A swansong for Dhone boats of Bison hills in Godavari of Andhra Pradesh

The Konda Reddi and Koya tribes, which are set to be displaced from the Polavaram project submergence areas, have to abandon their traditional boats as there is no river near the place of rehabilitation

Updated - December 26, 2022 07:53 pm IST

Published - December 26, 2022 08:53 am IST - POCHAVARAM (ASR DISTRICT)

A Konda Reddi tribe rowing a Dhone, a traditional boat, in the Godavari near the Papikonda hills in Alluri Sitarama Raju district.

A Konda Reddi tribe rowing a Dhone, a traditional boat, in the Godavari near the Papikonda hills in Alluri Sitarama Raju district. | Photo Credit: T. Appala Naidu

In his 50s, Maadi Bojji Reddi of the Konda Reddi tribe braves winter chill to venture into the Godavari for fishing. He is in a pensive mood as he rows his ‘Dhone’, a traditional wooden boat, with the wooden oar. 

By next summer, he will be away from everything that has been integral part of the lives of Konda Reddis, a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG), for generations —the sacred Godavari, fish, Bison Hills (Papi hills), sand dunes and Dhone. 

All habitations in the Tummileru and Jeeduguppa panchayats in Chintoor Agency of Alluri Sitarama Raju district are falling in the Polavaram project submergence area and the Konda Reddis living here are set to be rehabilitated before the Godavari flood submerges their hamlets the next monsoon.

“Our village has the highest number of four Dhones in the two panchayats. By next monsoon, we have to abandon the boats which have been the real breadwinners of our families since generations. We are being rehabilitated to Buttayagudem. We will go away from our lifeline, the Godavari,” says Mr. Bojji Reddy.

“What will I do with the boat in Buttayagudem where there is no river? I know nothing other than fishing. I am clueless as to how will I earn my livelihood in the rehabilitation colony,” says Mr. Bojji Reddi. 

The next summer will be a swansong for the fleet of less than two dozen Dhones that are now in operation in the Godavari. All of them are crafted and owned by Konda Reddi and Koya tribes living in the Papikonda hill range. 

The fleet is now in engaged in fishing between Ippuru and Gonduru range, where every habitation shares an association with Dhones. 

Fishing on Dhone has been the prime livelihood option for the Konda Reddi and Koya tribes for generations until engine boats came into operation. Earlier, the tribes cross the river on Dhones and transport patients during emergency. 

Made of ‘Booriga tree’ (known in local parlance), the maximum length of a Dhone is approximately 10 feet to 15 feet. Those who assist to craft the boat are offered toddy and dry fish for their labour for a week. 

A maximum of nine persons can go for fishing on a Dhone in the Godavari up to a point where the depth of the river is 200 metre.

“Dhone made of Booriga tree floats even if it overturns in the river. It is the safest feature. That is why the Koyas worship Booriga tree. We never ply the boats to long distances. We operate in the nearby locations,” explains Mr. Bojji Reddi.  

V.R. Puram ZPTC Valla Ranga Reddy puts it “The irony of the Polavaram project reflects in the case of Dhone as the traditional boat has not been considered for the compensation package. No authority can deny the fact that the boat guarantees livelihood.”

The curious case of the compensation package is that even a date palm tree gets ₹90. But, a Dhone doesn’t deserve the compensation.

What happens if the tribes abandon the Dhones?

Mr. Ranga Reddy replies, “Probably, the boats will be left to perish in the Godavari. Our association with Dhones will be a thing of past.”

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