Heralding social and economic actions: Hunting and food gathering in Durwa culture – Bastar

Just as hunting is also about territory, the actions of food gathering links Durwa culture to language and metaphor to perceptions in ecology, and gives it a unique vantage from which to view a forest based lifestyle.” | Read the full article by Madhu Ramnath titled “Within the world of food collection” on india-seminar.com >>

Publication

M. Ramnath, ‘The Role of Wild Food in Tribal Culture in India: as Taste, Identity, Metaphor’, in A. Baviskar (ed.), Nature Today: New Studies in Ecology and Environment. Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

Within the world of food collection
[…] Hunts such as these, all of them taking place in the months preceding the monsoon and involving only men, made me first realize that ‘hunting’ is not synonymous with ‘meat’ or ‘food’, and that there were other connotations attached to the activity. They inevitably involved rituals and, often, first fruit ceremonies that commenced the harvest or use of certain plants, and they sometimes heralded specific social and economic actions such as horn-blowing, sowing, or the consumption of mahua distilled from fresh flowers. […]

Compared to hunting, fishing is more pointedly about food. […]

Also, a fishing expedition always involved women – sometimes only women – and often children, the latter learning about the use of plants and plant parts used in stupefying fish. And because of the children involved the mood was one of a family outing or picnic, with noise and splashing and pranks.
The gathering of plant foods is an entirely different domain, in the sense of it being an ‘all year round’ activity and almost entirely a women’s affair.
Every village has its own ‘super-woman’, a plant collector par excellence, in whose house one inevitably finds unusual foods. […]

What makes plant collection important is the fact that it contributes to a large proportion of the adivasi diet. […]

A quick survey of edible plant foods in some villages in Bastar yielded a list of more than 300 species. However, those that were regularly eaten were far fewer, many species having slipped out of traditional diets as ‘there was not enough time’ (a common answer to the question, ‘Why don’t you eat this tuber or that fruit anymore?’ […]

I was accompanied by a young Durwa boy who had been to school and who surprised me with his ability to discern several species of the said genus Dioscorea. […] When I asked him how he had learned all this – this being an especially difficult genus even for botanists – he said that he had watched his mother as a young child, as she would carry him along on yam trips. […]

Much of what he knew about yams, and indeed about the forest itself, he learned by watching, and not because he had been consciously taught.

Hunting is almost totally banned in India, strictly enforced by policing in protected areas. The Forest Rights Act (2006) explicitly states, while conferring other rights to the Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers, that it excludes ‘the traditional right of hunting or trapping or extracting a part of the body of any species of wild animal’ (ch 2, 3(l)). […]

Yet, plant food gathering hardly faces any legal restriction and is carried out in most forests all over the country. […]

Though some of the animals whose meats are consumed may be threatened or endangered, the bulk of fish and plant foods are harvested in most places in central India according to customary rules that assure their long-term survival. […]

Source: Within the world of food collection
URL: www.india-seminar.com/2018/702/702_madhu_ramnath.htm
Date accessed: 9 June 2018

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