Guest blogger Mari Marcel Thekaekara is a human rights activist and writer based in Gudalur, Tamil Nadu. She co-founded ACCORD (Action for Community Organisation, Rehabilitation and Development) in 1985 to work with Adivasi people of Chembakolli, Tamil Nadu, southern India.
“I was with the ACCORD team in 1988 when the Adivasi people from Chembakolli decided they needed to establish roots on the land their nomadic ancestors had roamed for centuries. They needed to do this as otherwise they would be reduced to being landless labourers on territory their ancestors had owned since time immemorial.
We watched in awe as they pitched their first bamboo and grass huts, and braved the relentless monsoon rains, as well as wild animals like elephants, bears, wild boars, leopards and tigers, in order to plant tea, coffee, ginger and pepper to prove their rights to their forest.
I also wrote the first brief with suggestions for the first and second Chembakolli teaching packs, so I am really happy to contribute to this blog an entire decade later.”
How to lead a sustainable Adivasi lifestyle
The forest-dwelling Adivasi (indigenous) people of Chembakolli in southern India understand the forest the way city kids understand traffic lights and zebra crossings.
Once when out walking with Manikandan, an Adivasi friend, he stopped and dug up a tuber (something like a very large potato). He neatly cut out the eyes and buried them. “Why are you doing this?” I asked. He looked at me as if to say ‘what a silly question’. “If I don't plant the eyes in the soil, how will the next tuber grow?” he replied.
The Adivasi people treat the Earth with reverence. They ask forgiveness from a tree before they lop off a branch to build a house. They stamp out forest fires because they need to save their habitat. They carefully collect species of edible and medicinal plants which are becoming extinct and lovingly replant them. They don’t believe the Earth is theirs to exploit.
The Adivasi lifestyle is very basic and simple. This is because food-gathering and hunting communities never hoard. They collect the food they need and when it is finished they go out and collect more. They share their food with friends and family. Their lifestyle is based on need, not greed.
We learn in history that the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans built great civilizations but they were built using slavery. They hoarded gold, silver and treasures taken from countries they had conquered and looted.
Indigenous people such as the Adivasi did not build empires or enslave other people. For this they are often dubbed lazy and unambitious. But if we want to save our planet and live a sustainable, environmentally-healthy life, it would be better to learn from them and from their simple, frugal lifestyle than to emulate the richest people and countries on Earth.