BENGALURU: While the tribal rights bill 2006 is still being debated over the rights and status of tribesmen, a village of Kunabi tribe in Uttara Kannada has demonstrated how the tribals can play a better role in conservation by just adhering to the ancient practices as well as by accepting the modern changes.
Centuries ago, they left their forests to avoid Portugese aggression and these peace-loving people arrived in Uttara Kannada and set up their ‘deras’ (tents). Over the years the place where these ‘deras’ were set up became Deria village. Today it is a tiny village near Kali tiger reserve. They are all from a single family. The rest of them are spread over the other parts of the district. But the story is about their contribution to the conservation of the forest, wildlife and ecology. It is about the tribe which adopts a policy of no harm to flora and fauna.
Unlike other tribes that hunt for livelihood, this tribe thrives on tubers and greens available around their forests for at least six months a year. Over 20 varieties of tubers found in forests have been identified and used by them. They have introduced the same to the world. The endemic tuber ‘Mudley’ has earned them ‘Plant Genome Saviour Award’ from the Union Ministry of Agriculture. This award is given for contribution to those farmers who identify, propagate and popularise any plant variety.
The village with a population of over 100 people refuses to give up its traditional knowledge passed on by forefathers, while stressing on education, unlike the other tribes. “Our great grandfather Ganaba Derekar wanted us to be educated. My father and his brothers used to cycle a distance of about 25km to attend college. However, they did not go against grandfather, who used to say, ‘we should use education for knowledge, never go to work by giving up our family tradition of cultivation and gathering minor forest produce. It is a job which feeds others,’ “We are following what he taught us,” says Jayanand Derekar. However, with the changing times, a few of his cousins have joined the government service, but they have not de-linked themselves from the village.
There is over 99 percent literacy in this village, barring two octogenarian women. Jayanand Derekar, a post-graduate, is now pursuing his PhD in community forest management under the guidance of Professor Indira at Manasa Gangothri University in Mysuru. His brothers have studied at least up to Class 12. Ravi Shankar Derekar, another villager, works for Wildlife Conservation Society. The village also has a government school exclusively for children of the tribe and teachers are family members.
This family village has a large patch of undivided land. The family members cultivate paddy using modern equipment like tiller than relying on the cattle.They believe that cattle should not be forced to do labour. The women cultivate tuber and greens, including wild vegetables. When the government is promoting organic farming, the residents of Deria have been using only plant manure and bio pesticides developed by them.
Their ancient ritual is seen during the minor forest produce gathering, where the entire village comes together after the first pre-monsoon showers. The gathering is a ritual after the Mirashi, the priest, and Budhivanth, head of the village, worship the Ranapayak (the forest deity) and Janani (the village goddess).
“The village gathers forest produce like kokum, wild black pepper, honey from sting-less bee and a sour fruit (called Vate Huli), used as an alternative to tamarind. The first-day harvest is placed before the village elders who divide the produce among the famili es based on the number of people in each house,” said Ravi Shankar Derekar. However, if any family needs more produce, they can go on their own to harvest it later on.
An interesting aspect is that the time to harvest is chosen on a date when the forest suffers least damage. The tribe members do not harvest the produce completely to ensure that the wildlife does not go hungry because of them.
The residents of the village are relatives, mainly siblings. They live around a huge house which is at least a 100 years old. Though they live in their respective houses, they come together during festivals or during any event or anniversary to celebrate at the old house. “We pray, cook and do the household work together on special occasions, sleep there until the next day. It has been a practice since ages,” the villagers say.The house had some moments to cherish as a few scenes of an award-winning Kannada film, ‘Ondanondu Kaladalli’, was shot here. The elders of the village recollect those days, when the large troupe of actors and technicians descended upon their village in the early 1970s.
They do not engage in dairy production or selling of milk saying it amounts to violence and cruelty to animals. They ensure the cash transaction happens only when necessary.
APOLOGY TO TREES
From fire burns to heart burn, orthopedic problem to snake venom, the Kunabis use herbal remedies. The medicines are usually the roots and barks of trees, that are normally extracted when required after offering a prayer and an apology for unavoidably harming the tree. The elders of the village pass this knowledge to younger generations.