Members of tribal communities from across Tamil Nadu including the Paliyar, Kadar and Muduvar tribes convened in the city to celebrate the International Day for Indigenous people or the ‘World Adivasi Day’ on Monday.
Organised by the Ekta Parishad, an organisation working with marginalised sections of the society and Lady Doak College, discussions with activists and cultural programmes were held to mark the occasion.
Members of the Paliyar tribe from Kodaikanal enthralled college students by performing their traditional songs on string and wind instruments and women from the Kadar tribe near Valparai performed a traditional song in accompaniment to tunes played on percussion instruments by the men.
“We perform this dance for all occasions in our village, be it happy or sad. The song has been known to our community for generations and was written in a language which is a mix of Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi,” said D. Radha, a Kadar tribeswoman. As many as 68 Kadar families reside near Valparai, she added.
R. Ravi, a member of the Kadar tribe said that many of their practices, customs and traditions which remained largely unknown to the outside world were vanishing. “While we used to work as forest gatherers and get our daily food from there, most of us have taken to small-scale farming now which has led to a drastic change in our dietary patterns and made us more vulnerable to diseases,” he noted.
Thangaraj, a paliyar tribesman from Madurai said that the majority of them remained ignorant about their age-old traditions with regard to dance and music. “Every paliyar settlement in Madurai, Kodaikanal, Theni or Bodi worships Palichiamman, a deity we believe resides in a hill nearby. Recent restrictions by the forest and other departments have left us unable to make the trip up the designated hill and offer our prayers on auspicious days,” he explained.
The college students who attended the celebrations were addressed by V. Kathir, Founder of Evidence, an NGO and T.V. Parvathavardhini of Littles Trust on the need to be aware about issues concerning tribals and their rights.
Speaking about the celebrations, S. Thanaraj, Activist and Coordinator of Ekta Parishad said that it was important for the public at large to be aware of how development and other external factors had affected the lives of indigenous tribes across the country.
“There are a lot of values and ethics of living followed by tribes which need to be taken seriously. While development has rampantly affected them, the fact that they can rejuvenate and conserve the environment in their own way has been overlooked,” he said. For the members of the Kadar tribe who danced to traditional songs played on simple instruments by the tribesmen, their performance didn’t end there. A group of students from the audience who were attending the celebrations joined them on stage and were taught a few simple steps by the tribeswomen. Among the girls who joined in were two foreign students from the Lady Doak College, who enthusiastically participated and learnt the dance moves from the tribeswomen.
The songs performed by the Paliyar tribe too were received with loud applause and claps from the student-audience to the beats.
“The government should support us by giving us platforms to perform our dances and music on. It will help us keep our art alive and also support us immensely,” said R. Selvi, a tribeswoman.