“Woodsmoke and Leafcups”: A book that opens up the full joy of tribal life without romanticisation – Bastar

Photo © Akhilesh Kumar The Hindu >>

Woodsmoke and Leafcups; Madhu Ramnath, Harper Litmus, Rs.399.

By Felix Padel | To read the full article, click here >>

The full joy of tribal life opens up in these pages. As do the painful struggles under the exploitative thumb of the state […]

But Woodsmoke is written with deceptive, disarming simplicity, unfolding the social structure of a tribal people near the epicentre of today’s Maoist conflict through stories and anecdotes. The book is cheekily subtitled ‘Autobiographical footnotes to the anthropology of the Durwa’, a tribe that few of India’s reading public will have even heard of. There are many levels to this work, and one level is that of storytelling at its best through true stories of a tribal people’s daily life, and the interferences and abuses of power that come from government officials, politicians, lawyers — exploiters and manipulators of every hue.

The full joy of tribal life opens up in these pages without the slightest romanticisation. […]

Land questions loom large in Adivasi life, as we all know, and this book bears witness to rarely-articulated yet vital aspects of the vast struggles over land and territory that haunt tribal areas. For one thing, Ramnath shows how the traditional hunting territories of the clans that make up a village constitute its actual, culturally recognised territory, which goes far deeper than any written records of ownership. […]

The Durwas have suffered such incursions, where leaders of incoming groups befriended Durwa youth, took over hunting territories, cleared the forests, and began to question the authority of Durwa elders, who had managed these tracts of forest sustainably as hunting territories ‘since time began’.

And when ‘communist’ politicians come on the scene, and send out a message that all such land claims will be back-dated to allow cleared forest to be legitimised and more forest lands to be taken over and cleared as well, no force seems able to prevent this destruction. This reality is presented through many examples, adding immensely important detail to one’s deeper understanding of the forces at play.

The backdrop of the Maoist conflict is not tackled explicitly, though Durwas live right in the heart of the civil war engulfing the Bastar region, divided between the erstwhile Bastar (South Chhattisgarh) and Malkangiri districts of Odisha. […]

This is a book highly recommended for anyone who wants to journey into a deeper understanding of tribal cultures, which currently face genocide in Central India. It is one of the most vivid, down to earth, and readable books ever written about a tribal people in India.

Felix Padel is an anthropologist and writer who has worked on tribal and environmental issues in India over many years.

Source: “Felix Padel reviews Woodsmoke and Leafcups”, The Hindu, 12 March 2016
Address: https://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/felix-padel-reviews-woodsmoke-and-leafcups/article8341808.ece
Date Visited: Thu May 05 2016 12:26:46 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Land questions loom large in Adivasi life, as we all know, and this book bears witness to rarely-articulated yet vital aspects of the vast struggles over land and territory that haunt tribal areas. For one thing, Ramnath shows how the traditional hunting territories of the clans that make up a village constitute its actual, culturally recognised territory, which goes far deeper than any written records of ownership. […]

Many factors have combined to disturb this. For a start, other tribal groups have come in. The Durwas have suffered such incursions, where leaders of incoming groups befriended Durwa youth, took over hunting territories, cleared the forests, and began to question the authority of Durwa elders, who had managed these tracts of forest sustainably as hunting territories „since time began‟.

Book Review (PDF): Felix Padel reviews Woodsmoke and Leafcups by Madhu Ramnath | The Gandhi Foundation >>
Date accessed: 9 January 2020

Different human cultures have their own ways of conserving plant and animal species—sometimes this is in the form of tiny sacred groves, and other times it could include entire hillsides. In Central India, individual plant species figure in the first fruit ceremonies of the adivasi (indigenous) communities. During certain periods of the year, their fruits, flowers, leaves or seeds are not collected or consumed. This allows those species to rest for a few weeks or months during crucial periods for their growth or regeneration.
The norms around these practices or methods are often embedded within the cultural-religious traditions of communities. As a knowledge system being transferred between generations, seldom are they explained or discussed in terms of ecology or conservation.

Source: “How culture threatens species A note on Caryota urens in South India” by Madhu Ramnath, current conservation 16.3
URL: https://www.currentconservation.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/16.3.pdf?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=16_3
Date Visited: 4 December 2022

Watch “The Good Ancestor – The Legacies We Leave” (3 min.): An animation that explores the legacies we might leave for future generations >>

Links to some of the most important organisations, thinkers and doers that are leading the way and that have inspired the book The Good Ancestor by Roman Krznaric >>

Tribal communities in the central Indian region of Bastar:
Baiga | Bhatra | Dhruva | Gond | Halba | Madia | Maria | Muria

For a list of websites included in a single search, click here. To search Indian periodicals, magazines, web portals and other sources safely, click here. To find an Indian PhD thesis on a particular tribal community, region and related issues, click here >>

Cyrus Mistry, Outlook, 22 February 2016

Having spent three decades walking along the foot-worn paths of Bastar, Madhu Ramnath casts an impassive eye on the land of his life-long love

There’s something absolutely unique about this book. […]

Madhu Ramnath, author of this book, is not an anthropologist by training. Yet, his passionate engagement with the adivasis of Bastar, his obsessive interest in their way of life,  his personal devotion and commitment to the people and their concerns, are all akin to those of a dedicated student of other cultures and societies. With one big difference: there’s nothing academic about Ramnath’s immersion in, or his love and fascination for the world of the indigenous people of Bastar. His record of living in their midst is empathic and keenly perceptive—so that for him, as for the reader, the process of coming to grips with this unique way of life is in the nature of a constant maturing. […]

Source: Aranya Parva: A Forest Of Meaning…And Belonging
Address: https://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/aranya-parva-a-forest-of-meaningand-belonging/296633
Date Visited: Thu May 05 2016 12:44:17 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Bastar District is located in the southern part of Chhattishgarh and is situated at a height of 2000 ft plateau from sea level.  Bastar had population of 1,411,644  in 2011 including Kondagaon district, of which male and female were 697,359 and 714,285 respectively. Of the total population more than 70 per cent are tribal people like Gond Tribe, Maria,  Muria, Dhruva, Bhatra, Halba Tribe, etc.

Source: District-Bastar,Chhattishgarh
Address: http://bastar.gov.in/about.htm
Date Visited: Sat Feb 11 2017 11:51:52 GMT+0100 (CET)

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“Is it eccentric to live in beautiful scenery in the hills among some of the most charming people in the country, even though they may be ignorant and poor?” – Verrier Elwin quoted by G.N. Devy in The Oxford India Elwin >>

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