Saturday, 9 March 2013

Celebrating Tribal Literatures across the World

The National Conference on “Tribal Literature: Across Continents and Cultures” organised by TJELLS and V.O.C College, Tuticorin, on 7 & 8 March 2013, was a pioneering attempt to study and to showcase the life and culture of the indigenous peoples around the world. Dr. Eric Miller from the World Story Telling Institute, in an interactive talk with the audience (along with Mr. Murugan Kani a tribal representative), kept the audience spell-bound by his depiction of tribal life and culture in Tamil Nadu.

Eric Miller’s talk was titled “Tribal Peoples as leaders of Society in a Future in which Fossil Fuels might be Scarce, with Special Reference to the Kani Tribal People of South India”.

Key Ideas from his talk:

The world's supply of 'Fossil Fuels' (oil, gas, coal etc) is depleting. It seems production of these resources in usable form has passed its peak, and these resources may become increasingly scarce and expensive in the coming years. The 'Hydrocarbon Age' began in the mid-1800s, with the coming of the wide-spread use of electricity and the "Industrial Revolution". It reached a peak around the year 2000, and we may now be on a downward slope. One estimate is that 30 years from now, we will have approximately half of the current supply-flow, and less and less after that. The term, "Peak Oil" refers to this idea. It seems the heart of the "Hydrocarbon Age" might be 1900-2100. In the coming time of possible "Energy Scarcity", Mainstream society and culture might do well to learn from Tribal society and culture regarding methods of recycling and salvaging resources, and living sustainably with nature. Tribal people tend to be expert in these areas. 

Biological, Linguistic and Cultural Diversity are valuable, and support each other.

Tribal methods of conserving and nurturing nature, living sustainably with nature, and recycling and salvaging materials, include

For residential huts, and also for huts for watchmen in fields of kilangu and other crops – strips of plants, bark and vines can be used to lash poles and beams together.

Areca-nut tree leaves, Bamboo leaves, Plantain leaves – can be used as toys (as a car that is pulled); for beating rice; and for thatch (tutti), woven for baskets, walls, roofs, doors, mats,
etc. Bamboo can be used for carrying fish, and (upside-down) as a seat or as a cage for chicks.

Certain types of soft, smooth leaves can be used as plates, bowls, spoons, and garland.

Toothpaste can be made from a type of stone.

Wood fire can produce heated stones for cooking in the earth (heat transfer from wood, to fire, to stone, to food).

Re-cycling (second use) – children can use old bicycle tyres as toys (pushed by sticks)

When collecting honey, people sometimes blow smoke, or just air, on the bees, to confuse them so they might not sting, and to encourage them to move away from the hive. But people are careful to not kill, nor to seriously disturb the bees (which might cause them to re-locate).

When collecting kumili (wild mushrooms) in the forest, people do not pick small ones, and do not disturb the overall patch (sustainable harvesting of wild and semi-wild forest products).

A particular tree produces oil that can be used in lamps.

Fish-nets are not made of nylon (a petroleum product); fish-traps are made of plants.

Eru-madam (tree-house) – built on the upper trunk and/or branches of a tree.
Some houses use living trees as one or more of its pillars.

Pachai veeli (green fence) – a fence with some poles that are living plants or small trees.

When a certain vine is sliced open, water gushes out. This water is good for drinking, and also for treating certain medical conditions.

The name of a place along a river in the forest near Vellambi translates to, “During times of drought, when there was a shortage of food elsewhere, people could come here and survive”.

All of the above can be taught to people with the help of storytelling, an art requiring no special fuel or technology. Tribal cultures tend to train people to be experts in storytelling.

Dr. K. Ganesh gave the valedictory address that provided a fitting finale to the two-day event. The packed audience was hooked to their seats, spell-bound by his talk on Tribal Literature.

He spoke on the various facets of Tribal literature and Culture, with an introduction to Tribal literature as subjugated knowledge, and then detailed on the treacherous lapse on the part of the governments and mainstream societies to marginalise their narratives. A conference on tribal literature should be proactive, he thundered, adding that, in our own spheres of influence each one of us should do something for the cause of the tribals. Eulogising Mr. G. N. Devi who quit his post as University Professor to dedicate his life for the cause of the welfare of the tribals, he added that, oppressed knowledge, with the solidarity of the political class and the will-power of the lawmakers can become mainstream knowledge.

Subjugated knowledge is disqualified because they are inadequate, and that’s because they’ve been categorised as naïve knowledge. Alluding to G.N.Devi’s concept of tribal welfare, he said that, “Devi hates the word ‘protect’, and the best way to do good to them would be to allow them to carry on…”

Detailing on the various Forest Acts since 1865 which labelled them in a negative light, he said that, relocating the tribals, of filing the narikuravas in a frame of fences is demeaning to them, as even a palatial house is a prison house to the narikuravas.

In the post-Independence scenario, in 1959, they were labelled under the Habitual Offenders Act, and a tribal was supposed to report to the police station every two hours, in the grip of police persecution. to be contd...

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