Bomman thatha and his forest

My name is Ramesh. I work in The Shola Trust as a wildlife conservationist. In this blog, I am writing about my conversation with my grandfather, Bomman thatha (grandfather) about the bonding between adivasi people and the forest.
Bomman thatha is from the Bettakurumba tribe. He lives in the village, Kanjikolly, along the edge of Mudmalai and of course has a great knowledge about forest and honey collection, fishing, collecting tubers and medicinal plants.

Bomman thatha told me that our gods live in stones, big rocks and trees. We won’t cut aal maram (Ficus religiosa) because gods will be in that tree. Even the water in the area around the tree should be used neatly and not destroyed. In our community our god Ajji (grandmother) lives in Ellamalai mountain. She is also called Thrithri Eributham. While going there we should not wear slippers and men should wear mundu above the knees. Women should also wear sari little bit below the knees. We should not spit or cut the cane there. There is a lot of vethalai (betel leaf) which we can eat but before eating we should wash our legs and hands and pray to god. Once we went to cut bamboo there and a small boy ate a leaf before praying to god. After that it became a big problem. So we had to come back and in Kodamoola village we did some pooja. After two days it was ok.

When we have to cut trees, we won’t cut all the trees; we will cut only what we need. There are a lot of dangerous trees also. There is one tree with very big leaves. If we touch that leaf, it feels like burning.

Bomman thatha also told me that some years before most of the birds, especially sparrows had gone somewhere else. But now they are back and he can hear a lot of birds singing. I asked him why the birds had disappeared. He said that it happened because of radiation from mobile towers. Birds cannot survive around such radiation. The mobile companies have now adjusted the radiation and the birds have come back and he sees them in town eating rice and waste outside shops.

He said that the birds are very useful. They eat fruits in our land and spit the seeds in someone else’s land. The seeds grow into plants there and the birds spit the seeds again in our land. He has small kandhari chillies on his land that he has not planted. The birds brought the seeds and now lots have grown. This chilly gets a good rate if you sell it in the market.


Bomman thatha shows the kandhari chilli

Bomman thatha also told me about the small honey bees that make combs on lantana sticks. The honey will be 100gm or 200 gram only. It is good quality honey and also the best medicine for cold.

I asked him about the way in which they collect tubers and fish. While collecting tubers, we take only what we need and we will cover the rest with mud again. Usually the main root is not taken because we need it for next year. When we go fishing, we have one leaf and root. If you grind these and add it to water, the fish will get mayakam (dizziness). This mixture does not go under the water and stays only on the surface. So only the fish on the surface get mayakam and we catch them. This way, the fish that is under water will not be disturbed and lay eggs for next year. There will be lots of fish next year also.


Illustration (Kannan, The Shola Trust) : Fish collection in adivasi community

Before fishing or taking tubers, we will pray to god and only then we will take it. If we do not pray to god we won’t get anything. We don’t have boundaries for collecting tubers or fish but if people from one village are going to another village to collect anything from the forest, they will inform their relatives in that village and go only with them.

I also asked him what the problem in the forest was according to him. There is no food for animals in the forest. There is a lot of lantana and so local grass that animals eat is not growing. Deer and elephants are coming to our homes from the forest because of two things – one, they are afraid of tigers and leopards and second, there is no food for them in the forest. So we have to remove lantana and then burn it. After six months we should see how nicely the grass will grow.

Ramesh is from the Bettakurumba tribe. He works with The Shola Trust on Human-Elephant conflict.