Translated from Tamil by Nisha Felicita
The buildings and apartment complexes that we call home today provide a great level of comfort and protection, but before these came into existence, caves, huts and houses made of clay were the norm. Although there were many communities that permanently settled in the plains, many of the tribal communities lived in the dense forests and had to find and create houses that kept them safe from the wild beasts of the forests around whom they lived.
The Paliyar tribe in Tamil Nadu is one such community. My ancestors wandered the forests before settling down in forests. They realized that they had to find safe places to live to protect themselves and their families from the wild animals as well as from the slugs and insects, some of which were poisonous. The journey to find a sustainable housing option took a long time and the Paliyars discovered and invented many types of houses to suit their needs, like mud and rock caves, stick houses, wooden houses, clay houses, etc.
The mud cave was one of the first housing that the Paliyar tribe explored. However, in the monsoon, there was always the danger of the mud cave collapsing, which made this option an unsafe one and they soon had to find alternatives.
After being forced to leave the mud caves and look for other places to live, the Paliyar tribals decided that rock caves are a safer option. Rock caves were dug in mountains, and sometimes in large boulders. The Paliyars lived in these caves for a long time with their families.
Once the number of family members increased, the rock caves became cramped and were no longer a viable housing option. My ancestors then decided to build a house which has enough space and amenities for all family members to live comfortably. This house, called the Pothai house, is built by erecting four poles and connecting them with other sticks and vines found in the forest.
The tribals would go into the forest to pick up branches of the Pothai tree and small bundles were made from them. The small bundles were then combined into one big bundle and brought home. The small bundles were then opened, taken apart and used to fill up space between supporting pillars. These branches were tied tightly and held together by longer branches and vines from the forest. This made the house durable and provided protection from storms and rain.
Plantain (Banana) Leaf House
Sometimes, when the Pothai branches were not available, banana or plantain leaves were used instead. This house was built with the same method as the Pothai house. Dried banana leaf strips from the banana tree were wrapped around the house to provide protection.
Apart from this, houses were also sometimes constructed using only sticks or clay.
Some of these types of houses can be seen in Paliyar villages even today, including houses made from branches and banana leaves. People use tarpaulin along with these houses for additional protection.
Whenever I think of this history of my tribe, I remember the contradictory times we live in today. While my ancestors used resources available in the forest to build their houses, which eventually went back into the forest, nowadays we are cutting forests to make space for housing and to provide material for housing.
India’s population growth, among other things, has resulted in many forests being destroyed to provide for people’s materialistic needs. We are actively making choices that adversely affect our lives as well as the lives of future generations.
Today, I am thinking of my forefathers, the people who loved and protected nature and hope to follow in their footsteps and bring about a positive change for future generations.
Note: This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.
This article was first published in Youth Ki Awaaz