There are so many interesting and noteworthy facts surrounding tribal living that it is nearly impossible to discuss and write about them in one go. From ideas surrounding nature to culture, traditions, way of governance and food culture, every aspect of tribal living has something unique and interesting, worthy of learning. The Paliyar tribe belonging to the forest areas of the hill regions in Tamil Nadu, also have intriguing customs, practices and cuisine.
Historically, the food culture of Paliyars like any other tribe includes mostly forest produce, consumed in various forms. It ranges from shrubs and herbs, leaves, fruits, roots etc., to small organisms like ants, found easily in forests. Not only are their methods of preparation and consumption interesting, but their food items are also extremely nutritious. Discussed below are some of the items consumed since decades as part of Paliyar food culture.
Cassava is one of the main staple foods of the tribal people. There are two varieties of cassava; one of which is Mullu Valli kizhanku and the other is Vethala Vallikizhanku. Cassava is a root vegetable with many medicinal properties. The Paliyars, since ages, have been consuming these roots by digging them up, burning them on rocks and boiling them in earthen pots.
"Cassava is used for tiredness, dehydration in people with diarrhea, sepsis, and to induce labor." (https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1473/). Cassava leaves and roots are both consumed as food items. They are rich in calories and contain protein, vitamins and minerals like Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Magnesium, Potassium, etc. (https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cassava#nutrients).
Honey is not only an important item of consumption for the Paliyars, but is also collected for commercial use. A lot has been written about the extraction, collection and consumption of honey by the tribal people. Some articles published at Adivasi Lives Matter also discuss about honey and its relevance for the indigenous people. The article on extraction of honey, discusses the methods used by Paliyars to collect honey from the forests (https://www.adivasilivesmatter.com/post/the-paliyar-tribe-still-indulges-in-extracting-and-collecting-honey). These extraction techniques do not harm the nature or the forests. Sometimes, stones known as symbol stones are placed at sites of extraction, after the collection is made, to show gratitude to 'mother nature', forests and the bees for providing to them. More on the subject can be found at https://www.adivasilivesmatter.com/post/this-is-how-the-kadar-tribal-community-in-tamil-nadu-extracts-wild-honey-from-trees and https://www.adivasilivesmatter.com/post/how-the-paliyars-of-tamil-nadu-earn-their-living.
Honey is rich in nutrients and also has medicinal properties. It contains nutrients such as Riboflavin and Copper. (https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-honey). It is rich in antioxidants, is good for balancing blood sugar levels, is said to be beneficial for the heart's health and catalyzes the healing processes (ibid). Conclusively, honey is one of the most beneficial food items of the Paliyars. For them, it is not only one of the richest food sources found in forests, but is also an important source of earning livelihoods. Forest honey is sold in the markets by Paliyars which helps them economically, too. Thus, honey is an important part of the Paliyar food culture.
Also Read:- Why the-paliyar-tribe-still-indulges-in-extracting-and-collecting-honey
Paliyars have been traditional consumers of jackfruit. Jackfruits are abundantly present in forests. There are two types of jackfruits, Olai palapazham and Jathi palapazham. Apart from the fruit, other parts of the tree are also cooked for consumption.
Jackfruits contain several minerals, vitamins and proteins (https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/jackfruit-benefits). They are said to be rich sources of antioxidants, contains anti-inflammatory properties and is helpful in preventing skin related issues (ibid).
Apart from these the Paliyars consume countless vegetables and fruits like Indian blackberry, guava, orange, vazhukai pazham, jujube fruit, custard apple, banana, and various types of tubers like tapioca, cassava, sweet potatoes, semangeerai tuber, magali tuber, etc. An important historical customs among the Paliyars is to never waste and exploit food and resources. Particularly, when they enter into the forests, in search of food, they only take according to their needs, while ensuring that the flora and fauna of the forests remain unharmed. This, in my opinion is the most important take away from the Paliyaran food culture and their way of living.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.