Translated from Tamil by Nisha Felicita
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. This is not an attempt to suggest any kind of cure and medication. This information in this article is based on the experience and traditional medicinal knowledge of Adivasis. Please consult your doctor before consuming these medicines.
The Paliyar tribe in Tamil Nadu has been living in and near the forests for generations now. This is our native land and they have fondly been called the prince and princess of the mountains and the protectors of the forests.
The diet of the Paliyar tribe consists mainly of food sourced from these forests. Our tribe is known for our extensive knowledge of the medicinal benefits of food, and our diet is rich in all the essential nutrients needed for the body to stay fit.
Two of the trees which are important to the Paliyar tribe are the banana tree and the plantain tree, whose fruits are usually larger and tougher than the banana tree. The banana and plantain trees have helped the Paliyar tribe survive.
No part of these trees is useless. We have found a use for all the parts of the trees.
When Paliyar tribals go to the forests to work, they don’t carry any items from home with them. They utilize what they find in the forest itself to help them with their work. The bark of the plantain tree, for example, is used to build a big heap of dry logs to start a fire. They also used the bark to make roofs while building huts where they lived.
When tribals head into the forest to do their work, they may sometimes get injured and burned from the wildfires that start in forests. In such situations, the sap of the plantain tree is squeezed and applied on the burns, which helps it heal quickly.
When someone from the tribe suffers from constipation, they squeeze the bark of this banana tree and drink the contents on an empty stomach. This is known to cure constipation.
The bark of the banana and plantain trees is also used to make flower garlands.
After the bark on the plantain tree is completely removed, there is a soft-textured stalk in the middle. These plantain stems are retrieved by the tribals, cleaned, finely chopped, cooked and then consumed. This stalk is delicious and has been used by my tribe as an excellent remedy for kidney stones.
Sometimes while working in the forests, it starts raining. To protect themselves from the rain, they cut the plantain leaves in the forest and set up a temporary shelter to take cover.
The leaves of this plantain tree are also used to build huts in settlements.
Plantain leaves are extensively used during our festivals and other special occasions to serve food on. The food tastes better when eaten from these leaves.
The Paliyar tribals also use the leaves to pack and transport food items like honey and other forest produce from the forest to their homes. They are also used to drink tea while working in the forest.
The flowers on the plantain tree are called Sundani by the Paliyar tribals. The flowers were cleaned thoroughly, fried and consumed by my ancestors. They used the plantain flowers as an excellent remedy for mouth ulcers and stomach ulcers caused by the increase in their body heat. The bitter taste contributes to the healing of the ulcers.
Flower and bananas growing on a banana tree. Image: Isha Chitnis
There are many varieties of bananas available in the market such as Poovam, Rasthali, Karpuravalli (Camphor), Nendram, red bananas, and the raw green bananas. The tastiest of all these is the mountain banana. It is also known to have medicinal properties. This variety of bananas has been consumed by my Paliyar tribe even during the times of famine, and this has helped them sustain themselves in such difficult times.
My ancestors used to roast and eat the raw bananas available in the forest during the seasons of starvation or scarcity of food to satisfy their hunger. They also made a curry for rice with these raw bananas.
Food is medicine for the Paliyar tribe and our diet, which includes these bananas, is very healthy. We live life in tune with nature and even most of the elderly people in Paliyar villages are in exceptionally good health. I hope more people realize the benefit of embracing raw, natural food and staying away from processed food to protect their health.
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