Jackfruit and indigenous knowledge: The Kaani tribal community of Kanyakumari forests – Tamil Nadu

RELEVANCE OF INDIGENOUS KNOWLEDGE AND PRACTICES RELATED TO JACKFRUIT, WITH REFERENCE TO THE KAANI INDIGENOUS PEOPLE OF KANYAKUMARI FORESTS

S S Davidson, Environmental Educator, 23, Cave Street, Nagercoil-629 001, Kanyakumari District, E-mail: ssdavidson9@gmail.com

Abstract:

The Kaani tribal community resides in 48 settlements of Kanyakumari forests, of the Western Ghats. They were a nomadic tribe adopting the slash and burn culture and had the hunter –gatherer instinct, collecting the forest produce and hunting wild animals and honey in the forests. After independence, they were settled in specific places. They are solely dependent on forest resources for their livelihood, food, fuel, fodder and material culture. Jack fruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), is a major staple food for the Kaani people apart from tapioca. There are many traditional recipes with the jack fruit and its seed. The jack timber is considered of high value in construction and furniture making enterprises. The Kaani tribal people use the timber for their hut construction. Ritual has a major role in environmental ethics among the Kaani tribe, who maintains religious or ritual representation of forest resource management. Before cutting a jack tree for their hut they perform a Pooja, by the clan priest-magician named ‘Pilathi’ to the Spirits with the traditional staunch belief that they are killing a tree with a life and the Spirit residing in the tree should not take revenge on them. The jack timber is used for doors, door frames, benches, cupboards, mortar and pestle and cots. They take the matured part of the tree and carve out the inner portion to make the mortar. The old jack trees with age more than a century secrete a tough, hard gum called Pila-manjal that is collected by the tribal people to use it as a medicine for measles. The Kaani tribal people still retain the hunter-gatherer instinct and catch small birds for food using the jack latex. The Kaani tribal people claim that 7 varieties of jackfruits are available in the forests and mountains, Kuzan ckakka, Varika, Honey Jack,Puzhi Varika, Nettadi ,Mundan chakka, Chemparuthy or  Chenga Varika.The Kaani people collect the jack from the wild and never cultivate it. As many hurdles exist they never market it. The Kaani people collect the jack from the wild and never cultivate it. As many hurdles exist they never market it. Presently, many tons of jack fruit are wasted, as the Kaani people do not collect them for commercialization. Due to human versus animal conflict, the tribal people do not exploit the jack resources in their areas. By proper planning, adopting marketing strategies, the jack can be commercialized to develop the economy of the tribal people. Value addition of the jack is a process to add the economy of the tribal people. The latex-less jackfruit-Somapady variety, which is created using grafting technique by Harishchandra of Karnataka can be cultivated by in-situ cultivation to better their economy.

Key words: Settlements, hunter – gatherer, nomadic, ethno-botany, tradition, value addition, Pilathi, commercialization

The Kaani tribal community resides in 48 settlements of Kanyakumari forests, of the Western Ghats, a mountain range along the South-western India. Their huts are situated in the dense forests,hills and deep jungles.They were a nomadic tribe adopting the slash and burn cultureand had the hunter –gatherer instinct, collecting the forest produce and hunting wild animals and honey in the forests. After independence, they were settled in specific places and rehabilitation was done by allotting land to them. The Kaani people have an extremely rich and unique Traditional Knowledge transferred from their ancestors about the use of the forest resources, including the biological resources of flora and fauna around them.

They are solely dependent on forest resources for their livelihood, food, fuel, fodder and material culture.They live in consonance with Nature and derive everything from nature for their sustenance. They are animists and spirit worshippers with staunch belief in Benevolent and Malevolent Spirits. They are deeply anchored in their spiritual values and belief systems. Spirituality is the fabric that forms the complex web of linkage to the cosmos. Their eco-spirituality is inextricably linked with forest ecology and bio-diversity through their traditional culture.

The forest flora has served as sources of food and medicines for human beings since their advent.

Jack fruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus),is a major staple food for the Kaani people apart from tapioca. They eat the ripe fruits during the season from March to June. They pluck the unripe jack and boil it and consume it with Kanthari chilli( Capsicum frutescence) and salt. The tender jack is plucked and used for making side disheswith coconut gratings, oil and spices, when they take rice food.

The ripe fruit is used in kollukkattai, as a sweetener  which is a popular South Indian sweet dumpling made from rice flour, with a filling of grated coconut and jaggery, usually eaten as a form of breakfast or as a snack along with tea. In Tamil Nadu the dish is traditionally associated with the Hindu God Ganesha, and prepared as an offering on the occasion of Vinayaka Chathurthi.

The jack fruit is sliced into chips and roasted in coconut oil and pepper, salt or chilli is added to the chips.It is a favorite snack consumed with tea in the evening.

The ripe seeds are grinded as powder and a sweet is made called Eilay Panyaaram, which is a combination of jack seed flour, roasted coconut gratings, sugar and spices. It is baked in a vessel by steam and served. Leaves are used to wrap the Panyaaram, where banana leaf , therali leaf ( bay Leaf or Laurusnobilis)  or vatta kanni (Macarangapeltata)leaves are used. When therali leaf is used the sweet, distinct aroma of the leaf is mixed with the food item and adds spice to it.

The unripejack is boiled in addition to banana, arrow root, yam and other tubers and salt and pepper are added and consumed.

The seeds of the jack is boiled as a whole or sliced into small pieces and boiled and served with salt or kanthari chutney made of chilli, coconut gratings and salt. Another preparation is the seeds are cut into small pieces and bakedand fried with coconut oil,salt,pepper and mustard seeds.  The jack seeds are boiled and sun dried on rocks and stored for use during the lean seasons, when there is heavy rain or during the summer.

Recently there is demand for the raw seeds and a few collect the seeds from the forests and sell it to the procuring agents.

Unripe fruits are given to cattle and goats as a feed.The green leaves of the tree are also given as a feed to cattle, claiming the leaves have rich nutritive and medicinal value.

The jack timber is considered of high value in construction and furniture making enterprises. The Kaani tribal people use the timber for their hut construction.

Ritual has a major role in environmental ethics among the Kaani tribe, who maintains religious or ritual representation of forestresource management. Before cutting a jack tree for their hut they perform a Pooja, by the clan priest-magician named ‘Pilathi’ to the Spirits with the traditional staunch belief that they are killing a tree with a life and the Spirit residing in the tree should not take revenge on them. While constructing a hut with the jack tree or any other forest wood, they perform another ritual officiated by the ‘Pilathi’ that the spirit should not revenge them for killing a tree and allow the inmates of the hut to live in peace, harmony and with prosperity.

The jack timber is used for doors, door frames, benches, cupboards, mortar and pestle and cots. They take the matured part of the tree and carve out the inner portion to make the mortar.

The trees are cut down during the waxing period of the Moon that indicates growth, positive attitude and optimism. They believe that if it is cut during the waning period, the wood would disintegrate and would never last long.

The Kaani people are a rich repository of ethno-botany and have knowledge of more than 300 medicinal herbs. The old jack trees with age more than a century secrete a tough, hard gum called Pila-manjal that is collected by the tribal people to use it as a medicine for measles. They mix it with coconut oil and apply it on the chin and affected areas. It is also applied for any boil in the physique.

The Kaani tribal people still retain the hunter-gatherer instinct and catch small birds for food. They construct a triangle-shaped structure by bamboo with a height of 3 feet and place food on the floor below the structure and keep the jack latex on the top of the structure. When a bird sees the food, it comes and roosts on the structure and its legs will be entangled in the latex.When it tries to fly away, it loses its balance and its wings will also get entangled in the latex making the birdunable to fly away from the latex trap.

The Chendais a cylindrical percussion instrument used widely in the state of Kerala, Tulu Nadu of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in India. The maker of the instrument use jack trunks, where the interior is carved out to make the instrument.

The Kaani tribal people claim that 7 varieties of jackfruits are available in the forests and mountains. Koozhan chakka, the fruits of which have small, fibrous, soft, mushy, but very sweet carpels, which cannot withstand for 2 days when it is ripe; Varika, which is more important commercially, with crisp carpels of high quality. This type can withstand for 4 or 5 days, when it is ripe. This type has market value due to its toughness of the fruits. Honey Jack is another variety, which has a sweet liquid inside. Another breed has the taste of tamarind, called PuzhiVarika. Another wild variety is elongated, slender at the tip and broader at the stem area, which is called as Nettadi. A small round jack variety that weighs about 2 to 3 kgs is called Mundan chakka, while its bigger size weighs about 6 to 7 kgs. There is another variety called Chemparuthy or  Chenga Varika which has a pink colored fruits.

The tribal people say that they get the jack twice in a year, during April to June, Meenamto Midhunam in Malayalam calendar, which is the usual season and October in Malayalam calendar Chingam is the lean season.

Suggestions:

The Kaani people collect the jack from the wild and never cultivate it. As many hurdles exist they never market it. Presently, many tons of jack fruit are wasted, as the Kaani people do not collect them for commercialization. Due to human versus animal conflict, the tribal people do not exploit the jack resources in their areas. While they venture to pluck the fruits, they have to encounter wild animals as elephants and sloth bear in the deep jungles. The plucked fruit has to be transported by head loads in single trails in the hills and mountains, which is a laborious physical task.There are other severe handicaps as lack of roads, lack of marketing strategies, lack of storage facilities and labor-oriented issues as plucking the fruit,transportation to towns etc., which are not cost-effective.  By proper planning, adopting marketing strategies, the jack can be commercialized to develop the economy of the tribal people. Value addition of the jack is a process to add  the economy of the tribal people.

The latex-less jackfruit-Somapady variety, which is created using grafting technique by Harish Chandra of Karnataka can be cultivated by in-situ cultivation to better their economy.

References:

Source: photos courtesy Davidson Sargunam © 2018 Tribal Foundation (Nagercoil)

More posts contributed by Davidson Sargunam >>

For inquiries on environmental exposure programs, please contact
Davidson Sargunam
Environmental Educationist
M: 09994138550
email: ssdavidson9@gmail.com

Tribal Foundation
23, Cave Street, Duthie School Road
Nagercoil – 629 001
Tamil Nadu
Reg. No: 1116/2009

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