The world is chocked with Covid-19 pandemic. Scientists around the world try their level best to have a clinical solution to save lives and minimize the virulence of corona virus in human body. Ecologists around the globe focus on the newly emerging and re-emerging communicable diseases and its close association with the chronic disruption of the ecological equilibrium which also suggests huge effects are seen mostly in countries with high biodiversity and serious unresolved environmental, social and economic issues.
In this context, it is important to have a U’ turn in order to reflect on the remaining protectors of ecosystem and biodiversity. Indigenous peoples/ aboriginal peoples/ tribals are inhabitants of each main biome of the earth and especially of the least disturbed terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems of the world. It is time to recognize the importance of indigenous views, knowledge and practices in biodiversity conservation.
I would like to illustrate about one of the major Central Indian tribes, the ‘Kurux’ (Oraon) people who have their inherited and acquired merits in preserving the forests, land and aquatic treasures. Here I would like to place a few examples from my experiences with the Kurux tribal groups affirming the above facts. The reference area is situated in Jashpur district of northern Chhattisgarh.
Majority of villages are completely surrounded by thick forest; each village consists of approximately 70-75 families. As I was focusing on my health related research, one day I had a little diversion while I was in search of a little plastic carry bag. Much to my surprise, I asked at least half a dozen people but failed to find a plastic carry bag. I assumed initially it would be the result of a collective decision of villagers to have a plastic free area. I wanted to learn about it. In the process I found out that the entire village lives on its own products except salt, soap and oil. (Till recent years they used homemade oil from mustard seeds, unprocessed soap seeds from surrounding forests).The waste of each house hold contains minimal sewage water and biodegradable products; as a result the surrounding area didn’t ever attract insects.
The hard working village men and women carry their vegetables from field and prepare it along with rice cultivated by them, which has an aroma as it gets boiled.The explanation given by a villager was, “we ‘Adivasis’ do not ever use and destroy the fertility of our land with fertilizers, our crops grow with organic manure so it is the natural aroma of rice.”
Since Kurux people are an agricultural community, I wanted to clear doubts regarding the need for extension of land resulting in deforestation as the population increases. A random survey of a few farmers in a village uncovered the truth about their landed property. The present generation inherited the land from their ancestors, but hardly added additional piece of land. Four to five generations cultivated in the same plot of land. They say with confidence that the crop is sufficient for their families to survive for an year; they ask, why should we destroy the forest?; The land is like their mother who provides them everything for their survival.
Dominant groups outside the tribal area consider wild animals ferocious, something to be scared off but Kurux people have a unique way to deal with them. Most of the villages are isolated from the state highways and have no access to public facilities including health. They walk ten to twenty kilometres on foot or use two wheelers to reach the main roads with the ailing, often confronting the wild animals on the way. It is amazing to know that the wild animals specially elephants are less aggressive and better to say ‘meek’ when the village women and children are trapped in front of their herds. Every villager has at least an encounter story. But all of them describe it with due affection as if they say something about their kids. Though the crops are often destroyed by the wild animals, village men never use crackers or any injurious substance to harm them. Their policy is, ‘keep them away, provide them space.’ Villagers use flames and drums to chase them. They train their youngsters with natural wisdom to escape from huge animals. They advise, if the wild elephant turns back to take on the people, ‘turn left’ and ‘runzigzag’.
The indigenous culture is deep rooted in nature and the people have an inherent devotion to ecosystem. Their developmental approaches preserve the earthly treasures around them. The pure sense of socialism is still persistent among the tribal group across the globe.
Women of the village collecting of ‘Mahuwa flowers’ affirm the generous attitude of tribals. It is a feast to the eyes – a group of women with swiftly moving fingers collect Mahuwa flowers in their little baskets. After filling one’s basket first, instead of storing extra, she moves to fill her friend’s. This uncommon behaviour which is ‘need based and not greed based’ can be observed in many tribal folks. It might be the secret of protecting biodiversity around tribal habitation.
We must analyse where we have gone wrong as we were busy in ‘development’ at the expense of natural recourses interrupting nature’s rhythm. It is a call to learn from our indigenous peoples who never sell their land but keep them fertile and protect the forest and thus hand over these gifts to the generations to come. As the endemics and pandemics affect all our daily routine, let us meditate the words of Seattle Chief to President Franklin Pierce (1855) “how can you buy or sell the sky – the idea is strange to us, yet we do not own the freshness of the air or the sparkle of the water, every part of this earth is sacred to my people.”(Published on 13th July 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 29)