India’s first Indigenous Terra Madre

Representatives and tribal leaders present local produce from their regions at a previous Terra Madre in Turin, Italy.

Representatives and tribal leaders present local produce from their regions at a previous Terra Madre in Turin, Italy.  

Tribes from 52 countries will meet at Shillong to celebrate slow food

Right now, the world is en route to Meghalaya. Indigenous tribes from 52 countries are preparing to travel to Shillong, where they will be hosted by 41 villages. The event is being reviewed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest gathering of indigenous peoples in the world. But that’s not why it is so special.

It’s because this is India’s first Indigenous Terra Madre, creating a network of tribes centred around food, Slow Food in particular.

It is being held in tandem with the annual Mei-Ramew (which translates to Mother Earth in Khasi) festival. Introduced in Meghalaya five years ago by the North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS), Mei-Ramew celebrates local food communities.

Supported by the Government of Meghalaya and organised by the Indigenous Partnership (Rome) and NESFAS in collaboration with Slow Food International, this year's event aims to bring together indigenous peoples from around the world, presenting them with opportunities to share their knowledge about food, nutrition and bio-cultural diversity.

Slow Food, an eco-gastronomic organisation started by the now legendary Carlo Petrini in Rome in the 1980s, was originally a reaction to low-quality, mass-produced fast food. Over the past few decades, however, it has grown into a revolution. With tens of thousands of members, the movement aspires to encourage people to demand food that is “good, clean, fair.” Promoting bio-diversity and upholding tradition, Slow Food works at a grass-root level, with indigenous farmers, pastoralists, hunter-gatherers, and fisherfolk, connecting them with scientists, chefs and policy makers.

Admittedly, it all sounds fairly prosaic. However, the meetings are anything but, thanks to Petrini’s clever, and undeniably alluring, vision of a “revolution of joy.” Discussing their very serious campaigns against hunger, farmer suicides and vanishing tribes, he talks of how, “This crisis won’t be overcome with sadness. (Because) At Terra Madre, politics has taken joy by the hand.”

Hence, Shillong's five-day gathering will highlight exotic meals, ingredients and produce, showcasing recipes that have been cradled through centuries by tribes, from Amazonian Indians to Native Americans. In a bid to appeal to contemporary diners, these flavours will also be teased and tweaked into modern dishes by hip celebrity chefs.

Chairman of NESFAS and international councillor of Slow Food International, Phrang Roy, talks of why hosting this festival is a matter of pride for India, and the North East in particular. “We are keenly aware that many people do not know about the unique aspects of this part of the world. For example, the centre of origin of all the citrus fruit in the world is Garo Hills in the Balpakkram area. Every orange or lemon that you find in the South Pacific and Latin America originally comes from Garo Land,” he says, adding, “At Indigenous Partnership, we listen and watch the grass-root peoples, who in turn for generations have been watching and listening to nature and earth, thus forming their beliefs and knowledge systems.”

Talking about how the habitats of the world’s tribes also usually coincide “with the most biodiversity-rich areas,” he explains why the partnership is important. “It listens to voices of those who have been marginalised... These are not simply stories and products that are at the verge of extinction but a question of whose values gain precedence over others in an increasingly globalised world.”

Stating that neither modern science nor traditional knowledge can solve these problems alone, he says the partnership creates a platform “where we aim to merge the two for a progressive future”.


- The opening ceremony will feature Mongolian throat singing, a variant of overtone singing practised by people in Inner Mongolia. There will also be performances by the sand story tellers of Vanuatu and the Shillong Chamber Choir.

- Taste workshops will thematically look at wild honey, edible insects, fermented foods. They will also introduce participants to wild, leafy, edible food plants that are neglected and underutilised.

- The event will end with a ceremony held in the Sacred Groves at Lawkyntang, Mawphlang, with a meal cooked by people from the 41 host villages.

International Mei-Ramew 2015 will be held in Shillong from November 3 to 7. While the conclave can be attended only by invited delegates, the Mei-Ramew festival is open to the public.

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Printable version | Jul 10, 2020 11:06:46 PM |

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