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.
Ariyur Nadu: it is a Village Panchayat in Kollihills taluk of Namakkal district, Tamil Nadu, India. Located 26 km East of Namakkal city, Valappur Nadu (4 km) , Gundur Nadu (4 km), Devanur Nadu (7 km), Thinnanur Nadu (8 km) and Naducombai (9 km) are the nearby villages to Ariyur Nadu. Thammampatti, Namagiripettai, Namakkal and Rasipuram are the nearest cities / towns. Tamil is the local language, spoken by the Malayali tribe.
Valappur Nadu: it is a Village Panchayat in Kollihills taluk of Namakkal district, Tamil Nadu, India. It is located 23 km towards East from the district headquarters Namakkal. Thinnanur Nadu (6 km), Devanur Nadu (6 km), Naducombai (7 km) and Gundur Nadu (7 km) are the nearest villages.
There are more than 50 hamlets between the two Nadus and most of them in the interior. Hence, three hamlets each from the two Nadus have been chosen from the July visit to the field sites. They are: Ariyur Nadu: Kulivalavu, Thegavoipatti and Paravaaru; Valappur Nadu: Karumoor oorpuram, Pallathuvalavu and Kulathukuzhi. For a study of contrast between hamlets, Nariyankadu hamlet of Chitoor Nadu has been chosen, as it is relatively well developed and is connected with roads and mobile communication networks.
SOME RELEVANT FACTS ABOUT THE KOLLIHILLS:
Kollihills (Kollimalai in Tamil) is a preserved mountain area of the Eastern Ghats, located at the Eastern border of Namakkal district of the State of Tamil Nadu, India. The elevation of the central region of the hills ranges from under 1,000 m to 1,350 m above mean sea level. The average annual precipitation in the Hills is 1,440 mm, which exceeds the State average. Forests occupy 44 per cent of the total geographical area of 28,293 km2; agricultural activities take 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 area through 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.
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 rate in the hills is about 52 per cent, with female literacy rate at 45 per cent. There is no secondary care hospital in the Kollihills and infant mortality is 30 per cent. Roads do cover a large part of the area but there is no regular transportation in several parts and so people walk from place to place. Every village is led by a Gounder (the village headman), who supervises the panchayat president (Block Resource Centre, Semmedu).
SCHOOL DROPOUTS AND SCHOOLING:
Till a few years ago, the school dropout rate was high among children but now education seems to be a priority for most parents. Most children now go to the government school in spite of the difficulties in reaching the school and poor quality of the facilities. Most government schools (primary, middle) have one or two rooms staffed with one or two teachers. The system of education in the Hills is not up to the mark. Dropout rate has been alarmingly high at 60 per cent, after middle schooling, due to lack of awareness about education. As many as 43 elementary / primary schools, 14 middle schools, 2 high schools and one higher secondary school are the statistics of Education Department of Kollihills Tribal Development Block. Today, however, the Hills boast of a good number of graduates and post-graduates, one or two of them pursuing doctoral dreams of theirs (Block Resource Centre, Semmedu).
Image 1: tribal farmers interacting
Image 2: a discussion with the female SHG members of Paravaaru hamlet of Ariyur Nadu, July 20, 2018.
Image 3: elementary school children in class at Thegavoipatti, Ariyur
Image 1: a panoramic view of Kollihills. Malayali (hill people) tribes are an agricultural community, specializing in terrace cultivation of traditional crops, using traditional ecological knowledge. A typical house of the tribe is on the bottom right hand corner:
Image 2: a tribal woman at work, grabbing paddy hay for drying, in Nariyankadu hamlet of Chitoor Nadu. Un-winnowed paddy lies in the foreground.
Image 3: children of a Valappur Nadu hamle
Have the collapsing mud walls of the Kollihills gone for good?
ENHANCING CAPACITIES AND BUILDING PARTNERSHIPS FOR SUSTAINABLE LIVELIHOODS AND DEVELOPMENT IN TRIBAL KOLLIHILLS, TAMIL NADU, INDIA
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
AN EXCERPT FROM THE REVISIT PROPOSAL:
A University Grants Commission Research Project 2001-03 on ‘Sustainable Biodiversity and Food Security through Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Tribal Kollihills of Tamil Nadu, India’ forms the backdrop for the present Kollihills Revisit Project, focusing on ‘Enhancing Capacities and Building Partnerships for Sustainable Livelihoods and Development’ in the Hills, using PAR-PRA approaches in two of the 14 Nadus of the Kollihills, namely, Ariyur Nadu and Valappur Nadu (Nadu is a Village Republic).
With a gender-aware approach, the Revisit is to promote sustainable livelihoods and development through the implementation of a participatory Community Action Plan (CAP) designed to reduce poverty in the two select Nadus; expand livelihood opportunities and enhance social welfare at the local/regional level while maintaining or enhancing the environmental / ecological support system. CAP is a participatory and catalytic process designed to reach and mobilize society’s marginalized groups, particularly the poor, women, youth and children. The CAP process focuses on empowerment by assisting existing local groups (SHGs, tribal activist groups) to establish effective organizational structures and to enhance their management skills, as well as ensuring their full participation in the development process. CAP, besides several development thrusts, facilitates the provision of effective extension services to support the implementation of locally-identified strategies and initiatives.
The major objectives of the 2-year Revisit Project are:
1. To enhance the capabilities of women and men, girls and boys of two select Nadu communities – Ariyur Nadu and Valappur Nadu – through providing them with leadership skills, organizational management and community development skills.
2. To motivate, develop and promote a Partnership Initiative among communities, local governments and NGOs/CBOs to enhance sustainable livelihoods and development opportunities and community resource management towards poverty reduction.
3. To demonstrate the effectiveness of the partnerships and the capacities through successfully developing a Community Action Plan of the people, by the people and for the people of the two villages.
The Revisit Project concerns about 12-15 thousand tribal people in 50 plus hamlets in the two Nadus of our concern. The tribes, known as ‘malayalis’ (= hill people) live in traditional settlements collectively called ‘nadus’. There are 14 nadus in the Kollihills (a population of about 50,000 now). As the tribes are scattered in several hundred hamlets and on the hill slopes and in intermontane basins with often different terrains, only two village panchayats are chosen. In the tribal Kollihills, the poor constitute between 20 per cent and 33 per cent. In terms of food security, the hills are doing well and the difference in the tribal areas is higher primarily because food, or substitutes of food, is available from the forests of the hills.
The CAP is expected to be formulated for the two villages but much will need to be done before it could be implemented. It will have to be further shaped and refined even while building capacities in women and girls and men and boys of the Nadus. There will be development extension on specific aspects of the CAP and the economic activities through a process of information, education and communication. A cadre of people who could administer and manage the CAP should also be created. Tribal farmers’ associations, women self-help groups, and youth groups of the Nadus could be the ones the Revisit Project would focus on for such a cadre of the CAP implementers.
In the long term, the issues and skills addressed through community development activities of the CAP would allow community members to move towards self-mobilized levels of participation on ecosystem management as well as other social, economic and cultural issues.
The tribal poor lack basic entitlements, including access to land and water resources, access to credit and savings, and access to information, training and technologies. This situation is exacerbated by the low levels of literacy, a lack of representation of marginalized groups among the tribe, limited organizational skills and a poor knowledge of available program opportunities.
Keep an eye out on our website and social media for the next instalment of the Kollihills blog; we'll be publishing photos, videos and more updates!
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!