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Jenu Kuruba Tribes – Report- Jan 7, 2012

Jenu Kuruba Tribes – Report- Jan 7, 2012

We reached Mysore by 7.15 am on the 3rd of February 2010, a bit earlier than we expected. We were received by Prof.Kikkeri  Narayan and Rajiv.  At By 11.00 am we reached MYRADA Guest house in Hand Post, H.D. Kote in Prof.Narayan‘s car after having warm idlies and a hot cup of coffee at Chamundipuram . We freshened up at the guest house and  met Mr.Ksheerasagar who guided us to the digital archive office which was located 3km away.
The office was constructed of three buildings, two guest rooms and the archive. We had a meeting with all the people, who gathered to receive us. Mr.Somana, who is one of the leaders of the Jenu Kuruba tribe,  Shailendra, field staff, Basava Raj,
We introduced ourselves and explained the aim of our visit. Plans for the following days were also made. Mr. Ksheerasagar made us aware about the various tribal movements which have been working with the tribes in and around the nearby Haadis and also gave a brief demonstration about the different types of toys used by the village childrenProf.Narayan enlightened us with his knowledge on Shamanism. That evening we returned to our guest house pretty early.
The next day we had early breakfast and rushed to the archive with Mr. KsheerasagarShailendra was waiting in the office with a Jenu Kuruba medicinal expert; Mr.Dassaiah, an elderly man. As the agenda was set on the previous day, we got ready  to identify the medicinal plants around the archive. We started with little shrubs, creepers and saplings. Dassaiah introduced the plants in Kannada and explained its medicinal importance and  Ksheerasager translated it to us in English.
We saw huge trees in the archive like Sandalwood, Tamarind, silk cotton and black plum trees. These trees were planted during the 80s by Ksheerasagar. The 2.5 acre land was not organized in such a way that makes it look like an herbal garden. When we questioned about it, we got two main reasons. One was that the land was not properly fenced which lead to cattle grazing and the other was that we had come during the dry season (an unsuitable time to document the medicinal shrubs). At around 12.30 an interesting person joined us to share his knowledge on medicinal plants. It was Mr. Chikayiaanother Jenu Kuruba medicinal expert. Mr.Chikayia was able to speak Tamil and Malayalam apart from Kannada. It reduced our work load. That day we were able to identify 35 different types of shrubs, saplings and also trees.  
Later that evening, we came back to the archive and viewed some of the extraordinary videos of Jenu Kuruba children and their jungle pal, the giant squirrel. We asked for books regarding herbs from Ksheerasagar. He delivered the book through Shailendra that night.
We were eagerly waiting for Ksheersagar to take us to the Balle Haadi nearby. We finished our breakfast soon and left to the archive. We had to wait for sometime in the archive as there was a meeting in the FEDINA office which Dassaiah and Chikkaiah was attending. At the mean time, we also transferred our pictures which we took on the previous day to the computer. Then we joined ShailendraChikkaiah and Somanna and headed to the Balle haadi, a settlement inside the Rajiv Gandhi National Park.   
Our journey towards the haadi was really exciting. We had to pass maze fields, a lotus pond, many villages and few tribal settlements to reach our destination. Somanna who was seated in the front seat of the jeep waved at many people and gave them a pleasant warm smile. Somanna was so influential and popular not only among his own community but also with the forest authority. He convinced the forest authority to permit us into the forest to explore the thicket near the Balle Haadi.
Balle haadi contained approximately 200 families. There were no concrete or brick houses. All the houses were built with Palmyra leaves and bamboo sticks. There were few houses with bathrooms. The women were receptive and they greeted us with a warm smile.
Somanna introduced us to another medicinal expert in Balle haadi. His name was Kenchaiah. He was the president of that haadi. He took us deep into the forest to show us the herbs. Many people joined us to explore their natural herbal garden. We saw tall elegant trees, shrubs, bushes and creepers. The soil was black in colour, which symbolized its fertile nature. Now we had many people to help. Kenchaiah was not multi lingual like Chikkaiah. So whatever Kenchaiah said in Kannada was translated to Tamil by ChikkaiahThat day we found more plants than the previous day. Mathi maramKanjaKakke maramnoor thaiy beru are some plants we were able to find that day.
When we asked whether these medicinal experts go to allopathic doctors, the answer was a big ‘NO’. They prepare their medicines by themselves if they are ill.
Here we have to mention about the interesting Maththi Maram, a gigantic tree, with a huge trunk. The trunk had a bulge in its upper part of the truck. Chikkaiah commanded two tribal boys to climb the tree and cut the bark where the bulge was situated. The boy climbed on top of the tree with a knife and a plastic bottle. The boy started to cut the bark. And to our surprise a liquid oozed from the bulge. It was like flowing in a parabolic pattern. The boy collected the transparent liquid in the plastic bottle and offered it to us. In the beginning we hesitated but later we thought of drinking it. It tasted exactly like water.
We were told that the Jenu Kurubas used to cut the bulge of Maththi maram and drink its water when they go hunting in the forests. It quenches their thirst.
We got to know curing methods for snake bites, skin diseases, yellow fever, diarrhea and also certain illnesses for women during their menstruation period.
It was indeed pitiable to know that these experts in medicinal plants are not practicing it nowadays because of certain financial difficulties and have now switched their occupation to field labourers and masons.
After collecting the common names of around 45 plants we decided to visit the temple in the settlement. A female deity was placed inside with worshipping tools like the holy bell, aarathi and joss sticks.  Nearby the temple we saw a Tusker. Its tail was cut. A prominent feature, which can be noticed. It was a wild elephant but tamed by the Jenu Kurubas of the Balle haadi.      
That day we had late lunch at a small shop nearby the Haadi. On our way back we stopped to capture the beautiful landscape of the Kabini back waters and returned back to the guest house.
The next day we left in our hired jeep to the Kabini dam, where Mr.Ksheerasagar was supposed to be picked up. We went to his residence and saw his collection of various types of butterflies and feathers of different types of birds. He took us to the Kabini dam where we captured many photographs of migrant birds from Tibet.
Then we headed to another haadi named MettikuppeWe had to enter through another entrance of the Rajiv Gandhi National park. Somanna and Chikkaiah accompanied us to Mettikuppe Haadi. On this day we did not go inside any haadi and meet people but we went directly to the thicket to explore more plants.
After taking down the names of the plants and its uses, Somanna washed a hand kerchief using a fruit which he plucked from a semi grown tree in the nearby stream. After washing it he told us to smell the hand kerchief. It had a wonderful aroma, way better than the aroma we get from detergents we use these days.
Somanna also made us taste a leaf. It was extremely bitter that we spat it out as soon as we started to chew. He told us that it cures diabetes. Unfortunately no one knew its Kannada or Kuruba name. So he named it “Sugar plant”.
We returned from the haadi to the archive at around 4.00 pm with the sapling of the “Sugar plant” and planted it outside the archive. Then we started to upload all the pictures we took that day in the computer and burnt it to a CD.
That day we decided to monitor the archive. We decided to clarify the doubts we had regarding the functioning of the archive.
·      When we asked about the maintenance of the register, we got to know that they do maintain a register but we did not see anyone signing the register nor we saw the register.
·      Prof Kikkeri Narayan engages himself in the archive only for four days in a month.
·      The field staff have gone to the haadis and trained the people in handling cameras. None of the training activities are done in the office.
·      The total of Video documentation in two years comes only up to 86 hours.
·      And most of the documentation were done when Rayson and Rajashekar at the archive in 2008.
·      There are no racks in the archive to place and store the documented material.
·      There is no Back up
·      The documentaries were screened only in haadis and not in schools.
·      The internet was not working
·      The computer corrupted by virus. We tried to install a trial version but it was not possible.
·      The I pod was also not functioning because it was corrupted by virus
With the help of MR.Ksheerasagar , we found the botanical names of the medicinal plants.
We went to a school in Basavanagiri resettlement for a theatre workshop and an interactive painting session. Mr.Sunder taught the children some interesting games. Meanwhile the teacher of the school showed us few fascinating toys which Jenu kuruba children use to play in the forests. All the toys were eco friendly. They had simple, inexpensive toys which produced a similar sound like the crackers used in Diwali. They told us it is an alternative way to enjoy the festival eve without crackers.  The usage of these toys was demonstrated to us by a teacher who belongs to the Jenu Kuruba tribe.
Then we had an interactive painting workshop where we instructed the children to draw whatever they like and took their palm prints in a piece of cloth. Later we handed over the cloth to Mr.Ksheerasagar to use it as a curtain till they get a permanent screen for the racks in the archive. We also witnessed a cultural performance by the students of the school. Here we observed the cultural transformation and the influence of the media in their dance and other art forms. Later we got a chance to see a typical Jenu kuruba dance performed by few boys and girls.
Then we left the school after having lunch and reached the archive. Later that evening we settled the bills at MYRADA and left to Mysore to catch the train to Chennai.
Folklore finds a voice – TATA, Dec 2012

Folklore finds a voice – TATA, Dec 2012

By documenting and recording folklore, social scientists are hoping to preserve pieces of the traditional and oral cultures of some of the tribes and sects being pushed to India’s margins

In 1974, when the Kabini dam was built across the river Kapila in the Heggada Devana Kote block of Mysore district, it displaced several thousand tribals, many of whom were forced to move out of the forest area they had lived in for generations. Among them were the people of the Jenu Kuruba tribe, the honey gatherers of southern Karnataka.

“One of the major problems that tribal communities face is that of displacement from their original habitat, as civilisational development encroaches into their native forest lands in search of minerals and produce,” says Prof MD Muthukumaraswamy, director of the Chennai-based National Folklore Support Centre (NFSC). “While such displacement may be inevitable, what is important is to preserve the culture, language and dignity of the people displaced.”

Preservation of this kind tops the agenda of NFSC, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to folklore research, integrating scholarship with activism, community development and advocacy.

Founded in 1997, NFSC holds that “folklore is a tradition based on any expressive behaviour that brings a group together, creates a convention and commits it to cultural memory”. The centre has been engaged in documenting and creating community-based archives of oral histories and folk artistic and musical traditions. Its most recent initiative is the creation of fellowships for postgraduate scholars.

The fellowships programme, which is supported by the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, began in 2008 with a pilot project involving research and documentation of the living traditions of six communities of Northeast India. The research delved into a variety of practices — still extant and rooted in tradition — such as the dance of Manipur’s Roungmei community, the Angami folk music and the folk blues of Nagaland, and the folklore of the Chakmas, a tribe that is spread across the northeastern states. Today there are 30 such fellowships, with researchers studying folklore traditions in different parts of India.

The NFSC fellowship programme — as also all of its earlier research projects — arose out of the need to close the yawning gaps in folklore research in India. Explains Prof Muthukumaraswamy: “Folklore study is a multi-disciplinary subject involving historians, folklorists, linguists, artists and so on. In addition, folklorists from different areas need to work together to establish reliable contexts.”

Social activism
However, the centre went beyond the research mandate; it became a platform for integrating scholarship with activism, setting up community archives and providing research documents to social institutions, such as schools, to inform mainstream society about the little known history and culture of communities that had carried these forward over centuries, largely through the oral tradition. “It is unfortunate that there are not enough effective institutional interventions for the folk crafts people in India, who number more than six million,” says the professor. “That is only one example of the marginalisation of these communities.”

NFSC’s attempt to meld scholarship with social interventions has arisen out of this outrage. For instance, when its research found the displaced people of the Jenu Kuruba tribe marginalised and ridiculed by the very communities in whose interests they had been compelled to yield their native lands, it decided to act in support. The community’s archival material was reproduced in various formats and distributed in the schools where the displaced Jenu Kuruba children were enrolled. This helped in restoring dignity to the community members. “Others began to view them as interesting, people with a great and unusual history,” says Prof Muthukumaraswamy.

The centre has done the same for the Vaagri (or Narikurava) community, a nomadic people that originated in the Rajasthan-Gujarat region and is believed to have migrated to what is modern-day Tamil Nadu from the 16th century onwards, and in especially large numbers with the Maratha armies. That is what their songs and myths reveal, adds the professor. NFSC has also prepared detailed, research-based archives of the Seraikella Chhau tradition of Jharkhand, of communities along the river Nila in Kerala, the Gonds of Madhya Pradesh and the Gond and Bhunjia tribal communities of Odisha.

In all such cases, NFSC places the community archives within community-run institutions, and these are permitted to be freely reproduced. The establishment of community archives was a path-breaking initiative in India. Government archives are governed by the Official Secrets Act and institutional archives by copyright laws, while personal archives are accessible to a limited degree. Community archives, available to all, is a radical departure from these claustrophobic practices.

Community archives are especially valuable because they are in the primary custody of the very community whose history and culture have been archived. “This gives them pride, and also helps them take ownership of their history,” says Prof Muthukumaraswamy.

Rigour in research
Just as its scholastic activism was a pioneering initiative, the NFSC research methodology has also been a trailblazing model in Indian academia. NFSC believes in collaborative research, involving a scholar with solid credentials in working with the community (the subject of the research), who is fluent in the local language and who mentors the project.

Researchers could be from one of several relevant disciplines, and they remain in the field for the duration of the research. The research assistants for these projects are always chosen from the community and Prof Muthukumaraswamy provides overall direction and supervises the projects. Among the expert mentors that the centre has worked with are such stalwarts as Prof Narayan Kikkeri of the Mysore-based Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, who worked with the Jenu Kuruba people before their displacement.

The preparation for the research itself is a complex process: it requires the researchers to familiarise themselves with the community and learn a new vocabulary, sufficient to communicate with the communities. This is especially important as almost all of these languages have no written history or script and follow the oral tradition. Researchers and assistants are also trained in the fine art and science of archiving before they are sent to the field. Non-academic challenges include the problems of living in primitive conditions in remote areas for the duration of the research and building a rapport with the community.

After the research is complete comes the monumental task of recording the findings, including transcription, transliteration (which is phonetic) and translation. “Something is always lost in this process,” says Prof Muthukumaraswamy, “which is why we have to be meticulous so as to minimise the loss.” One year’s basic field research takes at least two years to record, he says, and deeper analysis would require much more time. “Unfortunately, Indian folklore research is so much on the edge of subsistence that we cannot do this. India, sadly, outsources social research to foreign universities.”

Sharing with society
The centre also studies marginalised urban communities with specialised traditions. Among these is the Marana Gaana (death songs) of 18th century Sufi mystic Kudangini Masthan, whose music has been kept alive by a community of street singers in Chennai. Similarly, the centre has documented the initiation rites of a community of transgender people in Chennai (this group included Tamil author Priya Babu and television anchor Rose).

NFSC has shared its research material with the Association of Historians so as to engender interdisciplinary dialogue between linguists, historians and political scientists, folklorists, encyclopaedists, media and others.

It is in the process of preparing an encyclopaedia of Indian folklore and a thesaurus of words of several unscripted, endangered and little-known languages. It has so far finalised the synonyms for some 400 words in various tribal languages, using the collaborative Wikipedia platform. The centre publishes several journals, including the Indian Folklore Research Journal, the Journal of Ethnomusicology, and the quarterly, Indian Folk Life.

Apart from financial constraints, the other challenge folklorists often face is hostility from religious bodies, classicists, government and non-government development agencies, even political extremists such as the Maoists. “These people are happy to take the folk forms dissociated from content and context,” says Prof Muthukumaraswamy.

The content of the folklore challenges dominant traditionalists and can actually turn social sciences on their heads. For example, folklore indicates our plural culture; this is a threat to those who would like to centralise political, social and religious beliefs and structures.

The preservation of folklore and community traditions has a special value in today’s world. The media, art and culture portfolio of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust has been proactively supporting projects related to the field of folklore in India. As Niyati Mehta, programme officer at the trust, says: “The projects supported by the trust continue to build on how a living archive can become sites of knowledge that are a part of a rich intangible heritage that is not yours or mine, but ours as a community to learn and share.” Folklore studies are, thus, especially relevant in today’s fractured times.

A dance that unfolds in the shadow of the gods

Seraikella Chhau, one of the three forms of the famous Chhau dance of eastern India and native to modern-day Jharkhand, is significant because it has been the least influenced by external forces, says Prof MD Muthukumaraswamy, director of the Chennai-based National Folklore Support Centre (NFSC). According to NFSC, which has researched this traditional art form as part of its archiving initiative, Jharkhand did not come under direct British rule and, consequently, escaped the influence of external forces on its native dance forms.

All Chhau forms originated as dances imitating everyday life, even while they celebrated the spiritual and the religious. Thus, while all Chhau forms celebrate the vasant panchami (spring) festival in a dance narrating the history of creation, only Seraikella Chhau retains footwork such as “walking like a urinating cow”, “carrying pebbles between the toes” and “stamping on cow dung”.

The Chhau dance is believed to have originated in the Seraikella region in Vedic times (the ritual is mentioned in the Natya Shastra, says Prof Muthukumaraswamy). But it is only from the 17th century onwards that there have been modern records of the form, from the time that the then royal family extended patronage.

In the Seraikella form, the dancers wear masks — depicting the shadow or chhau — and the face and the individual is shown to be in the shadow of the gods. In the other Chhau forms (Mayurbhanj Chhau and Purulia Chhau), the face is left uncovered.

In the report of their field visit (conducted in August 2008), researchers K Muthukumar and S Aruvi describe Chhau as “an art form where there is space for each and every one… Art is doing what it is actually meant to do. It is relaxing them [the dancers] from their usual routine and transforming them completely. The difference between traditional classical dance and Chhau is this.”

They go on to say: “You need not be a trained artist to transform yourself and transcend the limits of the body. Chhau allows you to dance and perform the basic movements that come very naturally to the body. You imagine a past where people working in the fields for the whole day want to relax in the way they like … and invented Chhau, which they can perform with their bodies and with few instruments. You could see the origin of dance (in everyday life).”

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Kaadina Haadu awakes citizens

Kaadina Haadu awakes citizens

Tribals to train participants in folk arts during 10-day workshop

Mysore, May 21 (SH)- A 10-day workshop on tribal culture, called ‘Kaadina Haadu’ was inaugurated yesterday in Fine Arts College here. The programme is an initiative by Bhoomigeetha Trust, headed by Music director V. Manohar, to promote tribal culture forms of the State that are gradually disappearing.

Baragur Ramachandrappa, Hamsalekha, Mohan Alva, Amrit Someshwara and Kikkeri Narayan have lent support to the initiative. More than 30 people, with expertise in folklore, are taking part in the workshop.

The workshop is organised to senisitise the mainstream on the need to protect tribal culture forms on the verge of extinction in the changed socio-economic scenario, explained Manohar.

Members from tribal communities numbering more than 200 will present various cultural forms during the workshop for the benefit of the workshop participants. Tribal art, full of ritualistic expressions and emotions was in danger of disappearing because of urbanisation affecting life in tribal settlement, Manohar explained.

Speaking on the occasion after inaugurating, Mayor Sandesh Swamy emphasised on the need for protecting tribal culture. He lauded the initiative taken by Bhoomigeetha Trust and said that it would help in rejuvenating the various tribal culture forms.

Tribal leader Somanna said that the workshop would help the tribal artistes to revive their art forms and make them feel that their art forms still had their importance in the present consumerist world.

Krupakar and Senani, noted Wildlife photographers, underlined the need to protect tribal culture. Participation in the workshop is free. Details can be had on mob: 9945044123 or 99457-80989.

Courtesy : Star Of Mysore

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Taken as reference for poem – Feb 1 , 2009

Taken as reference for poem – Feb 1 , 2009

Mamta Sagar

(India, 1966) 

Mamta Sagar

Mamta Sagar is a Kannada poet, playwright and academic. She has published three collections of poetry and four plays. She teaches at the Centre for Kannada Studies, Bangalore University. Translated into various languages (including Marathi, Hindi, Malayalam, Bengali, Telugu, English, Spanish and French), Sagar has been widely anthologised and has done readings of her work in various parts of the country, as well as in Colombia, South Africa and Cuba. She has worked for several years on the translation of contemporary African and Francophone poets into Kannada. Her thesis “Gender, Patriarchy and Resistance: Contemporary Women’s Poetry in Kannada and Hindi (1980–2000)” won her a doctoral degree from the University of Hyderabad.

Deeply engaged with issues of human rights violations, gender and social justice, Sagar’s poetry reflects her social concerns. But accompanying her politics is an equally genuine engagement with the Kannada language, and the attention to assonance and alliteration in her poems is difficult to replicate in English translation.

The two poems in this edition combine an imagistic density with powerful critique. ‘Talking about Dharma/ Adharma’ is a response to the communal carnage that ravaged the state of Gujarat in 2002, while ‘Song-Slaughter’bears witness to the brutal and whimsical nature of police atrocity, as it memorialises the death of Saket Rajan (the Naxalite leader in Karnataka).

Dharma (“sacred duty” or “fundamental universal law or principle”), the bedrock of the Hindu way of life, is sharply questioned as the poet creates a terrifying image of the monster that emerges when politics, religion and patriarchy collude in a “blue poisonous” alliance. Through a newly sanctioned vocabulary of rape, conquest and religious imperialism, the man in her poem performs his righteous duty — and “even before the scream is out”, his “manhood is proved and achieved”.

© Arundhathi Subramaniam

Selected Bibliography


Hiige HaaLeya Maile HaaDu, Abhinava Prakashana, Bangalore, 2007
Nadiya Neerina Teva, Ila Prakashana, Bangalore, 1999
Kaada Navilina Hejje, Akshara Prakashana, Heggodu, 1992

Chukki Chukki Chandakki, C.V.G. Publications, Bangalore, 1999
Kaada Navilina Hejje, Akshara Prakashana, Heggodu, Karnataka, 1992
Mayye Bhara Manave Bhara, a play, directed by B. Jayashree, The National Theatre Festival, Bombay, 1990
Aa Ondu Raatri, 1989

Mahila Vishaya, (a collection of essays in Kannada and English on Gender, Language, Literature and Culture), Ila Prakashana, Bangalore, 2007
Sexism and Language, in ‘Battleground: Women, Gender and Sexuality’ edited by Amy Lind. Greenwood Publishers, USA, 2007
A Karnad Festival in Karnataka in ‘Girish Karnad’s Plays, Performance and Critical Perspectives’, edt. Tutun Mukherjee. Pencraft International, New Delhi, 2005
Article, discussions and dialogues published in AKKA A Dialogue on Women Through Theatre in India, edt. Narayan Kikkeri, Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore, 2004

Muse India, PoemsAbout, Some more of Mamta Sagar’s poems in translation.
Muse India: Mamta Sagar talks about her experience reading her poetry at Poetry Africa – International Festival of Poetry held in Durban.

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Curtains down on ‘Kaadina Haadu’

Curtains down on ‘Kaadina Haadu’

Mysore, May 31 (DM) – Curtains came down on the unique 11-day ‘Kaadina Haadu’ camp organised by Bhoomigeetha for fostering tribal arts and culture, here on Sunday.

‘Kaadina Haadu’ training camp, which was jointly launched by Mysore University and Tribal Farm Workers Association at Manasagangotri’s Fine Arts College on May 20, was successful in sensitising urban artists to Tribal arts and culture.

Renowned Music Director V. Manohar who was instrumental in organising the camp, delivered the valedictory address.

Monohar said that the poor economic conditions, an inferiority complex and exposure to an urban milieu for which they were not ready, has led to the disappearing of tribal art and culture. He expressed gratitude to all those who came to his aid in organising the camp.

Prof. Kalegowda Nagawara, who also spoke, said both the State and Central Government spent a lot of money for the development of tribals. But it is everyone’s responsibility to see grants are used properly, he said.

Music University Vice-Chancellor Dr. Hanumanna Nayaka Dore, who spoke on the occasion, said classical music and folk music would be given equal priority. Although the govern-ment has sanctioned land for the Music University, the Forest Department was creating hurdles, he said.

Litterateur Devanur Mahadeva, in his address, said he visualised people seeing their primordial past within the subconscious mind in the folkways and lores of Tribal people.

Radical thinker P. Mallesh, in his address, observed that renowned music directors such as Manohar should strive towards nurturing Tribal music. All the artistes who participated in the camp were distributed certificates on the occasion.

Tribal artistes presented a musical programme. Theatrist Janardhan (Janni) compered. N.S. Gopinath, C. Basavalingaiah, Kikkeri Narayan were present.

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