Soliga tribal Basavaraj talks of the Rotti Habba celebrated under the tree, where the community offers food to the tree-god and the men dance around it.

Basavaraj, a Soliga tribal who came from their cluster in B.R.Hills with his 15-member Soliga Pususmaale Kalasangha to Neralu held the audience in thrall with his stories about the relationship this hill tribe share with the forest. They presented a few dances, and each dance came with a story, and each ritual came bound to a dance.

Their relationship with nature is so intimate that Soligas, believe they were born of the bamboo, and they worship “Bidiramma Taayi” (Mother bamboo). A 600-year-old Sampige tree stands tall and wide in the B.R.Hills — “Dodda Sampige” is one of their gods. Basavaraj talks of the Rotti Habba celebrated under the tree, where the community offers food to the tree-god and the men dance around it singing “Goru Goruka Gorukana”. Women sit around and watch the dance, and select the best dancer for their mate; it was earlier indicated by throwing a pebble at the man, now they throw biscuits and mithai, recounted a cheerful Basavaraj. If both the boy and girl agree, they go away to live in the forest a few days before they come back to seek the blessings of the chieftain of their group. He in turn takes their oath that they will be together under all circumstances. “So our weddings expenditure must be about Rs. 12!,” concluded Basavaraj.

Children of the community are initiated into the ways of the forest when they are young — adults go gathering forest products everyday, walking for about 10 miles. “We teach children to identify various tubers. Our forest clothes are never washed, so that they retain the scent of the trees, flowers, the beeswax we collect; that way animals like elephants don’t detect our smell, so we don’t get attacked by animals!” He says they can sense the smell of elephants or snakes from a distance, and many snakes smell like food! Soligas tell time by the blooming and closing of a particular forest flower; the flower closes up at 4 p.m., and its time to return from the forest.

During drought they always manage to trace out the neer-matti mara, a tree which has about 10 pots of water stored in its trunk! Even elephants come looking for this tree when thirsty.

While the chatty Basavaraj had the audience engrossed in his interesting factoids on his people, he also engaged them and drew them into the dance. He wound up the session with an appeal to people to plant at least on sapling in their home. And left us with a handy tip — if you’re ever bitten by a poisonous snake and don’t have immediate access to a doctor, chew on four red dried chillies. It prevents the poison from spreading though the body and gives you an hour’s window to get to a hospital. Otherwise, you’ll be dead in five minutes, he swears! And you’ll never feel the sting of the chillies in your mouth because of the power of the poison.

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