Eco-Tourism of the Kollihills
Kollihills are a serene mountain range with an inter-montane basin. There are several nature tourist attractions as well as cultural attractions. Though very attractive, the hills remain an unexplored nature, ecotourism destination because of lack of basic amenities. However, there are now quite a few privately-run hill resorts, catering to the tourists.
The hilltop, Semmedu, is reached by journeying through 72 hairpin bends on 28-km hill road, from Karavalli at the foothills. It is 55 km from Namakkal town, the district headquarters. There is an alternative route to the hilltop at Nariyankadu of Chittor Nadu, which is about 30 km from Semmedu towards the north. This road has just 3 hairpin bends and approaches the hills from Mullukurichi in the northeast of the hills.
The tourist attractions are the Agaya Gangai (Sky Ganges) waterfalls, Arappaleeswarar temple, botanical garden, boathouse, Seekuparai viewpoint, Maasila falls, Nam Aruvi, tribal market and a gamut of others. Most imposing of all are the pristine mountains and undulating hill landscapes covered with rainforests, sholas and secondary growth (eucalyptus) forests. Jackfruits of the hills are tasty and have mouth-watering fragrance. Pine apple, pepper, spices, minor millets, honey, bananas, guavas and 38 different kinds of edible routes.
The hills, especially the hilltops, have great potentials for tourism development, particularly for adventure tourism like trekking up the hills and breathing in the clean air while enjoying the sylvan scenery around. The hills have a salubrious climate throughout the year.
With the development of basic amenities such as star hotels serving quality foods and beverages, restroom facilities and other visitor and hospitality services, the tourism of the hills can be greatly improved.
Another attraction is the herbal garden, both government and private-run. Flower shows and herbal parks and recreational activities, the hills can be made more attractive to the domestic as well as international visitors.
Small Dams and Crops
I am writing this from the top of the Kollihills which is a good place to be. There is a singing wind that moves gently through the forests. There is greenery, an endless expanse of greenery. There are birds and there are friends. When I am alone here at the top of the hills, nature exists as a mysterious force. As the hissing wind breaks, there is a sense of beauty and a fear of alienation. I wonder how a Malayali should feel in the same in the craggy rock and whispering trees.
All of a sudden, I am struck by a question: do I belong here? I look at my approaching friends and then I see, clearly, assurance and certainty. The tribes have come back through a fire of hard life and brought assurance and certainty with them, for me to cherish.
No more ramble. Beth Finnis (a Canadian Researcher) once sent me a note saying that the issue of damming was relevant to people's lives, and that villagers were interested in addressing such development issues. In the process of her research, particularly during September and October 2003, it became clear that dam developments were not as central to food issues as it originally appeared. In the process, her research focus had shifted somewhat, reflecting more immediate development and food concerns for the tribes. Her initial intention was to gauge responses to and outcomes of small dam construction projects and proposals, but this focus lost relevance because of the ongoing drought in Tamil Nadu and the Kollihills, then. While there are small, irrigation dams in Chittur Nadu, these dams had become next to useless over approximately 10 years.
The general consensus among villagers was that dams are useful and good, in that they have enabled villagers to extend rice paddy fields. From the installation of these dams, beginning approximately 30 years ago, conceptual land use maps show, how one river was used to create a networked system of paddy fields (cultivation of paddy along the rivulets). However, as drought has reduced rainfall, the use of these dams as water reservoirs and dispensers had fallen.
Tapioca cultivation in the 1980s and 1990s was a response to changes in environmental conditions. However, before it became a viable crop in the area, other changes had to take place, including the construction of a reliable road into the area. Then came tapioca, the root crop, which is used for industrial production. Tapioca was not merely a responsive crop. It was a crop of opportunity, and the ways that people took advantage of this opportunity were affecting their environmental changes. Tapioca and drought had contributed to dietary changes. The tribe had accepted tapioca as a food source, making them food secure, but only for those growing the crop. In the 2000s, pepper has become the crop of the hills and every farmer has a creeper or two and some own plantations, small and large. Now that everyone has begun to grow pepper, there is now a glut of it. The prices are down. And so, their incomes are low. Some families have already begun to work on others’ farms to make a living. Others are waiting to see what will happen and how their fortune will change.
In the Kollihills, the poor and the landless always live on the edge of optimism, aware but committed, frustrated by lack of opportunities, given or taken away. But they are spirited in their challenge to organize and tread on a trail to access water, food and resources. Their strength I believe is their traditional ways of life and traditional ecological knowledge. And not many of them share my conviction, though.
The 7-System Management: Indigenous Knowledge System and
Traditional Managerial Practices of the Kollihills
Management Category Forms of Practices
1. Slope: Terracing, levelling, hedging, timber and rock heaping (what is generally called ‘cyclopean structure).
2. Soil: Bunding, application of green and cattle manure, tillage and field forms.
3. Water: Ayacut (gravity, down the terrace steps) principle of irrigation, storage in checkdams, traditional lifts (manual, animal-drawn), diversion devices and traditional delivery systems.
4. Micro-climate: Shade management (plantation and homeyard bushes of coffee), surface geometry management, tillage and wind management (hedging to keep off winds).
5. Plant-Vegetation: Crop selection, mixtures, intercropping, planting methods, agro-forestry practices, and predation management.
6. Animal: Domestication, and preventive measures against destruction of crops by animals and wild life.
7. Space: Spatial arrangement of fields and crops (land utilisation types) in relation to homes, distance minimisation and crop care maximisation.
Source: Kumaran, 1983; 1991; 1993.
The Malayalis as a Tribe
The Kollihills are primarily inhabited by the Malayalis (= hill people), a Scheduled Tribe (ST) according to the Government of India. The Malayalis are in fact scattered throughout the hill regions of Tamil Nadu. They are the largest single ST in the state, with a population of 201,242 in the 1991 Census. This compares to a total ST population of Tamil Nadu of 574,194 in the same year. In 2011, the Malayalis were 40,479 strong, a large proportion of the tribal population of Namakkal district of Tamil Nadu.
Although the history of the Malayali is somewhat unclear, they were, by their own admission, once part of the agricultural Kongu Vellala caste, originating in the coastal area of Kanchipuram district of Tamil Nadu. In the 16th century, they moved, or were driven from their lands, and went to the Kolli, Panchamalai and Kalrayan Hills of the Eastern Ghats.
The tribe, also known as Kollimalayalis, is a fine race and live in about 250 hamlets of 14 traditional Nadus (village republics). They are clannish and still forming a far more homogeneous community. Traditionally, they have lived in perfect harmony with nature. However, their practice of shifting cultivation in the early half of the 20th century has been the main reason for the unnecessary destruction of forests around the tribal habitations.
Unlike other tribes, the Malayalis resemble the plains folk even in the manner of dressing. The deities they worship are deities of the plains. Ancestor worship is common. They do not look upon their children as a burden but as an asset. They are brought up as hardy, better walkers and load carriers. But today, nearly 250 km of paved roads on the hills and tens of thousands of two wheelers, this tradition has disappeared.
The Malayalis were not considered tribal, in the sense of being the initial inhabitants of India. Rather, ‘in the centuries after their occupation of the hills, they acquired tribal characteristics’. That is, the Government of India declared them as ST, considering their mountain habitat of several centuries and their acquisition of some tribal characteristics.
Second Visit to Field Sites (November 23-26, 2018)
The visit was essentially one for firming up the results of discussions with the tribal village communities so far, in five staggered steps. So the Team visited the hamlet of Paravaaru of Ariyur Nadu, first to have discussions with about 15 people, women and men. The group discussion was held at the village temple. The discussion was centred round resources constraints, needs and their economic activities. A 45-year old gentleman was greatly upset about the failure of rains and crops this year. Also this year, drinking water scarcity became rampant, throughout the hills. Women and girl children had to go long distances to fetch water for the household, while men folk and boys were in search of jobs and some went far off industrial towns (Tiruppur, Coimbatore, Chennai) to make a living.
He recommended that when copious rain falls, the Government should help harvest rains and store the water for use. He pointed out that there was shortage of drinking water also because the water was sold to other areas of demand and to make money.
The discussion turned to food and food insecurity. Women were generally of the opinion that the food produced using the modern methods of cultivation, particularly with fertilizers and pesticides, were the cause for the general weaknesses and illnesses among the present generation of people of the tribe. There was rampant alcoholism among men and even boys. The families here were fed with the locally produced millets before but now rice had taken over as the staple of the tribe. Contagious/infectious diseases were quite common these days.
Women of the group informed that they were functioning as self-help groups under two names (of local flowers), Thamarai (Lotus) and Kurinji (a flower of the hills which blossoms every 14 years). One of the Presidents of the SHGs (Yogalakshmi) informed that there were 56 households, some of which were joint or extended. All able women of the households were invariably involved in agriculture and they often worked as agricultural labourers.
Off-season, however, they were put to hardships and sometime many households went hungry; sometimes, they ate their meals without vegetables. But wild fruits, roots and greens were in plenty and they could collect them from the forests near and far. They indicated that goats and milch cattle could be substitutes for agriculture during hard times but they could not afford them.
There was someone in the group (Mr. Krishnamurthy of Sundakadu, a hamlet nearby) who reiterated that the situation was more or less similar everywhere on the hills. His recommendation was that the people should look for alternative livelihoods such as goats, cows, and even businesses that could thrive on the hills (there are not many that could, however). He also said that young boys and girls were now going away from the hills looking for green pastures yonder.
There was elderly couple in the group and they were without adequate income: they entirely depended on work the woman could get and the help the people about them for their livelihood. The elderly man (Mr. Andi) had suffered a stroke and was unable to walk without help.
The Team spent nearly three hours with the group discussing several social and economic issues of the hills and left the village with a heavy heart for the hardships borne by the tribe.
Then the Team met with some 35 women of the hamlet of Thegavoipatti, Ariyur Nadu several minutes after 1.0 pm. They were at their work spot, about a km from their village, levelling the soil dug out of a farm pond (intended for storing water and recharge groundwater and also for farming fish). They were informed earlier about our visit and meeting with them for an appraisal of socio-economic and development problems and anything else they would like to discuss to provide information for our Issues Framework and later for CAP.
Through a representative of their Self-Help Groups (7 of them: Parapatti Bahariamman – a local deity (12 members); Chinnammal (10); Hindustan (10); Thegavoipatti Arangathamman (12); Rathakattuamman (10); Mariamman (12); and A. Nathakadu (12)) – Ms. Rani, they raised several questions for us to answer, because they had a very bitter experience with an NGO by the name Amudhasurabi, which offered to help them economically initially without any cost for them but later put them in financial difficulty by making them pay with fine for the services they rendered.
On clear-cut assurance from us and an explanation of our presence at the Hills we were able to proceed with the discussion on the social and economic hardships, difficulties in obtaining jobs for a living and lack of alternatives for living. The discussion points from the women were essentially a repeat of what we heard from the people of Paravaaru hamlet.
Their households, by their admission, are dependent on agriculture. But they are also involved in small coffee plantations (sometimes a few clumps of coffee plants about their homes). Two of the 7 SHGs made a request for coffee seed separator machine (Mini-disc Coffee Pulper) as they cannot afford the machine (a good one costs about US$ 800, which is quite a sum for many households).
The Team spent about an hour with the group. And as the Team left, there was another group of women from Thegavoipatti who stopped us to speak about their problems and constraints. After about 20 minutes, the Team moved on to Kulivalavu hamlet of Ariyur Nadu.
At Kulivalavu, the Team found the people away at work and hence moved on to another tribal enclave called Thenurpatti. In the group discussion with 6 women and 2 men there it emerged that they also have similar problems and similar needs. The Team was shown minidisc coffee pulpers, both hand-operated and motorised. The youngman at the meeting gave us a demo of the machine and appraised us of the availability and prices in Namakkal town, the closest town to the Hills.
Something that struck me most in the visits to the Hills is that nobody spoke about wild resources (minor forest produce like herbs, seeds, roots, and honey) that could be harvested sustainably from the forests. In fact, the tribes used to collect them and sell them to a cooperative society known as the LAMPS (Large Area Multi-Purpose Societies) using their traditional rights to such resources. I hear that the tribal people have asked for LAMPS to be improved such that they could improve their incomes and livelihoods. There are 20 LAMPS functioning in the State of Tamil Nadu with the objective to assist the various tribes in marketing their products and providing interest free short and medium term loans.
Some of the tribal collectors of wild resources such as aromatic, medicinal or rare biological resources used in industry (note that not all of which could be sustainably picked from the forests) sell them dead cheap in local markets as seasonal produce. Happily, however, there is now a landmark judgement that makes it compulsory for companies to pay local and forest communities for wild resources.
There is now a regulated market at Solakadu, which operates only for the marketing of tribal produce, particularly vegetables and fruits produced by them.
Another aspect that has never come up in discussion is nature and adventure tourism of the Kollihills. There is very great potential for nature / ecotourism of the Hills, although the infrastructure to support the domestic and the occasional international tourists is poor. There is a lot of scope for both infrastructure building and ecotourism.
And then, after a quick visit to the villages of Valappur Nadu and a meeting with the head of the SHGs (Ms. Kalarani) at her village (Pallathuvalavu) the next day, the Team visited the local free tailoring training centre at Semmedu. The Centre-in-Charge spoke to us about the services rendered free of cost for the Malayali tribe and asked us to spread the news in the villages the Team visits.
Glimpses of Nature and Culture of the Hills
The Kolliills lie in Tamil Nadu's Talaghat Plains (Bohle 1992:140), one of a series of hills of the Eastern Ghats. The Hills lie in the Namakkal political district. Covering approximately 282 square kilometres, the Hills rise between 1100 metres and 1400 metres above sea level, although most of the inhabited area falls at approximately 1000 metres above sea level (Kumaran, 2001:15). The elevation makes the climate more temperate than in the surrounding plains. Bohle (1992:140) notes that the average annual temperatures of 23-25 degrees Celsius, as well as the mean annual rainfall of 1200 mm, make the Kollihills better for cultivation than the surrounding lowlands, particularly given the rich soils of the Hills.
The Kollihills are one of only two mountainous regions in the area that still contain remnants of rainforests. These are predominately evergreen mountain forests, including a number of native and introduced species such as jackfruit, mango, guava and orange trees, eucalyptus and silver oak. The eucalyptus and silver oak appear to have been introduced into the area as part of an attempt at reforestation. Silver oak is also used in the cultivation of climbing pepper plants. The Hills, although surrounded by forests on the exterior, have progressively been cleared for agricultural purposes on the interior. Presently, the area is approximately 51 per cent agricultural land, and 44 per cent forest land. This compares poorly with an estimated 84 per cent of forest lands in 1882 (Kumar-Range 2001:18-19).
The Hills are accessible by road (now about 250 km of paved roads), although some of the interior is limited to dirt roads or walking paths only. There are regular buses from the plains to Semmedu, the central town in the Hills.
This is where the hospital, bank and government offices are located. The bus ride, taking approximately 1.5 hours from the base of the Hills, consists of 70 hairpin turns before reaching Solakkadu, the first community on the road.
As the buses are always overcrowded, this can be a particularly difficult and uncomfortable ride. It is also not unheard of for trucks and other vehicles to miss the tight turns, leaving the roadway periodically blocked. In both 2003 and 2004, while I was in the Hills, rain-induced landslides closed the road for a number of days.
The Malaiyali are a Hinduised people, but they have their own customs and practices when compared with plains cultures. They do not, for example, recognize Brahmins as their priests, and consequently have a less "layered and hierarchical caste system" than in the surrounding lowland communities.
Typically bride price, not dowry, is practiced, but this appears to be slowly changing with increased regular contact with lowland communities (Kumar-Range 2001:39-41, 82).
Boys and girls attend school at similar rates, although it appears that boys may be more likely to be sent to English-medium private schools within and outside the Hills. Statistics from the Block Development Office show that enrolment in primary and secondary schools is about 53 per cent for boys and 47 per cent for girls, with 15 per cent of the boys and 13 per cent of the girls reaching Grade 12 (also called Plus Two or 12th standard).
The sharp drop in school attendance at higher levels may be attributed to a number of factors. Plus two or 12th Standard is generally geared towards students who wish to pursue a post-secondary university or college education.
Have the collapsing mud walls of the Kollihills gone for good?
KOLLIHILLS REVISIT PROJECT: ENHANCING CAPACITIES AND BUILDING PARTNERSHIPS FOR SUSTAINABLE LIVELIHOODS AND DEVELOPMENT IN TRIBAL KOLLIHILLS, TAMIL NADU, INDIA
(A Participatory Action Research)
Principal Investigator (India): T. Vasantha Kumaran PhD
Principal Investigator (Canada): Bala Hyma PhD
Field Research Manager: N. Annammadevi PhD
Local Support: Mr. S. Prakasam M.A.,M.Ed., Ariyur Nadu
Dates of Visit:
November 09-11, 2018 (Kollihills, Area appraisal)
November 15-16, 2018 (Thiruvanathapuram, Kerala)
November 23-26, 2018 (Kollihills, appraisals in selected villages)
Reported by: T. Vasantha Kumaran
The Purpose of Visits:
The two visits made in November 2018 to the Kollihills were essentially:
a) to make an area appraisal of the hills so as to see whether the hamlets/villages other than the ones selected for study focus (Kulivalavu, Thegavoipatti and Paravaaru hamlets of Ariyur Nadu; Karumburoorpuram, Kulathukuzhi and Pallathuvalavu of Valappur Nadu; and Nariyankadu of Chittur Nadu) are more similar in their development problems and people’s perceptions through a rapid appraisal by visits to interior and border villages (November 09-11, 2018);
b) to make participatory appraisals (group discussions, socio-economic problem appraisals) in the selected villages; and...
c) to develop a short questionnaire for problems identification towards developing an Issues Framework, for analysis and development of a Community Action Plan (CAP) (November 23-26, 2018).
d) to give lectures to graduate students, research scholars and faculty members of the Colleges and Universities of Kerala at the University College, Thiruvan-anthapuram on the research (participatory appraisal) methods of the Revisit Projects (Theni Revisit Project 2016-18; and the present Kollihills Project 2018-20) to inform about the research (what we did and what we learned) concluded and the replicability of the research methods in a different context (tribal) with a different focus (generating alternatives for problem-solving through CAP, organizing youth for implementing the CAP and capacity building / skill development among the youth). In a sense, this lecture visit was a research dissemination effort, to set the tone for further activities in public forums.
First Visit to Kollihills (November 09-11, 2018)
This visit was essentially for a reconnaissance of the interior and boundary villages and meet with women and men of the tribe in these villages primarily to understand whether the socio-economic and development problems are similar or dissimilar to those of the selected villages. The Team visited nearly 25 hamlets in 5 Nadus of the Kollihills on this visit and met with nearly 60 people (36 women and 24 men) in a rapid appraisal. The Team has found that the socio-economic problems are more or less similar (lack or ease of access, scanty rainfall of the last few years, low productivity (land, water productivity) of land and labour, lack of employment for agricultural labour (MNREGA has provided employment for 100 days a year for a few thousands of men and women of agricultural labour pool but this has almost dried up in the last few months because of lack of funds from the Central Government), lack of or inadequate efforts at providing support price for agricultural produce (glut of paddy of the 1980s gave way to glut of tapioca of the 1990s which in turn gave way to glut of pepper), low and insufficient income (nearly 35 per cent of the people are with food insecure livelihoods) and youth with good years of education are without jobs. Infrastructure is very poor, especially healthcare and sanitation. To a certain extent, the development problems of the tribe are no different from those of the plains people.
The understanding of the socio-economic and development problems of the Kollihills from the area appraisal from the field visit has now been used in the design of a simple questionnaire for problem identification of the selected villages towards developing an Issues Framework. The survey using the questionnaire has just been completed (by December 22, 2018).
Visit to University College, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala
(November 15-16, 2018)
I (TV) was invited to the Seminar on Recent Trends in Geographical Research Methods organized by the University College, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala to make presentations on the work I have been doing in the last few years. There were 80 participants, women and men, girls and boys, drawn from the colleges and universities in Kerala. Of course, nearly half the participants were from the University College: graduate students, research scholars and faculty members. I had 2 sessions of 90 minutes each to present my research work, particularly, the appraisal methods I have used in both the Theni Revisit Project and the current Kollihills Revisit Project.
I used both the Revisit Projects to illustrate how the appraisal methods (Rapid and Participatory appraisals and a battery of related methods) and Participatory Action Research (PAR) could be used to understand sustainable livelihoods and ecological restoration in Theni villages under desertification (five in all) and how a replication of the same methods with a addition of a few could be used in the current Kollihills Revisit to understand the socio-economic and livelihood problems of the tribal Malayalis living in a mountainous habitat and they may be made to realize that they could resolve their own problems through CAP with the help of their own boys and girls (youth of the hills) provided they (youth) are given training towards skill development / capacity building towards designing and implementing alternative problem solving approaches and strategies of their own, using possibly their traditional ecological knowledge.
The reception was good and the audience raised several questions as to how they could the methods in their own research, graduate and doctoral. I also sat with a student (Ms. Neenu Kumar) who had shown interest in the participatory appraisal methodology. I have now been corresponding with her on appreciative inquiry as a methodology for her research.
Welcome to our new blog! We've teamed up with our colleague in India, Thangavelu Vasantha Kumaran, to publish updates on his humanitarian work in southern India. Updates will first be published in our newsletter, followed by more detailed updates here on our blog, for those who want to learn a little bit more!