with and learn from adivasis in Alonde, Devinder Sharma writes about his recent journey:
Deep in the forests of Vazhachal-Sholayar in the Western Ghats, I met Maya. She is a tribal belonging to the Kadar tribe. Faced with extinction, there are only about 1400 Kadar in the world, of which about 850 live in the tribal settlements in Thrissur district in Kerala (about 150-200 kms from Kochi in Kerala).
They depend on forest resources for their sustenance. Home to hornbills, elephants and over 200 animal species, the Vazhachal-Sholayar forests are rich in resources for the Kadar tribes to bank upon. Since the Kadar tribes have not been traditionally into agriculture, the maintenance and conservation of forest resources is vital to them. Maya, along with a few more, had camped on the big rocks on the banks of a rivulet.
To learn more about them, Usha Soolapani and Sridhar R from Thanal in Thiruvanthapuram and I decided to walk up the rocks to meet some of them camping there. With just bare necessities, which includes a few aluminum utensils, a few clothes and a couple of bed sheets, Maya has been camping here for about two months. A frail puppy was tied outside the makeshift tent. The condition of the tent can be seen in the accompanying picture. Usha and Sridhar did the talking being able to converse in Malayalam as well as Tamil. Maya told us that the entire family gets out into the forests to search and collect some tubers which are used in cosmetics, along with honey and a couple of minor produce. Sridhar Radhakrishnan tells me this tuber plant is called Manjakoova in Malayalam. It is an Yellow Arrowroot. She gets about Rs 100/kg for the cut and dried root tubers. You can see a picture of it in her hand.
It is heartening to know that WWF-India had earlier initiated a dialogue with the Forest Department to set up a simple honey filtration unit for the Kadar communities. A benefit sharing mechanism from honey sale through the Forest Development Agency was also worked out. I am not aware of how this mechanism works. Since the Kadar have immense knowledge about ethnobotany I see an immense potential of documenting the traditional knowledge of some of the lesser known properties of the plant species found abundantly in these forests. It will be good to know of the benefits in monetary terms, if any.
When they move to inside of the evergreen forest they put their essentials on a machan (platform) so that it escapes the eyes of wild animals. I asked Maya if she was content with her living conditions. She said yes and when I suggested why doesn’t she move to the nearby town she flatly refused. She told us that she and her family were very happy with what they are doing.
(Winin Pereira would have applauded her)
But perhaps the next generations will look at it differently. Her four children are in a school for tribals. I only hope the next generation helps to improve the lifestyle, and helps to strengthen the bonding with nature, using modern technology and expertise while at the same time making an economic transformation.
(And debated these points with Devinder)
But I only hope the next generation does not push for a complete abandonment of the tribal culture.
(Both would agree on this)
Posted by Devinder Sharma to Ground Reality