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Time to learn to live from our indigenous friends

October 7, 2011

There are five anthropologically distinct indigenous tribes living in Heggadadevanakote Taluk of Mysore District in Southern India. These indigenous people are categorized as ‘Scheduled Tribes’ and are known to have an anthropological history of more than 50,000 years. The three major groups are the Jenukurubas, Kadukurubas and Yeravas while the Bunde Soligas and Paniyas constitute two other smaller groups. The perspective of sustainability in this write-up is mainly relevant to the Jenukuruba and Kadukuruba tribes.

These tribes were traditionally known to be ‘hunters-food gatherers’ who are now gradually turning to agriculture as a livelihood. Sustainability from their point of view needs to be seen from a holistic and an ecosystem perspective and not narrowly limited to an economic and environmental domain. It encompasses their traditional lifestyle born out of the context in which they have lived and the cultural values that they have imbibed over the centuries. It encompasses their food practices, hunting and food gathering methods, agricultural practices, health issues, learning and education, housing and their system of traditional jurisprudence that determines how they resolve the conflicts that arise amongst themselves and between tribes. We also need to bear in mind the impact of modernization along with the rapid acculturation that mainstream social and economic forces are bringing about.

These tribes are traditionally known to subsist on naturally available food like bamboo shoots, tubers, honey and berries. Agriculture was subsistence and did not use any ploughing, hoeing or aggressive cultivation. Locally available medicinal herbs took care of most of their health needs. The local medicine man also used traditional healing methods including ‘spirit-calling’ to address psychosomatic disorders. Most learning was by ‘word-of-mouth’ and revolved around survival techniques and was passed on from generation to generation. It did not demand expensive schools or specially trained teachers, with community elders and parents playing the role of teachers. Housing was with locally available materials and built within a day or two and did not involve any stone masonry or expensive building materials. Conflicts were resolved and justice dispensed by the ‘Panchayath of Yajamanas’ (Council of Chieftains) and punishment in cases of violent crime was immediate and effective too.

Four decades of rapid acculturation and shoddy integration into the mainstream culture has left these communities in confusion. Forest conservation laws that they can neither understand nor find relevance in has left them at a crossroad with neither a coping mechanism nor an alternate lifestyle. Economic and social demands of mainstream culture and life is forcing them to abandon their traditional methods which kept things simple and sustainable and adopt more expensive, Government and NGO driven coping strategies which are neither culturally appropriate nor contextually relevant. Considering the unsustainable path that today’s world of consumerism demands, there is a lot to learn and emulate from these indigenous communities. We now need to explore and imitate lifestyles and consumption patterns that these communities have been practicing from centuries and see how one can effectively blend the benefits of both worlds. It calls for an empirical, pragmatic and non-romanticized understanding of these processes and integrating them into our everyday existence before it turns out to be too late for all of us.


Categories: Musings