Kollihills are fascinatingly diverse and a story in contrasts. In the years before 1950s the hills had intense political and religious fervour. There were radical and secular-liberal political ideas in the 1960s and the 1970s. Politics after the sporadic struggles against the governments of the day had a natural death. With the march of socio-economic development in the years of the 1990s and the 2000s and increased arrivals of the ‘plains people’, land alienation became rampant. It is still happening and the small and marginal farmers of the tribe are now part of the agricultural labour pool.
Most Malayalis now go to work in coffee and pepper plantations owned by the plains people. There was a time some 30 years ago the tribe depended on dry and wet paddy rice for their livelihood. Twenty years ago they turned to tapioca and became rich but lost much of their soils because every ten months they dug up the soils to harvest the roots (tapioca). Now the people have turned to pepper and made for a glut of the crop, resulting in a fall of pepper prices so low their incomes have slid down.
But now the boys and girls of the tribe have gone on to towns to make a living and their remittances make some households meet both their ends. But the pool of tribal labour find difficulty in getting work. The incidence of poverty has marginally gone up. Yet one finds their houses locked for several hours of the day for they are at work in the fields, either their own or others’, some grazing cattle / goats.
Scattered as they are across the hills, interior hamlet-communities are constrained in their movements and make up the most economically hard-up segments. Access to markets is winding and steep and take hours to reach. There have been distress-induced migrations. Some hamlet communities prefer to marry their daughters off to their relatives in the towns below.
Ecotourism of the hills has flourished and the visitors have brought incomes to the poor and the rich. Resorts, hotels and restaurants small and big do roaring business. Overnight stays are more expensive than in the plains below. Whereas the alcoholism among the tribe is bothersome, the visitors make it even worse: empty liquor bottles sit almost everywhere and plastic sachets and carry-bags blight the otherwise sylvan and picturesque surroundings.
A ‘First’ Ramble from the Kollihills
My tryst with destiny – if that’s what I think of my return to Kollihills and to a tribal, loving and intelligent, people not once but twice, every time after ‘another 20 years’ of two-year engagements with the Malayalis, the adaptive learning effort was / has been a great satisfaction, both for ideas, knowledge and wisdom I could gather and share and accomplishments that go into their making. The Revisits (first during 2001-03 and now during 2018-20) have helped me to revive decades-long friendships in the Hills, as I reconsidered my researches with a new focus and a new battery of methodology during 2001-03, and then now (2018-20) again. The last revisit proved worthy, and of course there were some successes and some failures, which I believe are part of everyday life experiences.
The best part of the experience has been that ‘I went with the feeling that I could give, not take’ but I returned, gave and was fabulously enriched. There is so much wisdom, traditional knowledge, experience and passion among the people that I want to tell people like myself: 'Leave them alone'. But it is difficult, for they are so much within you and it is difficult to shrug your shoulders. I go back to them because maybe in another 20 years they will have new wisdom and knowledge and experience we could use because we have forgotten ours. I will for now abide by the wisdom of the tribe, elders and young ones. And respect their every wish and see whether something can be done about it.
First I learned about cultural ecology, from their terrace agriculture and how they put to use their traditional ecological knowledge (TEK); and then I learned about their food security and the way they could use their TEK to extricate themselves from food-insecure situations and enrich biodiversity of their forests. I am with them now with a zeal to see ‘how they may solve their own problems, which are aplenty’ and help them in some small ways to build their capacities towards sustainable livelihoods and development.
Welcome to our new blog! As many of you will have read, this first update has already been published in our November/December newsletter. However, as promised, we'll only be publishing previews in the newsletter first, followed by more detailed blog posts here, on our new website, for those wanting to know more. Keep checking back for the next few weeks - we'll be adding more updates from our colleague, TV, as he continues his work in southern India.
Revisit to Kolihills: Place, Folk and Work
I taught at a University in India, and did research as part of my profession and as a living. I do both now for the love of them, mainly as a ‘giving back’. I am working on a Participatory Action Research (PAR) in an exotic hill area in southern India called Kollihills. I have been there before, for years in the early 1980s and in the early 2000s, researching social life, cultural ecology, terrace agriculture, traditional ecological knowledge, food security and a whole lot of related things.
My work now has three purposes: to enhance capabilities of women and girls and men and boys in two villages, namely, Ariyur Nadu and Valappur Nadu providing leadership, organizational and development skills; to motivate, develop and promote a Partnership Initiative among hamlet communities, local governments and NGOs/CBOs to enhance sustainable livelihoods, development opportunities and community resource management for poverty reduction; and to demonstrate effectiveness of partnerships and capacities through developing a Community Action Plan (CAP), of the people, by the people and for the people of the two villages. Capacity building in youth of the Nadus and helping to improve livelihoods through income generating activities among the women’s SHGs are the major focus. For developing CAP, I would use participatory appraisals and PAR methods besides baseline surveys.
Kollihills in southern India is a tribal area. Insights on, and the present situation of development here, will help me arrive at policy interventions towards natural resources use and traditional ecological knowledge in community building. In the process, I will consider traditional habits and usages of the tribal people concerned, the Malayalis of the Kollihills, and also pay attention to their places, folks and work.
Place: Kollihills is a preserved mountain area of the Eastern Ghats. The height of the Hills ranges from under 1,000 m to 1,350 m above mean sea level. Annual rainfall is 1,440 mm. Shola Forests, and secondary growth forests, occupy 44 per cent of the geographical area of the Kollihills: 28,293 km2. The villages are called Nadus, meaning village republics, with numerous hamlets (251 in the last count), scattered across the hills.
Folk: Kollihills is 50,000 strong (2018), 40,479 in Census 2011, distributed in 14 Nadus or Panchayats, or administrative village clusters. Sex ratio is 940 (2011). More than 95 per cent of the people are from the Malayali (= hill people) community. Literacy is about 52 per cent, with female literacy at a low of 45 per cent. There is no secondary care hospital in the Kollihills and infant mortality is high at 30 per cent. The Malayalis are agriculturists. They have a rich cultural heritage, characterized by traditional knowledge systems in active use.
Work: Agriculture takes place in 52 per cent of the area, leaving just 4 per cent for other activities (built-up area, roads). Irrigation is available to less than 15 per cent of the cropped areas, from springs and wells. The remaining area is rain-fed. The agricultural season starts with the onset of the Southwest Monsoon in June-July of every year. I am hoping to make capacity building, skill training for youth and seed funding for the SHGs through crowdfunding.
- Thangavelu Vasantha Kumaran (TV for short)
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!