Nomads who archive family details

A Helava community member with documents in his possession.  

They may look like members of yet another nomadic tribe moving from one place to the other. The big difference is that people in certain parts of the State look upon their arrival eagerly, as the bundles that they carry contain documented information dating back centuries.

Helavas, traditional archivists, have documents containing the genealogy of almost all families in every village and town in Belgaum, Dharwad, Bijapur, Bagalkot, Haveri, Gadag, Bellary, Uttara Kannada, Davangere and Chitradurga districts.

Their traditional occupation is to visit every household in different groups, read out the genealogy, and add on details of new members of the family.

Perhaps, it is the only community in India that has made archiving a source of livelihood. Families offer them money, gold and silver articles, and foodgrains in return. Their inherited skills of archiving can leave modern archivists awestruck.

K.S. Korishettar, a lawyer in the Karnataka High Court, said he got details of nearly 10 generations of his family from them. “The oldest details are in copper plates which appear to be reliable. The names of ancestors of three to four generations in the Helava records are accurate. They have legal sanctity and courts have termed them valid documents in some partition-related suits,” he said.

“Earlier, people would give donations in kind. But today, most of the families pay in cash. We earn enough for our subsistence,” Fakirappa of Hadagali village said. He said they have some ancient records written on copper plates and palm leaves.

Their lifestyle too has not changed over the years. During their tour, they stay in tents and use bullock carts to commute. Women are mainly engaged in household work.

The legend has it that the Helavas existed from the days of Basaveshwara. An extensive research of their documents may unearth several interesting facts.

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 2:21:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/nomads-who-archive-family-details/article5453228.ece

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