“We are nothing without the forest, and the forest is nothing without us”: Kattunayakans in the Nilgiris, one of the last few remaining honey gathering communities of the world – Tamil Nadu

Courtesy story and images Priyashri Mani © Accord Gudalur 2013
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Living in the Nilgiris, the Kattunayakans are one of the last few remaining honey gathering communities of the world. Over many generations they have mastered the skills required to tap honey and they take great pride in their knowledge and expertise. For the tribal community, honey gathering is of social, cultural, economic and spiritual relevance. […] 

In 2006, the Indian State passed the Forest Rights Act, which for the first time recognised the rights of forest dwelling people on their own land. The Act makes concrete provisions to allow adivasis to enter the forest and continue using forest produce, on which they have depended for generations. However despite this, even today, adivasis are terrorized and harassed by forest officials.

Pictures from a shadow puppet show about the Forest Rights Act, performed in Gudalur by young adivasis

The Tribal communities have been warned of having a legal case slapped against them, apart from being beaten, if they try to venture into the forest in search of honey. Moreover, the authorities have installed wireless surveillance cameras in the forest (originally to track animal movement in the reserve area), which they are using to victimise tribals that wander into the forest in search of bamboo, fire wood, honey and other forest produce.

The conflict is most clearly visible in the language used by officials. Officers and forest guards constantly make references to ‘our beat, our range, and our forest’. As one adivasi poignantly puts it, ‘You ask the Forest Ranger where his house is, he will answer “Palakkad or Madras”, you ask any of us where our home is and we will reply “the forest”’. […]

Pictures from a shadow puppet show about the Forest Rights Act, performed in Gudalur by young adivasis

The Tribal communities have been warned of having a legal case slapped against them, apart from being beaten, if they try to venture into the forest in search of honey. Moreover, the authorities have installed wireless surveillance cameras in the forest (originally to track animal movement in the reserve area), which they are using to victimise tribals that wander into the forest in search of bamboo, fire wood, honey and other forest produce.

The conflict is most clearly visible in the language used by officials. Officers and forest guards constantly make references to ‘our beat, our range, and our forest’. As one adivasi poignantly puts it, ‘You ask the Forest Ranger where his house is, he will answer “Palakkad or Madras”, you ask any of us where our home is and we will reply “the forest”’. […]

The performance in three adivasi languages Paniya, Bettakurumba and Kattunayakan roused discussion about the Forest Rights Act within the community

With access into the forest increasingly becoming a tussle with the authorities, livelihoods and lifestyles are slowly but permanently being altered. For instance, the basket that was once woven in bamboo that was collected from the forest is now being replaced by plastic ones bought from the market. Communities that till recently depended only minimally on money, are now gradually being sucked into the global economy in more ways than one. […]

With their lives in the forest being steadily pulled away from under their feet, communities like the Kattunayakans are losing their sense of culture and meaning. Without the ritual of tapping honey, a rich history of song and dance associated with the practice will have no place in their lives. Perhaps it is okay for some traditions to be left behind, but surely this is a decision that must consciously be taken by the Kattunayakans themselves, rather than by the Forest department official. Will the authorities ever understand Bommi from Chembakolli village when she says “We are nothing without the forest, and the forest is nothing without us”….

Priya, along with three young adivasi girls, works on a cultural revival project for indigenous communities in the Gudalur valley of the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu.

Source: Home is where the forest is….. | At the Edge of Existence (12 July 2020)
Address : https://cultureandconservation.wordpress.com/2013/08/29/home-is-where-the-forest-is/

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