Garden party with the forest people of the Nilgiri mountains – Tamil Nadu

By Mari Marcel Thekaekara, New Internationalist, June 1, 2012

After my last blog, lots of people wrote to me saying ‘we wish we could attend your Chembakolli party too’. Well, I wish you could too. So, the next best thing, I thought I’d tell you about it.

I’d suggested some adivasi friends visit us for a change, to eat with us at home.  They arrived early and stood looking around in amazement.  […]

Something we’ve always noticed about people from the Kattunayakan tribe is their love of flowers. They pointed out plants, entranced by some unusual blooms they’d never seen before. I told them they could help themselves to any plants they wanted. One child, a six-year-old, was so fascinated by the flowers she asked her mother to take a plant back. The parents were gentle, patiently explaining how the plant should be dug up and why particular plants shoudn’t be touched.

Stan, my husband, wrote a paper for the government two decades ago pleading that the forest be treated like a lab where precious knowledge is passed on from generation to generation of adivasis. Most tribes are losing this now, as access to the forest is restricted. But watching the Chembakolli people instruct their kids was a revelation, an education for teachers as well as parents.

As part of the cultural documentation, we are trying to make adivasis, especially young people, proud of their ethnicity and origins. Too often, their customs and identity are denigrated by the dominant groups around them. Schools are one of the worst offenders because the very syllabus is loaded against them.

So I talked about the fact that their traditional food was highly valued by sophisticated chefs around the world. And these ‘wild’ veggies were also expensive. The kids are often told that they need to learn to eat ‘proper’ food by their mostly ignorant, very provincial teachers. So they are shy about their mushrooms, wild greens, and bamboo shoots, because of the ridicule they receive. […]

Source: Garden party with the forest people — New Internationalist
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