Preserving one of the richest languages in the bio-cultural areas in India – Tamil Nadu & Kerala

The indigenous Kaani dialect needs documentation

S S Davidson, Tribal Foundation (Nagercoil)

The Kaani language spoken by the Kaani indigenous people of Kanyakumari in the Western Ghats is fast vanishing, according to a survey conducted by Tribal Foundation and Enviro Link.

A language is endangered when it is on a path toward extinction. Without adequate documentation, a language that is extinct can never be revived. A language is in danger when its speakers cease to use it, use it in an increasingly reduced number of communicative domains, and cease to pass it on from one generation to the next.

About 97% of the world’s people speak about 4% of the world’s languages; and conversely, about 96% of the world’s languages are spoken by about 3% of the world’s people. Most of the world’s language heterogeneity is under the stewardship of a very small number of people.

Language endangerment may be the result of external forces such as military, economic, religious, cultural, or educational subjugation, or it may be caused by internal forces, such as a community’s negative attitude towards its own language. Internal pressures often have their source in external ones, and both halt the intergenerational transmission of linguistic and cultural traditions.

It is opined by the UNESCO that even languages with many thousands of speakers are no longer being acquired by children; at least 50% of the world’s more than 6,000languages are losing speakers. In most world regions, about 90% of the languages may be replaced by dominant languages by the end of the 21st century.

Tamil Nadu has 36 tribal languages, and Kaani Pasha or Malam-pasha is one among them, which is dialectical with no script. It is an admixture of Tamil and Malayalam.

The present young generation of the Kaani people exhibits no interest in speaking their language and they speak either Tamil or Malayalam. Some of the indigenous Settlements are in close proximity to Kerala and some are in Tamil Nadu in Kanyakumari District.

While in the primary school level it is advised to teach in the mother tongue, Tamil and English which are foreign languages to the children are taught to the indigenous students, without through their mother tongue. Linguists are of the opinion that a child learns better through the mother tongue the ideas, concepts easily and express easily and recommend teaching through the mother tongue in the pre-primary and primary levels of education. When teachers are not available from the dominant speaking sector, qualified indigenous teachers can be employed as teachers.

A language faces endangerment when its speaking population is below 10,000. When it is not in use by literature and education it faces further endangerment. The Kaani Pasha has no written script and not used in schools.

Among the 900 eco-regions of the world that WWF has mapped out, 238 referred to as Global 200 Eco-regions are found to be of the utmost importance for the maintenance of the world’s ecological viability. Within these Global 200 Eco-regions, a vast number of ethno-linguistic groups exist, who have accumulated rich ecological knowledge in their long history of living in their environment. The Kaani indigenous people live in the South Western Ghats, which is a global Eco-region and are a rich repository of eco-knowledge.

Conservation biology needs to be paralleled by conservation linguistics. Researchers are exploring not just the parallels, but the links between the world’s biodiversity and linguistic, cultural diversity, as well as the causes and consequences of diversity loss at all levels. This connection is significant in itself, because it suggests that the diversity of life is made up of diversity in nature, culture, and language. This has been called bio-cultural diversity and logo-sphere.

One or more dominant languages, Tamil and English rather than the language of the ethno-linguistic group, is the primary language in most official domains: government, public offices, and educational institutions. The Kaani Pasha continues to be integral in the public domains, especially in traditional religious institutions, local stores, and places where members of the community socialize. The coexistence of the dominant and non-dominant languages results in speakers’ using each language for a different function, whereby the non-dominant language is used in informal and home contexts and the dominant language is used in official and public contexts. Speakers consider the dominant language to be the language of social and economic opportunity.

Owing to acculturation, that is the process of social, psychological and cultural change that derives from the blending between cultures, and the process of cross culturisation which is the process of adapting the culture of others contribute largely to the endangerment of the dialect. Due to severe Human Versus Animal Conflict coupled with severe failure of monsoons the forest dwellers seek daily labor in other sectors as construction, agriculture and coolie laborers in  adjoining villages and towns, where they face change of culture that  dilute their traditional culture and language.

The survey revealed that the aged people above the age of 45 only speak their traditional language.

The Kaani community communicate with their oral tradition with songs for various occasions, which are a rich repository of their culture and life in consonance with nature.

The Kaani tribe is inevitably facing immense transition, in all arena of life. The forces of globalization, free trade and the present communication revolution have made indelible impacts in their lives. The impact is felt more severely in the younger generation, who has embraced the modern culture. In this context, documentation of the dialectical language is vital or humanity will lose one of the richest languages in the bio-cultural areas in India.

Source: text and photos courtesy S S Davidson (email 23-1-18)

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]


Posted in Anthropology, Childhood and children, Community facilities, Endangered language, Figures, census and other statistics, Globalization, Government of India, Languages and linguistic heritage, Modernity, Multi-Lingual Education, Names and communities, Nature and wildlife, Networking, Photos and slideshows, Quotes, Southern region, Western Ghats - tribal heritage & ecology | Tagged | Comments Off on Preserving one of the richest languages in the bio-cultural areas in India – Tamil Nadu & Kerala

Video & slideshow | Wall Art of the Santals: Glimpses from Purulia (Daricha Foundation) – West Bengal


Courtesy: Ratnaboli Bose (email 13 February 2018) © 2018 Daricha Foundation:


Note: many related posts are found on this website by also using other search terms and Categories including Daricha, Purulia, Santal, Tagore.

Posted in Anthropology, Community facilities, Customs, Eastern region, Economy and development, Government of India, Names and communities, Networking, Organizations, Photos and slideshows, Revival of traditions, Seasons and festivals, Storytelling, Tips, Tribal identity, Video resources - external, Women | Tagged | Comments Off on Video & slideshow | Wall Art of the Santals: Glimpses from Purulia (Daricha Foundation) – West Bengal

“We have to find joy in each other“: A panel discussion on creative ways to address discrimination and racism


“Privilege isn’t what you have been through, that’s yours. Privilege is what you haven’t had to go through.” [14:20]

Learn more about the participants in a panel discussion featured by (Canadian radio), on the struggle for equal rights in western societies: Whose lives matter >>

“We have to be really creative, and we have to find joy in each other […] it’s the beginning of something. […] we have to imagine differently and make it true.” – Janaya Khan

Accessed 16 February 2018


Posted in Accountability, Audio resources - external, Colonial policies, Commentary, Community facilities, Democracy, History, Media portrayal, Misconceptions, Modernity, Networking, Organizations, Quotes, Resources, Storytelling, Women | Comments Off on “We have to find joy in each other“: A panel discussion on creative ways to address discrimination and racism

Residential schools: Government plans for preserving art and culture in regions with tribals majority – Budget speech 2018

The name of legendary tribal archer Ekalavya will soon become synonymous with residential schools in each block of the country where tribals constitute a majority of the population. This was announced by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his Budget speech | Read the full report in The Hindu 1 February 2018 >>

Eklavya, the ‘other’ guru: Why Bheel and Bhilala archers don’t use right thumbs

Anuraag Singh, Hindustan Times 25 June 2016 | Read the full story >>

Dronacharya and Arjun, the ‘guru-shishya’ duo from the Indian epic Mahabharata, occupy a special place in the hearts of the masses. But not for Bheels and Bhilalas who revere Eklavya — the archer prodigy immortalised for cutting off his right hand’s thumb as ‘guru dakshina’ to Dronacharya. […]


Alirajpur [Madhya Pradesh] is predominantly a tribal district with more than 91% of the 7.28-plus lakh population (as per the 2011 Census) comprising tribals. Bhilalas and Bheels add up to around 95% of the tribal population in the district. […]

Every Bhilala is a born archer who starts wielding bow and arrows at a tender age of 6-7 to guard flocks of goats from predators,” said Mahesh, also the officiating district Congress party chief of Alirajpur.

“Even on a funeral pyre, ‘Teer-Kamthi’ accompanies every Bhilala. The ‘Bilki’ (burnt metallic edge of the arrows) is kept in the house as a good omen,” he said. Weapons of trouble? […]

Source: Eklavya, the ‘other’ guru: Why Bheel and Bhilala archers don’t use right thumbs | Hindustan Times
Address :
Date Visited: Thu Feb 01 2018 17:08:43 GMT+0100 (CET)

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]


Related posts

Posted in Central region, Cultural heritage, Customs, Education and literacy, Figures, census and other statistics, Government of India, Names and communities, Photos and slideshows, Press snippets, Revival of traditions, Storytelling, Tribal identity | Tagged , | Comments Off on Residential schools: Government plans for preserving art and culture in regions with tribals majority – Budget speech 2018

Involving tribal communities in conservation: Sustainable resource use and forest conservation by the Kaani community of Kanyakumari – Tamil Nadu

kaani-unesco-2017-pp37-55-screenshotUpdate 8 February 2018: see S. David Sargunam, Ch. 3, pp. 37-55

3. Sustainable resource use and forest conservation by the Kaani indigenous community of Kanyakumari forests in the Western Ghats, India

published in:

Madhav Karki, Rosemary Hill, Dayuan Xue, William Alangui, Kaoru Ichikawa and Peter Bridgewater (eds.). 2017.
Knowing our Lands and Resources: Indigenous and Local Knowledge and Practices related to Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Asia. Knowledges of Nature 10. UNESCO: Paris. pp. 200.

Read or download the full Unesco-publication (Open Access) here:


Environmental Profile of S Davidson Sargunam (Nagercoil)

India S Davidson Sargunam also known as S S Davidson serves to conserve the pristine forest ecology of Kanyakumari forests in Western Ghats, India, which is a bio-diversity Hot Spot, UNESCO Heritage Center and part of the Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR). He has the firm conviction that forest conservation and sustainable development are highly dependent on the development of the inhabitant Kaani tribal community’s social, economic, cultural and environmental areas and they should be sensitized and made partakers in forest conservation. […]

He serves as a Resource Person in seminars related to Environment organized by the National Service Scheme for Higher secondary School students (17-18 years). He has presented many Papers in seminars and some are published in books with ISBN. […]

To promote the health status of the indigenous people, he conducts regular General Medical Camps and Eye Camps with doctors from the Government Medical College.
He has spotted 12 edible mushrooms in the wild in the Western Ghats and to conserve them and their genes, he imparts training in mushroom culture to Kaani people for their consumption, so that they are not destroyed in the wild. […]

In 2016, he was invited by UNESCO to Thailand and Nepal to explain his conepts on the tools used by the Kaani tribal people to counter Human Versus Animal Conflict, which is referred ad Indigenous Local Knowledge (ILK ) and declared him as an ILK Expert.

In November 2017, he was awarded with Tamil Nadu State Environment Award with a title Eco-Warrior for his commmitment and dedication in Environmental Management.

Source: courtesy S S Davidson [S. David Sargunam] (email 23-1-18)


Posted in Customs, eBook download sites, Ecology and environment, Economy and development, Education and literacy, Ethnobotany, Health and nutrition, Literature and bibliographies, Modernity, Names and communities, Nature and wildlife, Organizations, PDF printfriendly, Photos and slideshows, Quotes, Sacred grove, Southern region, Success story, Western Ghats - tribal heritage & ecology, Worship and rituals | Tagged | Comments Off on Involving tribal communities in conservation: Sustainable resource use and forest conservation by the Kaani community of Kanyakumari – Tamil Nadu