“We are so much more than that”: Book by S. Swarnalatha documenting the lives her own community, the Irula, who are known for their knowledge of nature and medicinal herbs – Tamil Nadu & Kerala

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Swarnalatha belongs to the tribal Irula community, known for their snake-catching skills. “We are so much more than that. We follow a tradition rich in music, dance and love,” said Swarnalatha, who now runs an NGO that works for the upliftment for people in her community.

Swarnalatha is among a group of Irulas and academicians who had gathered to celebrate the launch of a book documenting the lives of these tribals in the plains. The book is a collection of observations made by students and outreach workers associated with Loyola Institute of Social Science Training and Research of Irulas who live in Tindivanam, Tiruvannamalai, Tiruvallur and Kanchipuram. 

Irula (people of darkness) inhabit mostly in the northern TN districts and some parts of Kerala. Researches have shown that the tribe have their origin from ethnic groups of Southeast Asia and Australia. They speak Irula language that is closely related to Dravidian languages like Tamil and Kannada. 

Manjula C, a scholar on Irulas, said although a lot has been documented on the tribal community in the hills, there have been hardly any records on those who live in the plains. “Both the groups are completely different. They don’t even speak the same language,” she said. Nature, she said, features in all aspects of their lives, in the songs they sing, the medicinal herbs they take and the goddess (that are often made of mud) they worship. 

Speakers at the event urged the government to do more for members of this community, who are often trapped into bondage by rice mills and brick kiln owners. 

Source: ‘Irulas much more than a community of snake catchers’
URL: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/irulas-much-more-than-a-community-of-snake-catchers/articleshow/63035204.cms
Date visited: 17 January 2022

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Irulas are very knowledgeable about medicinal plants. We buy raw materials from them that are used in making herbal products. Their children now go to schools and the drop-out is zero. We are integrating them into mainstream colleges and institutions. | Watch a video and read the full interview with author and nature lover Zai Whitaker >>

Photo credit: The Hindu.com: see report on Irulas on 6 September 2009
Learn more about the Irula community >>

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