Koyas celebrate last ‘Bhumi Panduga’ in their ancestral villages

The government is preparing to shift the Polavaram project evacuees to rehabilitation colonies

July 10, 2021 12:35 am | Updated 02:31 pm IST - ULUMURU (EAST GODAVARI)

Koya tribesmen preaparing for hunting in the forest as part of the ‘Bhumi Panduga’ celebrations in Chintoor Agency.

Koya tribesmen preaparing for hunting in the forest as part of the ‘Bhumi Panduga’ celebrations in Chintoor Agency.

The hamlets of Koya tribes in the Chintoor Agency of East Godavari district have been abuzz since the past few weeks as the residents get ready with their bows and arrows every morning for hunting in the forests.

As traditions have it, the tribals go hunting as part of the ‘Bhumi Panduga’ celebrations, marking the beginning of farm operations every year. However, amid the fervour of the festivity, a sadness is quite conspicuous on their faces.

The Koya tribes say this is the last time they are celebrating the festival in their ancestral villages in the close vicinity of the Polavaram irrigation project as they are evacuees now and the government is preparing to shift them to the rehabilitation colonies.

Submergence threat

The shifting warrants an urgency now, as the swelling Godavari backwater has started submerging their villages.

“Our ancestors had tilled this land and hunted in these forests. Now, we are leaving behind our land and forest and in a way our traditions too. The rehabilitation colonies feel far away from our homes. This is the last Bhumi Panduga we are celebrating in our villages. We are trying to celebrate it as grandly as possible. Hunting in these forests will be a memory now,” Sodi Singayya and S. Jayababu, residents of a tribal hamlet told The Hindu.

The tribal people have started their three-day hunting programmes in the nearby forest on Thursday. For men, hunting is mandatory as part of the festival. The catch is distributed among all the families in the hamlet equally during a feast every evening.

On the stretch of Chintoor-Ulumuru, many villages are celebrating the festival this week, while other Koya habitations celebrated it in June. The tribal elders say each village fix the dates for the celebrations. “It appears the Koya tribes have got to celebrate the festival for the last time in their ancestral villages as the submergence threat is looming large and there is no other option than shifting to the rehabilitation colonies,” says Syed Subhani of Aasha, an NGO.

Alternative livelihood

Besides the pain of leaving their ancestral villages, a sense of apprehension is very palpable among the Koya tribes.

“We are dependant on the forest for our livelihood. We have no clue about finding alternative livelihood options and pursuing them in the new habitations as there will be no forest, which is an integral part of our social and cultural life,” says Mr. Sodi Singayya.

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