I get to see Chestnut Bee eaters on a daily basis, and what a sight these birds are. It’s quite a spectacle to see a slosh of colors acrobat the sky, catch flies. Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps) comprise their diet, with a marked bias towards honey bees. Little green Bee eaters (covered in earlier blog) are common across the country while Chestnut’s are confined to southern hills of Western Ghats to north eastern hills, and towards to south east Asia.
Soligas: The Children of the Bamboo
The Soliga tribe are known to have immense knowledge about forest and traditional insight on conservation. I was reading that “……a study performed in 2008 looked at the Soliga claim that forest fires are in-fact beneficial for biodiversity. Generally, forest fires would be extinguished by the forest department using modern fire-suppression regimes. However, the Soligas claimed that natural fires are inherent part of the forest biome and extinguishing such fires leads to increased parasitic load. The above study looked at infections of Loranthus - a plant parasite - on Phyllanthus emblica (Amla) trees and found that fire indeed reduced the parasitic load on these trees and increased their survival. This example points to the importance of considering local, folk knowledge in any biodiversity conservation regime”. Must say it is quite interesting, I am reminded of Yellowstone Park fire (in USA) about two decades back, and how forest fire came to be looked from entirely new point of view.
Soliga means ‘children of bamboo’ as they believe that their ancestors originated from bamboo. They are nomadic people who live off forest produce like honey, berries and timber. They live in small shelters called pudus deep inside the dense forests of Western Ghats. Soligas worship Champaka tree (Michelia champaca), the magnificent tree called Dodda Sampige in local language. There are settlements in BR Hills and MM Hills wherein they are exposed to modern influences. In 1979, Dr. H Sudarshan, a young idealist doctor, came to BR Hills to work with the Soliga tribes, and since then is helping the Soligas negotiate the influences and as also fighting for their rights and cause. I did meet him during the public discussion on Forest bill in 2006 in Bangalore. The Soliga lifestyle of shifting cultivation, foraging and hunting harmoniously in tune with cycles of the forest till the forest rules came into effect and all economic activity including collecting firewood became illegal. Soligas faced immense hardship.
Organizations like ATREE, the Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra (VGKK) by Dr Sudarshan, the Soliga Abhivrudhi Sangha and the Karnataka Forest Department have played a significant role in livelihood enhancement of the Soligas and in rendering their help in biodiversity conservation in the Western Ghats. Soliga knowledge of the forests and their affinity with nature is sought to be conserved. I recently had the good fortune to visit a Soliga settlement in MM Hills. MM Hills is sad story of Lantana invasion, it has completely overwhelmed the forest. It’s quite a terrifying sight. Soligas who have a traditional expertise in bamboo related work are being trained to use lantana wood as substitute. I was gifted a keychain (I insisted on paying, and did make them take the money) made from lantana. Though it was exquisite piece of work but I was informed that wood quality is inferior to Wrightia tinctoria (Aale mara or ivory wood) -one used for famous Channapatna toys. Despite these it need be mentioned that the effort to find economical value to lantana has been a significant success and lantana wood do find its use in construction of chairs and beds.
I went to Gorsana, a rather emaciated looking hamlet. Dhoduthusidha is the headman, he promptly said he has no much knowledge about songs but yes his wife sings Soligas songs during marriage ceremonies. His wife and few ladies with children were seen crowded around bangle seller, trying out colorful wares. Dhoduthusidha called out for her, she showed extreme irritation as she answered still working her way through the bangles. Dhoduthusidha seemed to have got the cue “I don’t think she remembers those songs now” he said. He gave reference of an elderly woman in the neighborhood, who sings on all special occasions and is indeed repository of oral tradition. He said he had seen her singing ever since he could recall.
Puttamma was bathing when we reached her hut she told us to wait. Outside a middle aged man was chiseling the wood. Giriappa was creating sculpt of Nandi bull which he said he will donate to the temple. He was quite focused in his work and seemed to enjoy it. I could very well see the passion and the reason why they called themselves “children of bamboo”. The connection to nature was rather strong. A piece of wood in Giriappa’s hand was metamorphosing into a craft, unique in its sensibility. Puttamma was ready, and looked quite excited. Her excitement was compounded when she was asked to sing traditional song. She seemed keen, and promptly sang a marriage song. Sonnaamma who was sitting nearby couldn’t resist the temptation of joining. Next song (the video herein) was sung during powdering of ragi seeds “we don’t do it any more” she said “there isn’t any ragi to pound”. The song was based on interesting theme. It was imploring god who had gone away into the hills to come back. Now why did the god go away, I asked, very much curious. Well…he found the crowd in the temple too overbearing!! O how much I love these. There is so much fun here. Enjoy the video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoVusc9fqNI&context=C4b2aa09ADvjVQa1PpcFPJgAcgwUqv2VnI5C5-Qp-DapLneOOmgK8=) and the unique people called the Soligas…
The threat of lantana: Lantana, Lantana camara to be specific, is one of the vicious plants around. It’s considered ten most invasive species in the world. The threat is real. What makes it worse is that these plant’s leaves are mildly toxic for animals while the flowers are preferred by butterflies and bees, and the berries are relished by birds. They bloom in abundance thus decimating the local species. I happen to attend a seminar sometime back wherein they showed the satellite pictures of lantana spread over the decades. It really is scary.
Channapatna the toy town: I happen to be at Channapatna, the town known for toys made of wood. Toys from here have international market. They are even protected with Geographical Indicator tag. It was Tipu Sultan who got the artisans from Persia that set up this art form. The wood commonly used is Wrightia tinctoria tree, colloquially called Aale mara (ivory-wood) and lacquering it (lacquer comes from Sanskrit word laksha meaning "one hundred thousand). These toys are environment and child friendly.
from my scribble pad...
The myth sown in yesteryear’s slack noon
in the temple ground
into conscience, bitter sweet froth
to negotiate sharp turns and dents
Lightening in the rain
Do we recall the names
so easily settled on our lips
summoned and discarded.
Filial concerns on a stormy night
cracks into flashes.
Comprehend the stillness
that envelops and keeps on.
that envelops and keeps on.