The Kani community’s ethno-botanical knowledge of 300 medicinal herbs: Paper presented a the National Jackfruit Festival 2015 – Kerala

Source: Courtesy S S Davidson © 2015 Tribal Foundation (Nagercoil)

National Jackfruit Festival 2015

15-18 May 2015
Aranmula, Pathanamthitta – 16 May 2015 Scientific Papers

Title: Relevance of indigenous knowledge and practices related to jack fruit, with reference to the Kaani indigenous people of Kanyakumari forests.

By S S Davidson
Environmental Educator, 23, Cave Street, Nagercoil-629 001, Kanyakumari District, E-mail: ssdavidson9@gmail.com

The Kaani tribal community resides in 48 settlements of Kanyakumari forests, of the Western Ghats, a mountain range along the South-western India. Their huts are situated in the dense forests, hills and deep jungles. They were a nomadic tribe adopting the slash and burn culture and had the hunter –gatherer instinct, collecting the forest produce and hunting wild animals and honey in the forests. After independence, they were settled in specific places and rehabilitation was done by allotting land to them. The Kaani people have an extremely rich and unique Traditional Knowledge transferred from their ancestors about the use of the forest resources, including the biological resources of flora and fauna around them.

They are solely dependent on forest resources for their livelihood, food, fuel, fodder and material culture. They live in consonance with Nature and derive everything from nature for their sustenance. They are animists and spirit worshippers with staunch belief in Benevolent and Malevolent Spirits. They are deeply anchored in their spiritual values and belief systems. Spirituality is the fabric that forms the complex web of linkage to the cosmos. Their eco-spirituality is inextricably linked with forest ecology and bio-diversity through their traditional culture.

The forest flora has served as sources of food and medicines for human beings since their advent.

Jack fruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), is a major staple food for the Kaani people apart from tapioca. They eat the ripe fruits during the season from March to June. They pluck the unripe jack and boil it and consume it with Kanthari chilli (Capsicum frutescence) and salt. The tender jack is plucked and used for making side dishes with coconut gratings, oil and spices, when they take rice food.

The ripe fruit is used in kollukkattai, as a sweetener  which is a popular South Indian sweet dumpling made from rice flour, with a filling of grated coconut and jaggery, usually eaten as a form of breakfast or as a snack along with tea. In Tamil Nadu the dish is traditionally associated with the Hindu God Ganesha, and prepared as an offering on the occasion of Vinayaka Chathurthi.

The jack fruit is sliced into chips and roasted in coconut oil and pepper, salt or chilli is added to the chips. It is a favorite snack consumed with tea in the evening.

The ripe seeds are grinded as powder and a sweet is made called Eilay Panyaaram, which is a combination of jack seed flour, roasted coconut gratings, sugar and spices. It is baked in a vessel by steam and served. Leaves are used to wrap the Panyaaram, where banana leaf , therali leaf (bay Leaf or Laurus nobilis) or vattakanni (Macaranga peltata) leaves are used. When therali leaf is used the sweet, distinct aroma of the leaf is mixed with the food item and adds spice to it.

The unripe jack is boiled in addition to banana, arrow root, yam and other tubers and salt and pepper are added and consumed.

The seeds of the jack is boiled as a whole or sliced into small pieces and boiled and served with salt or kanthari chutney made of chilli, coconut gratings and salt. Another preparation is the seeds are cut into small pieces and baked and fried with coconut oil, salt, pepper and mustard seeds. The jack seeds are boiled and sun dried on rocks and stored for use during the lean seasons, when there is heavy rain or during the summer.

Recently there is demand for the raw seeds and a few collect the seeds from the forests and sell it to the procuring agents.

Unripe fruits are given to cattle and goats as a feed. The green leaves of the tree are also given as a feed to cattle, claiming the leaves have rich nutritive and medicinal value.

The jack timber is considered of high value in construction and furniture making enterprises. The Kaani tribal people use the timber for their hut construction.

Ritual has a major role in environmental ethics among the Kaani tribe, who maintains religious or ritual representation of forest resource management. Before cutting a jack tree for their hut they perform a Pooja, by the clan priest-magician named ‘Pilathi’ to the Spirits with the traditional staunch belief that they are killing a tree with a life and the Spirit residing in the tree should not take revenge on them. While constructing a hut with the jack tree or any other forest wood, they perform another ritual officiated by the ‘Pilathi’ that the spirit should not revenge them for killing a tree and allow the inmates of the hut to live in peace, harmony and with prosperity.

The jack timber is used for doors, door frames, benches, cupboards, mortar and pestle and cots. They take the matured part of the tree and carve out the inner portion to make the mortar.

The trees are cut down during the waxing period of the Moon that indicates growth, positive attitude and optimism. They believe that if it is cut during the waning period, the wood would disintegrate and would never last long.

The Kaani people are a rich repository of ethno-botany and have knowledge of more than 300 medicinal herbs. The old jack trees with age more than a century secrete a tough, hard gum called Pila-manjal that is collected by the tribal people to use it as a medicine for measles. They mix it with coconut oil and apply it on the chin and affected areas. It is also applied for any boil in the physique.

The Kaani tribal people still retain the hunter-gatherer instinct and catch small birds for food. They construct a triangle-shaped structure by bamboo with a height of 3 feet and place food on the floor below the structure and keep the jack latex on the top of the structure. When a bird sees the food, it comes and roosts on the structure and its legs will be entangled in the latex. When it tries to fly away, it loses its balance and its wings will also get entangled in the latex making the bird unable to fly away from the latex trap.

The Chenda is a cylindrical percussion instrument used widely in the state of Kerala, Tulu Nadu of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in India. The maker of the instrument use jack trunks, where the interior is carved out to make the instrument.

The Kaani tribal people claim that 7 varieties of jackfruits are available in the forests and mountains. Koozhan chakka, the fruits of which have small, fibrous, soft, mushy, but very sweet carpels, which cannot withstand for 2 days when it is ripe; Varika, which is more important commercially, with crisp carpels of high quality. This type can withstand for 4 or 5 days, when it is ripe. This type has market value due to its toughness of the fruits. Honey Jack is another variety, which has a sweet liquid inside. Another breed has the taste of tamarind, called Puzhi Varika. Another wild variety is elongated, slender at the tip and broader at the stem area, which is called as Nettadi. A small round jack variety that weighs about 2 to 3 kgs is called Mundan chakka, while its bigger size weighs about 6 to 7 kgs. There is another variety called Chemparuthy or  Chenga Varika which has a pink colored fruits.

The tribal people say that they get the jack twice in a year, during April to June, Meenam to Midhunam in Malayalam calendar, which is the usual season and October in Malayalam calendar Chingam is the lean season.

Suggestions:

The Kaani people collect the jack from the wild and never cultivate it. As many hurdles exist they never market it. Presently, many tons of jack fruit are wasted, as the Kaani people do not collect them for commercialization. Due to human versus animal conflict, the tribal people do not exploit the jack resources in their areas. While they venture to pluck the fruits, they have to encounter wild animals as elephants and sloth bear in the deep jungles. The plucked fruit has to be transported by head loads in single trails in the hills and mountains, which is a laborious physical task. There are other severe handicaps as lack of roads, lack of marketing strategies, lack of storage facilities and labor-oriented issues as plucking the fruit, transportation to towns etc., which are not cost-effective.  By proper planning, adopting marketing strategies, the jack can be commercialized to develop the economy of the tribal people. Value addition of the jack is a process to add  the economy of the tribal people.

The latex-less jackfruit-Somapady variety, which is created using grafting technique by Harishchandra of Karnataka can be cultivated by in-situ cultivation to better their economy.

References:

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

The Hindu, May 19, 2015

“Jackfruit and its value-added products have started stealing the show at various food festivals, thanks to the collective initiatives of peasants. However, the governments continue their habitual indifference to promoting this tropical fruit with immense nutritional value and market potential,” says Shree Padre, veteran agricultural journalist and editor of the Kannada agricultural magazine, Adike Patrika , written by farmers for farmers.

Talking to The Hindu during his visit to Aranmula to attend the ongoing National Jackfruit Festival-2015, Mr. Padre, who had pioneered a mass movement against Kerala’s endosulfan tragedy in the 1990s, said the present wave in favour of jackfruit and its value-added products was purely farmer-induced. […]

Peasants in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha, and certain parts of Tamil Nadu have started growing jack tree as a plantation crop and a number of exclusive jackfruit orchards are coming up in many parts of these States and certain parts of north Kerala. […]

According to him, jackfruit has got a very good indigestible dietary fibre which act as a bottlebrush in the intestine. It is rich in vitamins and its low glycemic index helps the diabetics to bring down their insulin intake. Jackfruit is fast replacing soya as a ‘dummy meat’ in many Indian cities. Mr. Padre sees a very good market for jackfruit products in Kerala.

Source: Farmers’ role in popularising, marketing jackfruit lauded – The Hindu
Address: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/farmers-role-in-popularising-marketing-jackfruit-lauded/article7221851.ece
Date Visited: Fri Jul 03 2015 16:42:56 GMT+0200 (CEST)

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