PATHANAMTHITTA: In a tribal hamlet of Kerala usually referred to as ooru, a mooppan (meaning eldest), is the senior-most member who acts as the chieftain. As per the custom, when a moopan dies, the mantle falls on the next senior-most. Not any longer in the tribal hamlets of Pathanamthitta. They look for competence and vigour now, as they believe those qualities are essential to make them heard on various platforms while fighting for their causes.
When Kumaran Kesavan, the mooppan of Manakkayam ooru, died last year at the age of 112, the people of the hamlet overlooked the senior-most member and named Manoj O M, a 44-year-old, as the mooppan.
“A mooppan has to shoulder many responsibilities nowadays. He has to attend meetings convened by the grama panchayat, tribal department and district administration. He also has to convene ‘oorukoottam’ in order to share messages and details of the projects of the local bodies and the tribal department with the members of the hamlet. Tribal people first approach a mooppan to discuss their issues. He has to guide them and seek professional assistance if needed,” said Manoj.
‘Nowadays, mooppans travel a lot’
Another young mooppan Krishnankutty, 45, of Karikulam ooru, said: “Mooppan is the leader of a hamlet. Unlike in the past, he has to visit government offices, police station and meet people’s representatives for various needs.
“He also has to present the villagers’ cases at various government- level meetings. If we select a senior member as the moopan, it will be very difficult for him to travel and go to various places. So, we decided to break away from the custom.”